Good night of sleep, continental breakfast, and we were ready for our first tour of London. Until this point I really hadn’t gotten the feel that I was in another country. For all of our walks around Kensington yesterday, it was almost just like last summer in Philadelphia. Buildings were close together, people talked funny, and drove even weirder. There were tons of ethnic groups, and the attire was what one would find in most US cities. Now the realization has hit that this is someplace entirely different.
We met our group, and headed out for our tour of London. This tour focused on the Royals, and on the City of Westminster. We had stops to photograph the Albert Memorial and Westminster Abbey. We drove past Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, crossed the Thames, and came back by Parliament. It almost became sensory overload, trying to keep up with architectural magnificence whizzing by. As we passed the US Embassy, it was barracaded, and the police had machine guns drawn, apparently on heightened alert because of the mess in Israel. Our guide seemed none too thrilled with the machine guns.
Our final tour destination was Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards. We began by skirting the edge of St. James Park. On my previous trip to London, St. James had been my favorite of the parks, and it was much as I remembered it.. We didn’t have too much time to admire it, for our tour guide shepherded us along to The Mall just down from the palace. Our guide carried a gaudy umbrella which she held high for us to see. As we approached the best viewing areas, we saw many more gaudy umbrellas, each slightly different, held up by other guides for their groups. Must be a tour guide thing.
Soon the first set of guards proceeded down the mall, preceded by a band, all wearing ridiculously hot uniforms. We quickly scooted around to one side of the Victoria Memorial Square to catch a second guard/band combination entering from another street, followed by armored horsemen. It seemed to me that huge expense and effort goes into such pomp. Given the enormous crowds that were there to witness this daily routine, I guess it’s worth it from an economic and tourism standpoint.
Our bus dropped us off just around from Harrod’s, which was soon to be the best part of our day. They were having their annual sale, which apparently attracts shoppers from all over the world. Therefore, it was crowded, but compared to the zoo around Buckingham it was nothing. Again, we were faced with sensory overload, but this time we could take it at our own pace and not be buffetted by traffic. Harrod’s has everything, from grand pianos to automobiles on the ground floor. One suitcase I spotted had a £4000 price sale price tag. For a similar price, one could have a reproduction of John Harrison’s original Cricket Escapement Clock. Having just read Dava Sobell’s book about Harrison, the clock was tempting, but out of reach.
There are twenty-seven eateries in Harrod’s, and we select Puck’s just to get off of our feet for a bit. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Laura had a salad with cucumber, red pepper, olives, and feta cheese. It was in the sandwiches category on the menu because it was served over bread. I had chicken saltimbocca, which had spiced chicken wrapped in proscuitto, served over a bed of spinach, grilled fennel, and some other undefined fungus. Both dishes were light, refreshing, and absolutely delicious. We found the grand Egyptian Escalators in the middle of the store, and proceeded to the ground level, leaving Harrod’s without spend money on anything but food.
From Harrod’s we continued through Kightsbridge to the Natural History Museum. The building’s plan had been submitted as a plan for the Houses of Parliament, bit was rejected. However, the plans were reused for this museum, and it has a very similar look from the outside. The entrance was amazingly imposing – lofty, with a brontosaurus skeleton in the main hall. The side galleries were very hot and crowded with school kids. It was almost more than we could bear, and we rushed through the dinosaur exhibit without looking very closely. We entered the more modern Earth Sciences section of the museum where there was air conditioning, at least on the ground floor. The upper floors had marvelous displays of gems and minerals, and though it wasn’t as crowded, it was still very hot.
We left the Natural History Museum and entered the Science Museum. All of these reminded me of the Smithsonian. Of the two, we liked the exhibits at the Science Museum best, with it’s displays of the development of technology and science with a decidedly British bent.
By this time we were exhausted, so I’m still amazed that we decided to walk all the way back to the hotel. There was only the briefest of stops at a local grocery store for drinks to stock our room refridge, then back to the room to collapse – again.