So its Thursday in London…back in Charlotte school is getting cancelled due to an ice storm, but here in London, it is in the 60’s and sunny!
We are meeting up with Nick from Free London Walking Tours again today for a tour called “Royal London & Changing of the Guard.” The website warns that in the winter months, the Changing of the Guard does not happen every day, but you can check the schedule on-line to make sure you are going to be able to see it if you want to.
That morning we decided to try the included breakfast at our hotel…and at least there was coffee!! So if there was one small complete fail at the St. David’s Hotel it was the breakfast. It was hot and plentiful so if that is your only requirement you will be completely satisfied. It is not gourmet. There are only two choices…English or Continental. The English has eggs (done your way), bacon (English style rasher), baked beans, grilled veggies, and toast. I love me a good rasher of bacon, so that part was good, and its hard (though not impossible) to mess up toast, but the rest was really not to my liking at all. It was edible but not tasty. I still LOVE the hotel and I would gladly stay there on any trip to London, just next time I will order Continental!
Moving on, we head to the Underground to catch the train to Westminster, but there was some sort of hold up on the line and we ended up waiting a long time for a train. That made us late to Westminster, probably around 10:45…15 minutes late. There was no green umbrella in site so we walked up the street one way, did not see any sort of group moving around, so we headed the other way…and found Nick!!! Fortunately for us, Nick wears a giant bear skin hat, like the Russian kind, not the Royal Guard kind…like this:
And that is what I spotted walking down the street with a small group. We very quickly caught up with them and apologized for being late. I am not sure if Nick wears this big hat during the summer months, but I hope so! It’s a great way to pick him out of the crowd! The group had only made it as far as Big Ben…or more specifically, the clock tower that houses Big Ben.
Nick gave us little tidbits of information as we walked around this area. This is a really busy, crowded area compared to what we had seen so far, but it is a very business-y area so lots of folks going to and from work. In the middle of January, the touristy areas are really not that busy, but I guess folk still gotta work!
The Victoria Tower at the Palace of Westminster. Now the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, collectively the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is housed int the Elizabeth Tower, at the other corner. There is one more tower in the middle, but I didn’t get a picture of it. Nick must not have had any cool stories about it.
This is St. Margaret’s Church. It stands in between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament is what is housed in the Palace of Westminster these days. The bell tower on the Palace of Westminster houses Big Ben. There…Now you know! I am standing on the same corner to take all of the above pictures, just stand in one place and take pictures all around you, that’s how awesome London is!
10 Downing Street. Affectionately known simply as “Number 10” this is where the Executive Branch headquarters and where the Prime Minister officially resides. I learned that George Downing, who owned part of the building, was a notorious spy for Oliver Cromwell back in the day. Now, I know you are thinking that surely someone of such fine upstanding character would build solid, well crafted homes…you’d be wrong of course. The fronts of the houses were nothing more than facades with painted on stones! Churchill later lamented the homes of the “profiteering contractor whose name they bear.”
Downing never lived in any of these houses, and Number 10 was part of three houses eventually combined to make up the modern building that now bears the name.
We then moved to the changing of the guard at the Horse Guards. That is different than the changing of the Palace Guard, but no less formal and steeped in tradition. Plus, you can get so much closer! And Horses!!!
This was really, really cool and you can see how close we were to the action. Much closer than the Palace Changing of the Guards. From Whitehall, all you see is the building and the arches where the mounted guards are stationed, but as you walk through the building, it opens to Parade Grounds where the formal changing ceremony takes place. Beyond that is St. James’s Park and in fact, this building is the unofficial entrance to St. James’s Palace which I’m guessing is somewhere in that HUGE park! We did eventually find it…just be patient!
Next up was Buckingham Palace for the “real” Changing of the Guard. As you may be able to see, even in January the crowds to watch this were several people deep against the fence. A very helpful thing to know is that in the winter, they do not do a formal changing of the guards every day, there is a schedule posted with the dates and times on several London websites, so if you are going in January, look it up. Not that it is etched in stone, mind you. According to the Buckingham Palace website, there was supposed to be a Changing ceremony on the day that we were there, but we waited 15 mins or so and it never happened so onward and upward!
See?? I told you we would find it. St. James’s Palace, the back side. As it turns out, this was my favorite stop of the “Royal” sights. I LOVE the history of the Tudors and this palace was built by Henry VIII as an escape from formal court life. And he build all sorts of fun escape things into it.
See the Murder Holes at the top?? Where an archer could hide and shoot you while you waited to come it? That would certainly put a more final twist on my “No Soliciting” sign! Also, on this side of the Palace there was an underground tunnel for Henry to use. Where did it lead you ask?
It lead here…a wine shop! Any wonder I love Henry Tudor!!! Granted this particular store has changed hands in the past 400 plus years, but according to Nick, it was a place for the King to slip out and drink unnoticed by eyes in the Palace. Do you think I can dig a tunnel to my closest wine shop? I’d probably have to get HOA approval first, right?
We then moved on to see some of the shops that sell to folks above my pay grade. You know, “If you have to ask…” and all that. Shopping is not my favorite thing, although it is certainly cool to see how the other half live! Soon enough we were at Trafalger Square, where our tour was to end. We hopped on the Metro to head back to the hotel to freshen up for our night in West End London!!
We had dinner reservations at Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen and tickets to see Les Miserables at the Queens Theater after that so we were really looking forward to this night and it did not disappoint!
Our trip was the week after the Great David Bowie passed away, and Heddon Street is famous for being the location where the album cover for Rise and Fall was shot. This impromptu tribute was silent and beautiful in the middle of busy London.
Dinner at Heddon Street was AWESOME!! The restaurant is in a cute little courtyard and has what looks to be a nice patio area for outdoor dining. We sat inside as it was January and the atmosphere was very cozy and comfortable. We were early for a dinner since we needed to be at the theater so we kind of had a merry-go-round of servers as more arrived for their shift, however we never felt neglected, someone always checked on us and made sure we had everything we needed. We had baked scallops and flatbread as appetizers and both were very tasty. For entrees we had the short rib burger and the roast pork belly and both were very good. The Mac & Cheese side dish was my favorite thing EVER! I should have gotten the entree portion! For dessert, we had the dark chocolate tart and ice cream bar. Both very good.