These photographs and notes are from our Spring Break trip to London in April. Spring hadn't come yet to England, however--the buds were barely perceptible on most of the trees, and daytime highs remained in the 50's.
Even on a cold day in early April, the traffic and crowds are so dense that it's difficult to walk around in central London. The oyster card that you purchase to ride the underground will also allow you to board one of the Thames Clippers that run up and down the river, offering commuter service with frequent scheduled departures. We took one past the Tower of London and under London Bridge to an award-winning pub near the water in East London, where we had a traditional Sunday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
St. Paul's Cathedral was celebrating its 300th anniversary the year we visited. The present baroque masterpiece was completed in 1710, but there's been a cathedral on the site for 1400 years (the immediate predecessor to the current St. Paul's was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666). Viewed from the interior, the dome is surprisingly massive, and the vast interior space is truly impressive.
The expansive grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are located along the south bank of the Thames River on the west side of London. Kew Gardens boasts the world's largest plant collection, with around 30,000 specimens. The 19th century greenhouse includes exotic palm trees that are bent over at the top where they press against the glass ceiling
We especially enjoyed seeing the lions, tigers, giraffes, okapis, and meerkats at the London Zoo, but the highlight was probably the otters. Several minutes before their scheduled feeding time, they work themselves up into a high state of anticipatory excitement, eagerly scanning the crowd for their keepers and making urgent chirping sounds.
This picture was taken in St. James Park, with the Government Treasury Chambers in the background. In the basement of the building are the Cabinet War Rooms, preserved just as they were in World War II when Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet used them as a secure location to escape German bombing. The Churchill War Rooms are one of five branches of the Imperial War Museum, and definitely worth a visit. It's amazing to contemplate the ordinary, unremarkable scale of the underground bunker, with its warren of small, low-ceiling, dingy rooms all equipped with quaint technology, and to consider that these rooms were the scene of such momentous history.
Notting Hill in West London is renowned for its shopping and dining and for its Victorian architecture. The neighborhood may be most famous to Americans as the setting for the charming 1999 film with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, in which Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant in a Hugh Grant movie, and Julia Roberts does her familiar and generally captivating Julia Roberts bit.