'London calling': Journey with the History Guru to England and Spain

Posted on Dec 11, 2011 in category

25 September 2011 – South Korea stopover

Although far from the influence of the Roman Empire, South Korea is an interesting diversion for an Aussie historian en route to his favourite part of the world – Europe.

A brief stopover in Incheon, South Korea starkly revealed to me an obvious influence of another world power on this emerging nation. South Korea's close ties with the United States of America are evident in Jayu Park where there are two impressive memorials: the Centenary Memorial (1882-1992) which commemorates the South Korea/USA Alliance and the towering statue of General Douglas Macarthur who led the United Nations campaign during the Korean War (1950-1953).

A memorial that left an even greater impression on me was a small one tucked away in a corner of the park. It is dedicated to young students (from a local school) who volunteered to fight for South Korea during the Korean War. On 18 December 1950 some 3000 students marched to Masan where 600 of them joined the Marine Corps with a further 1300 students joining the South Korean Army. The plaque informs us that over 200 students gave their lives.


Like the hot 'kim chee' served at the buffet breakfast, this region still remains an international hot spot. Yes, a brief stopover; however, a good reminder to us all of the horror of war, whether ancient or in this case, modern.

26 September – London

'London is calling!!' Where do I start?

Of course, a walking tour of London starting at the Duke of Wellington's Arch near Hyde Park seemed a good idea. A wander around the Arch's park before the 'free' tour began (a 'donation' to the tour guide is strongly encouraged) unearthed an Australian War memorial that literally stretched around one corner of the park.

The tour guide turned out to be more of an Irish comedian than an historian so a quick exit to see the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace seemed the order of the day. But first, I needed wheels – Barclays or 'Boris's bikes (named after the present Mayor of London)! One pound to hire for the day plus one pound per hour; however, here's the trick, if you only ride it for less than 30 minutes it's free. Therefore, the changing of the Guard was followed by the changing of the bike - wait 10 minutes before you select another Trojan horse to conquer London's streets.

A precariously quick pedal through London's CBD district brought me to Westminister Abbey. A rather rich 16 pounds entry fee was followed by a ban on photography – the excuse? Pics will hold up the flow of 'pilgrims' in many of the congested shrines. Interestingly, it is the Queen who directly controls the Abbey.

'West minster' was named by Edward the Confessor in the 1040's to glorify St. Peter, the Apostle and to set it apart from St Paul's Cathedral (east minister). However, an earlier Benedictine monastery (AD 960) had to be consumed in the process.

William the Conqueror in AD 1066 was the first monarch to have his coronation in the Abbey. King Henry III redesigned the Abbey in 1269 in the more fashionable Gothic style. Other additions were made by HenryVII (the Lady Chapel) in 1516 and the western towers were completed in 1745. Over 3000 people are interned in the Abbey mostly of aristocratic birth.


Off-loading the bike, I walked around the Houses of Parliament to finally admire the 13 tons clock tower (officially a bell tower) of 'Big Ben', the present tower built in 1843. The site of the Palace of Westminster or 'Houses of Parliament' may go back to Roman times where a temple to Apollo was once situated. Others followed: a Saxon church in the 8th century AD, a Benedictine monastery in the 10th century, King Cnut's palace in the 11th century, the first type of parliamentary sittings by the lords from 1259 in the King's private apartments such as the 'Painted Chamber'. From 1341 the two houses began to meet separately in various locations around the Palace until 1512 when Henry VIII abandoned Westminster Palace for Whitehall Palace after a fire (another fire destroyed most of it in 1834). Surprisingly, Parliament only gained legal control of the 'Palace' in 1965.


Richard I, the 'Lionheart' is outside the House of Lords. Frostbitten over the years and bombed, it was recently restored. For further details see: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/

London's unusually hot autumn weather justified a beer on the way to National Gallery. A quaint late Victorian Flemish-Gothic style pub, 'The Old Shades' was perfect for a cold pint.

Dominating Trafalgar Square is Lord Nelson's Column. Lord Horatio Nelson who heroically defeated the Napoleon's fleet on three occasions in honoured here. In 1805 he died on board his ship during the Battle of Trafalgar asking one of his favourite officers for a kiss before he died. For an interesting account of this controversial Admiral see http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/nelson_01.shtml


The National Gallery is also situated in Trafalgar Square. Imagine, free entry to see some of the masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Turner to name a few. With some rain around, it was the perfect place to visit.


The National Gallery began in 1824 with the British Government's acquisition of a banker's 38 paintings for 57,000 pounds. It wasn't until 1838 that the present building was constructed to house the collection. Management during the 1850-60's favoured Italian masterpieces and the Joseph Turner Bequest also around this period stretched the National Gallery to its limit. Another huge bequest by wealthy industrialist Henry Tate in 1889 led eventually to most of the British collection heading off to a new museum, now called the Tate Gallery.

'London calling' rather 'London YELLING!!' on Day1.


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