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A two-days glimpse of England's oldest, largest, and most intriguing city

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London on the run

A sign just inside the Traitor's Gate advises visitors not to feed the ravens. Their powerful beaks, it warns, can cause a nasty wound. Several of the large stately birds walk about on the grass of Tower Green, and beyond the manicured lawn, at the entrance to the White Tower, we are greeted by an elderly gentleman who looks like he stepped off the label of a gin bottle. For longer than anyone can remember the Ravens and the Beefeaters have been the official guardians of the Tower of London.

The Tower was the last stop in our two-day visit to England's largest city. We could have spent the entire time prowling the hallways of Anne Boleyn's final resting place and still not seen it all. But, nearing the end of our six-week English sojourn, we had just two days to "see" London – barely enough time to hit a few highlights and gather a few impressions.

After checking into a B&B near Earling Broadway station we took the tube to Leicester Square and, with no definite plan in mind, spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly around central London. My first impression was the sheer size of the place. We bought a set of maps in Piccadilly Circus and found a coffee shop where we could sit down and study them. London is not so much a city as a collection of villages which, over the centuries, have grown and merged into a gigantic megalopolis – Watford, Harrow, Kingston, Earling, Enfield – the list goes on and on. The web of roads converging on and circling around central London looks like the work of a spastic spider and within the outermost perimeter road Greater London sprawls over an incredible 607 square miles.

My second impression was how easy it is to get around. The tube, fast and efficient, covers the long hauls. The red double-decker, open-back busses are crowded but fun to ride and cover the shorter downtown routes. A network of pedestrian walkways and green open spaces make walking a pleasure even in the downtown core. And walking in London is full of surprises.

From Piccadilly Circus we headed in the general direction of the Parliament buildings and suddenly found ourselves watching a parade – gilded horse-drawn carriages, mounted cavalry decked out in scarlet finery, light armoured vehicles, and marching bands. Strangely we seemed to be the only ones watching.

"What's going on," Betty asked a passing woman.

"Just a rehearsal dearie. The Guards is practicin’ for a big troopin’ come next month. You visitin’?"

"From Canada," Betty replied.

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