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Trafalgar Square

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Trafalgar Square is one of the liveliest places you’ll find in London.  You’d have a hard time finding a moment when it’s not packed with people.  Sure, many of them are tourists, but a lot of young people also come here simply to hang out.

Trafalgar Square was first laid out in the 1830’s, when it was reserved as a public place meant for cultural activities.  Not long after, the National Gallery was built on the Square’s north side.  In the 1840’s, Nelson’s Column (there’s a picture of it below) and the fountains were built.  Big changes came in 2003, when automobile traffic was cut off, on the north side (in between the Square and the Gallery), creating a pedestrian-friendly area that allows people to effortlessly spill from the museum into the middle of things.

At Trafalgar Square, you’re just up the road from Big Ben.  You’ll have a nice view of Parliament’s clock tower from the front steps of the National Gallery.

The lion is one of four big bronze cats that stand guard…

… around Nelson’s Column.  The 169-foot-tall monument was completed in 1843, and is topped with a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

As far as standing guard goes, the lions don’t do a very good job.  The base of Nelson’s Column is the popular hangout for teenagers.  It takes some climbing to get up to the lion’s level — there are no stairs, and you might need someone to give you a boost — but once you’re up there, you’ll feel 10 years younger, at least.

In the background, notice St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican Church completed in 1726.  There is a cafe in the crypt, where you will also find the London Brass Rubbing Centre (if you purchased a London Pass, one rubbing is free).  It also holds concerts around lunchtime.

Trafalgar Square can rightfully be declared the “center” of London, since it is the site of the original Charing Cross — the location from which all distances from London are measured.  The Charing Cross was one of 12 Eleanor Crosses, erected in the late 1200’s by King Edward I, in memory of his wife Eleanor, at the locations where her body rested on its journey to London.

The original Charing Cross was destroyed during England’s Civil War in 1647, but a replacement was built in 1865.  The replica does not stand in the original location — instead, you can find it in front of Charing Cross Station, just a few hundred feet north, on Strand.

During my visit in 2011, London was gearing up for the 2012 Olympic Games, and this clock was ticking down to the opening ceremonies.  Do a little math, and you can figure out the exact moment that I took this picture.

Since my visit to Trafalgar Square was on my first afternoon in London, I had not yet activated my London Pass, so I was trying to visit anything available, that was free.  Like most of the city’s other big museums, there is no charge to enter the National Gallery.  Its collection of artwork is extensive, with pieces on display from the 13th to 19th centuries.  I am far from being an art expert, so I wandered around aimlessly for a while, admiring paintings that I could not possibly fully appreciate.  The most interesting works, to me, were painted by well-known names like Van Gogh and Rembrandt, and several of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Just kidding.  Please don’t send angry emails.

I would love to share some photos from inside, but when I attempted to take my first picture, I was immediately approached by museum staff, who nicely informed me that photos were a no-no.

But here’s one piece of art I could photograph.  This giant ship in a bottle occupies a pedestal known as the Fourth Plinth (the other three plinths are occupied by statues). The Fourth Plinth is used for displays which are regularly swapped out.  This work is called Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, by Yinka Shonibare (Nelson, as in the same guy who’s atop the column).

At the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square, The Mall begins, as it passes through Admiralty Arch, an office building completed in 1912, and commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria.

Drivelapse Video

I passed through this area once again, later in my trip, during an evening ride aboard a double-decker bus.  You’ll see it as you take the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the ride on Bus #176  (near the end)…

… and Bus #24 (the same evening, just a few minutes later, heading the opposite direction):

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