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Posts Tagged ‘sightseeing london’

London – The West End

Posted in United Kingdom  by admin on March 22nd, 2010

For the London traveler looking for variety, the West End is the place to be. Piccadilly Circus is next door, where antique book shops mix with the latest restaurants and Covent Garden is not far. And, then of course, there’s the world-renowned theater – the rival (some would say tutor) of Broadway.

Soho is a short walk away. For those interested in the red-light district in the home of the Puritans, that’s here – and has been for over a century.

But Soho is much more than strip bars and prostitutes. As the area, along with many parts of London, undergoes a rejuvenation, there are also expensive restaurants and shops to enjoy. Soho Square has places to sit and watch the city go buy in safety and comfort.

Leicester Square has cinemas for the movie-goer and street performers for live, impromptu entertainment. And, as expected, there are crowds of people and distinctive architecture for those who just want to take in the spontaneous sights that uniquely define any metropolis.

To see ground zero of ‘mod’ 60s fashions, visit Carnaby Street where you can still pick up an Austin Powers-style vest or a pair of bell-bottomed jeans.

Shopping galore can be found along Oxford Street, which stretches 3km (1.8mi) through the West end. At one end is the Marble Arch (relocated from Buckingham Palace in the 19th century) to Tottenham Court Road.

The street’s origins date back to Roman times, but now holds over 300 shops with five million square feet of shopping space. There’s everything from large department stores to little specialty shops for that unique gift to take back home. Where else can you get a genuine British Army Officer’s swagger stick than James Smith & Sons?

Selfridge’s (founded in 1909 by the American Henry Gordon Selfridge) is alone worth a visit. It has an elaborate, ornate facade and features a clock known as the Queen of Time.

While you’re in the neighborhood, check out another interesting clock: the Liberty Clock, just outside the Liberty store. Very popular with the tourists, there are figures of St. George and the Dragon on the lower part. Close to Regents Street and Great Malborough Street. Exit at the Oxford Circus tube stop.

But, the piece de resistance has to be the theaters.

The Palace Theater, for example, is a sight to see even from the outside. An ornate terracotta building, first opened as an opera house, it stands at Cambridge Circus and is still a venue for musicals 80 years later. The Roman columns in the black marble foyer will draw you in and up the arched stairway.

With over a dozen major musicals and plays being performed at any time, there’s a wide array of choices. Not least of which is the flagship Royal National Theatre with three auditoriums.

There’s also the re-created Globe Theatre, a favorite since the time of Shakespeare. Open to the elements, with no stage lighting or microphones used, it sits near its original Bankside location.

Be prepared for all sorts of weather and all kinds of people. You’ll see both in London’s West End.

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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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