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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

London Calling

So we made it to the halfway point in the program, the independent travel section in jolly old London. We arrived in England on a pretty dreary day as it was cold and raining...it pretty much stayed that way the entire time we were there. London does not get a lot of sun and the weather can be kind of depressing when you are walking around outside the entire day. Rain jackets were a must at all times because the sky could open up at any minute to a very cold rain. Taking pictures in this weather becomes a real challenge and sketching a building is almost impossible. We were lucky enough to get a few breaks, but they were few and far between.

But enough about the weather...it was good just to be able to understand exactly what was being said to you here. We have already encountered several different languages and they all start to run together after awhile but at least being here, you feel closer to home. Of course I let a few "thank yous" in Germans slip, but at this point, thats to be expected. The lure of London is really about its tradition, not new and modern architecture, so that made this visit a little different for us. In some ways this was time for us to be just another tourist and enjoy the sights, but there was still plenty to see and do here and it wasn't even an issue asking for directions.

Easily one of the most well know architects of today, Norman Foster, is from and has his office in England. You really can't go any where in the city without being close by a Foster and Associates building. It's easy to tell the people love their native architect and his buildings are the most well know around the city. One of the latest projects to come out of his office goes by several names, the Swiss Tower, the Gherkin, or 30 St. Mary Axe being the most common ones. London is not a city that builds up very often, so seeing this skyscraper from different parts of the city becomes an adventure in itself. The tower is situated in a business section where the winds cut right through your cloths due to the tight spaces and larger buildings around. This plays into the design of the building by allowing it to expand from the base and eventually taper back towards the top. This is so the wind is lifted up and spiraled over the building instead of causing it to just sit and twirl at the base. The white bracing can be seen spiraling up the facade and enhances the spiral effect to the eye. I has a chance to visit this on a Sunday when the businesses were close and the windows were being cleaned from the very top. The wind in the area was able to carry the water over a block away leaving a few passerbys to get their umbrellas ready.

Swiss Tower

The tourist sites of London are some of the most talked about and impossible to pass up. Special trips were made to see Big Ben and even the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This spectacle goes up for about an hour and consist of the night guards being replaced by the familiar fuzzy hat ones. There are literally hundreds of people that show up to this each day and the sidewalks become pretty crowded. Several bands of guards march down the street playing anthems before they gather in the courtyard and basically put on a concert. The funniest song they played happened to be the very first one, as the audience was treated to the Imperial March from Star Wars. It's pretty much a mini parade complete with bands and guards on horse back that look like they are straight out of Lord of the Rings. The finale comes as the bands march back out playing and had the good fortune of having one of the horses make it an interesting march out.

Now if there is one thing you can find plenty of in London, other than clouds, its bridges. The city is located on the river and is know for it's bridges, but perhaps the most famous one today hasn't even fell down yet and is only a pedestrian bridge that connects the side of St. Paul's Cathedral to that of Shakespeare's Globe Theater. The Millennium Bridge, by surprise, Norman Foster, is a suspension bridge thats strong angles and connections make it easily recognizable. Huge tension cables support the bridge by pulling from either side and joining in the middle. Thousands of people cross the bridge daily weather it is to get to work across town of just to enjoy the views of the river.
Millennium Bridge

And thus ends our time in London, as Shakespeare would say, "Parting is such sweet sorrow" especially in a city where you understand what all is being said, but we are now in the home stretch with Spain on the way next.

Things learned:
Yes, the weather is terrible in London
No, the fish n chips were not as good as expected
Crossing cross walks is a bit harder when they drive the wrong way
Abbey Road photo shoots are more difficult than you'd think

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