Five unusual monuments of London

The historic city of London is filled with monuments of all kinds: to politicians, heroes, kings, and queens. Many blend into the background, just some more overdressed statues on plinths looking down at the traffic. Here are five unusual monuments that really stand out.

Animals in War Memorial

While London is full of war memorials, this one on Park Lane next to Hyde Park is a bit different, as you can see from this Wikimedia Commons image. It’s dedicated to all the animals who served in war. Used as mounts for cavalry or as beasts of burden, they suffered and died alongside their human comrades. The inscription says:

“This monument is dedicated to all the animals
that served and died alongside British and allied forces
in wars and campaigns throughout time
They had no choice”

The Golden Boy of Gluttony

This fat little naked guy commemorates the Great Fire of 1666, when much of London burnt down. The plaque claims the fire was caused by the “sin of gluttony”. Located at the corner of Giltspur and Cock Lane, the fire stopped just short of here. That’s a shame because the old inn that stood on this site was the scene of sins far greater than gluttony. At a time when the only bodies surgeons could get for study were those of the executed, “resurrection men” would steal the recently buried from graveyards and lay them out for sale in the upper floors of the inn. The practice became so widespread that cemeteries had to post armed guards.


Simply called “Monument”, the 202-foot column at the corner of Monument St. and Fish St. Hill also commemorates the Great Fire. Unlike the people who erected the Golden Boy, the builders of this memorial blamed the Catholics. The anti-Catholic plaque was removed in 1831. The column’s height is significant-it’s the exact distance from the pillar to the house in Pudding Lane where the fire started.

Monument was designed by the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral) and was completed in 1677. It sports a bright golden flame at the top and an observation tower with splendid views reachable by 311 steep steps. Making it all the way up earns you an official certificate proving your accomplishment. The platform became a popular place for distraught Londoners to hurl themselves to their deaths; more people died at the Monument than from the fire itself until a protective screen was installed.

Cleopatra’s Needle

Dramatically set alongside the Thames Embankment between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges is something you don’t expect to see in London-an ancient Egyptian obelisk covered in hieroglyphs. The name is misleading. It wasn’t erected by Cleopatra but rather by Thothmes III around 1500 BC. Two centuries later Ramses the Great added some inscriptions boasting of his military prowess. When Cleopatra was redecorating Alexandria in 12 BC she had the obelisk moved there.

It was donated to the British Empire in 1819 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt, as thanks for the English kicking Napoleon out of Egypt. Getting it to England proved problematic. They didn’t even try until 1877, when the obelisk was encased in a metal cylinder and towed out to sea. It was lost in a storm in the Bay of Biscay only to be spotted by another ship floating peacefully on the waves. The chips out of its bottom are courtesy of German bombing during World War One.

Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park

Next to the 18th century church of St. Botolph-without-Aldersgate on Aldersgate Street stands Postman’s Park, a tranquil oasis amid the rush of the city. A curious feature of this park is the Watts Memorial, erected in 1900 by a parishioner who wanted to honor those who had given their lives while trying to save others. Each hero or heroine is given a plaque briefly telling their story. The accumulated effect of the dozens of plaques is deeply moving.

Visiting monuments is one way to travel on a budget. All except Monument are free, and they tell you a lot about British history and worldview. Are going to London? Check out AOL Travel’s London guide!

Zahi Hawass tells New York City: fix Cleopatra’s Needle or give it back

The Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has become famous in recent years for his regular television appearances and tireless campaign to preserve his nation’s heritage. Dr. Zahi Hawass has gotten the Met to return stolen artifacts and severed ties with the Louvre until they coughed up some of their own ill-gotten gains.

Now the fedora-wearing Egyptologist has a new location in his sights–New York City. On his blog he says Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park has become “severely weathered”. He’s sent a letter to the president of the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg describing how some of the hieroglyphs had all but disappeared and that if they couldn’t take care of the obelisk, he’d “take the necessary steps” to bring it back to Egypt.

Dr. Hawass also posted photos showing the weathering the monument has suffered. With the city’s variable weather and acidic pollution, it’s not surprising it’s suffered damage. Manhattan news service DNAinfo, however, talked to Jonathan Kuhn, director of Arts & Antiquities for the Parks Department, who said the damage was done more than a century ago and that there’s no significant erosion happening now.

Considering the level of determination Dr. Hawass has shown in the past, expect to hear more about this story in the future.

(As a side note, “Cleopatra’s Needle” is misnamed. It was actually erected by the pharaoh Thutmose III around 1450 BC, centuries before Cleopatra was born. London and Paris have similar obelisks.)

