London: High Brow, Low Ball

Well our last day in London is finally here.  I can’t believe how fast it all went.  I feel like we were just preparing to be here, let alone preparing to leave already!  We crammed a lot into the 6 days we were here and our last day was no different.

We’d seen the sights, did the tours and crossed off some amazing bucket list bits, so today we decided to fill our day with as much English culture as we could fit in before we had to head back to the states, but it had to be on a budget, because let’s face it, 6 days of vacation anywhere can get expensive, but if you’re in London?  Double it!

We found out the dollar doesn’t go far here, so we got savvy and looked up what cool culture London had to offer for free.  We typed in London for free and a bunch of great websites popped up, boasting free walking tours, museums, churches, etc.  So we made a rough plan at breakfast and were on our way.

It was especially dreary today, which was fitting, because we were both a bit melancholy knowing this was our last day abroad.  We trudged down the slick, shiny streets to catch the Angel Station tube to take us into town.

First stop, All Hallows Church by the Tower.  Located on Byward Street, admission is free.  We made a donation and entered the oldest church in London.  It was founded in 675 AD, survived the great fire and 2 world wars.  The building itself is an amazing artifact and we were in awe as we respectfully toured it’s altars, pulpits, chapels and crypt.  We found a secret underground chapel, known for being one of the quietest places in all of London.  We sat for a while, enjoying the majesty and solitude as we gave our own prayers of thanks for being so fortunate to see places like this.

The church has a strong maritime presence, paying homage to all seafarers, past and present.  It is also where William Penn was baptized, and his father is primarily responsible for saving the church from the London fires in 1666 by demolishing a row of homes around the church to create a break from the devastating flames.  Being a Pennsylvanian, this was really exciting for me.

We marveled at the photos taking during WWII, showing the devastation to the church.  All Hallows was hit directly.  The bombings engulfed the church in fire that burned so hot that there are still lead drippings from the roof in the crypt!  As I laid my hands on the lead and stone inside the walls of this church I was astounded by the sheer amount of history and time this structure has endured.  This is a must see if you are in London.

After the church we worked up and appetite so we hit Pret a Manger and Starbucks for a quick snack and a wifi check to get our bearings before heading to our next location, the church of St. Magnus the Martyr.

On our way there we came across a hidden gem, St Dunstan in the East.  This secret garden is tucked away between skyscrapers in the business district.  Blink and you’ll miss it, but we luckily were looking around since we were unfamiliar with the area and noticed the beautiful architecture of its gothic open widowed courtyard.   Since we were on our own schedule, we took a quick detour and are so glad we did.

St. Dunstan, is a beautiful secret garden that we were blessed to stumble upon.  This gorgeous relic was largely destroyed in the second world war.  It’s remains are now a public garden.  Philip and I were the only two there and we soaked up the peaceful beauty of the exotic plant life and bubbling fountain.  There was even a palm tree, making us feel right at home!  After reading about it’s history and taking a million photos we headed back toward St. Magnus the Martyr.

Once we found St. Magnus the Martyr, we were so disappointed to find that it was closed.  It’s open to the public for free but it closes at 1pm on Sunday so if you’d like to check out this beautiful part of history make sure you get there early.  It aligns with the original site of the London Bridge and is referenced in Oliver Twist.  Even though we weren’t able to go inside, we still were happy to soak up the beautiful work of Christopher Wren’s church.

From here we headed back up the hill toward the underground.  We happened upon the London Monument, which our tube stop was aptly named for.  It was only 3 pounds to take a climb to the top of this commemorative tower, so even though it wasn’t free, it was budget friendly enough for us to check it out.   Christopher Wren designed this 202 foot tower near the site where the great fire of London began.  It is the tallest isolated stone column in the world, with 311 steps to the top of the viewing tower, where a mesh cage was added after six people jumped to their death in the 1800s.

After nearly hyperventilating on the way up, I’ve discovered I really need to rethink adding stair climbing to my work out regiment.  The winding spiral staircase was both dizzying and claustrophobic, with people descending as we were climbing.  The narrow stairs didn’t really leave room for people to pass each other so I spent a lot of time hugging the outer stone wall and asking Philip if we were there yet.  When he took a peak up over the railing and said, “oh, we’re not even close,” I asked, “do you think we get our money back if we don’t make it up?”  Somehow we did make it all the way up and it was an amazing vantage point.  The wind was blasting us from the South so we took shelter on the North side of the monument and enjoyed the views of London.

The climb down was much easier and we felt for the parents that were hauling their screaming children past us.  Hopefully once they reached the top they would be as taken with the views as we were and realize the climb was worth it.

From here we took the underground to Oxford Street and made our way to the Wallace House.  A writer we had met at the London Book Festival recommended it.  She said it’s the best kept secret in London where you can view an amazing art collection for free.

She was right!  I’m so glad we followed her advice and went to see the Wallace Collection.  Even the traffic cops we asked didn’t know where it was, but once we finally found it, we wondered how anyone could not know of this grand estate.  This world famous museum, boasts a collection of art from the 15th to 19th centuries.  It was established in 1897 from the private collection of Sir Richard Wallace, who’s widow bequeathed the entire collection to the British nation.

I can’t believe this opulent 25 roomed mansion exhibit is free to the public.  We could have spent hours wandering the different themed rooms.  I loved how each room had a sitting area where you could study the work and read through binders of information on each subject.

Another amazing perk is the glass roofed courtyard, which boasts a high class restaurant where we went for afternoon tea.  The tea and scones with clotted cream and preserves was so decadent.  Spending time at the Wallace Estate truly brings you back to the lavish era of Georgian London.  I could picture myself roaming the massive estate in fine silk gowns, hosting balls and stately affairs.  What a time that must have been.

The Wallace collection concluded our day of free sight-seeing.  We walked through the shopping district of Oxford and did some souvenir shopping and then headed back to our hotel to pack for our flight home tomorrow.  Once we were as prepared as we can be, we headed back to our favorite Islington haunt, Bill’s for the fourth day in a row.  What can I say, we’re creatures of habit and Bill’s is really that good!

Two glasses of wine, two ciders, and an amazing meal later, I’m concluding my blog of our final day in London as we order dessert.  I’m so grateful we took this ride, it was a sweet reminder of what life has to offer if you follow your dreams.

Ta-Ta for now.

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About cbenjamin79

I love animals, music, travel and writing about all of it.
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