Wednesday, June 29, 2016

First full day: Am I officially British yet? (Part One: Pre Break)

Alarms were set this time. There was no way I was sleeping in again. Even though, due to the time difference, the kids were bears to get to sleep, I was bent on waking everyone up at 7am so we could finally shake this jetlag. Little did I know the fights of the night before, would become the wake up fights today. By 8:30 am, we were all out of bed and by 9:00 am, we were out the door. It was literally, a Christmas miracle (okay, not literally. I can hear my fifth block yelling at me for misusing literally, but I'm leaving it. For effect and all. I'm calling it narrative license).

Today's first stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the card, scheduled to begin promptly at 11:30, but travel guides suggest getting there early as people cram in and if you aren't close, you don't see. Noted. And dismissed, sorta kinda.  We got there early-ish. I would say around 10:15, which was a full 75 minutes early. The crowds were already packing in, but the side gates had room. We gambled on going around to the front, and miraculously found a corner to shimmy into where all three kids could be at the gate. Perfect!

From here, we just hurried up and waited. Like, really, what else is there to do for that long? Fiddle with your camera. Take a few shots. We couldn't exactly go anywhere, for fear (or reality) of losing our spot. Which, might I add, was pretty prime. The kids eventually settled into the wait and wrote in their travel journals. Remind me to share them with you. They are happy, really insistent, that everyone read them, so I know they will give their full permission to share as well. Their thoughts are nothing short of AMAZING. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll wonder how such small people could be so insightful and yet so, shallow at the exact same time.

Not the aforementioned guard.
Around 11:00 am, a guard gallops up and announces that if we plan to watch the changing of the guard, we will need to wait, as the gate we are standing in front of will need to open. Jaw. Drops. With only 30 minutes to go, spots are limited. We move over to the side and find a spot that we can make work, but is nowhere near as clutch as the previous spot. Not by a long shot. As the time passed, the crowds press forward, becoming more brazen in their attempts to press against the gate. No elbows are spared.

Kids are grumpy as the ceremony finally begins, and frankly speaking, I wasn't that impressed myself. A lot of pomp and circumstance, but what do I know? I mean it looked cool for about 10 minutes, but then, I was just done. The kids were done. So, we moved on. I guess I can't officially check it off my list as we didn't actually see any guards change, but at the same time, I don't feel slighted. We'll call this visit a draw.

Next, we turned our attention to the Victoria Memorial outside of the palace. This beautiful monument to Queen Victoria was designed in 1901 and unveiled in 1911, although not actually completed until 1924. Great works such as these take time. The memorial is monumental (see what I did there?), including elaborate iconographic sculptures made of marble and bronze.

Due to the high volume of people in the area, it was impossible to get a picture of the entire thing without 101 random strangers photobombing my attempts. Therefore, I present you with the tops. Google has full, undistributed pictures for your viewing pleasure.

After some serious, and not so serious, photos were taken at the feet of Queen Victoria, we sauntered over to Green Park, then crossed to St. James Park, the oldest of the capital's eight Royal Parks. While the park is surrounded by grandiose architecture and ceremony, it is easy enough to get lost in the fairy tale landscapes and tranquility of nature. From the natural landscape children's park, to the pelicans sunning on Duck Island, this park may have been my favorite part of the morning.

Duck Island Cottage
Duck Island Cottage is located on the east end of St. James Park Lake, and actually houses the offices of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust in St James's Park. There is some amazing history that goes along with this park and this cottage, and if you want to read all about it, you should check out the London Gardens Trust site which tells the story so much better than I could paraphrase. Two highlights include that fact that there used to be a Governor of Duck Island and in 1771 the island was swept away, yet reappeared some 50 years later. The cottage itself has a bit of a troubled history, narrowly escaping demolition.

I could have spent the entire day just relaxing and picnicking in this park, but alas, it was not to be. We had set our sights on Big Ben in the distance. A short walk away, and we arrived at Parliament Square, a drastic shift from the serenity of the park as we were thrust into a distinct political and cultural epicenter of the city. Parliament Square is large open green area boasting ten statues of English statesmen and other notable figures, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. We ventured first past the Supreme Court, but were more interested in visiting Westminster Abbey and Parliament, although in hindsight, I wish we had visited the Supreme Court, as the former was too expensive and the latter was not offering tours. Lesson learned.

In our first trip around, we sauntered right past Westminster Abbey, dismissing it completely, as we were too entranced by Big Ben and the London Eye in the distance. We crossed the street, paying no attention to the architectural marvel towering behind us. We spent a few moments exploring the different statues in the park, but what was most striking was the memorial to Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was brutally shot and stabbed to death leading up to the Brexit vote folly. Radicalism is real and scary, and it doesn't often come in the hues we expect. Sombering.

After several moments contemplating it all, we moved on. At the north end of Parliament reigns the Elizabeth Tower. Scratching your head? So was I. Big Ben is actually the name of the Great Bell, not the name of the tower itself. This regal tower was completed in 1859 and was renamed in 2012 to its current name, previously known only as the Clock Tower.

The rest of Parliament extends out to the south.

We crossed Westminster Bridge to the southside of London for no other reason than to take this photograph. It was windy, rainy and cold, but we handled it like champs. Totally worth it in my opinion. This is the full southside view of the Palace of Westminster, commonly known as the House of Parliament, the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The building has over 1,100 room, 100 staircases, and three miles of passageways spread over four floors. Process the enormity for a moment. I could get my daily run done from inside this building if I lived there. I would never have to leave my home. Whoa. Although, I might get bored. So yeah, maybe that won't work after all. It would still be cool though. Sadly, we did not realize that tours were only on Saturdays, so our plan to visit inside was foiled. I'll never know if living there would have worked out for me. All the same, the walk across the bridge afforded us the additional, amazing view of the Thames and the London Eye.

At this point, it was nearing 2pm again, and everyone was starving. Food is scarce in the area, but we finally found a little cafe and had a bite before heading back to find Westminster Abbey.

As soon as we arrived, we quickly realized the ridiculousness of our mistake. How could we have missed such a looming Gothic abbey as this? Interestingly, the building itself is no longer an abbey at all. Between 1540 and 1556, it had the status of cathedral, but since 1560, it is no longer either. Westminster Abbey's current status is that of a Church of England "Royal Peculiar," exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocese and subject to the direct jurisdiction of the monarch. I tried to put that into American context, imagining a major Catholic cathedral in the states would be exempt from it diocese and instead under the jurisdiction of...who? Barack Obama? That kind of thing would just never, and I mean, never ever happen here. Separation of church and state folks. That is what that means. This whole system is just foreign to me, but I'm really trying to wrap my head around it. Because have I mentioned already? I'm not coming home. I'm well on way to citizenship. Cool. Thanks.

Our first part of the day ended here. We headed home for a late afternoon rest, before venturing out for the rest of the evening. I'll save that for my next post though...

No comments:

Post a Comment