www.richard-seaman.com / Travel / United Kingdom / London


London is Europe's largest city, with a population of seven and a half million people who come from every part of the planet.   Despite its low-rise, humble appearance, it's also an economic powerhouse, worth $US162 billion in 1999 - more than the entire economy of Switzerland, Poland or Singapore.   This is a place with world-famous character  - even Harvey and Mabel from Ohio know many of the highlights and icons of London - black taxi cabs, red double-decker buses, and unsmiling guardsmen in bearskin hats.

I'm not an especially great fan of architecture, but there are buildings here to interest anyone, from the truly ancient like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, to more recent concoctions like St Paul's Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament with the clock, commonly and incorrectly known as Big Ben.   There's also the Queen's home, Buckingham Palace.   With so much history it's inevitable that monuments also abound, with dozens of statues of the Good and Great, Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column, a huge structure called the Albert Memorial which commemorates Queen Victoria's golden boy husband, and a lesser known pillar called simply The Monument, which commemorates the Great London Fire.   Perhaps the most famous structure in London isn't a building or a monument, it's Tower Bridge, which might also qualify as the most misidentified symbol of the city.   While you're traipsing between all of these things, don't forget to look around to see the ornaments on the buildings, ranging from genuine medieval gargoyles to modern day flights of fancy, put there just for the pleasure of it.   There are interesting religious buildings, starting from a recently discovered Roman Temple of Mithras, dedicated to a bull god, through to the unique circular Temple Church built after the Crusades, and then on to St Paul's Cathedral and the other Christopher Wren churches built after the fire.

Culturally, there are plenty of museums to serve as a repository for the treasures of the British Empire, and whatever other treasures British adventurers could lay their hands on.   Chief among these museums is the British Museum with a huge collection from cultures all over the world, including the Egyptian Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles plundered from Greece.   The Victoria and Albert museum is also worth a visit, even if only to see the World War Two shrapnel damage on the outside walls, which was left as a reminder.   The scientifically minded can visit the Natural History Museum, and see interesting aircraft at the London Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum.   Real aviation enthusiasts can take the Tube up to the Royal Air Force Museum in the suburb of Hendon.   Those interested in military history can also tour the HMS Belfast, one of the few remaining World War Two battleships on this side of the Atlantic.

London's parks are a pleasant break from the noise of the city.   St James' Park was a particular favourite of mine because of all of the exotic birds which are allowed to wander freely inside its boundaries.   If you've grown tired of the history, architecture and culture on offer, then the park is also a good place to see the human inhabitants of the city enjoying themselves.   These inhabitants have also expressed themselves around the city in some often funny signs and other writings.   And just when you thought that there wasn't anything else to do, you can take a night tour of the city, either by bus, on the Underground, or walking, to see all of the tourist sights floodlit for your pleasure.

www.richard-seaman.com / Travel / United Kingdom / London