Have recently returned from England with my dad. Here are some highlights, for those that are interested...
-National Gallery - 8/10
I'm not big on art, but seeing the Greats (Monet, Da Vinci, Titian, etc.) was amazing.
-Buckingham Palace - 7/10
Because of September 11, those Red Guards with the funny hats are now behind the front gates. As a result, I wasn't able to attempt the requisite insults, in an effort to bait them into action... still, its a nice house.
-Trafalger Square - 10/10 (Personal Favourite)
Standing in the shadow of Lord Nelson's Victory Column, and this is where I felt the true might of the British Empire. The square is surrounded by older buildings, all commanding respect. The National Gallery is behind Nelson, and the Canadian Embassy is to the side.(Oh yeah.) Lions, eagles, and other sculptures pepper the area, adding to the atmosphere. It truly was majestic.
-British Museum - 5/10
It puts the ROM to absolute shame, but I was disappointed with its incomplete offerings. I thought it would be the *one* place to see everything...during the height of the Empire, the British looted (for lack of a better word) much of the world, shipping back to their island. Still, there was relatively little. Some nice things though. (Pottery of Achilles was particularly cool.)
-Soho/ Picadilly - 7/10
Very hip, very cool. Would need to take a lot of money though. Was only there for a few hours.
-St. James Park - 8/10
Beautiful. Loved it. Will return for a dinner their on my honeymoon (when that happens...)
-Big Ben/Parliament/Westminster Abbey - 9/10
Again, it really creates the sense that you are in the presence of greatness. We weren't able to go into either, because of the hour, but it was still a sight to behold.
Now....onto other cities.
Small (maybe population of 200k), but very ancient, and very cool city. The surrounding countryside was gorgeous, and the old buildings in the town added to that 'foreign' feeling. The Roman Baths (for which the city was named) were amazing. (They still work; the Romans knew how to build stuff...) Was there for two days, and didn't get a lot in, as I wasn't feeling well.
Another smaller city, and another wonder. It was a mix of modern and ancient, with the Salisbury Cathedral as its centerpiece. (The building itself was a 9.5/10) We were there two days, and the city only loses marks because the Bed and Breakfast we were staying at sucked ass.
Stonehenge & Old Sarum - 9.5/10
Just outside of Salisbury, these two sites were fantastic. You really don't get the sense of just how big those rocks are. It was much more mysterious than I expected, and it was also very informational. Old Sarum was the site of the former capital of England, circa 1066 A.D. It was the palace William the Conqueror created for his reign. Not much is left, but its still fascinating. (Probably wouldn't mean much to most, but to a history student it's fascinating.) ;)
Minster Lovell: (Tiny town outside Oxford) 8/10
We stayed at this 600 year old Inn and Pub. It really got us the "flavour" of England. The rural location and again, historical significance, really brought to life all of the old books I've read on the topic. Really showed what England would have been like 'back then'.
Blenheim Palace: (Oustide of Oxford) 9.5/10
It was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and the home of the last 12 Dukes of Marlborough. It was another breathtaking site. An older home, built in 1703, it was the type of thing that Lords and Ladies lived in. A country home, seemingly preserved in history, and well taken care of. A home suitable for only the most powerful of British aristocracy, through its grandeur and class.
Well....those are the main attractions. It was 8 days, and I went with my father. I was constantly reminded of the bond that Canadians share with our British forebearers, and was surprised to feel extremely patriotic at times. Interestingly, they ask you when you speak if you're Canadian or American. Since dad and I are both dual citizens, we stuck to Canadian. ;) They seemed to appreciate it more than if we were dirty yanks.
The British people on the whole were remarkable hosts; friendlier and more polite than even Canadians. They're dignified, intelligent, but also very reserved, and conscious of other people's comfort. (When you pass someone in a hallway, and *they* step aside to let *you* pass, *they* say "Thank you".)
Still, there was something a little sad about England. You can't help but recognize the fact that the country's best days are behind it. The cities all have wonderful old buildings, but they are not without their cheap buildings from the 70's and 80's, many of which have fallen into disrepair. Its a funny mix of strength and success versus wear-and-tear-of-age, and the tough times that brought it about. You really do get the sense that this is a former great power. Still, I've seen Ottawa and Washington, and now London....and London was the only one which commanded the respect only a "capital city" can.
I don't know if I'd ever get the chance, but its definitely a place I'd go back to.