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~x~x~x~ Our Midnight Adventure ~x~x~x~
My daughter and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend in a hotel in Westminster a few months ago; we had so much planned that we didn't actually go exploring the local area until the night before we were due to come home - and only then because I was sad to be leaving and wanted a stroll before bed, knowing full well that the following morning we wouldn't have a lot of time for sightseeing. After deciding to look for a late night coffee shop on Westminster high street we took a spectacular wrong turn and found ourselves face to face with Big Ben - I hadn't realised how close our hotel was to parliament so despite the late hour we decided to have a wander around and take in some of our capital city by moonlight.
Parliament Square was something I was particularly interested in seeing, I've obviously seen photographs and the layout has always intrigued me - my dad actually worked overlooking the Square for a while; I remember him telling me about how small it is in 'real life' and I have to agree, impressive as it is I'm glad we visited at night as I can imagine the walkways would get pretty crowded during the day!
~x~x~x~ So, You're In Parliament Square. What's To Do? ~x~x~x~
Well, it's just looking at things really - but I thought Parliament Square was a really good way to get a feel for the machinations of the political growth of our country and capital city. It's a really good place from which to look at other things too, buildings and places of interest that aren't exactly on the Square but adjacent to it - Big Ben being my number one, but also the Palace of Westminster itself as well as Westminster Abbey. I feel a definite buzz that I was standing opposite Big Ben in Parliament Square when it struck midnight, that's not something that will probably happen many times to me (if ever again!) so really added to the experience.
The ten famous statues are probably the thing everyone wants to see, but there's a large green grassy area too as well as trees and flowers. Well, there were no flowers when we visited in February but I could see where they were supposed to go (and where they are now, according to my friend who was in Parliament Square today!). It was very cold and being so late at night meant it was extremely windy, surprisingly so considering how built up this area of London is - I definitely spared a thought for the late Brian Haw as I stood there shivering after five minutes!
~x~x~x~ Strike A Pose ~x~x~x~
The Churchill statue was everything I expected it to be; bulky, imposing, kindly-gentleman. It's one of those artworks
you can't take your eyes off and even when I was looking at the other statues I kept glancing back to this one, I tried not to think of him with a green mohican but failed - so turned it to my advantage and thought how nice it was to get real perspective on that tabloid shot! The David Lloyd George statue is startlingly comical with his coat blowing out behind him, when I first saw it I couldn't help think it's more like a tribute to a broadway star than a former prime minister! He's been cast in an oratory pose but it's not very statesmanlike in my opinion, I'm not anti the statue at all but it just struck me as a really strange addition to the 'statue garden' (as Charlotte called it!).
I was interested to see the statue of Sir Robert Peel as we have one in Birmingham outside the police training centre, the statues are remarkably alike facially and in posture - only this one is both taller and bulkier so definitely the more striking of the two. Disraeli is there too; another one I found interesting on a personal level due to my dad having a pretty deep fascination with this former prime minister, and therefore me hearing all about him as I was growing up! The most recent statue added was a 9ft bronze depiction of Nelson Mandela, unveiled in 2007 after some wrangling around whether it should be placed in Parliament Square or nearby Trafalgar Square next to South Africa House. I can't say I was impressed with the likeness, the sculptor has taken a cuddly looking bear of a man and given him a weirdly unlikeable face - it was really lovely to see a tribute to Mandela, and I imagine it's much visited these days, but personally I wish they'd use one of his 'happier' facial expressions! Jan Smuts also represents South Africa, a highly historical figure with a statue erected on a plinth of granite sourced from South Africa at the behest of Winston Churchill.
My daughter was most impressed with the Abraham Lincoln statue, as she learned about him at school a few years ago and neither of us knew we'd find his likeness in London so it was a nice surprise. To me his stern face made him second only to Churchill in terms of being imposing, but I felt there was something a little unnerving about this statue looking down on me as it's so beautifully rendered that it felt as though he were watching me wherever I went on the Square! This statue is an exact copy of the one in Lincoln Park, Chicago and was a gift to the people of London to commemorate a century of non-war between the UK and the USA - I like this short reasoning for why we have a former US president commemorated in Parliament Square, although can't help but think that if we're paying tribute to foreign dignitaries then maybe Oliver Cromwell should be here amongst histories political big boys rather than shunted off to the side near the entrance to Parliament!
