Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Warships, Palaces and Guards
After scoping out London from atop the Cathedral I meandered past the Tower of London, over Tower Bridge, and onto the HMS Belfast. The Belfast is one of the few vessels from World War II that have avoided being turned into scrap.
Preserved as a museum ship along the Thames, the ship offers visitors a glimpse of what life on a heavy cruiser in the midst of a global war was like. For a history nut like myself, this sort of thing is irresistible. I had actually visited the Belfast before, back in 2002 when I visited London with Matt, but that was years ago and I wanted to go back again.
The thing I like about the Belfast, versus other museum ships I have visited, is the freedom to explore. Often times museum ships restrict where you can go, but here you can traipse through engine rooms, turrets, magazines, the bridge, and much more. So basically, the whole experience is right up my alley.
I did have to be careful of the time though, as the group had a walking tour scheduled for one o'clock, and I had to make it back to the hotel and have lunch on the way. I made it, but between the hike up St. Paul's Dome, the stroll around the ship, and the hoofing it around London in general, my feet hurt quite a bit before the walking tour even started!
We had been scheduled to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but that is a morning event and the postponement of the tour required a change in plans. We got to see the Changing of the Horse Guard instead, and I have to say it was probably the better deal. Far fewer tourists, and seeing the expert way the Horse Guards could maneuver their beasts was quite impressive. Especially considering that militarily, knowing how to ride a horse is a dead art. Still and all, there is something just a bit intimidating by cavalry, I can certainly see how they were the elite units in the days before tanks.
From there we walked past Trafalgar square again, and then Big Ben, Parliament, and on to Buckingham Palace, another spot that I hadn't dropped by in my previous excursion. The tour group loved it, but I was less enthused, I like my royal residences with towers, moats and arrow slits!
This is actually a look back across London towards the building where we saw the Horse Guards, our walking tour compressed by the use of a the long end of my zoom lens. (135 mm for those who are curious.)
One of the impassive guards that litter London. A lot of people got a photo with him, but I (sensibly) try and stay away from heavily armed men.
And that was it for London, Dinner, a drink or two, and bed where all that was left for me and the British Capital. The next day would take us far to the north, through Oxford, Stratford, past Shrewsbury (Home to Brother Cadfael) and to our next stop, the town of Llangollen in North Wales.