September 7, 2006

London, Day Two (8.13.2006)

True to form for London, a gentle rain was coming down Sunday morning. After breakfast we headed to Marble Arch at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. I have mentioned that I love the tube art; the same is true for the subway art. Yes, London has both. Subways are convenient walkways that pass under busy intersections or round-abouts; they also occasionally connect the various tube lines at a large station. I cannot recall if this artwork was in the tube or subway, but it is only one example of the excellent decor we saw while there.

The northeast corner of Hyde Park is named Speakers' Corner. Here people can get up on their soapbox and speak their mind. I have read here and here that Speakers' Corner was where public hangings took place, most notably at the Tyburn hanging tree. Felons would sometimes begin speaking to the crowd, and usually their comments would be directed toward the state. Many Catholics would profess their allegiance to the monarchy while denouncing the Church of England. In so doing, they established a political arena of sorts and a location for public debate.

In 1872 Parliament passed the Royal Parks and Gardens Regulation Act which allowed the area to be dedicated to public speaking. The Reform League was instrumental in this development; they had worked for it since 1866, when large protests were organized in the quest for a place to assemble and assert the right to speak.

Many famous people have utilized Speakers' Corner over the years, and it is still in use today, although you are more likely to hear speeches concerning religion than anything else these days. Unfortunately for us, it was raining. There were absolutely no speakers at 10:00 on 13.8.2006 - so we took a photo of the refreshment place instead.

Our next stop was Wellington Arch. From the top, you can look down the Mall towards the Horse Parade on Whitehall. "The Iron Duke" Wellington was an interesting character. What is even more interesting is the people's feelings toward/about him. He was a war hero as well as a Prime Minister. He was successful at granting almost full rights to Catholics, something previous PMs couldn't accomplish. Unfortunately, he was against reform, and this caused people to become so upset with him that they gathered to throw missiles at his home. Oh yes, they did. Did I mention that he participated in a duel?

Our next stop was Kensington Palace. The Kensington area is very high-end, as it should be. Kensington Palace was the palace prior to Buckingham Palace. It was also the residence of Princess Diana. I enjoyed our visit there because it is a much older location than Buckingham Palace, and rooms were set up to show you how people, like Queen Victoria, lived there. We saw bedrooms and small rooms for dining in addition to the usual portrait galleries and staircases. There was an additional exhibit of some of Princess Diana's dresses as photographed prior to her death. We were able to eat some very delicious tomato soup at The Orangery, a restaurant on the premises.

The British Museum is awesome. I love ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, etc., and this free museum has everything you can think of in those areas and more. I especially enjoy Egyptian history, and this Museum has one of the largest Egyptian collections in the world. Yes, we saw mummies and the Rosetta Stone!

We saw armor from Rome, giants from Easter Island, winged bulls from Assyria, pediments from the Parthenon, pottery, money, masks, jewelry, head adornments and marble statues.

George Frederic Handel spent much of his life in London. He lived in a home near Bond Street and Oxford Street, both of which are known for being very upscale. The house on Brook Street is where he composed Messiah as well as Music for the Royal Fireworks. In addition to a few instruments, we were able to see manuscripts and letters of correspondence between Handel and librettists. Included in the manuscripts was an arrangement of a Handel fugue by Mozart. There was also an exhibit on the castrati that Señor CC was especially keen to pass by. Interesting note: the house attached to Handel House was home to Jimi Hendricks in the late 1960s. There are a few photos of him on display in the museum.

Haz is fantabulous. Yes, it is so good that I feel compelled to use a non-existent word to describe its excellence. We have never had such good everything. The wine was the best we've ever had, the starters were wonderful, and the chicken shish is a must. The dessert was delicious and the waiter even gave us drinks on the house to top it all off. We very highly recommend a visit here if you ever have a chance to spend a night in London. I cannot express how much we both enjoyed it!

Day Two ~ The End

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