A Texas Yankee: Whirlwind tour starts by hitting city's highlights

Published on Saturday, 2 August 2014 22:24 - Written by Phil Hicks phicks@tylerpaper.com

LONDON — For the first time in my life, I was referred to as a Yankee or more precisely a Yank.

With both sides of my family having grown up in the South, it made me chuckle.

What would my mom and grandmothers say?

This happened while I was in London, and my thoughts first turned to baseball and the New York Yankees. I started to say, “No, I’m a Rangers fan,” before I realized the older gentleman was merely referring to me as an American.

About a month later at our family reunion, my cousin Rhonda informed our gathering that we had at least three of our ancestors fought in the American Revolution. So as Blanche Devereaux said on “The Golden Girls,” I am a Yankee.

But back to London — what a beautiful but expensive city. But it was well worth the trip.

Our itinerary gave us two free days in England, so we hit the road running after our overnight flight from Dallas to Heathrow Airport. The best way to get around the city is London’s Underground — better known as the Tube by the locals. The British are very helpful in determining what kind of pass you need for The Tube.

There are so many things to see in London, so we had to narrow our list. Before you go, it would be wise to book a tour or at least a day ahead when you arrive. Many tours will come to your hotel to pick you up or tell you where to meet.

 

PICCADILLY CIRCUS

The first day we were on our own and made a dash to see Buckingham Palace, followed by an adventure to Piccadilly Circus and the West End theater district.

On my return to Texas, my 4-year-old great-nephew Dylan overheard me talking about Piccadilly Circus, and he immediately asked me whether there were elephants at the circus.

I had trouble explaining to him it was a bit different than Ringling Bros. Although England and the U.S. speak English, there are so many different meanings and spellings.

But the circus in Piccadilly means “a circular open space at a street junction.”

Piccadilly Circus, with the large video displays and neon lights, is a public place in the city of Westminster. There are lots of shopping areas and eating establishments as well as opportunities to buy tickets to all the shows and even Wimbledon matches.

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is one of the main attractions with the statue of Eros. It is a huge gathering place with tourists and locals alike hanging out there.

There are several other buildings in the area including the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre.

 

ABBEY ROAD

After grabbing a bite at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, we headed off to find Abbey Road, taking the Tube to St. John’s Wood Station. It is about a five-minute walk from the station.

It was quite a treat to see the location where the cover shot of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album was photographed. The album’s cover photo features the “Fab Four” walking across a zebra crossing as they say in England. The recording studio is adjacent to the crosswalk.

The album includes such favorites as “Here Comes the Sun,” “Come Together” and “Something.”

Please keep in mind, the crosswalk is not roped off, and it is a very busy street. The cars and buses speed by, but there are some kind folks who slow down and even stop to allow you to get your photo at mid-cross.

Crossing barefoot is another story.

If you are a Beatles fan, take time to venture to the crossing. It was well worth it.

 

ST. PAUL’S CATHERDAL

The next day we booked a tour. It really gives you an opportunity to see most of the main attractions.

Our first stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is the seat of the Bishop of London and mother church of the Diocese of London. It is named after the apostle Paul.

The present building dates to the 17th century, having survived Adolf Hitler’s Blitzkrieg during World War II.

Our British tour guide pointed out the church is important to the Brits, as the beautiful building stood tall among the smoke and fire of the bombings from the Germans.

The dome is 365 feet high, and it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962. It is an iconic church the people of London love.

Many important services have been held at St. Paul’s, including funerals for the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Admiral Lord Nelson.

There have been happy occasions as well, peace services marking the end of World War I and World War II as well as the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. It also has been the site of thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee, the 80th birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

There are so many mosaics and paintings inside as well as the tombs of Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

 

TOWER OF LONDON

The Tower of London, on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, is formally known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. Or when Prince Charles or Prince William take over His Majesty’s, etc.

Portions of the castle were built by William the Conquer in 1078. It was a prison and a site of executions.

It later served as a royal residence and was expanded mainly by King Richard the Lionheart, King Henry III and King Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Tower of London has been many things — an armory, a treasury, a public records office — and is the home of the Crown Jewels.

The Beefeaters, the red-uniformed guards of the area, greet you and give a brief history of the Tower.

There are many theories of why they are called Beefeaters, but the one that seems logical are they tasted the beef or food before the monarch would dine.

Take time to visit the various towers and areas. St. John’s Chapel is inside the White Tower. Also, there are weapons of the past as well as knights’ armor.

The Beefeaters, who live with their families at the site, said the housing of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London most likely began around the reign of Henry VIII.

Although the line is very long to see the Crown Jewels, it moves swiftly. However, you are asked to not take photos inside.

The jewels are spectacular, some of which include plates, crown, scepter and sword. It is a glittering display.

The Tower of London still has its famous crows, and there are wire animal sculptures around the area, representing times when royalty kept lions, tigers and polar bears there — most of which were gifts from foreign leaders.

 

BIG BEN

I quickly found out from locals Big Ben is not the big clock at the Houses of Parliament.

Big Ben is, in fact, the nickname for the Great Bell at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parlia­ment). It is inside the tower.

The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower. It was renamed in 2012 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.

Our guide said the tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. The tower was completed in 1858.

It is one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom.

 

LONDON EYE

For a spectacular view of London, take a ride on the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on the south bank of the River Thames. The structure is about 443 feet high. It was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world when built in 1999, but it has been surpassed since, most recently by the High Roller (550 feet) in Las Vegas.

Workers at the site said about 3.5 million visit each year.

It has 32 passenger capsules — each can hold 25 people. You can walk around the capsule or sit down to take in the view. It takes about 30 minutes for a rotation. It is much like a ride at Walt Disney World, it does not stop, but the rotation is slow enough to allow passengers to get on and off easily.