oh the establishments of time, civilization, and toys
Saturday dawned bright and early, and yet we did not. haha. Saturday was to be another late-morning start, but no mind: this was an architecture and absorption day. Exiting at Charing Cross, we made our way down the Strand. Our goal was to see the Royal Courts of Justice and the Temple. We ended up being partially thwarted in our design, but that is far a later part of this blog.
Walking down the Strand, we passed a few landmarks of note. The first was the Savoy, a 120 year old Edwardian and Deco hotel known for its luxury. This was a partial success: we were able to glimpse inside, but not able to go in as the hotel has been closed for reconstruction. It's set to open in October, to much aplomb, I'm sure. At any rate, I did wish that I could have seen the interior as the glimpses I got were stunning. Another time. Further down the block is King's College. Notable alumni of King's College: Desmond Tutu, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, and numerous influential politicians and leaders, among others. Furthermore, the nursing school started by Florence Nightingale is a part of King's College. Across the street is Somerset House, a beautiful neo-Classical building used for both performing and stationary arts exhibits. Before long, we arrived at the Royal Courts, a building I would never have guessed to be the courthouse had I been guessing. The Victorian interpretation of Gothic architecture reminds one more of a church complex than a courthouse. It's very impressive, and I would have enjoyed going inside, but we were thwarted by the early closing down of all things legal on a Saturday.
I did get a nice and unexpected surprise though: across the street from the Royal Courts of Justice is the Twining's Tea shop. Founded in 1706, the shop is small and quaint and filled with amazing, lovely smells. I bought some. I was dreadfully tempted by the tea for one sets but feared trying to pack that and have it arrive home in one piece. Or well, the proper pieces in which it began. Instead, I took Phillip's souvenir suggestion and purchased a fun variety of sample tea singles. They are a win-win: lovely, delicious, solve-all-your-problems cups of tea; Twining's wrappers to go in my souvenir-holding pockets. (I'll be sure to take pictures of my UK Trip souvenir/map/memory pockets. I don't have the patience, etc., to do scrapbooks. haha) After the lovely Twining's diversion, we headed down the street towards the Temple. The Temple is a partially residential area that serves the needs of law students, interns, and barristers. It also has grown to house a good many private law firms as well. It is here, at the bounds of the Temple, that you can find the Temple Bar Monumet. This griffon-topped monument marks the boundary between the City of London and Westminster. This is probably the best place to pause and briefly summarize the geo-political makeup of London. What most people think of when they think of London is actually a conglomeration of a number of cities and towns that have been annexed into the larger metropolitan area, much like NYC is really five distinct boroughs or New Orleans is made up of a number of distinct suburbs and towns all close enough to be considered one area. Interestingly, the City of London retains a very Medieval political structure as well as a high degree of autonomy. It is actually run by a corporation of the Lord Mayor, city aldermen, Court of Common Council, and two sheriffs. It's all quite Middle Ages carried into modern times, really. At any rate, all that to note that the City of London is an entity within the entity of Greater London (all the other amalgamated cities and towns together) and is marked by a roughly square mile boundary. The Temple Bar monument is part of that boundary. It used to be an archway called the Temple Bar which was removed for better traffic flow. It sat around in a park for a while, but is now being restored and replaced within the City, though not in its original location. It will, instead, reside in Paternoster Square in the shadow of St. Paul's--a fitting place as it was purportedly also designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Final historical note before returning back up Fleet Street and the Strand: Fleet Street is the famous former home of the entirety of the British News Press until very recently (2005 saw the exit of the final major news house). "Fleet Street" continues to function as metonymy (as when we say "Washington" and mean the federal government) for the British press and journalism.
Tracing our steps back up the Strand, we crossed over to Covent Garden Market. Covent Garden is where Eliza Doolittle sells her flowers in G.B. Shaw's play, Pygmalion (and the movie adaptation, My Fair Lady). For much of its history, it was solely associated with fruits and vegetables: first as an area of monastery gardens and later as a fruit and vegetable market. For a while, in between its use as a fruits and vegetables market, it was a market for other things--well-known as a red-light district. Interesting comma in its history, for sure. Now, it does house food market booths in front, but the market hall is filled with boutiques and restaurants. Covent Garden Market is also home to a variety of street performances, the Royal Opera House, the London Transport Museum, and St. Pauls, an Italianate style church designed by Inigo Jones, British architect of note and the first modern scenic designer (the latter being what I always associate with him, naturally haha).
After enjoying Covent Garden, we wandered through the theatre district to Piccadilly Circus (London's Times Square). Sadly, the signage was down and scaffolded for repair. The juncture itself is open and busy and interesting, though. Wandering back around through Leicester Square (a lovely park surrounded by all the cinemas in London--at least it feels that way. haha), we found London's Chinatown. While it has some similarities to New York's, it was distinctly British, really. Airy, less street vending, but still busy and definitely a world within a world, London's Chinatown is worth a walkthrough. We picked up a very nice dinner (at which time I learned that Phillip is very bad with chopsticks, and I clung tightly to that one small triumph I have over him. :-P) that would be carried back to the hotel in time to watch the World Cup match. Part of our route home included a walk down Regent Street and a visit to Hamley's Toys, a super gigantic toy store where the employees play with the toys and build super amazing LEGO displays. Now I can add Hamley's to FAO Schwarz Chicago on my "visit massive toy stores" list. Interestingly, Hamley's does bears as well; Hamley's is 150 years older than FAO Schwarz, though, so its bears probably win. haha
Hamley's was followed by the trip back, Chinese food (I used chopsticks, by the way), watching Denmark win, and sleep. Day 4 accomplished; tomorrow would hold more art, monuments, and the Tower. *insert creepy dungeon noises*