32. Some London Sights

@London, Greater London, England.

The city of London, the Old Smoke, once upon a time called Londinium by the Romans before being abandoned in the fifth century, is the city name which I heard more times than all the other cities combined, from the early days of childhood. All that time, London had the image of something special, a place so huge beyond common man’s reach, a wonderful place of beauty, modernisation, art and literature which combined at such a way that it is far superior to anything. It was that time at early school when the known big cities to me outside were London, New York, Washington, Paris and Rome. But a long time has passed since then and priorities changed; most of the favourite cities of mine were shifted to Spain, Italy and Greece by a mind which had undergone transformation. But still, London stayed there at a high position with Canterbury, as they were quite close to each other and there was the need for London in that study of British Literature and it’s long history. Situated on the banks of the largest river flowing completely through England, London with the Thames river had to be part of the journey. From ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome to ‘On Westminster Bridge’ by William Wordsworth, with mention in T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’, along with it’s presence in ‘Our Mutual Friend’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories and ‘Oliver Twist’, the river and it’s precious city continues to live another life in books.

The River Thames is the waterbody we knew the most; it is not like I recognized it from the moment I first saw it, but it had it’s moments in the literature and the movies along with the city of London. The river adds beauty to the London Eye or the Millennium Wheel, the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole United Kingdom. It was the tallest operating Ferris wheel until being outdone by the Chinese Star of Nanchang and the Singapore Flyer. It is the successor to the Great Wheel which used to stand on the banks of the river before the Eye was constructed. The Tower Bridge which crosses the river and leads to the Tower of London is a wonderful scene, especially in the night; it makes everything else pale in comparison and makes one stand there and take photos from so many angles forgetting that there is a river to fall into and drown. For me, it looked like a Gothic church tower from a distance; if there is a real historic bridge, this is the one; people can make bloody imitations with cash, but this Tower Bridge is the one real bridge which is an architectural beauty beyond all comparisons. People can go on building the largest, tallest and longest bridges of the world with money power, but this bridge is the superior one.

On the north bank of Thames, lies the Palace of Westminster, another beautiful structure which looks even better when combined with the River Thames for a picture. It’s Clock Tower, the Big Ben stands tall separating time zones. Currently, the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third tallest free-standing clock tower in the world, the symbol of both London and England, and always my favourite clock not to be overtaken by any imitations around the world. For me, any imitation would be just as cheap as the small Big Ben model which I have bought and kept in my book shelf. The Tower of London, the historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames also deserved a souvenior, but I had to adjust with that Big Ben for then. Supposed to be built by William the Conquerer, the last person to conquer the island from outside, most of it constructed during the years of Norman Conquest of England and what followed, it combines with the Tower Bridge to give that fantastic historic look to the city of London. Just like they said in the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ and what happened to me during a long train journey with tea and history books, there history came alive again; with no support from books or thoughts, but directly in front of my own eyes; might have inspired a book if there was enough time to be spent on that side of the river Thames.

The largest Catholic church in England and Wales, the Westminster Cathedral in London is the mother church of the Catholic community in England and Wales and the Metropolitan Church and Cathedral of the Archbishop of Westminster and is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. It is of Neo-Byzantine architecture and it reminded me of Hagia Sofia or the Church of Holy Wisdom of God of Turkey which I have seen in a thousand photos. But Westminster Abbey was always going to be the high priority place considering the presence of the Poets’ Corner. From Geoffrey Chaucer, the first person to be buried there, it had most of my favourite poets including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edmund Spenser, Robert Browning, John Dryden and the others for whom there were memorials and the rest who are going to be my favourite poets as long as I read their works in the future. It is still mainly a Gothic church located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster quite close to the parliament. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for the monarchs of the Commonwealth realms. Since the coronations in 1066 of both King Harold and William of Normandy or William the Conqueror, coronations of English and British monarchs were held in the Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since 1100, there have been at about sixteen royal weddings at Westminster Abbey, the last one in this year itself, that of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and the grandson of Elizabeth II to Catherine Middleton.

St Paul’s Cathedral sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the seat of the Bishop of London. It used to be the tallest building in London and is the largest church building in the United Kingdom after the Liverpool cathedral. The current cathedral is an architectural marvel, built after the Great Fire of London of 1666 which destroyed most of the church building. The construction has gone through various stages of difficulty, as it was a clear challenge considering the weight of the huge dome which challenged a number of big domed church structures of the christian world. For the first time, there were three layers of domes instead of the one big dome on the top, and the middle structure is less curved and is hidden, but built to hold the weight of the huge dome. The big dome inspired by St. Peter’s Basillica in Rome, forms a thing of beauty in the skyline of London. It has stood it ground as a powerful creation, surviving the strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany mostly due to the right intervention of the Royal Engineers and also by luck. The cathedral has a number of statues, carvings, tombs and memorials and with it’s huge pillars and clock towers, remains one of the best examples of the English architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. It always reminded me of John Donne, the metaphysical poet who served as the dean of St. Paul’s for ten years till his death in 1631.

Buckingham Palace, the primary residence of the British monarch and 30 St Mary Axe are the two buildings which I wanted to have a closer look, but I couldn’t. Missing Madame Tussauds was a big dissappointment, but not as much as missing the Lord’s cricket ground, the Wembley Stadium and the All England Lawn Tennis Club or the home of Wimbledon. Missing the home grounds of Chelsea and Arsenal was considered an extreme act of cruelity towards to wonderful football clubs by some supporters of these clubs and I am extremely glad that they didn’t start a strike in front of my place. There were also a few skyscrapers to be noticed, but the distant view was to be considered satisfactory due to the lack of time. All these proves that London was not to be left for the last day or even week; there is always more to London than it meets the eye and to find them all, there is the need for many days and even weeks. But it was Leeds which took London’s place being the most visited city and Celtic Football Club being the most time-spent club. Still, this is not the end; London will come alive before my eyes another day and at that time, it would be a day of exploration in those black cabs of London as well as those double decker buses with open top. There would be London as a whole, and myself at the centre.

Diving out —>



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