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Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament), Big Ben

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When I arrived in London, I had a hard time realizing exactly where I was.  After all, I had sat inside a metal tube for 7 hours (sleeping part of the time), then walked through endless tubes at an airport, then went underground and rode through subway tubes for a while.  When I emerged, people were driving on the “wrong” side of the street, and talking far too intelligently.

Okay, I knew I was in London.  But feeling like I was in London didn’t occur until I laid eyes on Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the unmistakable symbols of the government of the United Kingdom.

Big Ben (technically, the clock tower that houses Big Ben — the name applies only to the huge bell that strikes the hour) and the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament) are located in the City of Westminster, a borough of London that’s just west of “downtown” (the area known as the City of London).  Its central location makes Westminster the ideal place to stay on a London holiday, though the hotels here demand high prices.  I stayed in Kensington, a borough to the northwest, but it seems like I ended up here, every day, hopping off the Underground to get another look at that iconic tower, and hear the clock’s signature chimes.

My first stop here was on my first full day in London, on a morning when the city’s notoriously gloomy weather was making everything look grey.  I didn’t let the weather stop me, though.

The Westminster tube station serves the Circle, District, and Jubilee lines (Yellow, Green, and Grey, respectively).  The station is right across the street from Big Ben, so when you emerge, it’s one of the first things you see.

Walk across the River Thames on the Westminster Bridge for a good look back at the Palace of Westminster and the clock tower.

It’s quite a challenge to take a picture that isn’t crowded with tourists, and in this case, umbrellas.

I returned at dusk to take more pictures, even though I didn’t have my tripod (something that’s necessary for taking pictures like the first one on this page).  As you can see, the sky had cleared considerably during the day, leaving me with beautiful skies and a warm afternoon.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to take a tour inside the clock tower?  Yes, it would.  But if you’re not a UK resident, you’re not allowed.  However, you can see the inner workings of Big Ben in these official photographs on Flickr.  (If you are a UK resident, you can arrange a free tour of the clock tower through your member of Parliament.)

The clock tower’s great bell, a.k.a. Big Ben, was first rung in 1859. Microphones inside the tower allow the BBC to broadcast the chimes live at 6 p.m. and midnight, at the beginning of the radio newscast. BBC first aired the chimes on New Year’s Eve, 1923, and about six weeks later, it started broadcasting them daily.

The clock tower might not be open to foreign visitors, but everyone can get a look at the inside of Westminster Palace.  For details, check out the Parliament website.

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