It’s the third and final day in London for this trip and you’re determined to shake off that panic of despairing that there’s so much to see. You square your shoulders and decide to tackle one of the most historic streets in London: Whitehall.
The Tube (subway) drops you at Charing Cross Station, and a five-minute walk finds you beside the stone lions of Trafalgar Square. By turning left, you see in the distance your final destination: Big Ben.
Along the way, you’re turning pages and pages of history. Your Baedaeker’s reveals that this route was once the site of the Palace of White Hall, official royal residence (until it burned to the ground).
Over there are the Queen’s Horse Guards, famous for their Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Now comes Downing Street with its massive metal gate reducing you to a distant peek at Number 10, home of the Prime Minister.
There, in the middle of the street is The Cenotaph, a monument to lives lost during World War I. (In the minute of silence following the dedication, the city was so hushed that all that could be heard was the sound of women weeping.)
In a block further you take an hour’s break to explore the War Rooms, Churchill’s headquarters preserved exactly as it looked during the Blitz of World War II.
Finally, at the southernmost end of Whitehall are the Houses of Parliament. The nearby bridge over the Thames is painted green to represent the House of Commons; the next bridge west is red for the House of Lords.
But especially, you stand before the grand tower renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the longest-reigning monarch in the country’s legendary history: Elizabeth II. Within Elizabeth Tower is suspended the bell Big Ben, ringing celebrated deep tones now replicated in doorbells and clocks across the world. Its name probably came from Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw its installation, which was quite a feat since the bell is over 13 tons in weight. Since 1859 it has been regularly and accurately striking the quarter throughout peacetime.
What an amazing street.
“But,” you cry, “I haven’t seen Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, St. Paul’s. Aaugh!”
We will save those treasures for another time. For now we’re retreating to the countryside and taking the train as far west as we can: to the charming coastal area of England known as Cornwall.
Next Time: Rusticating in Cornwall
Churchill War Room: Sahar Cohen
No. 10 Downing: The Guardian
Others: Open Sources