Monday, August 25, 2008

A Royal Day

Day 3 of our London vacation: Today we visited Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery.

We took the tube--the London version of the subway--everywhere. It was so convenient to be able to go wherever you wanted without having to worry about having a car or pay for a taxi. There are many a places here in the U.S. that could learn a thing or 500 from London's mass transportation system. Today when we exited the tube, we were immediately confronted with the Parliament building and Big Ben. I was awestruck to find myself standing directly beneath these landmarks that I’ve only seen in pictures my entire life. Hubby snapped a few quick pictures, and we headed over to the Abbey.

Above: Big Ben during the day

We got there a few minutes before the first guided Verger tour begins. I had read about the tour in my research, and had really wanted to take it, and we were both glad we did. It was one of the highlights of the trip. You get a wealth of knowledge from the Verger who leads the tour, and you get to see areas that are normally closed to the public, such as sitting in the choir seats, and the area behind the altar. There was an Australian girl in our tour who looked like she was somewhere in the ballpark of 12-14, and she was just fascinated with the chairs that are reserved for those who have been knighted. At the end of this part of the tour, our Verger let her go back and sit for a minute in the chair that is reserved for the queen herself! I thought that was really nice of him, to give her a memory that she will never forget.

Above: Westminster Abbey

After the tour was over, we walked around the outside of the Abbey so Hubby could take pictures of the outside. As we were leaving we ran into…hordes and hordes of tourists. Hordes. We’d just discovered another perk to our hotel, the London Hilton Islington: it’s off of the beaten tourist path. Our next stop was Buckingham Palace, so we took a quick look at the map, planned on stopping for lunch on the way, fought for space on the sidewalk while trying not to get jostled too much, and headed off.

I followed Hubby, thinking he knew where he was going. Hubby followed me, thinking I knew where I was going. We walked way out of our way before realizing that neither one of us knew where we were going. We stopped to pull out the map and realized that from Westminster Abbey we walked east instead of north like we should have, and were now in the Charing Cross area. Sigh. We backtracked via the Mall, but that little misstep cost us the time we would have spent eating lunch.

The Queen's Gallery (the Queen's private museum) operates on timed admission, and our slot was scheduled for 2 p.m. I had wanted to see the Royal Mews (where the royal horses and carriages are kept) prior to the Queen's Gallery, so we were booking it at this point. It had been recommended from several sources to allow about an hour for the Mews, and by the time we get there it is 1:15. I was disappointed and kicking myself, because the Royal Mews was one of the things I was most looking forward to, and I didn't want to have to rush through it. But I shouldn't have worried, because upon entering the Royal Mews I first real disappointment of the trip. There were five carriages on display, which looked very…similar. The gold carriage (forget it’s official name) was impressive, but what I was looking forward to the most was seeing the horses, but there were only three out, and one was in stables that you could see from the walkway but you weren’t able to walk past it, so you only got a peak. The other two were cooped up in the tiniest of stalls and turned around so you had a nice view of their rear ends. Maybe I was expecting too much? To see the Royal Mews in their entirety, read the displays we were interested in (we’re not fans of audio guides—maybe that would have added more?) took 20 minutes. We got the Queen’s Gallery early, which was fine, as it gave us some time to sit down. We enjoyed the exhibit (although we had our first dumb tourist moment here: the nice young lady who was directing traffic pointed us in the direction of the audio guides—we only caught the audio guide part and didn’t realize that this was also the entrance. Not being audio guide people we were not interested, so headed for the first room we saw with paintings, but we couldn’t figure out how to open the door, because there were no knobs. With the exception of two staff members, we are the only people in this area, which is empty and filled with marble floors, so no matter how much we’re trying to keep our voices down, they are carrying. We finally realize that the reason we can’t open the doors is because they’re not meant to be opened: as it turns out, this was the exit of the exhibit, and the nice young lady, who at this point was somewhat chagrined, politely asked us to please head in the appropriate direction. We were somewhat embarrassed.)

After the Queen’s Gallery, we made our way to Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was another “If I knew then what I know now” experience for us. It felt like Disneyland Goes Royal. The place was packed (although they do a good job of directing traffic), and inevitably the areas in which we did not care to pause were always the areas in which everyone else did wish to pause, making maneuvering through them difficult. It was interesting to see the rooms, but…after a few of them, they all started to look the same. You do however get to walk through some of the gardens on the way out, which I enjoyed.

We walked back to the front of the palace because Hubby wanted to get some pictures. In all honesty, if we had walked by the front of the palace and just seen that, it would have been a sufficient Buckingham Palace experience for me, but of course you don’t know that beforehand. I sat on the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace and waited while Hubby did his thing. While there I had the pleasure of meeting Jasper, a precocious little boy who was completely intent on retrieving some of the coins in the fountain for his own personal use. He and his friends started to form a human chain for this purpose, with Jasper being hung over the edge of the fountain. I thought, “This can’t be good,” so I told them to be careful. They looked at me like I was from Mars and kept on keeping on in their quest for coins. I wondered where their parents were. It turned out the parents were sitting up a level on the fountain, also telling Jasper and company not to play in the fountain. They were being ignored too. Finally the parents came down, but rather than shoo the kids away, they shockingly decided to participate in the coin retrieval process, assisting in the human chain. As the kids naturally got more and more rowdy, one of the girls got knocked over, and tears ensued. The parent of the offending child couldn't figure out how that happened (it’s called discipline, people). Meanwhile, with the help of his mother, Jasper has managed to get some coins. He has also seen fit to exchange the sock of one of his friends for the coins, so there is now a sock floating in the fountain and a half barefoot little boy walking away from it. I didn't quite believe what I had seen, and thought maybe I was sicker than I realized and had hallucinated the entire thing. I did not, as a second look verified the sock was still in the fountain.

We spent the rest of the night watching English TV. We saw the UK version of American Idol (we were happy to see that the UK has just as many delusional people as the US--the judges are also much more harsh), some random game shows, and my favorite, Mock the Week, which was a combination of "Whose Line Is It Anyway" and SNL's Weekend Update. I miss Mock the Week.

We weren't allowed to take pictures in Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, so the post is light on pictures today, sorry guys. The next one will be better--it's Stonehenge!


VE said...

Sounds like you're having a great time. Makes me miss London...well, not the prices that is. I'll be interested in your Stonehenge post...I never made it there.

:corinne: said...

Woohoo London Baby!(what show is that line in???) Sounds like you're having a wonderful time, beside a few "map mishaps" *wink*. But doesn't that make the trip a bit funner. On the upside, you see more than you had anticipated