~x~x~x~ Taking In My Surroundings ~x~x~x~
Once you've seen the statues and looked at the grass there's little else to do in Parliament Square really. There may or may not be a demonstration happening at the time of your visit, but unless the cause is particularly great or it's an 'interesting' demo you might not be too interested - a friend of mine had a day in London while a 'Green' demonstration was taking place and she was chuffed to have seen it as there were acrobats and all sorts inside the Square, on the flip side another friend had her visit to Parliament Square turned into a borefest after happening across a demo concerning accountancy rules which (in her words) was just 'too many men and women in suits clogging up the Square'. Everyone has a cause and all that... Luckily (or perhaps unluckily, I'd have loved to have seen acrobats!) there was nothing going on either during our midnight sightseeing trip or the following day when we once again found ourselves in Parliament Square in order to grab a taxi to Euston! I'd already walked across to have a look at the Brian Haw boarding and found that fairly emotional as I believe in this man's cause and feel so sad that he died before seeing the end of these wars we embroil ourselves in, to the unconcerned passerby this boarding looks just like any other anti-war protest but Mr Haw dedicated his life to challenging the disgusting decisions made by our (previous) government and to my mind deserves much more recognition than he gets.
But protesting citizens aside, look up! Parliament Square is surrounded by the most amazing architecture, the best of British in fact! Who could not be astounded by the huge gothic Houses of Parliament? It's spectacular, especially when seen by moonlight - it's not particularly tall compared to other London landmarks but is so imposing and downright beautiful that it seems to be looming over you as you peer across the road at it. The same is true of Big Ben, which again isn't amazingly tall (in fact on a previous London trip my partner and I renamed it Little Ben!) but when lit up it really does look glorious. A 360* spin around reveals buildings of one description or another on all sides, all add to the atmosphere regardless of age and stature but it's absolutely Parliament that stays on the peripheral at all times to draw your eye time and time again. The white building of the Supreme Court is also extremely impressive
Pictures of Parliament Square, Westminster, London
Big Ben with Parliament Square in front - on the left hand side you can see the statue of Nelson Mandela
in my opinion and screams grandeur; this is actually one building which looked far better at night as really it's quite grimy looking in the sunlight, the same is true of Westminster's Central Hall which I found quite sad as the huge wide roads around this area result in the traffic that causes this dirty coating on the lighter coloured buildings - it's a shame really as these were built at a time when there wasn't so much atmospheric grime, it makes me yearn for a time machine to fly back 100 years to see these buildings in their resplendent (and clean white) glory. ~x~x~x~ The Square Route ~x~x~x~
See what I did there?! We were staying just a short walk away from Parliament Square so obviously didn't bother catching a bus down there, but being located in this very popular area of London it's served by a multitude of single and double decker buses. The two nearest tube stations are Westminster and the crowded hellhole that is St James Park station, if time is of the essence then I'd recommend Westminster as not only is it a lot less congested but the walk to the Square is much shorter at just a minute or two. There are a couple of car parks nearby but as ever in London these fill up quickly (not to mention the need to remortgage your house to park there for the day) and as far as I'm aware there's no option to pre-book a space, so be prepared to have to park miles away if you're brave enough to visit in your car!
Disabled access is fine, with the understanding that this area is super-busy during the day so if you or someone in your party isn't fond of or comfortable around crowds it may be worth doing as I did and visiting at night - maybe complimenting it with a 'drive past' as frankly you're bound to have to wait at one of the sets of traffic lights around the Square so will have time to view it from the road (albeit at a distance) if you decide battling the crowds isn't for you, for whatever reason.
Would I return? Erm... I'm not sure really. It's impressive and I enjoyed our sojourn into Parliament Square, but I don't think I'd make a special journey to visit it again for the simple reason that I've seen it now and any subsequent days out I have to London I want to use seeing things that are new to me. I'm planning a Christmas shopping day in the capital this year with my other two daughters and the youngest wants to see Big Ben so I suppose we'll at least view the Square from the outside that time, actually that's how I'd recommend it - well worth a look as part of the whole 'Parliament' experience but not necessarily something you would want to travel miles to see as a stand alone attraction.
Whatever you think of our current parliament, the Square is certainly worth a visit