Posted by: cgratton | February 12, 2009

Fancy a Stroll?

This sudden influx of spring-like weather has prompted me to awake from my drowsy mid-winter hibernation.  Much to my delight, I was actually able to go on a long, meandering walk today, taking the scenic route to class, instead of bee-lining it, face down, hands stuffed into pockets, to my destination, and then waiting to thaw out.  Let’s just say today’s weather was a pleasant mid-week surprise.

But maybe the cold seems even more brutal this year due to the fact that I cleverly escaped it last winter when I chose to study in London.  It’s true—I can recount several days in February when a light jacket was sufficient, and never did I once see snow.

But it was definitely the parks that made it seem the most un-winterlike in London.  Being able to wander through the various green spaces, passing by budded trees and still-blooming flowers was like staring skeptically at an optical illusion or a mirage.  I mean flowers in January, was this some type of “Welcome to London” joke??

As a northeasterner, this seemed unnatural and strange at first, but within five seconds I accepted its bizarreness, thankful to have had three excruciating months cut out of my winter.  So, needless to say, I fell in love with London’s parks at first sight.

But this wasn’t a superficial fling—just because they’re beautiful and charming, and still provoke a googley-eyed, wistful sigh when I look at their pictures.

Regents Park sigh

Regent's Park still makes me <deep sigh>

No.  Over my four months in London, we fell deeply, deeply in love.  I fell in love with their complexity, their history, their development, their purpose.  And I still loved them in spite of their blemishes—adoring every broken bench, every homeless person, every piece of pigeon poop (well, to be fair, these are very few and far between, as the parks are astoundingly well-groomed and policed).

But my point still stands that one of the most amazing things about London is it’s parks.

And it’s no wonder why.  The city has made it a priority to maintain an ample amount of green space.  The biggest of these are the eight official Royal Parks, which total over 5,500 acres (these are just the ones managed by the Royal Parks agency, however.  There are many other smaller parks, too)!  The Royal Parks are the most notable parks in London, and they are technically owned by the royal family, so they are obviously the most lavish and best maintained.

A birds-eye view of Hyde Park.  Sure puts things in perspective.

A birds-eye view of Hyde Park. Sure puts things in perspective, huh?

Each park is steeped in a long royal history, and have undergone sweeping changes through changing monarchs, wars and, of course, modernization.

Each reigning king or queen left their own mark in some area of a park, and is honored in at least one with a lavish tribute, like the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, at the corner of Hyde Park.

Queen Victorias massive (and some say, gaudily impressive) tribute to her husband, Prince Albert

Queen Victoria's massive (and some say, gaudily impressive) tribute to her husband, Prince Albert

Or the more modern memorial fountain to Princess Diana, also in Kensington Gardens.

The contemporary circular design is still much contested by Brits

The contemporary circular design is still much contested by Brits

Throughout the centuries that the parks have opened, wars (namely WWI and II) have ruined some of the grounds and estates on their property, prompting them to be rebuilt, and later memorialized (St. James Park, most notably).

The Guards Memorial in St. James Park, honoring the soldiers of WWI

The Guards Memorial in St. James Park, honoring the soldiers of WWI

And modernization throughout the years has triggered the construction of new attractions in the parks, like the London Zoo and a concert venue in Hyde Park (large enough to host the Live 8 concerts).

A historic concert in a historic venue

A historic concert in a historic venue

The London Zoo takes up a large chunk of Regents Park, but is a welcome addition

The London Zoo takes up a large chunk of Regent's Park, but is a welcome addition

Yet the parks have, for the most part, remained remarkably untouched, still emanating their rich history, and lavishly basking in their own glory with the same lovable haughtiness as the Queen herself.

Tradition, something the city London prides itself on in every aspect of life, still reigns supreme in the parks.  For, just like the guards change at the same time everyday at Buckingham Palace, tourists and locals alike still flock to see the wildlife officers at St. James’s Park feed the pelicans and wild bird population at 2:30 p.m. everyday.

The very friendly and very popular residents of St. James's Park

The very friendly and very popular residents of St. James's Park

It’s touches like these that will keep that candle burning steadfast in my heart for you, London Parks.

Love always,

Christine

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Responses

  1. If you can, and where appropriate, you should think of adding an audio podcast about parts of your trip to New York this weekend.


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