Learning London (London, England)
By Christine Hart
The first thing I learned about moving through London was how to use the tube. “Mind the gap. Mind the gap,” said the melodic electronic voice of an English gentleman. “Mind the gap.” The key phrase I heard over and over again on the world-famous Underground. Once I familiarized myself with the maze of subterranean trains, London was mine to explore.
A turn on the London Eye was the perfect visual orientation to accompany my tube map. Built by British Airways, this would-be ferris wheel moved slowly to allow a 360 degree aerial view along the Thames. Each polished pod displayed all of London in until it faded into the horizon. In the clear blue sky, London’s towers, skyscrapers, domes, parks and plazas, resonated and sparkled under the sun. Possibly the most prominent landmark I viewed from the London Eye was the British Parliament directly across the river.
Big Ben, the House of Lords and the House of Commons loomed not only as symbols of British Government, but stood as brilliant examples of gothic design. After walking across Westminster Bridge, the size and detail of these structures enthralled me as I circled the grounds.
Directly behind Parliament, Westminster Abbey welcomed masses of visitors and worshipers as I stood in line. Ornate stone carvings and stained glass art were woven into the structure inside and out. Traces of tangible events were present in the Abby proven in the grain of the Coronation Chair. As I stared up at the small and worn wooden chair, some of the wear appeared to be letters. A maintenance man nearby confirmed that a few school aged princes had once vandalized the chair and were severely punished.
Another cornerstone of the city was Trafalgar Square. Behind the Nelson’s Column, a commanding statue at the centre of the square, I was greeted by a laid back crowd on the steps of the National Gallery. I toured the building, gaping at original works by Da Vinci and Raphael.
Adjacent to the gallery, I wandered down to the London Brass Rubbing Centre in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields Church. The age of the building and its relics made me keenly aware of Britain’s complex history. London is saturated by modern western culture, without discarding its history evolved through war, conquest, language and art.
After dark, the neon billboards of Piccadilly Circus were a sharp contrast to the formality of the gallery. Dark night above bright lights made the city seem even more urban and contemporary.
By the time I found myself walking down the tree-lined Mall towards Buckingham Palace, there was very little tourist fanfare or local traffic. The uncluttered grounds permitted a view of the Palace that seemed like a quiet wall between me and a surreal world of wealth and privilege.
Trendy shops, busy streets and centuries old marble mingled to make London one of the most unique and fascinating cities I’ve ever seen. I will never forget vibrant atmosphere of Europe’s largest city.