Crystal@Home Featured Port: London, England
Land of Kings and Queens, Poets and Dreams
Big Ben, Beefeaters & Buckingham Palace
A red-cheeked man with a weathered face, white wisps of hair tumbling out his cap, and the posture of a nobleman, opens the door of his boxy black taxi while waiting for you to climb aboard. As he adjusts his cap he queries, "Where to, m'lord?" And with the swipe of a hand you command, “the sights of London, sir."
He knows, as do you, there is a wealth from which to choose. London is brimming with history — alive with cosmopolitan flair — it's theatrical yet stately all at the same time. Roll down your “virtual” back-seat window and ramble about this glorious city which is filled with squares and circuses, parks and promenades, museums and monuments.
Where to begin? First-time visitors to London begin with the "must-see" sights, and there are ever so many. No landmark holds greater recognition than London's Big Ben. Punctuating the skyline in a 300-foot high belfry, Big Ben actually is the 13-ton hour bell housed inside the tower. Its patriotic peal has long been remembered as the voice of liberty during World War II. This tower is one of the three towers that rise above the 1000-foot long Neo-gothic facade of Parliament.
PALACES, SQUARES & GALLERIES
Next it’s off to Buckingham Palace where you might catch the Changing of the Guard. This display of ceremony is Britain at its finest and should not be missed. If Queen Elizabeth II is in residence, her Royal Standard will be fluttering in the morning breeze high above the Palace.
Travel on a bit to Trafalgar Square, built between 1829 and 1841 to commemorate Nelson's 1805 naval victory at Trafalgar over Napoleon's fleet. Here you'll find the 167-foot high fluted Corinthian column with a 17-foot statue of Nelson perched on top the capital.
Museum lovers should not pass up the National Gallery, founded in 1824, which lies just opposite Trafalgar Square. Revered as one of the finest museums in the world, it displays works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian,
Raphael and Rubens.
ABBEYS & CATHEDRALS
Continue on to Westminster Abbey which dates back to the year AD 750. This Benedictine Abbey was known as "west monastery" because, in those days, this spot was on the west end of the city. Pause to view the 500-foot long central nave before visiting the Poets Corner. Within these massive stone walls you'll find the tombs of such notable writers as Dickens, Chaucer, Tennyson and Kipling.
Another imposing religious structure is St. Paul's Cathedral, atop Ludgate Hill. Built between 1676 and 1708 by Sir Christopher Wren, this Baroque masterpiece is dominated by its famous 365-foot high dome, second largest in the world after St. Peter's
in Rome. Symbolic of the Londoners' unwavering stance against heavy air raids during World War II, St. Paul's survived two direct hits — one on the altar and another on the crypt. Services for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral, as well as Prince
Charles' marriage to Lady Diana, were conducted within these walls.
Tower of London
You simply cannot "do" London without visiting the Tower of London along with its neighboring Tower Bridge. The Tower itself is a Medieval fortress built originally by William the Conqueror in 1078. Over the years these damp chambers were used as a garrison,
a prison and, oddly enough, a royal residence. Look for the prisoners' final words which were painfully etched into the cool, dank walls. Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh were among those executed on these grounds. Jumping from gore to glitter,
you mustn't miss the famous Crown Jewels, which are displayed inside a nearby guarded vault.
Jewels & Tea
Cast your eyes on some of the world's most magnificent jewel-encrusted crowns, scepters, swords and orbs. Back outside, be sure to have your photo taken with one of the Beefeater guards who'll be outfitted in his traditional Tudor costume. Snap another picture of the Tower ravens that peck nervously about. It is said, so long as these ravens reside at the Tower of London, the British Empire will survive and remain safe from foreign invasion. After all this sightseeing, refresh your palate with a spot of afternoon tea in the Palm Court at the Ritz, or with a pint of lager in a crowded pub along the Thames. You must remember that when in London, do as the Londoners do. So bid a fond "cheerio" to your driver and step inside for a real taste of London.