London I - The Royal Family
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Touch down. The first impression, quite a green city isn't it?
London is the home of the most-talked-about Royal Family of the world. From Queen Elizabeth II to the legendary Princess Di, to the much-gossiped prince Charles and Camilla, to the charming young princes William and Harry, all frequently make headline in newspapers and celebrity magazines. Of course this page is not only about this family and their fascinating affairs, but also the tradition of British monarchy that carries over a thousand years of history.
So let's start with Her Majesty, since we were fortunate enough to catch her 80th birthday celebration in London (June 17 2006). First to clarify things, Elizabeth II was born in April 21st, 1926, but the official celebration is customarily held in the Buckingham Palace in the summer. Throned in 1952, this pleasant little old lady's title is a bit scary: the queen of sixteen sovereign states, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis (I wonder if the queen herself remember so many places). Now that, at least on paper, is got to be the most powerful leader in the world. You can imagine the 80th birthday of such a figure cannot be treated lightly.
Early in the morning of June 17th, people from all over the world gathering around the Buckingham Palace. A number of these Daimler DS420 limousines (last pic) were in and out of the palace, probably to pick up member of the royal family.
About 10am, the parade started. Troops of guards and military bands with shiny armors and colorful uniforms, presumably from different units of the army, started to show up. Some nice-looking horsy they've got.
When the queen (dressed in amethyst) finally appeared in a carriage, the crowd cheered. After her are the members of the royal family. She went on to the parade for two hours. All those time we've been waiting among the crowd, under the scorching sun, just to take a closer look.
After the parade, the queen inspected the troop.
The queen finally appeared in the balcony of the Palace, together with other members of the royal family. The gentleman in red uniform beside her is her husband Prince Philip and Duke of Edinburgh. Then Prince Charles (in red) and Carmilla (in black) showed up. Notice the subtle changes in the queen's expression after she noticed the couple arrived.
At the end it's the traditional airshow by the Royal Air Force. Notice the formations were coordinated by an helicopter.
Set Her Majesty apart, the lady who really fascinates not only Britain but the whole world, even long after her tragic death in 1997, is Princess Diana. Today, we can only commemorate her in her former residence, the Kensington Palace. It's actually quite plain for a palace. Got an elegant rose garden though. Across the street there's a Indian restaurant call the Zaika, reportedly one of the best in London and thus one of the best in the world. It was pretty good. It was Princess Diana's favorite too, claimed the waiter.
Tower of London, one of the most famous historic landmark of London, was a fortress, a royal palace, a prison for high-profile (mostly royal) prisoners, and since 1303, also the home of the Crown Jewels of the Unite Kingdom. The fortress is originally built by William the Conqueror in 1078 (then just the square White Tower). The fortress has been expanded since then. For example, the Moat and Curtain Wall shown below were constructed and fortified in the 12th and 13th century.
Overview of the fortress.
First impression: this whole place just looked medieval and felt medieval. The dark and stone-cold corridors, endless prayers, smell of blood in the air, howling of the tortured...
More on Medieval Lifestyle. Behind those cozy, well-furnished living rooms and chapels, there are decapitation blocks (2nd last pic) and creative torture instruments (The Rack in the last pic. Stretches victims un till their joints dislocate). Guess what's in the 4th pic? A medieval hi-tech wooden toilet. I had the impression that the hole is so small that one has to be highly trained to use it properly.
The White Tower (5 pix) is the original and the most famous structure built by William the Conqueror, who had a fascination about building fortresses. In the last pic is the House of Jewelry, where the crown jewels of the United Kingdoms are kept. The breath-taking 530-karat Star of Africa diamond is there, mounted in the Scepter with the Cross. But no, photograph is not allowed.
A fortress shouldn't be short in collections of firearms, gun powers, swords...any weapon.
...and armors...even for little kids. In the last pic is a Japanese armor made for King James I.
Other more peaceful collections.
The Ravens is a famous sight in the tower. The story goes, these ravens are connected with the fate of the British Empire, if they disappear from the tower, the empire will fall. Now they're fed and taken care of by a warders, in order the preserve the empire.
The Tower Bridge actually has nothing to do the Tower of London, but named so because it's right next to the tower. Another icon of London, it was opened in 1894. The hydraulic bascule bridge be open and raised into 83 degree to let tall boats pass through.
The bridge is not impressive in size but elegantly built.
There's a walkway on the bridge as well as a tunnel underneath the Thames River that lead to the southern bank. That odd ball (literally) on the southern bank is the City Hall.
Westminster Abbey, a Gothic church closely connected to the royal family. Here's where they have their coronations, weddings, and funerals.
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