Accidental Sightseeing

via Foster and Partners

One of the most thrilling things about being in Europe is that there is usually history around every corner. I knew this to be true about Spain and France, and hoped it would be the case in England. To my great delight, it is! Just a few nights ago, I did a bit of sightseeing purely by accident.

Some old friends from La Sierra University, Nick and Darcy Smith, were in town for a few days, so naturally we went to dinner at the Sherlock Holmes. While I knew it was in the city, I didn’t think that I would necessarily see anything touristy aside from the pub itself. Needless to say, I was surprised and pleased to see that our tube exit for Charing Cross was smack dab in Trafalgar Square. The statue of Admiral Nelson is rather impressive in person, and I can’t wait to go back with my Canon in hand.

The Sherlock Holmes, located on Northumberland Street in Westminster, is a quaint place that caters to both locals and tourists. The pub is on the ground floor, with the restaurant upstairs. It is recommended to make reservations for the restaurant, as it can get quite crowded (this can be done online). I didn’t get a good look at the downstairs, but the upstairs was decorated with prints, posters, and photographs from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels, as well as the various film adaptations. Our table was located just beneath a spread of photos of Basil Rathbone as the detective, which had me fangirling as he was my first Sherlock. Many of the items on the menu also pay homage to the characters and the many actors who portrayed them, such as Robert Downey Jr’s Baked Camembert.

Just as we were leaving the pub, Nick mentioned off-hand that Ben Franklin’s London residence was just on the other side, up the road to the left on Craven Street. Since it was so close, it seemed rather a shame not to go. There wasn’t much to see aside from a plaque outside the door, but it was an unexpected little glimpse into the past: to think that Franklin had walked up and down those steps and through that door almost 240 years ago was a lovely treat for the history nerd in me.

The night was young, so we walked down Whitehall road to go see Big Ben and the London Eye lit up. That was a odd bit of sightseeing, not because of what actually exists on Whitehall, but because of what used to exist there. Where now there are beautiful buildings (housing government ministries, etc), there used to be Whitehall Palace, the largest palace in Europe. Though it survived the great fire of 1666, it burned down in 1698. Strolling along the street, I couldn’t help but picture the place that was the royal residence of the English monarchs for more than 150 years, and wish that it were still standing.

Hendrick Danckerts’ 1675 rendering of Whitehall

We topped off our random bout of sightseeing with Big Ben and the London Eye. I had seen them before, but only briefly and during the day. They are a completely different view at night, and you can tell that the Brits take pride in their monuments. Big Ben, which has become a national symbol, is my favorite thing that I’ve seen so far during my stay in England. The famous clock tower is something I have dreamed of being near since I was a child, and it is absolutely breathtaking. It was the only thing I had the presence of mind to photograph that night, and I’m so glad I did. I look forward to many more days of being an accidental tourist.


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