Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dad’s Visit - Our Days in London

It seems like I’d been waiting for ages for my Dad’s trip to Europe - and last week he finally arrived! We’d been planning and talking about his visit since February, so it was wonderful to finally see him coming out of customs at Gatwick Airport. Being the history buff and map-lover he is, by the time he got here he had tons of exciting ideas about where to visit and what to do - so before you knew it we were off and running.

Since my Dad has done extensive reading about World War II throughout his life, our first order of business was the Imperial War Museum in London. We took the underground to Waterloo station, and stopped briefly to check out where they filmed the cool chase scene in The Bourne Ultimatum, one of my Dad's favorite movies.

The museum is just a short walk from Waterloo station, so we trudged over through the rain in true London fashion. The first thing you see outside of the museum is a huge navy battleship gun with shells that are bigger than me. I honestly can’t believe these things were once dropped from the sky onto people, buildings, etc - they averaged around 1500 lbs each and could travel as far as 18 miles. The thought of hearing one coming at your neighborhood is extremely scary; apparently they sounded like a loud like a train approaching, and they traveled way too fast to be seen by the naked eye.

The craftsmanship on the vehicles and planes in the museum is incredible. It was great to be there with my Dad because he knew so much history about everything we saw - he would quote facts about the tanks and planes as though he was reading straight from the plaque next to them! He easily could’ve been a tour guide there with the amount of information he knew.

While all of the exhibits are fascinating, at a certain point you inevitably realize that human beings built all these machines to hurt and intimidate others. That fact made the museum hard to take at certain points. This was especially true in the holocaust exhibit, which was full of real Nazi propaganda, photographs of the time, and testimonials of survivors. It walked you through the timeline of how Nazis came to power though their eventual demise. We all felt somber after seeing this exhibit; it put images in my head that I'll never forget.

On a brighter note, the next day we visited another popular spot in London: St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is a Baroque cathedral with a beautiful dome, an enormous sanctuary, and a crypt with graves of famous scientists like Marie Curie and Sir Alexander Fleming (the discoverer of penicillin), and military heroes like the Duke of Wellington. The building has a very reverent feeling - in fact it made me want to be religious, and that’s saying something! They wouldn’t allow photographs in the church but a lot of blasphemous people like me were surreptitiously taking pictures anyway. Here's one of my ‘casual’ shots that caught Andy’s head - ‘I really don’t have a camera, honest…’

I got bolder as the day went on and as I saw how many other people were unabashedly taking pictures, and I actually got a few good shots of the dome and sanctuary.

Believe it or not, St. Paul’s has stairs that go all the way to the top of the dome, and of course none of us could resist the challenge of climbing all 530 of them. So we (and hundreds of other people) set off on the long journey up - luckily there were a few stops along the way. The first level was the ‘whispering wall’, where from within the dome you could stop on a ledge and whisper at one side of the dome and supposedly it would be heard on the other side.

The second and third levels took you outdoors for some great views.

My Dad also got to ride in the top front of a double decker bus on the way home (fun!), so after a few short days he was quickly becoming a London expert. Stay tuned for the next blog on our Paris trip!

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