London: Churchill War Rooms, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, National Gallery

On my first full day in London, I toured the Churchill War rooms, walked through St. James Gardens and took in the National Gallery. Oh, and I stopped by Queen Elizabeth’s house. (Spoiler: I got to see it only from afar, through the fence and gate.)

Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms are the subterranean rooms from which Winston Churchill conducted the British war efforts during the second war to end all wars.

Prior to being used for that purpose, if I’m remembering the commentary on the audioguide accurately, they housed archives. Depending on my memory for anything is not wise, but I do remember that they were not purpose-built as war rooms.

Despite being underground, because they were not purpose built, they weren’t safe from a direct bombing hit. When the powers that be recognized that, they had a thick concrete slab constructed above the rooms. This still did not render the room safe from a direct hit from a powerful bomb. Apparently, Churchill was fully aware of this, but it’s not known if his staff knew it.

Wandering through the set path, I saw the Cabinet meeting room, a staff meeting room, the switchboard room, the communications room, the map room, a BBC remote radio broadcasting room, some bedrooms, the kitchen, and probably some other rooms that no longer occupy any neurons and synapses in my memory-challenged brain.

Because the rooms were underground and people worked 12-hour shifts and the rooms operated around the clock—and people didn’t go out at all during air raids—they didn’t know what the weather was like outside. To keep people meteorologically informed they posted signs describing the weather, such as “fine & warm.” Sometimes the signs read just “windy” as that was the nickname for air raids.

In the midst of the war rooms (I don’t know if the space was part of the original war rooms) is a Churchill museum. It covers the period from 1940 until his death.

Here are the obligatory pictures from inside the war rooms and one picture from in the museum.

St. James Park

St. James Park is the oldest of the Royal Parks of London. Buckingham Palace is just beyond its western side.

Throughout, the park sprouted a great profusion of people of all shapes and sizes.

It’s a fairly large park, with a somewhat oblong pond at its core. A fence surrounded the pond and a small strip of grass beside it.

Hop the fence if you want to live life on the wild side.
Hop the fence if you want to live life on the wild side.

I spotted the sign to the right affixed to the fence. Notice that it says “wild life,” not “wildlife.” I know the British write as two words some of the words that we write as a single compound word. But I don’t think that’s the case with wildlife. In fact, I came across a sign away from the pond that talked about not feeding the wildlife, spelled as one word. Thus, I think it’s possible that the pond and the greenery surrounding it might be set aside not for wildlife, but for people who don’t want to live sedate lives. I could be wrong.

Don't feed or touch the pelicans. The other wild life? OK, I guess.
Don’t feed or touch the pelicans. The other wild life? OK, I guess.

Another sign I saw attached to the fence, this one at regular intervals, is the one to the left. There were pelicans swimming around the pond. I assume they had their wings clipped because the sign seems quite confident that there will be pelicans there. It’s my understanding that in the wild, pelicans have a tendency to fly away from time to time.

That’s not what struck me about the sign. I also spotted one white and one black swan and a bunch of ducks on or by the pond. There were also pigeons on the ground on both sides of the fence. Why does the sign specify that people shouldn’t touch or feed the pelicans, but places no restrictions against the other pond fowl? It seems quite discriminatory to me. The pelicans should protest.

More park pictures:

Buckingham Palace

If you read yesterday’s post, you know how miffed I was that I didn’t get an invitation to visit the Queen when I arrived in London. Today I decided to give her a second chance. I walked all the way to her place, but I didn’t get so much as a wave from a window from her. Some people; I tell you.

The best I could do was look at her house from the other side of the regal fence. It’s quite a big place, with stone exteriors. As far as I could tell from the outside, it looks well maintained. However, it must cost a fortune to heat and air condition. Nevertheless, it’s in a good neighbourhood, so the Queen could probably fetch a pretty penny if she’s strapped for cash and needs to sell the joint.

The signs to the right were placed at regular intervals on the sidewalk in front of Buckingham Palace’s fence. Maybe it’s just me, but the way it’s worded struck me as odd.

In heavily touristed areas in other European cities I’ve seen signs that say something to the effect of, simply, “Beware of Pickpockets.” “Thieves operate in this area,” on the other hand, makes it sound as if the authorities officially sanctioned thieves to operate in that area. Use caution so as to not interfere with their work.

Oh, yeah. The Palace. Here’s a picture of the palace and a statue in the publicly accessible area in front of it.

London Eye

I took a ride on the London Eye because, it’s there, ain’t it?

London Eye
London Eye

It’s a ferris wheel, but with glassed-in capsules rather than open seats.

After I paid and was about to enter, a thought invaded my otherwise empty brain. “Gee, I hope those pods are air conditioned. It’s hot and I’m about to be cooped up in a sealed clear-glass capsule. If it’s not air conditioned, I’m missing a great opportunity here. I could have brought a raw chicken with me and had a nice cooked lunch by the time I get off.”

Fortunately, the capsule was air conditioned.

Boarding was a bit disconcerting. The Eye doesn’t stop to let people on. It moves very slowly and the loading platform is curved to conform to the arc of the Eye. They expect the 20 or 30 people boarding each capsule to rush on while the ride is still turning. It did stop every once in a while when I was on, so I guess they can pause it if someone is about to have his or her limbs ripped off if they don’t. But my boarding was done while in motion.

There are some great views from the heights of the London Eye. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be riding it again. I would, but I don’t want to have to take out a mortgage on my condo back in Toronto. Besides, I doubt I could arrange for the mortgage from here.

The normal adult ticket is £30. That would have earned me the right to stand in line for what the staff at the entrance estimated to be 30 to 45 minutes. After eyeballing the line and seeing how slowly it moved, I guessed that they weren’t exaggerating the wait time. Instead, I paid an extra £10 for a “Fast Track” ticket. That got me right into an internal line. I was on the Eye in less than 10 minutes after getting to the entrance.

Below are photos of the views from the London Eye.

National Gallery

My last tourist attraction of the day was the National Gallery.

It’s a fairly large gallery filled with, not surprisingly, paintings. The National Gallery houses a maze-like set of rooms that’s easy to get lost in. That is to say, it’s easy for me to get lost in it. Then again, I get lost easily. I am capable of losing my way in a smallish, empty square room if it has more than one door.

Me being navigation-challenged and the National Gallery being somewhat maze-like, I am reasonably certain that I unintentionally missed one or more sections of it. I know what people who know me are thinking. “Yeah, yeah. He doesn’t particularly like art galleries. He probably skipped some sections on purpose.” Nay, nay, I say. I intended to visit the entire gallery. Accidentally missing a few rooms—if, in fact, I did—was just good fortune.

To make up for probably missing a few rooms, I inadvertently and unexpectedly visited some rooms multiple times. How I did that is a mystery. I didn’t think I doubled back anywhere.

I’m proud to say that in the latter part of my visit I learned some lessons and no longer made inadvertent and unexpected repeat visits to rooms. I still revisited some rooms inadvertently, but doing so was no longer unexpected. Learning to accept the inevitable is an important life skill.

Here are some pictures of an exceptionally small sample of the paintings I saw. Sorry if I’ve accidentally included any repeats.

Other Sights and Scenes

Below are a few other sights and scenes I passed along the way in my travels today.

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