Well, after a busy couple of days, we slept in this morning and got a late start. We crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge to the south side of the River Thames where we walked the Southwark Christmas market and found food – our first experience with traditional meat pies! We both had the steak and mushroom pie with mash. Delicious.
We rode the Eye of London since the weather was beautiful today – mid-40s but mostly sunny so the views were stellar. It really impresses on you that London us not just dense but large, extending as far as the eye could see from the very top of the wheel.
After our ride, we walked along the south side of the Thames on The Queen’s Walk, just exploring. It did not take long to get out of the tourist areas. We passed Saint Thomas Hospital, which was named for St. Thomas Beckett – likely after he was canonized in 1173 – so some form of infirmary or hospital has been in that area since that time. The current structures were completed in 1871 and newer 20th century structures are further west on the Thames. Interestingly, Florence Nightingale was affiliated with Saint Thomas Hospital. We also stumbled on Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London for the last 800 years.
The palace is attached to a beautiful small church with stained glass windows and buttresses; it has been converted to a museum. However, it is currently undergoing renovations. The Palace is on the Thames, which would have been the most expedient form of transportation for the archbishops. John Wycliffe was tried for heresy here, and the Palace was attacked in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, among other historic events. We also saw the not-so-secret headquarters of Secret Intelligence or MI-6. Hello, Mr. Bond.
We returned to the north side of the Thames working our way east toward Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The structures are such iconic London landmarks, but seeing them up close, we were impressed with their beauty, massive scale and architectural details.
It is easy to imagine how people in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were overwhelmed and influenced by the wealth and power of the clergy and the gentry with churches and palaces that could be seen from miles away. Westminster Abbey actually comprises the Abbey, St. Margaret’s – a completely separate chapel, and the choir building. We arrived at the Abbey too late for a tour, but will go back another day.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we made our way to Covent Garden for some shopping and dinner. The Christmas decorations and massive tree in the square are so festive. In many of the shopping areas and Christmas markets, there are buskers and entertainment on the sidewalks. Our understanding is that if they are in a market, like Covent Garden, they have to audition and are given specific time slots to perform. Tonight’s entertainment involved an American on a unicycle about 15 feet off the ground. He had a large and enthusiastic crowd gathered. Inside the enclosed arcade at Covent Garden was a live opera singer as well.
After shopping for a bit, we had dinner and headed in the general direction of the hotel. We stopped by a chocolate shop for some gifts, and they had hot chocolate. This is our latest discovery in Britain. If you order hot chocolate, it is just that: it seems like they melt the chocolate and pour it into a cup. It is almost thick enough to stand a spoon up in and so rich! Incredible. We found ourselves in Leicester Square before heading through Trafalger and back to the hotel for the night. We had a great day simply exploring, and getting out of the tourist areas, which we love to do when we travel. Hope you enjoyed our blog for today. Please feel free to leave a comment below, and we will blog again tomorrow.