Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day One In London

Friday, August 31

Leicester Square
The Church Of Notre Dame De France
Trafalgar Square
The Church Of Saint Martin-In-The-Fields
Horse Guards
Horse Guards Parade
Banqueting House
Downing Street
The Cenotaph
Parliament Square

We will arrive in London very, very early in the morning. Once we clear customs, and retrieve our luggage, and take the subway to our hotel, it should be 9:00 a.m. or so.

We will check our luggage at the hotel, because our rooms are unlikely to be ready so early in the day. We will remain at the hotel for an hour or so in order to eat a full breakfast—according to my parents, the hotel has a very, very fine breakfast, with everything from eggs and ham and sausages and English bacon and American bacon and Canadian bacon to a full array of pancakes, toasts and waffles—and then we shall set out on our first day of exploration.

Most of this first day will see us outside, out and about, moving around, in order for us to ward off fatigue.

We will take the subway to Leicester Square Station, and walk to Leicester Square, an excellent starting point for a first day in London. Leicester Square is in the center of the theater district, and the location of London’s half-price theater-ticket booth. It is an historic square, and features statues of William Shakespeare and Charlie Chaplin, as well as busts of Isaac Newton and painters William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, all three of whom once lived on the square.

Immediately north of the square is an interesting church, The Church Of Notre Dame De France, London’s French-language Roman Catholic Church. The original building was circular, purpose-built to show panoramas. Once panoramas fell from fashion in the 1850’s, the building was turned over to London’s French population for Roman Catholic worship. The original building was destroyed in 1940, but a new structure, in a modern Beaux-Arts style, was built in the 1950’s. The rebuilt church was designed in a circular shape, too, in order to pay tribute to the church’s heritage. The church is very beautiful, inside and out, and very unique, and well worth a visit. We will go inside, and enjoy the interior, and examine the sanctuary and side chapels, one of which is decorated with a Jean Cocteau mural.

When we are done visiting the church, we will walk south until we reach Trafalgar Square, the most famous of London squares. One of my favorite views in the entire world is from the north side of the square, looking southward and westward toward the spires of Westminster Abbey and The Houses Of Parliament. We will enjoy this awe-inspiring view, and walk around the square, and examine the many surrounding buildings, and observe the giant column with the enormous statue of Admiral Lord Nelson at its peak. We will examine the other statues on the square, too, and we will locate the busts of Admiral Beatty and Admiral Jellicoe, of The Battle Of Jutland, for my father and Josh.

Then we will cross the street and visit The Church Of Saint Martin-In-The-Fields, an English Baroque church. We will explore the interior, and then we will explore and encircle the entire exterior. Afterward, we will explore the crypt, which may or may not have a small exhibit on display. We will rest for a while in the crypt café, and have some coffee, and a light lunch, before we continue our sightseeing.

When we leave the crypt cafe, we will cross Trafalgar Square and walk the length of Whitehall, the street that connects Trafalgar Square with Parliament Square.

We will stop at Horse Guards, the symbolic entry to Saint James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace, and view the horse-mounted guards, and examine the Whitehall facade of the building.

Then we will explore the interior archways and courtyards, and walk through the building to the other side to examine the facade facing Saint James’s Park, and to explore Horse Guards Parade, the public parade ground that separates Horse Guards from Saint James’s Park.

When we are finished, we will retrace our steps to Whitehall, and cross the street, and visit the main feature of our day: Banqueting House.

Banqueting House, once part of Whitehall Palace, long the largest palace in Europe, is one of the greatest buildings in London. It is the only portion of Whitehall Palace that survived the 1698 fire that destroyed the great complex, a series of buildings that occupied what is now the entire south side of Whitehall, from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. Banqueting House is the greatest Classical building in London proper, and perhaps architect Inigo Jones’ greatest masterpiece.

We will first visit the museum on the first floor, viewing the exhibits and viewing the film. Afterward, we will go upstairs to visit the magnificent hall, perfectly proportioned, with rows of double Corinthian and Ionic columns, and a ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens on commission from Charles I. This is the only place in the world where visitors may view a large-scale Rubens project in its intended, original setting.

We will spend an hour or so in the hall, looking at the Rubens ceiling panels, and marveling at this magnificent space, and then we will look out the particular window from which Charles I stepped onto a scaffold for his 1649 execution, exactly twenty years after he had knighted Rubens for the artist’s work on the ceiling.

After we complete our visit to Banqueting House, we will return to Whitehall, and continue walking toward Parliament Square. We will pass Downing Street, closed to visitors, and try to catch a glimpse of Number 10.

We will stop at The Cenotaph, one of my favorite war memorials anywhere. Erected in 1920 in the middle of Whitehall to commemorate the dead of World War I, The Cenotaph now honors those sacrificed in both World Wars. It is a memorial of the most remarkable simplicity and dignity and beauty, and I have always found it to be immensely moving.

Continuing down Whitehall, we will examine the Whitehall facades of The Foreign Office and The Home Office, two buildings in entirely different styles, but both the work of architect George Gilbert Scott.

Our final stop will be Parliament Square, which provides one of the most dramatic views in London, surrounded, as it is, by Westminster Abbey, The Houses Of Parliament, and Saint Margaret’s Church. We will explore the square, and explore the many statues, including the statue of Abraham Lincoln, as well the statues of Oliver Cromwell, Winston Churchill, William Gladstone and others. There is no statue in honor of Benjamin Disraeli in the square, despite the fact that numerous guidebooks assert, incorrectly, that Disraeli is among those whose likenesses are represented in the square.

After our exploration of Parliament Square is completed, we will go to Westminster Station and take the subway back to our hotel, where we will check in and eat dinner in the hotel’s dining room. After dinner, we plan to turn in very early. We hope to be in bed by 7:00 p.m. or so, and we should be able to sleep twelve hours or more, and wake, fully rested, at 7:00 a.m. the following morning.

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