An island nation: visiting London in the UK
England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are together known as the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II has been at the helm of this constitutional monarchy since 1952. In fact, the queen is the second-longest serving monarch in British history. The national anthem of the United Kingdom is “God Save the Queen.”
The average lifespan of males in England is 78 years, while for women it is 82. In other words, the British are a long-living group of people. Great Britain is an island nation. Its land surface measures 243,610 square kilometers. France lies to its southeast. The UK has a population of 63 million. After Germany, the UK enjoys the second largest economy in Europe. The level of unemployment hovers at around 8 percent. At one time of course, London was the capital of an empire that stretched around the world. It is now a city famous for Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the River Thames, its many bridges, its cathedrals and its large parks. All of which is why we set off to tour London.
The population of London is some 8.3 million. Built for the year 2000, the London Eye, the Millennium Bridge and the Millennium Dome, now The O2 arena, all did a lot to change the silhouette of the city. London is also a globally vital economic and financial center.
Outside of the city center, most people live in single-family dwellings or two and three-story buildings. There are generally front and back gardens attached to these homes.
We stop in front of Buckingham Palace. This where the queen stays when she is in London. When the queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies from the roof. When she is absent, the Union Flag flies. One of the first things most people who visit here enjoy seeing is the changing of the guard. During the summer months, this happens every day, but during the winter it is every other day. We wait for a long time with many other tourists to see this spectacle. The crowds here are overwhelming, with lots of Britons and foreigners waiting anxiously.
Soldiers guarding the gates
Near Buckingham Palace are the Household Calvary Museum and Horse Guards Parade. We get close to some of the special guards, who are atop horses. There are two female soldiers guarding the gates. But the horses holding the guards are chomping at their bits, restless, and it is difficult for the guards to stay still. The horse moves as though it wants us to pet it, but we are nervous to do so, as there is a sign near us that says very clearly, “Beware, horses may kick or bite!” We approach carefully and touch the horse’s nose with our hands.
We leave Horse Guards Parade behind us and head towards 10 Downing Street, where the British prime minister resides. There are always police standing at the ends of this famous street, which is also a popular stopping off point for both local and foreign tourists. In fact, the crowds at the ends of Downing Street are quite large.
While we are in London, we use taxis frequently to travel around. The taxis in London are all the same model of car. In fact, you won’t find taxis like this anywhere else in the world. These traditional vehicles have been in use for many years.
Now we arrive at the Houses of Parliament. This edifice is historic and boasts quite incredible architectural flourishes. As for the Parliament, it is bicameral and includes the House of Lords and the House of Commons. There are 806 lords in the House of Lords, and 92 of these lordships are hereditary. Interestingly, once someone is a member of the House of Lords, they stay so until death. For men, the title is “lord,” but for women it is “baroness.” While members of the House of Commons are elected, the Lords are appointed.
Another spot very popular with tourists in London, and one of the most enduring symbols of the city, is the 106-meter-high Elizabeth Tower, which was built in 1859 and boasts the bell most commonly referred to as “Big Ben.” The bell alone weighs 13.5 tons and chimes loudly every hour.
Official languages: English, Welsh
Government: Constitutional monarchy and Commonwealth realm
Chief of state: Queen Elizabeth II (since Feb. 6, 1952)
Prime minister: David Cameron (since May 11, 2010)
Area: 243,610 square kilometers
Population: 63,395,574 (July 2013 est.)
Gross domestic product (PPP): $2.313 trillion (2012 est.)
Main religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) (71.6 percent), Muslim (2.7 percent), Hindu (1 percent)