Today was the first day of sightseeing. We caught the bus to Guildford Rail Station at 09:07 AM. There are no conductors in these buses so we paid the driver himself. It took about 25 mins. At Guildford we caught the SouthWest train on the National Rail to Waterloo. This ride was about 50 mins. Then we walked a terribly long way to the Tourism desk at Charing Cross to avail our London Passes. This walk took us past the most iconic landmarks in London like the Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster which houses the UK Parliament, the various picturesque government buildings including the Foreign Office and Trafalgar Square.
The London Pass gives one free access to tens of tourist attractions within London and also provides fast-track entry. The Cabinet War Rooms was the first place we visited. These were divided into the actual underground bunkers where Winston Churchill and his government operated from during the Second World War, and a museum dedicated to the life of Churchill.
There is a heavy air of history pervading these narrow corridors and tiny rooms. You can almost see and hear the bustling men and women of the War Government at Britain’s “finest hour”. We saw the Map Room where important strategic conferences were held, Churchill’s underground bedroom , Mrs Churchill’s living quarters, a secret room with a transatlantic phone and a scrambler the size of a double bed for Churchill to contact Roosevelt. All these rooms are frightfully small and must have seemed smaller to those who lived there. The government worked from these rooms for almost five years and employees could only step outside for brief periods in the evening. This left several of them pale and sickly. These rooms were not entirely secure. It was believed that one really large bomb at the right place could smash the entire setup to smithereens. This information was withheld from all but the highest echelons of government.
Then we took the Underground to Harrods where we had lunch. Harrods is a great departmental store-complex housed in a classical four-storied building. One really has to look for the Harrods sign outside the building as its not prominently displayed. It’s posher than posh inside as can be seen from this ice-cream parlour inside.
The shops are outrageously expensive. One bedspread was worth 700 pounds and that was after a 50% discount!
We had lunch at a delightful Italian restaurant. The Earl Grey tea I had after the meal was unmatched.
Hyde Park is at 5 mins walking distance from Harrods so we headed there. There is a soothing abundance of trees interspersed by a few well-laid roads. This wooded paradise presents a striking contrast to the bustling urban sprawl surrounding it.
There were some interesting statues which dotted the landscape. One of them was of Achilles.
The caption below the statue tells an interesting story. This statue was dedicated to the famous first Duke of Wellington. It was made by melting cannon used in his famous victories at Waterloo among others.
Then we rushed to HMS Belfast just before final entry time. HMS Belfast was a battleship built in 1938. It served as a command ship leading the Arctic convoys in World War 2. It also saw action in the Korean war. In its last years it was sent on several UNO peacekeeping missions before being retired in 1962. This ship was probably one of the ships which inspired Alistair Maclean to write HMS Ulysses.
This following picture shows the aft superstructure of the ship. There is a revolving radar antenna on top.
We saw several reconstructions of life aboard this ship.
These are 2 naval ratings on potato peeling duty on the messdecks.
There was one room dedicated to mail where an official patiently sorted the letters and placed them in the hundreds of pigeonholes for delivery.
There was a sick-bay with an operating table for exceptional cases. There was even a small room for the dentist who doubled as an anesthetist.
Upon concluding this tour we took the Underground to Waterloo, took the National Rail train to Guildford and caught the bus to our residence.