Well…our trip is basically over now. It sure went fast!
Knowing the Changing of the Guard was at 11:30 (and it was recommended we get there at 10:30), that made it kind of hard to do anything else this morning. So we did a little last minute shopping around Trafalgar Square…took some pictures along the mall (both of Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace), then claimed a spot at the top of the stairs around the Queen Victoria Monument (which was where my parents said was the best place to watch the ceremony). I’m short, so I wondered if I would be better off down at street level, but decided I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on inside the gates (that’s where the ceremony happens) if I was down there. I needed to be up high. But from where we were, we couldn’t hear very well. It was hard to see what was going on behind the gate, too…just because it was so far away and there were all these bars in the way.
Pretty much everyone around us seemed pretty clueless about the whole ceremony. I noticed that when the guards actually changed, most of the people on the stairs had their backs to what was going on and were carrying on their own conversations! But like I said…it was hard to see and hear. We couldn’t even hear the band all the time. But what I did hear surprised me…I expected them to be playing much more majestic songs. We heard a Beatles medley.
We stood there an hour waiting for the ceremony…then the ceremony went on for about 45 minutes…we were right in front of the main gate so we had a good view of everyone coming out of the courtyard…once it was over, there was this mass exodus of people from the Buckingham Palace area. Most of them were headed over to the Queen’s Gallery or the Horse Guard (neither of which interested us all that much)…so we decided to head back to Trafalgar Square to grab a quick lunch.
I think we’re both glad we saw the changing of the guard, but in retrospect, I think we could have done without it. It was just so crowded and it was hard to see and hear, so we didn’t get much out of it. Our time might have been better spent somewhere else. But if I bring Junior High Kid here one day, he will probably want to see it, too, so I tried to decide where we should stand next time. I think we should try and get right up to the bars outside the courtyard if we can. Then we’d be able to see and hear what was going on in there. (Maybe it’s a lot more impressive if you can see and hear it?) Otherwise, I guess I’d stand right where we did…at least we were up high so we could sort of see.
We grabbed warm falafel wraps from Pret a Manger for lunch and ate them on the steps of the National Gallery across from Trafalgar Square where we had a nice view of the “most photographed lion statues in the world.” (And yes, I took my own photographs, too!) We could’ve climbed up there and eaten our lunch there, but I’m getting too old for that.
After lunch we headed for Westminster Abbey. We had actually considered skipping Westminster Abbey since we saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I’m glad we didn’t. Again, what an incredible sense of history. There has been “a place of worship” on that site for the last 1000 years! And it’s been the nation’s coronation church since 1066. We saw the coronation chair that has been used at every coronation since Edward II’s in 1308. And we saw the tombs of many of the royals, as well as the tombs of Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, George Frederick Handel, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The architecture (especially on the ceiling in the Lady Chapel) took my breath away. There was a glass piece in the middle of the room…I was listening to the audio tour, so I didn’t pay much attention to what was over there right away. Then I saw another visitor look at whatever was over there…her jaw dropped! So I went over there, too. It was a magnified mirror so you could get a better look at that stunning ceiling. I can’t believe that little guide book I bought doesn’t show that ceiling…they show the altar and the tomb effigy of Queen Elizabeth I and the bronze gates at the door to the chapel, but no ceiling! I can’t even describe it…it’s stone, but it’s really bright stone. My guide book describes it as “intricate and finely detailed fan vaulting. The carved pendants may seem to defy gravity, but the roof is actually built of interlocking pieces of stone that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.” That doesn’t even come close to describing what it’s like to look at! It’s almost like an Escher painting made 3-D.
We also saw Britain’s oldest door in Westminster Abbey…it dated back to 1065 (or somewhere in there). And in another chapel, we saw a hole in the wall that was caused by a bomb in World War II. I’ve never been pro war (who is?), but I hate to think about bombs destroying such beautiful buildings. As Americans, we can’t fully appreciate what it’s like to have this kind of history…we just don’t have anything this old.
College Student didn’t take time to translate all the Latin, so we actually had time to get to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms…well, we THOUGHT we did! This is a relatively new museum in London. It was just built in 2005…but it’s built on the actual secret underground rooms Churchill used during World War II (everything in there is left as it was in 1945). The tour guide book I borrowed before we came to London makes this sound like not much of a museum. The museum closes at 6:00…the last entry is at 5:00…we arrived at 4:00, so we thought we’d have plenty of time. Unfortunately, we could’ve used at least another hour… possibly even two!
The war rooms were interesting in and of themselves…(that was what we went to this museum for) but the Churchill museum was probably one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever seen. They really use technology to its fullest. There’s a huge computerized table where you can go to any day of Churchill’s life (all 90 years!) and see what was going on in the world at that time and/or what Churchill was doing. There’s a lot of primary source material in there, too…lots of letters, photographs…and you can hear all kinds of speeches, watch various broadcasts. The man really came alive for us. I had no idea he had been a painter…or an animal lover. I really wish we could’ve gotten through the whole museum. (Any of you who may be planning a trip to London in the future…I would strongly recommend you take in this museum! It wasn’t even very crowded.)
Another thing that was interesting about both this museum and the others we’ve visited here is the perspective. It’s very interesting to experience World War II through the British perspective rather than the American perspective.
College Student says he wishes we’d skipped the Changing of the Guard and then seen Westminster Abbey in the morning, the Churchill museum in the afternoon and then another show tonight! In fact, he says he’s had such a good time that he really wishes we’d gone to see WICKED tonight instead of a couple nights ago. He says that was the highlight for him…and it would’ve been nice for that to have been the very last thing we did.
We took the train up to Leicester Square for dinner…(and found Chinatown!) Apparently, THAT’S where all the restaurants that stay open in the evenings are located (we sometimes had a hard time finding restaurants that were open for dinner). We chose a restaurant that served both Chinese food AND sushi. We ordered one of the chicken/vegetable grill dishes, which was prepared at our table and shared a sushi roll assortment. Then we walked up a couple storefronts and had raspberry white chocolate cheese cake to top off our final night here.
Tomorrow we get up at 6:00…and we’ll be home at what will feel like about 5:30 in the morning the NEXT morning. I have a feeling we’ll both sleep in on Friday…
It’s been a wonderful trip…for both of us. This was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had…to take each of my children on a special trip, just the two of us, anywhere in the world they want to go. And I think age 18 is the exact right time to do it…they’re not gone yet, but they’re old enough to truly appreciate the trip. Junior High Kid, your turn is coming!