Tuesday, we intended to wake up early and travel to Westminster Abbey for morning prayer – because millions of people visit every day, but how many people can say that they actually attended a service? – but I ended up not feeling well after breakfast, so we decided to stay in the hotel until I was feeling better. We still haven’t been in Westminster Abbey, but we’ll have to save that for another trip.
We ended up taking a bus to Westminster anyway, because then we could see the Abbey and Westminster Palace (otherwise known as Parliament) on our way to Buckingham Palace, where we had tickets for a tour of the State Rooms. It was really amazing to see these grand landmarks right in front of us – like I said in my last post, it was a feeling we never got away from – and royal fangirl that I am, to say that I was right where so much royal history has happened (weddings, coronations, funerals) was awesome. We took a handful of pictures and then began walking to Buckingham Palace. The City of Westminster (a medieval-era city that was completely enveloped by Greater London, yet kept its city status, much like the one-square-mile City of London) is probably my favorite section of London; it represents everything I love about that city. Yes, “my” London is incredibly posh and probably pretty closed-off, but it has so much beauty, history and great architecture. (Plus, apart from the Tower in the aptly named Borough of Tower Hamlets, Westminster has pretty much all of my favorite London landmarks.)
We arrived at Buckingham Palace in plenty of time to walk around the front gates and take lots of pictures – pictures of the gates, the balcony from which the Royal Family greets the world, and the Victoria Memorial, which was the focus of this summer’s Diamond Jubilee Concert. The tour, however, was a highlight of the day. We toured through nineteen state rooms, in which the Queen receives dignitaries and other guests – such as the Grand Staircase, the Ballroom, the Portrait Gallery, the Throne Room, and all manner of blue/red/green/white drawing rooms. (I highly recommend the BBC special called The Queen’s Palaces: Buckingham Palace. You will be able to see roughly everything I saw, plus presenter Fiona Bruce managing to get the BBC to pay for her to travel to Venice.) We also saw the summer’s special exhibition to tie in with the Diamond Jubilee: some of the grandest and most special diamond pieces from the royal collection. We saw some of my favorite tiaras, the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland Tiara (which is one of my favorites), the George IV State Diadem (it’s hard to believe something that “pretty” was made for a man), and Queen Victoria’s Small Diamond Crown. Additionally, seven pieces made of cuttings from the Cullinan Diamond, the world’s largest diamond, were reunited for the first time in one display. (The two largest cuttings, Cullinan I and Cullinan II, are part of the Crown Jewels, found in the scepter and Imperial State Crown, respectively.) The Buckingham Palace tour ends at the back garden, where we were finally allowed to take pictures again. They also set up a small tent to act as a café, so my sister and I had a lovely little lunch at Buckingham Palace. Y’know, as you do. 🙂
After lunch (and some souvenir shopping), we went back to Westminster – and I found the official signage renaming the Parliament Clock Tower as Elizabeth Tower! – so we could walk across Westminster Bridge, where a scene from some James Bond movie took place. My sister is a big James Bond fan, and so we were able to find the exact door that Pierce Brosnan (I think) used to receive a clue or something like that. We also had tickets for the London Eye, which ended up being great fun – not only for a birds-eye view of London, but because the Eye is a free wi-fi hotspot, and we were able to use it to make a video call home! It was wonderful to be able to share what we were seeing with the rest of the family back home, and I know it made my parents’ day to hear from us before they went off to work. (We probably annoyed the rest of the people in our pod, though. If you shared a ride with us, I do apologize.)
After our ride, we traveled all the way across London to see the Olympic Park. We weren’t able to get into it, as we traveled to the Westfield Stratford City mall*, which was near one entrance, and the way to the park was blocked off by construction to the mall complex. Eventually, the Olympic Park will be converted to public park space and the Olympic Village will be turned into apartment complexes for families. However, we were able to get a picture of the Olympic Stadium, explore the mall a bit** (which is huge) and spend some time shopping for London Olympic souvenirs. I also got pictures taken with large plush versions of Wenlock and Mandeville, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots, and a giant Dalek (a monster from Doctor Who) made of Lego.
So in one day, we managed to cram in the two events that completely took over London this year. Next: a Wednesday in which we managed to cram in most of the rest of the city.
*While we never made it to Greenwich Observatory, the mall is mere ten-thousandths of a degree from the Prime Meridian. So we may have crossed over to the Eastern Hemisphere at some point while walking around there.
**There are many American clothing chains in London, one of which is Hollister, which is based around a California surfer-casual style. The Hollister store in my hometown has a video screen that shows the waves at Huntington Beach, California, also known as “Surf City USA.” My sister and I decided it would be interesting to see what beach (if any) would be displayed at a British Hollister store. Lo and behold, they were showing video of Huntington Beach as well. Also, Hollister stores have a seating area near the cashiers, and the store we saw in London was decorated just the same as every other Hollister I’ve ever followed my youngest sister into: with a California flag hanging from the rafters. We thought that was really funny and enjoyed that reminder of our home state while so far away.