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Archive for January, 2010

London – Hyde Park

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on January 24th, 2010

Perhaps most famous for the Speaker’s Corner, where citizens stand atop a soapbox and shout their views to the crowd, there’s much more to see and do here than listen to political opinions.

The land forming the park was first acquired by Henry VIII from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536. While Henry used the park for deer hunting, the horseback riding today is strictly not for sport.

Casual and relaxing, the trails are abundant but riders must bring their own horses. Visitors can often see the Royal Horse Artillery riding on horseback through the park early in the morning.

First made accessible to the public by King James I in the early 17th century, the park is split by the Serpentine, a river dammed to make an artificial lake. The idea was originated by the wife of King George II, an avid gardener. Boat rides on the lake remain a popular activity.

Perhaps the oldest park in London, these 350 acres (140 hectares) contain peaceful walks through gardens and woods, boats for hire, venues for music concerts and is very nearby several stellar pubs and restaurants. There’s even a pet cemetery and during the summer, Sunday concerts are held at the Bandstand.

In the north east corner, at the end of Oxford Street is the famous Marble Arch. The structure was built as a gateway to Buckingham Palace but moved to the park in 1851.

Several monuments located in the park are worth a look. The latest tribute is to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The fountain is surrounded by and composed of 545 pieces of Cornish granite and the water flows through a complex design into a calm pool. There are three bridges that cross the water over the heart of the fountain.

Sports abound on the many fields, including tennis (6 courts, with a changing pavilion and cafe), a six rink flat bowling green and spontaneous soccer games. The Magenge at the end of the Sports Field offers a children’s playground to amuse the younger kids.

Nearby the park is the Four Seasons Hotel Bar where visitors thirsty from the activity can cool off and get refreshed in a wonderful, upscale environment. The Conservatory in Lanesborough offers a piano bar and great dining.

For those interested in something a little more lively, there’s the Met Bar at the Metropolitan Hotel. Patronized by celebrities, it remains a popular venue. The Rose & Crown pub in Mayfair is probably the rowdiest of the lot, for those who like their entertainment loud and crowded.

Then, there’s the Colony Club for those who like to gamble, and (for service personnel) the Royal Air Force Club isn’t far away. For great dining, the Petrus at The Berkeley Hotel is unbeatable, having rightfully earned its Michelin Star.

The park lies between Bayswater Road to the north and Knightsbridge to the south, with Park Lane to the east and Kensington Gardens to the west. The park is easily reached by the tube (the London Underground, the subway system). Exit at the Hyde Park Corner station.

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London – Westminster Abbey

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on January 10th, 2010

Church, burial ground, coronation site and much more, Westminster Abbey continues to attract visitors over 900 years after its founding.

In many respects the architecture is common. There’s the traditional cross-shaped floor plan with a nave, north and south transepts and several round side areas. But both its execution and use raise The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (the official name) to among the highest examples of church construction.

For, here lie buried kings and poets, scientists and philosophers who have themselves raised humankind to the highest levels. Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell (discoverer of electromagnetic theory, which later lead to radio and TV), Chaucer and Kipling, Dr. Samuel Johnson (creator of the first English dictionary) and many other justly famous names are interred here.

Here lie many of the kings of English history. Henry III, for example, who reigned from the age of nine for 56 years, is buried in the Abbey. Much of the current structure owes its origins to his efforts.

New discoveries are still being made within its walls. As recently as 2005 the burial tomb of its founder, Edward the Confessor (Edward I) was discovered beneath a 1268 AD Cosmati mosaic. A number of other royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries were also found using ground penetrating radar.

But far from being merely about the dead, here the centuries of history come alive. Still an active church, Westminster Abbey is the site of services and events for all denominations. Used for every coronation since William the Conqueror’s in 1066, pageantry combines with austerity to create an atmosphere of grandeur.

That grandeur can be seen in the enormous vaulted ceilings, typical of early Gothic design. But the artistic grandeur combines with technological brilliance. Just as one example, the support arches are not the ornate visible ones, but are actually enclosed within the thick stone roof.

The art housed by the Abbey makes the site worth visiting. Inside the west entrance is a portrait of Richard II, painted in 1390, making it one of the oldest known contemporary portraits of a British monarch.

There are several outstanding monuments in the nave, including those depicting Winston Churchill and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI. This last was the last full-body interment in the abbey. Only containers of ashes are allowed now.

From the cloister, walk to the octagonal Chapter House near Poet’s Corner, one of the earliest constructed sections, built at the time of Henry III. Here you can see the mixture of architectural styles forming the Abbey, as the result of additions made over the centuries.

Stroll over to the south transept to view the original rose window with its nearby rare medieval sculpture. Three dimensional art was often considered sinful during the period.

Then stand near the center where the various architectural elements join and take in a 360 degree view. Almost 1,000 years of history in a brief glance, still alive and still being made.

The Abbey is easily reached by the tube (the London Underground subway system). Exit at the St James Park stop.

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