From Churchill to Turner

Another field trip for history. But instead of trekking across the English Channel, we went down below the city streets and back in time. Okay, that may sound a little dramatic, but you’d be amazed at the how many little pockets of history London has under its belt.

We’ve finally moved on from WWI and have leapt forward into WWII. After a quick lecture to start things off,  we headed out to go see the Churchill War Rooms. Churchill and his people moved there after his offices were bombed in 1940. He’d be damned if it was going to leave London, but he thought it’s probably be best to move to somewhere slightly safer. His bunker, though, wasn’t that much better. A direct hit (AKA a bomb hitting within a mile radius) would’ve destroyed the whole place and crushed all the people within. Thankfully, that didn’t happened.

And so we entered, forgoing the complimentary audio guides and walking straight into the other visitors. We tried our best to inconspicuously gather around the glass-fronted rooms, but it’s hard to do that when you have 15 students, all with backpacks. But it is what it is.

One of the communication centers in the Churchill War Rooms.
One of the communication centers in the Churchill War Rooms.

Anyway, our professor lead us around the narrow cinderblock corridors, stopping at each displayed room , pointing and explaining what it was like down here during the war. We saw the plain green tables in the war room, the basic appliances in the kitchen, the sparse accommodation in the bedrooms, the wall-sized maps in the map room, and more, etc. If you closed your eyes, tuned out the tinny murmur of the audio guides and clicks of cell phone cameras, you could imagine the secretaries and generals walking down the corridors with the sound of bombs going off in the city above.

After seeing the “most important seat in the house” (AKA the toilet), we headed into the Churchill museum. Our professor led us through the WWII section of the museum, stopping to talk about the propaganda photos, Churchill’s suits, and the Enigma Machine. He then let us roam free. A few of us stuck with him as he strolled through the exhibits, pointing out the blatant biases and telling us how, if it wasn’t for WWII, Churchill would’ve been considered a failure.

After we exited through the gift shop, we split up. We had surfaced outside St. James Park and I decided that I might as well get a head start on my Christmas shopping. So I walked in the fleeting sunlight through Trafalgar Square and down the Strand. There was one shop I had in mind. Full discloser: I’m a bit of a tea freak. So when I heard that Twinings had a tea shop on the Strand, I couldn’t resist checking it out. Plus, tea was on my holiday shopping list. (What else should you bring back from England but tea?)

At the entrance of the Twinings shop on the Strand.
At the entrance of the Twinings shop on the Strand.

I admired the sights and took my time, but eventually I got to the store. It had a large old fashioned sign sticking out from the side of the building. The word “Twinings” was mosaicked into the floor outside the entry way. Inside was a long, narrow room, lined with dark, wooden shelves filled with tea. I spent a good hour in there, looking around, comparing prices, tasting tea, etc. I probably spent more money than I should’ve, but it was worth it. This wasn’t just any old Twinings shop. It was the first shop and had been in this location longer than America had been a country; such is the long-lasting nature of the English’s love of tea.

After a quick egg salad sandwich (with plenty of mayo, just like the English like it), I decided to walk down to the Tate Britain. It was only 3pm so I had time (even though the sun was already setting), and I’d been meaning to make my way out there anyway. I walked along the Embankment, once again admiring the iconic London sights: the Eye, Big Ben, etc. I passed a monument that was damaged during the first Blitz and another one dedicated to the second. The light was fading fast and I had underestimated how far the Tate was, so it was fairly dark by the time I reached the museum.

Outside the main entrance to the Tate Britain.
Outside the main entrance to the Tate Britain.

I hadn’t realized how tired I was until I stepped into that grand, neo-classic building, so I strategically planned my visit so I would at least see the highlights. I strolled through the Turner gallery, admiring his sweeping, impressionistic brush strokes. It constantly amazes me that he was doing this stuff a hundred years before Monet and Van Gogh. After that, I wandered around the Victorian and Edwardian paintings, gazing at the likes of Millais’ Ophelia and Rossetti’s Proserpine. I’ve always loved the magic of the Pre-Raphaelites…

I would’ve stayed longer but I was exhausted, so I bought my obligatory postcards and took the tube home.

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