Westminster and the War Rooms

Tuesday, June 19th

Lots more today!  We decided to head for the center of town today, and hit some of the major sights.  We stopped by Portobello Road in the morning, but we mis- timed it, and nothing much was open, so we’re going to try again on Thursday if we have time.  Then, we went to town!  We walked by the Houses of Parliament first, but they were closed to the public, so we headed to Westminster.  Westminster Abbey is HUGE, though I must say, I think it’s bigger on the outside.   We started out with the audio tour, which is interesting, but you definitely have to make sure that you also look around, or you’ll miss things.  We didn’t get too far, though, before it was time to head to Buckingham!

The Houses of Parliament. They are… spikey.

Big Ben (from very close up) Technically it’s not actually Big Ben, either. Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the tower, not of the tower itself or of the clock.

Not so close!

Outside Westminster Abbey

It really is a very beautiful building

We wanted to see the Changing of the Guard, so we left Westminster (though definitely planning to be back) and went to Buckingham.  As we got closer, the crowds of people started to get thicker and thicker.  We saw that the guards in the nearby guardhouse thing had started to line up to be inspected and so on, so we hurried over.  Of course, the gates of Buckingham, and the statue opposite and all were about 20 people deep at this point, but we spotted a wall off to the left of the palace, about 8 feet high, and climbed up.  It was a pretty good vantage point!  We got a great view of the guards as they processed in (2 groups with a band, and then the Horse Guards).  Couldn’t see much when hey got into the gates, though, but had a great time listening to the music, sitting in the sun, and watching all the people.  Heavens, were there a lot of people.  From everywhere, too!  London in general, I think, has been the place where I’ve heard the most different languages all in one place.   After about 15 minutes, they all processed out again, and we scrambled down and off.

The guards, the guards! These are actually the replacement guards, getting inspected.

The view towards St. James Park, and the circle. The replacement guards came down this road. Interesting, except for the rather brief times when the guards were actually walking on this road, they didn’t close it.

Buckingham Palace! And 1 million people…

We made a couple of detours before heading back to Westminster.  First, the Guards had a little museum attached to the guard house, so we took a quick tour though.  It was interesting, and the guards are a lot more than I thought.  There are four or five divisions, and they not only wear large and poncy hats, but they are also part of the actual army, and their history is quite long.  Then, as we headed back toward Westminster, we decided that food was definitely in order.  That would have been great, except that apparently, food is not a thing to be had in that particular area.  I mean, I’m sure it was there somewhere, but in all our walking around, we hadn’t seen any.  Weirdly, food booths or trucks don’t seem to be a thing here, which is sort of a shame, because they have the PERFECT parks for it.  Oh well.  =).

A view of Buckingham Palace from a bridge in St. James park. It looks much prettier this way

The London Eye!

There were all of these drowned umbrellas. i thought it was funny

A stripey drowned umbrella!

This duck is all ‘My Island! Mine!” There were lots of ducks and swans and things


Wellington Arch. Interesting, used to be smack in front of Buckingham Palace, was moved to where it is now, smack in the middle of a little park. Seems like a bit of a let- down

So, instead of wandering aimlessly, we got on the Tube and went to Chinatown!  It sounded like fun to us.  It’s right by Leichester Square, which is a very cute little area (We also investigated show tickets!  More on that in days  to come!)  Anyways, we went around a bit, though the little Chinatown, and found a place to get lunch.  The Chinese food here is definitely not the best I’ve ever had, but it got us refreshed, and on our way back to Westminster Abbey.

Chinatown, near Leicester Square

In the Abbey, there were a few things we thought were particularly cool.  It was very interesting to see all of the monuments and so on, particularly the ones of Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots.  Elizabeth’s memorial is this huge thing, with an effigy and a carved canopy and gilt everywhere and so on, right?  Well, since she died childless, the throne went to James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots (whom Elizabeth had imprisoned for 19 years and then executed)  Well, when James took the throne, he wanted to make sure that the memorial to his mother was every bit as grand and spectacular as that of Elizabeth, so he had her remains moved to Westminster, and commissioned a giant memorial for her, too, opposite Elizabeth’s.  We also saw the memorials of a number of different queens and kings, including a few Henry’s, and several of the Jameses.  The poets’ corner was also pretty cool, just because there are so many.  There are ones you would expect, like Shakespeare (whose remains are actually in Stratford) and Chaucer and Dickens and Handel and so on, but then there are so many I didn’t recognize.  Makes you wonder what their great works were, curious to read some of it.  Or listen to it.  Or whatever.

Farther on, we made it into the Abbey museum, where we discovered something AWESOME – the wax effigies of royalty, including Elizabeth.  The effigies were made shortly after the monarch’s death, and their purpose was to stand in for the actual body for things like being carried on top of the coffin, for which a slightly aging corpse is unsuited.  The cool part is, they were usually dressed in the clothes that actually belonged to the person, so the one for Elizabeth includes one of the best preserved corsets from that time period in existence.  It’s cool stuff.

We also saw the memorials to a few other notables, particularly Darwin and Galileo.  Read this awesome book about Galileo recently, called Galileo’s Daughter.  It was particularly cool to see the tomb after having read the book.  After Westminster, we went on to the Churchill War Rooms, which is a museum about Churchill built into the WWII bunkers under the city, from where the war was waged.  It was interesting, especially because they have managed to re- create a lot of the rooms to how they were, and collect recordings from people who actually worked in the rooms.  The stuff about Churchill in general was slightly less interesting, but still.  It was an excellent end to a long day.

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