London seems in full summer mode, a meteorological phenonmonon that has surprised me and left me walking the streets in Ithaca gear (that is, a water resistant jacket) not suited for this warm weather. The sun and the stunning sky have startled me; the brilliant blue becomes a startling backdrop for the complex and changing skyline.
Not far from my hotel, along the edge of Bloomsbury, is the St. Pancras neighborhood over which towers this mid-Victorian marvel that was originally the Midland Grand Hotel. Recently restored after after half a century of neglect and transformed into the Renaissance St. Pancras, the hotel also functions as the frontispiece of the St. Pancras train station, the terminal for Eurostar trains heading to the continent. I hope it will remain as such, even as the Brexit discussions proceed.
For our first full day in London, Nancy and I followed our usual inclination of walking to the water. The route took us as directly south as possible into the heart of London’s Leicester Square and the West End. The walk was akin to wandering through Times Square, an urban hothouse of shuffling crowds, guides hawking bus tours, restaurants offering authentic English food. As we neared the river, I caught a glimpse of one of the towers of Westminster, but the most noticeable attraction was the London Eye, the slowly turning Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the Thames.
Our immediate goal, after checking the map, was a walk along the Thames Embankment to the Westminster complex Two obstacles: a construction project refurbishing part of the Embankment and the dense crowds funneling toward Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben was undergoing a facelift, so we bypassed that monument quickly (no selfie posts with the clock tower looming overhead).
We also decided to forego the Abbey which was surrounded by the same shuffling stream of tourists that had moved us along the river. This is a Bank Holiday weekend, so I don’t know of the throngs are weekend travelers or simply the beginning of the summer season. Just off to the side of the Abbey entrance was an archway taking us into the Dean’s Yard, a remarkably serene and quiet enclave, a few steps from the Abbey. From here, we had sufficient and calm view of the Abbey spires. While a sign emphatically told me to keep off the grass, three boys, expertly to my inexpert eyes, kicked a soccer ball around the grounds. They might have been students at the Abbey Choir School, along the edge of the Dean’s Yard, seeming unaware of any decanal prohibitions.