Today we visited "The Mall" and the many sites scattered throughout, including Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Houses of Parliament and St. James Park.
Dancing that fine line between elegant and gaudy (but leaning towards elegant, of course), Buckingham Palace itself is a site to see, but how you get there adds even more to the grandeur. We approached Buckingham Palace on foot from Trafalgar Square. As you pass through the Admiralty Arch, you step into another world of wide-open sidewalks, roads and green spaces. Not a building can be seen, a sharp contrast to the London we have seen to this point. St. James Park with its many gates, monuments, ponds and paths graces the entire distance to Buckingham Palace.
When you eventually come upon Buckingham Palace (It's huge, you can't miss it.) the surroundings glitter with gold, and command attention of anyone who passes by.
Buckingham Palace has housed the monarch since Queen Victoria moved here from Kensington Palace at her accession in 1837. There is a monument for Queen Victoria in front of the Palace, which is not the London home of the Queen and the administrative hub of the entire royal family. When the Queen is in residence the royal standard flies over the east front - and she apparently was in when we went by. We didn't feel we had enough time to stop and say hi, as we had a brewery tour at 10am, so we continued up the other side of St. James Park towards the Big Ben. I know she will be crushed.
You catch glimpses of Big Ben through the trees on the walk through the park. Big Ben is a 13-ton bell in St. Stephen's tower on which the hours are struck. Big Ben himself was probably Sir Benjamin Hall, commissioner of works when the bell was installed in the 1850's. But it is not the site of Big Ben that is impressive. It is the sound. Big Ben is a site to be heard. By itself it is not much to look at, and is almost dwarfed by the magnificence of the surrounding buildings. What it does add to the London experience is sound. To hear the 13 bells chime in their rich deep tone, echoing around the century old buildings, was inspiring, to say the least. It is a haunting reminder of everything London.
The Houses of Parliament function in the Palace of Westminster, a pseudo-Gothic monument from the Victorian age. The grandeur of the building dwarfs everything around it. Directly on the bank of the River Thames, across from the Westminster Abbey, and next to the Victoria Tower Gardens, every view from the building is magnificent.
As you might imagine seeing something on television is completely different than seeing it in person. Actually standing at the entrance of Westminster Abbey gives you the sense of its size, detail and importance that is impossible to capture on film of any kind.
The many saints sculpted on the outer walls of the Abbey carry the dirt and dust of the active city, which surrounds them on their backs. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who doesn't dust.
The Abbey is the most ancient of London's great churches. It is here that Britain's monarchs are crowned. Most of the abbey dates largely from the 13th and 14th centuries. Attractions inside, include the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, (a nameless WWI soldier buried in earth brought with his corpse from France) and many other Memorials and tombs including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots; and Henry V.
The Beer Tour - First Stop: Fuller Smith Turner, Chiswick Site
Beer has been brewed at Fuller's Chiswick site for over 325 years. The original brewery was in the Garden of Bedford House on Chiswick Mall, and the business expanded and thrived until the early nineteenth century. Facing financial difficulties, the owners, Douglas and Henry Thompson and Philip Wood approached John Fuller for some cash. In 1829 John Fuller became a partner. In 1841 the partnership dissolved and, realizing the brewery could not be run alone, John Fuller's son, John Bird Fuller, was joined by Henry Smith and John Turner from the Romford Brewery thereby forming Fuller, Smith and Turner, as it is known today.
Robert Gatwick gave us a complete tour of the brewery, explaining the brewing process and filling us in on the history, people and events that have made Fuller Turner Smith a successful brewery. Some tidbits follow:
Fuller's was the first brewery to have a Lab on site.
Old Copper - was the oldest vessel used until 1984. It was installed in 1823 and was originally coal fired. It was fitted with steam heaters in 1953. Boiling capacity was 160 barrels, and a further 55 barrels could be pre-heated in a reservoir above.
They do 3 brews a day and work from 4:30 am - 8 PM.
America is their largest overseas market. Italy is second.
Fuller's malting was burnt down in 1940, so malt is now bought from independent maltsters.
Casks (Kegs), now made of aluminum or stainless steel, were originally made of Oak in a coopers shop
Have you ever heard of Barley Wine? Did you know that during the Napolianic wars, the English government didn't want it's people drinking French wine, so it enlisted the help of the breweries to start producing a very strong ale - a barley wine.
A special side note for all the gardeners out there: On the brewery property exists the Oldest Wisteria vine in all of England. It was beautiful.
Thanks to the Fuller Smith Turner Brewery for the wonderful tour and to Robert Gathwick in particular for his generous hospitality. Because of it's bright windows, open spaces in the brewery and mixed with the long history and good beer, this is a must see when in London.
Happy with Life and an afternoon in London
After our wonderful experience at Fuller's, we ate at the pub on the corner and then traveled towards the Thames River in search of a little pub called "The Dove." This pub is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest pub in the world. It lives up to its name. It is also where part of the novel "Brittanica" was written. Not enough room at the pub, so we moved on. A special note to Americans traveling with pets. Being the owners of the most wonderful dog in the world, (Guinness, a soft-coated Wheaton terrier) we noticed a sign along the riverbank, which read: Anyone responsible for allowing their pet to "fowl the footpath" would be prosecuted. So when traveling in England with your pet, make sure to bring plenty of clean up bags. Also note, there is a 6 month quarantine of pets to bring them into the country. Yuck.
We headed next to the British Museum, which is known as "mankind's attic." In our rambling way, we spent too much time trying to figure out subway maps and only had ½ hour in the museum. So, to sum up. A lot of old stuff, a lot of rocks with writing, a lot of big stuff - really big stuff from ancient times, and a lot of stuff we didn't see. We'll have to make it back there and spend a week. We did see the Rosetta stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Assyrian Transept.
Dinner was at the "Coaching Rooms Restaurant" near the "George Inn." It was a good English meal in a building that was so old I couldn't even begin to tell you. The staff was wonderful, always with a smile and conversation. Much beer was consumed and reviewed by the boys, but the highlight of the evening was the Hot Pudding dessert. For us Americans, that's a Chocolate Sponge cake with chocolate sauce and vanilla custard (pudding). With food like this on the planet, heaven can wait.
The Things we learned from London
History goes further back than the founding of America.
No matter how hard you try, you won't find an Internet connection.
You spend more time under the city trying to get to where you want to go, than in the city itself.
It's good to be the Queen.
They charge you for everything - including the bathroom.
Nothing opens until 9 and everything closes at 5 - that's the way to run a business. Unless, you're a tourist