I took my daughter Faith to London for school break, and it's taken me awhile to get back on schedule. We were absolute tourists, all the big sights you would expect. So don't expect any undiscovered gems or anything. Thought February was a great time to go, not too cold, not many other tourists. A few highlights:
Faith is a big politics fan, so we saw sittings of both Commons and Lords. The Commons chamber was destroyed during WWII, and is kind of bland, but Lords still has the elaborate 1834 Gothic Revival interior. Faith saw Boris Johnson in the Central Lobby--I saw the back of his head.
In keeping with the politics theme, we went to the Garrick and saw This House, by James Graham, a wonderful play about an unpromising subject, the hung Parliament of the mid-1970s, with the two party deputy whips as the main characters. Watching the procedural infighting, sly tactics, and confict between principle and practice might seem to show how arbitrary procedure is, but really shows how the structure provided by procedure keeps passion within bounds and focused on meaningful ends. Harrison, the Labor deputy chief whip, says, at a climactic moment, that all he ever wanted to do was work in the engine room. I also liked that MPs were always referred to by their constituency, particularly "Finchley" (Margaret Thatcher).
I kept away from huge museums, which can be tiring, but we both enjoyed the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, which is kind of a museum of the museum's origin, just the right size, and full of interesting oddities.
The Palladian Queen's House at Greenwich is startlingly elegant, with impressive maritime art, including a portrait of the older Pepys, long after his Diary, which placed him right in his day job--and an impressive day job it was, too.
Lots of Hawksmoor churches, one in Greenwich, several along the Docklands Light Railway on the way back, and Christ Church in Spitalfields, where I took Faith afterward to rummage through the vast number of vintage clothing stores there. Faith got tired of Hawksmoor. I did not. My interest him no doubt stems from the Peter Ackroyd novel Hawksmoor which I remember being impressed by when I first read it, but I'd like to think I have my own aesthetic response to his stagy facades.
John Soane collected more things in his house than I would be comfortable with, but I'd still like to liver there. And you can always go right across Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Hunterian Museum to see the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, whose biggest fear was that John Hunter would get hold of his body after he died and put his skeleton on display in his museum. There is something so wonderful and awful about the tangle of love of knowledge, obsessive completism, and showmanship revealed by the incident that I hope well-meaning spoilsports never give the long-gone Byrne the funeral at sea (in a lead coffin) that he was desperate to have. Science is never an emotionally neutral endeavor.
I'd forgotten what a theme park of the war against Napoleon St. Paul's Cathedral got turned into: aside from Wellington and Nelson, it's piled with the overblown monuments of forgotten generals and admirals. And Nelson's black marble sarcophagus (lowered through the cathedral floor to the crypt during the funeral ceremony in what must have been an extremely stressful event for the engineer) was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, then taken by Henry VIII for his own tomb, but never used (perhaps not large enough....) and then knocking around royal palaces for 250 years, never quite matching the decor, until George III finally figured out a use for it.
And we went on the Millennium Eye. I'm from Chicago, so it takes more than a leftover from the Columbian Exposition to impress me, but it's got a good view. Still, I'd advise spending the money on beer instead.
Well, that's enough. Give me beer and a lot of old crap to look at, and I'm happy.