[Photo courtesy user Ekem via Wikimedia Commons]

Undiscovered New York: 5 reasons to visit the Upper West Side

Welcome to Gadling’s ongoing series, Undiscovered New York. Ask any New Yorker about their favorite parts of the city to visit, and you’re likely to get some fairly common answers. Anybody under the age of 30 will tell you that the neighborhoods south of 14th Street are the happening place to be. Brooklyn is an increasingly popular answer as well, with “cool” neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint and “Brownstone Brooklyn” getting some love as well.

But I’m fairly certain nobody is going to tell you to go to the Upper West Side. You know what? They’re missing out on one of New York City’s best neighborhoods. Call me biased (I lived on the Upper West Side for almost 3 years) but this neighborhood located west of Central Park has a lot to offer, from fantastic parks, quirky attractions, unmatched cultural institutions, a burgeoning food scene and even some great nightlife.

It might be hard to believe, but dear reader, let me share with you 5 reasons why the Upper West Side deserves a few hours of your time during your next visit to New York.

Click below for Undiscovered New York’s top 5 reasons to visit the Upper West Side. I bet you’ll be surprised.
Reason 1: The Food!

If there’s anything you might have learned after reading Undiscovered New York, it’s that we’re pretty big on New York’s food scene. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that the Upper West Side is home to an increasing number of great food spots. First stop is Fairway – what might be one of the best grocery stores in the entire United States. Pretty much any delicacy known to man is available within the narrow aisles of this chaotic, wonderful supermarket. Imported olives from Italy and Spain, Beluga Caviar, bags of Ethiopian Arabica and freshly made New York bagels are just a few of the many delicacies on offer.

A little further north is the secret weapon of 96th Street – Super Tacos “Sobre Ruedas,” a tiny taco truck serving up cheap, authentic Mexican food to locals. For five bucks you can grab a goat tongue taco and a spicy chorizo along with a bottle of Mexican soda. The Upper West Side is also home to an increasingly great selection of new restaurants – try Kefi for some of the city’s best Greek food, Dovetail for some delicious New American cuisine and Barney Greengrass for top-notch smoke fish. Your last stop should be Grom for New York’s most authentic (and delicious) Italian gelato.

Reason 2: The Architecture
New York’s West Village might get all the tourists, but to really get a feel for some beautiful architecture one need only take a stroll on the Upper West Side, which is loaded with historic architectural gems. One of the neighborhood’s most famous structures is The Ansonia, a beautiful Beaux-Arts style former hotel at 73rd and Broadway. The building’s glitzy history includes stays by residents including Babe Ruth, the 1919 Black Sox and a former swinger’s club. Another famous Upper West Side building is The Dakota at 72nd Street and Central Park West, infamous as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Beyond these two structures is an entire neighborhood of beautiful late-19th Century and early 20th-Century brownstones and apartments. Just pick a street and start walking.

Reason 3: The Culture
The Upper East Side might get all the visitors because of The Met, The Guggenheim and The Whitney, but the Upper West Side’s cultural amenities would put most large cities to shame. First there’s the American Museum of Natural History, home to all manner of dinosaur bones, insect specimens and a full size blue whale. But in addition to the Natural History museum, there’s a huge range of cultural options on New York’s Upper West Side. There’s also Lincoln Center, the beating cultural heart of New York and home to the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic, among others. Retro music fans can stop by the Beacon Theatre to see acts like Hall & Oates and B.B. King.

Reason 4: The Parks
Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? Why don’t you find out for yourself by visiting the real thing? The final resting place of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant can be found nestled on the Upper West Side’s Riverside Park. That’s not the only notable sight in this beautiful waterfront park which runs the length of the neighborhood. You’ll find joggers, sailboats and some awesome views of the George Washington Bridge. In the warmer months there’s the Boat Basin Cafe, a wonderful spot to enjoy a drink or a burger and take in the fabulous view. Just south of the Cafe is a collection of derelict piers and dock machinery which makes for a cool backdrop for photos.

Reason 5:
The Nightlife
If you want to go out in New York City, you should probably head downtown, right? Wrong. The Upper West Side has a surprisingly diverse nightlife scene. Jazz fans will want to stop by Cleopatra’s Needle, a swinging Jazz joint packed with fans and some of the city’s best musicians pret
ty much every night of the week. There’s not even a cover charge – just buy a drink or two and settle in for some awesome live music. There’s also a number of great spots to grab a drink, including wine bars like Vintage, which features a huge selection of locally produced wines from Upstate New York and and Long Island. There’s also plenty of watering holes up near Columbia University. It’s no all-night party scene but it will certainly hold your attention for a fun night out.