“People in London think of London as the center of the world, whereas New Yorkers think the world ends three miles outside of Manhattan.” --Toby Young
Russell, Heather, Rebecca, and Eric Nelson visited England in August, 2003, when England and indeed all of Europe was experiencing record heat and aridity. People were dying in France, but the fact that our living quarters weren't air-conditioned forced us to explore England and find out some of what it has to offer. We stayed in a little bed-and-breakfast in London for ten full days, but we took day trips to other parts of England like Stratford-Upon-Avon and Kent. We embraced our tourist roles and gawked unashamedly at the sights everywhere we went. More than most cities, London is teeming with history, and in ten days we could only begin to appreciate it all. We saw too many beautiful, historical sights to count, spanning hundreds of years of London's history, from Westminster Abbey, established by the Saxon Edward the Confessor in 1065; to the Tower of London, built by William the Conquerer to guard his new city; to Leeds Castle and Hampton Court Palace, owned by the Tudors; to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the legacy of the Victorian era, to the Millennium Bridge, with its structural difficulties. We also saw a great deal of the world's heritage in London's fine museums. We planned our trip using the “Lonely Planet: Britain” guide, which offered succinct, opinionated advice that we found very helpful, as well as summaries of the historical significance of each of the sites we visited. For example, we learned which day of the week the Cortauld Gallery is open for free to the public, and we steered clear of Madame Tussaud's because as the guide states, it is an “outrageously overpriced and rigidly uninteresting collection of waxworks.” With the help of this and several other guides, we never had a dull minute in England.
We left home August 7, and after a six hour plane ride, we arrived in England on August 8. That afternoon, we settled into our hotel and saw the Tower Bridge and the quirky Design Museum.
We explored the Tower of London, which has hundreds of years of history densely packed within its walls. We also took a boat tour along the Thames and saw the London Aquarium.
We crossed the Millennium Bridge across from St. Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern Museum, where we saw works by Picasso, Claes Oldenburg,Frank Stella, Jackson Pollock and many other famous modern artists. We walked to the reconstructed Globe Theater and finished the day at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We had some great English food at the Chimes Restaurant.
We went to Somerset House, a former palace, to see the Cortauld Institute Gallery, which has a fine collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, and the Gilbert Collection of fine crafts. We met one of Russell's English friends at Trafalgar Square for lunch and splashed in the fountains! We walked past the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Abbey, whose loveliness words cannot describe. We walked to St. James Park to see Buckingham Palace.
We took the coach to Leeds Castle, which belonged to Henry VIII and has one of the finest, largest hedge mazes in England. It was lovely to see something of the English countryside after staying in the city. We also saw a small, eccentric "dog collar museum" at the Castle.
We took a boat to Kew Gardens. The gardens were not looking their best, because the grass was dry and brown from the unusually hot, dry weather in England that summer.
We took the train from Paddington Station to Stratford-Upon-Avon, a mecca for Bard devotees. We watched the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Taming of the Shrew" in a modern theater with subtly Elizabethan features.
We went to the British Museum, the repository of years of concerted British collection of other countries' artifacts. For a change of pace, we wandered through Selfridge's, a huge department store selling every conceivable ware. We walked through Hyde Park and enjoyed the Serpentine in the afternoon.
We took the train to Hampton Court Palace. With its huge Tudor kitchens, wings from several different periods in English history, extensive grounds, hedge maze, and lively historical reenactments, Hampton Court Palace was one of the most interesting places we went in England.
We went to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, attended an English Quaker Meeting, scanned the National Portrait Gallery, and saw the Admiralty Arch.
On our last day in England, we went to the Tate Britain museum, which has a particularly large collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, before flying home to America.