Travel Journal March 11, 1999
Palaces, Pews, Politics and Plants.

London, cont.

Today I decided to catch up on some of the sights in London that I had missed earlier. I started by taking the tube to Victoria station, and booked another day trip for tomorrow. Then I walked about two blocks to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, the changing of the guard occurs on ever other day in the winter months, and today was the wrong day. Oh, well, I guess I'll have to save it for the next trip :-)

After the palace, I walked about 6 blocks to Westminster Abbey, and took replacement photos of some of the ones that had gotten spoiled earlier. As is customary with sacred sites, no photos were allowed inside.

The inside of Westminster Abbey is literally crammed with sarchophagi and monuments to dead people. Just about every nook and cranny in the place has got somebody's tomb in it (the typical tomb ranges from about 2x1x1 meters, up to about 3x3x5 meters). Inbetween the tombs are ensconced various statues and plaques commemorating other people. The floor stones are also grave markers.

I noticed also that this cathedral, like Salisbury, had a small commemoration of Amnesty International, in this case it was a literal embodiment of the Amnesty International symbol - a large candle, on a candle stand, surrounded by barbed wire.

   The front of the abbey.

  More parts of the Abbey.

St. Margarets Cathedral, the smaller church which is next to the abbey.

Notice the statue of Martin Luther King at the front of the abbey.

  Texture maps for you to use...

Then across the street to the houses of Parliament.

  The obligatory clock tower pictures. Note that "Big Ben" is not the name of the tower or the clock, but in fact the name of the bell inside the tower.

  More pictures of Parliament.

There was some sort of political display across the street from the entrance to the House of Commons.

They were allowing visitors into the Strangers Gallery at the House of Commons, so I joined the queue. After about 5 minutes, a guard showed us into a waiting room, where we waited again for about 10 minutes (looking at the beautiful paintings). Then, we had to pass all of our items through metal detectors. The guard then led us to a room, where we had to sign a paper promising that we wouldn't make a disturbance. Up four flights of stairs, then we had to leave behind our cameras. Finally, an officer frisked each of us for weapons.

I spent about 40 minutes watching the various discussions, which I think was longer than I was supposed to. The main topic had to do with funding for libraries, although it often digressed into other comments about the budget. One particular member of the opposition spoke for a little over 20 minutes, saying that while there was much in the budget that his party agreed with, he thought that it contained too many "gimmicks" and "frills". Then a member of the government responded, saying "I want to thank the member of the opposition for bringing up these points, and I have to say that I agree with many of his comments, all but the last 20 minutes or so." This brought a general round of laughter.

One interesting factoid: Although there are 659 members of Parliament, there is seating accommodation for only 437. According to the guidebook: "This restriction is deliberate: the House is not a forum for set orations; it's debates are largely conversational in character, and for many of them - highly specialized in theme, or of a routine nature - few Members are present, many others being engaged on other Parliamentary duties in the Palace of Westminster. Thus, a small intimate Chamber is more convenient. Conversely, on great occasions, when the House is full and Members have to sit in the gangways, or cluster around the Speaker's Chair, at the Bar and in the side galleries, the drama of Parliament is enhanced, and there is, as Sir Winston Churchill once put it, 'a sense of crowd and urgency'."

  The R. Thames.

What to do next? I went across the street to the Westminster tube station, and took a ride out to Kew Gardens.

  The Palm house


Inside the Palm house. Unfortunately, my camera lens fogged up from all the humidity. Looks like I'm going to have to lay in a supply of lens wipes.

You can't see it very well, but it appears that the house is kept warm with a hypocaust-like system.

After a little while, my lens apparently unfogged. Here's the stairs up to the upper galleries.

On the path towards the Temperate House.

  The Temperate House.

Inside the Temperate House.


Some more texture maps for you.


At this point, some of you may be wondering why I haven't shot more photos of the actual plants themselves. Well, there are a few reasons for this. First, I'm not botanists, and know very little about the subject. I can't tell one leafy plant from another. Secondly, this is the time of the year in Britain when many plants have not yet begun to flower; When I left San Francisco, the cherry trees were starting to bloom, but the cherry trees in Kew are just dead-looking sticks. Finally, I live about three miles from Golden Gate Park, which has a fabulous Arboretum that frankly puts Kew to shame in many aspects. What's impressive about Kew, however, is the lengths to which it's builders have gone to get plants to grow in that climate.

Now, for some real botanical action: The waterlily house.


Trying out my macro lens function.

The Prince of Wales Conservatory

Inside the Conservatory, in an area specializing in plants from dry climates.

  A room specializing in aquatic plants.

The Orchid room.




The Rock Garden.


You know, I bet this looks really cool in spring.

Farewell to Kew Gardens.

It's now evening, and I'm having dinner at a nearby pub called the Hereford Arms. I've brought my laptop with me, and I'm working on these pages. In front of me is a dinner, consisting of a "Steak and Guinness pudding", carrots, string beans, small boiled potatos, and some sort of mashed yams. It's absolutely delicious. I also have a bottle of Scrumpy Jack hard cider, which has a low enough alcohol content that it tastes very good. The atmosphere of the pub is very nice, the interior is mostly wood and very pleasing to the eye. I'm feeling very content...all I would need is an intelligent, attractive dinner companion of the female persuasion to make the evening absolutely perfect.