Anyone who has been to London must surely know what an amazing, crazy, diverse city it is. Interspersed among the famous attractions that everybody knows and visits, there are unique and obscure things for one to discover. I’m convinced that every London street, park, and building has its own fascinating story and claim to fame- and the great part is that it would take a very happy lifetime to explore them all.
We began our final day in London by taking advantage of the sunshine, and went to see one of London’s most recognizable landmarks: Buckingham Palace. “Buck House” is such a beautiful building- stately, ornate but not overdone, and with an elegance perfectly befitting Her Majesty who calls the palace home.
The imposing facade of Buckingham Palace in the morning sun
The Victoria Memorial, situated in front on Buckingham Palace
Buck House’s striking gate
My brother and I were most fascinated by the guards on duty outside the Palace. We are both interested in military things so we tried to figure out what type of firearms they were carrying.
The red-clad guard looks to have an SA80, the standard-issue rifle for the British Army. The police officer carries a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun
Moving on to the lesser-known features of London, Canada Gate is a fixture that is relatively unknown yet centrally-located and significant for me. Canada Gate was commissioned as part of the Queen Victoria Memorial scheme, after the beloved monarch died in 1901. It is one of several gates to Green Park that represent historically British-influenced countries.
Canada Gate, seen from just inside Green Park. The Gate faces the roundabout in front of Buckingham Palace
One of my very favourite unknown London gems is the Mandela Way T-34. Through research for my writing, I found out about it prior to this 2012 trip and immediately knew I had to see it. The Mandela Way T-34 is an old Soviet T-34/85 tank, used in WWII, which now sits on a small piece of private land in Bermondsey. The tank is a magnet for art and graffiti, and has been painted in many different liveries over the years. You can access Wikipedia’s Mandela Way T-34 page here.
The surroundings of this T-34 are so strange!
I loved visiting the Mandela Way T-34. I don’t get to see T-34s very often, and this example was so unique and memorable. It was sort of surreal to observe, since it sits at the edge of a nice residential area but is surrounded by graffiti, chainlink fencing, and scrubby vegetation.
The 85-mm main gun of the T-34 is pointed rather menacingly at some adjacent houses
Rear view of the T-34, seen through the charming chainlink fence that surrounds it
One piece of graffiti was particularly intriguing to me- I recognized it as a depiction of a fixture of Stalingrad in WWII! The Barmaley Fountain used to stand in the city, and showed a ring of children dancing joyfully. This fountain survived the Battle of Stalingrad, and some very evocative photographs were taken of it; contrasting the children’s cheer with the devastation of the surrounding area.
Nowadays, two replicas of the fountain stand in the city. One is in front of the railway station (sadly, the site of recent carnage of its own thanks to the terrorist bombing in December 2013), and the other is close to Pavlov’s House. When I someday make it to Volgograd, I will certainly visit these fountains, and I was delighted to see reference to the original in London.
Graffiti depicting Stalingrad’s Barmaley Fountain and a mushroom cloud
The Pavlov’s House replica in present-day Volgograd. Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC-SA 3.0. Attributed to Ufo Snake
Leaving the T-34, we went back to our hotel to pack our suitcases. I was a little sad to be leaving the T-34! But on our way back, we got a glorious view of the Shard in the evening sunshine, and it reminded me of how great London is and how lucky I have been to know it so well.
The Shard was stunning against the dark clouds and glimpses of the setting sun
London really does have something for everyone; all one needs to do is a little searching according to one’s interests. I wonder how many other amazing little-known things (like the Mandela Way T-34) are just waiting to be found!