“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”
I love England.
It was the first foreign country I traveled to over 15 years ago and quite ironically, the last as of 2016. This ancient land filled with fantastical stories of kings and queens captured me from the very beginning. I can remember the moment my dad lifted me onto his shoulders above the chattering crowd, so that I could see the rich, red coats of the guards marching outside Buckingham Palace.
England inspired my lifelong love-affair with travel.
Last year I returned to this magical place with a heart and mind that had been battered and bruised by life, yet remained vulnerable to the wanted naivety that engulfed me once before. More than ever, I was curious and eager to uncover the collision of modernity and history that England so aggressively captures.
Any trip to England of course, must include a visit to Westminster. The center of the United Kingdom’s government and a symbolism of the religious history of this country – as well as the height of it’s controversial power – Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey are unique architectural wonders. The politics and beliefs raging inside this place may change with history, but the facade will remain.
Just a few short minutes away from several tube stops, including Westminster Tube Station and St. Jame’s Park Tube Station, these iconic buildings are visible from the London Eye. Another must for anyone stepping into London for the first time.
“It came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to London – that it has always been , in spirit, a stretch of countryside; and that it links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining forever unchanged at the heart of a ever-changing town.”
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle
For those who have an enduring thirst for nature and long walks, Hyde Park is a haven in this bustling city. Although it remains ever-growing and bustling with its own version of urban life, including gorgeous swans, peddling ducks, majestic horses and a mixture of locals and tourists riding bicycles along the paths, which you can pick up for just a few pounds in the park.
I couldn’t resist the urge to visit the relatively modest childhood home of my namesake Queen Victoria, which is known to the rest of us as Kensington Palace. This 18th century royal palace now serves as an architectural symbol of her reign, but also holds the keys to royal art and fashion hosting several exhibits throughout the year, including a recent exhibit showcasing Princess Diana’s famous gowns.
The newest edition to London’s facade comes in the form of The Shard. Opened in 2013, this building was just a few lines in an architect’s sketchbook when I first visited London. Today, it dominates London’s skyline and whatever your feelings towards this architectural giant, its sharp visibility and the way it almost blends in with the heavens on a misty English morning is breathtakingly inspirational. Particularly for a photographer always looking for new perspectives and angles.
No visit to London is complete without a morning of exploration in East London, particularly the markets and artistry of Brick Lane. Here foodies, artists, immigrants, musicians, tourists and locals mingle to create a section of London that is so unique it has yet to be replicated anywhere else in the world. Although threatened by the impending doom of gentrification that has perpetually threatened most urban areas across the world, it still holds a gritty, realist magic that began in the 15th century and has continued due to its centrality for different waves of immigrants.
“Startling, as of simultaneous exposure to a great many eyes with raise eyebrows.”
Hampton Court Palace
With a nerdy appetite for history, I enthusiastically boarded the train to visit one of the most famous palaces in the world: Hampton Court Palace, which is about 35 minutes from London Waterloo.
This palace, originally revamped by Sir Thomas Wolsey in 1514 (the Archbishop of York and the Chief Minister), became the royal residence of King Henry VIII after Wolsey gifted it to him in 1528. Despite the lavish gift, it didn’t salvage Wolsey’s waning favor with the King. He died two years later en route to answer questions regarding accusations that he was a “traitor.”
“History repeats itself. First as tragedy, second as farce.”
Karl Marx penned these words and it seems fitting for Hampton Court. A palace that housed one of the most notorious British monarchs in history, Henry VIII. His life was riddled with tragedies, primarily of his own doing. Yet, hundreds of years later, we retrace his steps, awe at his achievements and reflect on the life he led.
It truly is farce.
Finally, off to Cambridge.
After re-discovering London and Hampton Court, I traveled the hour or so north of London by bus to the 13th century town of Cambridge.
The next time you find yourself in England – you must visit this charming city. I’m currently trying to find any excuse to once again walk it’s cobble-stoned streets and gaze at the figures etched into stone across the university’s buildings.
Staying at St. Catherine’s College for around $100/day, I was enchanted by the beauty of the University of Cambridge. I retraced the steps taken by many of its most famous students, including Isaac Newton and my personal favorite, David Attenborough. After sipping an Italian-inspired latte at a local coffee shop across King’s College, its easy to jump onto a punting tour down The River Cam. In fact, to realize the real beauty and history of Cambridge, it’s necessary.
England is a master at capturing its audience through the architecture that dots its landscape. This is where every style of design is visible for all, from pre-historic sites like Stonehenge to post-modern buildings like The Shard. The relatively tiny British Isles touts the achievements of the Baroques, the Victorians and the Brutalists which stand the test of time and continue to inspire all who travel here.