Saturday, March 1, 2014

Walks, Wanders, and World War II

Today was a long day, feet-speaking.

It started at what should have been 8:30 and kinda wasn't, because I'm bad at making myself leave the flat on the right time for getting to anything. My flatmates were headed to the High Street Kensington station. I, being contrary, went in the opposite direction to South Kensington, which is a slightly longer walk but two stations closer to where we needed to go. Which was Westminster.


This is the old part of the Houses of Parliament, used primarily for laying people in state and allowing tourists to take at least one photo on their tour-of-Parliament day. The ceiling's pretty dang cool.

The rest of the building is much, much cooler, but for that you'll have to Google. Suffice to say: gilt. Paintings. Heraldry. Beautiful woodwork. Statues. Benches on which we were not allowed to sit. House of Lords: Red. House of Commons: Green. Monarchy: Tudor rose. Parliament: Beaufort portcullis. Pomp and ceremony: in spades. Political debates peppered with petty name-calling and various instances of physical violence: oh, go on then.

'Twas pretty cool.

But the day was not over! After touring Parliament, we braved the crowds (getting thicker with the warmer weather) to do this week's Walk and see some cool stuff. For instance, we found this cool new memorial to the women of World War II.

It was just outside the horse guards, where, as advertised, some honest-to goodness horses were standing guard. They had people in silly hats on their backs. We also wandered past a Banqueting Hall, a statue of Charles I (folks are still really kinda proud of themselves for beheading this guy), an imperial arch, and the capital of France.

Or, at least, where the capital of France was when Charles de Gaulle was running things from over the channel. They've put a statue of him across from the building, so he can remember where his house is.

Speaking of finding one's house, and World War II, and other such, our next stop was the Churchill War Rooms.

(In between these two stops, I hiked up to Leicester Square to see if I could snag a ticket for the last night of One Man, Two Gov'nors. Turns out I couldn't. So then I hiked back down. There was some walking. That's okay, though, right? I can walk forever and ever. I'm tough.)

So the War Rooms are where Churchill and his staff camped out during the Blitz, keeping track of everything on a primitive GPS known as "a giant map pinned to the wall with pins in it." It's a little warren of meeting rooms and basic housing, plus one super-secret telephone to the White House disguised as the only proper bathroom in the facility.

The parts of the complex that weren't restored have been made into a Churchill museum, assembled by the Imperial War Museum (which is made up of folks that know a thing or two about museums, believe you me). The man was a great speechwriter. He was also kind of full of himself and seems to have given the poor typists merry hell, but a heck of a great speechwriter.

I caved here and finally bought something from a gift shop: a bottle of dandelion and burdock soda. Yaay, wartime ration treats! It was actually pretty tasty.

After a good wander through the War Rooms, I teamed up with Ashlyn and Tyler to hit Camden Market, where Tyler hadn't been, Ashlyn had been but wanted to check out some brooches, and I wanted to go to get a cup of tea at my favorite tea shop. It is still the very best tea shop.

We also discovered Ashlyn's compelling and bizarre love of antique suitcases.

So after a good wander, and a hike up the road to find an ATM, and a hike back to the market to buy shirts (Tyler's, not mine) and an umbrella (finally found one for 3 pounds . . . and now it will never rain again), and a hike to find a useful bus station, and a hike from the bus's drop-off back to the house, I am curled up in my bed and wondering, "Why do my legs feel all funny?"

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