Welcome back to another adventure in London. Last week I took you on a tour with Ana Marie where we nearly tilted our Fitbit’s by walking over 30,000 steps! After that workout we were bushed so the next morning we lingered over coffee and had a leisurely breakfast before heading back to Central London. It was a Sunday and early that morning The Eldest and The Son-in-law had an early alarm so they could catch their flight back to the US. We were now on our own.
Our original plan after visiting Ukraine was to fly to London, then take the train to the port city of Portsmouth and take the ferry across the English Channel to Normandy, France. Our goal was to spend a few days touring the D-Day sites just before the 75th anniversary of the 1944 invasion. However, we learned that Queen Elizabeth and President Trump were going to Portsmouth on June 5 to commemorate the launch of the invasion. With security so tight and the onslaught of tourists making their way to Normandy, we postponed those plans until a future date.
Instead, we were back at the Hatton Cross tube station, ready for the comfortable ride into London.
On our 45 minute ride, we did some people watching, enjoying a mix of local and tourists riding the subway.
We disembarked at the Leicester Square station and took the long escalator up to daylight.
Here are a few street scenes as we walked towards the Square. Note the Burger King restaurant in the second photo, hard to get away from the fast food places! Also note the fellow sleeping on the street in the top photo.
Upon entering Leicester Square, this is what we saw! Apparently, it was a “hen” party or otherwise known a bachelorette outing before she ties the knot with her partner. Some friends, making the bride walk around with a nude blow up doll on her back. Hope they had a good time!
Leicester Square was developed in the later 1600’s where the gentry once lived. However, things change, and for a time it fell into disrepair but took on new life as a center of entertainment. First, several major theaters called Leicester Square home and later some converted to cinemas in the mid 1900’s. The whole Square was refurbished for the 2012 London Olympics. In the 1870’s, this statute of William Shakespeare with a fountain at his feet was added to the center of the Square. Nearby are several ticket vendors selling discounted tickets to theatre performances. It was in Leicester Square where we first saw the Sing Along Sound of Music in 2000, well before it came to the US. We’ve seen it a few times since then, our favorite family movie.
After some people watching and a leisurely walk in the area, our stomachs informed us that it was lunch time so we popped into the nearest Pret a Manger, pronounced in the French style “pray mon jay” or as I like to say in the Midwestern style “Pret A Manger” much to my families disgust! It’s one of my favorite fast food places to eat in Europe, the food is fresh, healthy and cost effective. Hard to beat.
Now on to Covent Gardens. We passed through here with Ana Marie the day before but wanted to spend more time looking around. Covent Gardens once was an open air fruit and vegetable market that has transformed into a very popular shopping destination. I recall coming to this area when we came to London in 2000 to visit The Eldest who was then attending school at the University of Westminster. Maybe it was the weather but I remember it as being more outdoors and very chilly and damp, it was in March after all. But our visit this time the weather was very pleasant and sunny.
In the center of one of the several halls making up the Covent Gardens market, is this lower level with a number of restaurants and bakeries. In addition, there is an area where performers can busk for money. The fellow in the second photo sang opera in baritone, he was mighty good.
Outside the market were tons of additional vendors and street performers including this guy doing caricatures for anyone with a Pound Sterling in their pocket!
Homelessness is said to be on the rise in London due to the lack of affordable housing. Apparently, there are plans to reduce homelessness in half by 2022 but it will take resources to help people get off the street.
As we were walking we came across this restaurant, Bryon, proper hamburgers. Ok, I’m thinking first what is a proper hamburger? But more importantly I can’t think of any hamburger being improper. Another conundrum to figure out!
Our next stop was Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, one of my very favorite places to visit in London. Before entering the Gallery, we saw some activity going on in Trafalgar Square and wandered over to see what was happening. We learned it was a demonstration to bring attention to the killing of thousands of Sikhs in India after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh body guards. It is believed that the murder of the Sikhs by beating, hanging and burning was supported by senior government officials and the Delhi police as well as other local authorities. While some rioters were convicted and imprisoned, to date no senior leaders have been indicted or convicted of this massacre even after several inquires were made by Indian government commissions.
After that detour, we cleared security and entered the National Gallery. The place is huge with over 2300 paintings from the years 1200 to 1930. The Gallery was founded in 1824 and is one of most visited art galleries in the world. And since it’s owned by the British government, admission is free. While certainly not the largest art museum, it holds many important and valuable works, about two thirds donated. It’s interesting to note that at the beginning of World War II, the collection was moved to Wales to protect it from the bombing Blitz by the Germans.
With so much to see and not enough time to see it all, we decided to focus on the gallery with paintings from 1700-1930. These were the Monet’s, Cezanne’s, Renoir’s, Van Gogh’s and others from that time period. It was so enjoyable seeing these original works of art.
Since it was near tea time, we decided to make our way to the Cafe in the lower level for a spot of tea and a snack. On our way, we had to stop at this very large painting by the Frenchman Paul Delaroche titled “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” more to observe the crowd than the painting.
After refreshing ourselves we decided to look around at the exhibits in the lower level. In one room was artwork by school children. The top is a series of self portraits and the bottom, a series of traveling scientist posters by 10 and 11 year olds. Interesting work.
In the other gallery was an exhibit of abstracts by Sean Scully. I’m not usually enthralled by abstract paintings but I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit much more than I thought I would. It helped that this exhibit had video that showed how Scully created these large paintings in his studio and it also helped to understand the creativity behind his work. My traveling partner was intrigued with the designs and said they would make really good quilt patterns, alway thinking, that girl!
As we exited the lower level, my traveling partner photographed me in front of the wings. Her photo of me was better than the one I took of her!
After a visit to the Gallery gift shop and upon exit, we look across Trafalgar Square and see the Canada House across the street. It’s officially known as the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, in other words, the Canadian Embassy.
Also on Trafalgar Square is the famous St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours who was the Bishop of Tours from AD 371 until his death in 397. He is the patron saint of beggars, France, innkeepers, vintners and geese. Look him up, you’ll learn a lot! There as been a church on this site since the medieval times, with the current version built in the 1720’s. It’s affiliated with the Church of England and at one time was a Roman Catholic church.
When we were here in 2000, we had lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt. It’s quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square. It’s also reasonable and helps to raise money for church activities such as caring for the poor and homeless. The spooky thing is that the dining tables are on top of graves from back in the time when people were buried under the church building.
Since it was a Sunday, we decided to attend the 5:00 PM Evensong or Evening Prayers that are performed in song by the choir. There was a short sermon by the officiant but mostly it was music and song. Here’s a short snippet of what it sounded like:
A few photos from the service and the interior of the church.
And to keep up the mission of their patron, a welcome to everyone especially beggars and the downtrodden.
As we left St. Martins, we saw these chalk artists at work near the National Gallery. It was quite impressive.
After a fine Italian dinner at a cafe near the tube station, we headed back to our hotel satisfied with another fine day of exploring and memory making.
That does it for this week, next up a visit to the famous Kew Gardens.
Until then, happy travels!