Day 3: Kenzington, St. Paul’s, V&A, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

March 25, 2015

For the morning today we not only had our tour guide Sharon, but also another lady, Karen, to talk to us about more of the history and facts of London.

We passed by Kensington Gardens, seeing deeper into the gardens a large red brick building which is Kensington Palace, where queen Victoria was born, and also where Princess Diana lived with Prince Harry and William who there grew up.

Located in the large Kenzington Gardens is the Albert Memorial, built in 1872. The beloved husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert organized great Expedition of 1851, inviting people to come for arts and sciences. Together the two royals built a large crystal palace to house modern art and inventions of the new age by poets, scholars, architects, and artists. Some of these collections on display were a part of the founding collection in the V&A Museum (the Victoria and Albert Museum). He died in 1861, and soon after Queen Victoria founded the huge, almost relicory sort of structure. It was restored 15 years ago with 11.5 million pounds to fix stone and gold leaf. Each of the smaller four statues on a corner of the monument, represent the four continents. For example, Asia has an elephant in theirs.

Royal Albert Hall is across the street, which shows a lot of concerts from formal and some not. But all concerts there are much loved and very accessible.

Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral was breathtaking. At St. Paul’s there is only one part with stained glass, mostly monochromatic, all black and white and shades of then little slice of color with Victorian age. It’s been built then rebuilt in five different styles. The fifth and final Warren design by Ben Johnson was even altered very much. It’s detailed and ornate in places but not gothic. For example, there isn’t a screen behind the altar as their is with the gothic style. Golden colored screens show the crypt beneath, of great artists, military people, some royals, and such others of grand importance are buried beneath.  During WW2 there was bombing on this cathedral, but people worked extremely hard to extinguish the flames and to preserve this astounding sight to the best of their abilities. This cathedral is also the same cathedral the bird woman sits at in Mary Poppins.

We got to climb up some three hundred stairs to see far above the intricate and precise detail of the high dome above us even better as well as a better view of the layout of the floor. Not only that, but with the first three hundred steps we reached the Whispering Gallery. Due to the shape of the beginning of the high painted dome above us, when one sits against the curvature of the dome and you speak to the right (the guides told us it would help the sound travel clearer), you’re able to hear someone all the way some fifty meters across the dome in a mere whisper! It was truly fascinating. After the whispering gallery, several of us brave ones ventured on a narrow, tight fit at times, one way staircase up for another 200 or so steps, finally reaching the cramped little tippy top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sure it was a tight squeeze, but ah the view was simply stunning. You could shimmy around the tight loop of the top and see all of London stretching out in all directions. It really gave us a sense of just how large the city was, even if there weren’t an abundance of skyscrapers. Big Ben, the River Thames oh so close, the London Eye- tons and tons to see.

Update: some of the kids we saw touring St. Paul’s as a class really do look more like Harry potter than you’d think, they do dress in black dress pants/skirts with black leggings or socks, with bright sideways striped ties of the same color, with a monochromatic color in top, and all the girls’ hair is swept back neat and tidy.

Here’s some of the things our guide Sharon told us about London and as we were driving around the city:

London has 32 barrows, sorts of sections of the city. Each barrow has an elected mayor more for ceremonial purposes, but the entire city to London has a govenor who has a lot of political power. The CITY of London, original London where Romans came is called the Square mile, but not a mile and not a square either. It’s mainly a financial district center, with lot of banks, and it was bombed here quite a bit during WW2. A general election is held every five years on the 7th of May. Their government is similar to our in that we also have a bicameral (two house) system, Britian’s two houses being the House of Lords (people who were historically born into these jobs due to elite status) and the House of Commons (people who were voted in, pretty much commonors). The Queen has a meeting with the Prime Minister once a week, though she isn’t officially allowed to get involved in politics. All the royals are pretty much supposed stay out of politics though they do have a lot of social power and power over tradition, especially the Queen. Though Sharon tells us how some Britts think Prince Charles gets involved in politics a little too much.

Big Ben’s official name is the Elizabeth Tower, but only since 2012. It was named for the bell inside and then remained at the Queen Elizabeth II’s  Diamond Jubilee. A Jubilee is a sort of grand party that celebrates how long a monarch has been on the throne. After 25 years is the Silver Jubilee, then at 50 is the Golden Jubliee, and 60 years is the Diamond Jubilee. The longest monarch to reign has been Queen Victoria, reigning 64 years, but right now the Queen Elizabeth is catching up quick at about 63 years.

The reason why London was build where it is by the Romans is due to the River Thames (pronounced like Tems). This river not only provided transportation, but also fresh water, an extremely important necessity back then. The River Thames is a tidal river, moving 24 feet up and down twice a day.

We stopped for a traditional lunch in Chinatown, one of the largest Chinatowns, second only to the one in San Francisco. After, we headed to The V&A Museum, which stands for Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort Albert. It’s full of some amazing exhibits of jewelry, sculptures, ornate rugs, gilded furniture, and all sorts of wonderful things. There were examples on how gilded wood carvings were made. Wood sculpture was carved, then painted with plaster, then painted on with fabric and plaster again, then a special clay painted on, then the thin gold leaf carefully applied, and finally after painted again and then paint rubbed off to show the gold in a design. A particularly great part about this museum is that it has lots of plaster molds of sculpture around the world from decades ago, so while the real ones have eroded, the V&A’s plaster molds are still in great condition. The sculpture besides that is still breathtaking, from all different sorts of eras, Roman figures to modern busts to Egyptian columns. Also, since the building of the museum itself is from the Victorian Era then with some modern expansion, it’s confusing to get from level to level. Some staircases only go to levels 1,2, and 4 while others only go to 1 and 3.

We were able to stop here to buy some souvenirs here in the gift shop, but it’s easy to forget just how much something costs. My eight dollars wasn’t even worth 5 pounds, or quid as is the slang for the Britts.

Coming back to the hotel for a quick change into more fancy attire, we drove through the bustling evening traffic to eat dinner before zipping over to see the most fabulous performance of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. The set changes were huge and incredible, and the oompa-loompas really did look like little people from all the illusions of costumes and set. We however were the most dressed up ones there, since apparently in London we were unaware how people dress casually for going to the theater. But it doesn’t really matter since we still had a wonderful time.

23:24 PM London Time, March 23, 2015

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