Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 2 - Update (also a bit late...but I'm working on that)

Woke up this morning coming in to Heathrow!  Well, it was kind of morning - not much past midnight according to Toronto time, but 6:30 am in London, so time to check out the day!  This post will be long, because we did a ton of stuff today!

First off, we jumped on the express train to Paddington station.  Train got delayed a few minutes by some suspicious pakaging, but it appears it wasn't terrorists, as we got moving along again shortly.  There's something about European train stations that seems so much classier than old Union station.  Really, who ever poses for a photo in Union?

Another reason for a photo in Paddington:

What?  I don't get it....

Of course, getting out of Padington station, we were reminded that there is a cost to jet-setting around the world. :(

Well, that can't be helped now...

We wandered into the streets of London and headed for the downtown.  How exciting!!  We haven't even reached our real destination yet, and we're already in for a day of adventure!

To travel-weary brains, this kind of road sign is very helpful:

Not really sure what this means, though.  Drive erratically?

Here you go, Michael, and for anyone else who is frustrated by stores that don't cater to tall and slim men:

This is just rather confusing:

I thought taking care of one's body didn't normally include cosmetic surgery...?

Ok, we made our way through that first bit of the city and into Hyde Park.  Walking through Hyde Park, we saw London's answer to Toronto's moose:

Except, of course, that there are moose near Toronto, whereas these elephants are just a tribute to Indian colonization....?

Finding our way through Hyde Park...

Despite the fact that I am a runner, this does seem a little more 'high-brow' than a group of runners following a circuit of the park:

We stopped for our first British meal at the Serpentine restaurant.

Perhaps it was the limited sleep, or the reliance on airplane /airport (perhaps 'aeroport' given that we are in England?) food for the past several hours, or just the excitement of being in London, but we were pumped for this meal!  Jessica and Shaun ordered Toast Soldiers with Eggs (apparently I am the weird one who had never heard of this), but I made the healthy choice: Eggs Benedict!

Normally, I think the phrase is 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'.  For Jessica, however, 'When eating Rome...' seems to do!

I am a big fan of our anti-smoking by-laws, but our signs clearly don't measure up to English expectations:

We planned to hook up with the Sandemans Royal London Free Tour, but we had some more time after breakfast, so we did the logical thing when one is running on limited sleep: we found another place to eat.  At this second cafe, we heard what sounded like some new Scouting for Girls on the radio.  Awesome!! I never could find the previous Scouting for Girls album in Canada...well...except for that expensive import version on Amazon, so I made a note to look for this before we left.  On to the tour!

You never really know what you're going to get with a free walking tour, and when a website tells you to 'look for the guides in the red t-shirts' that might just mean it's really low budget... That is most definitely NOT the case with Sandemans tours.  The tour was great, and I'd do another the next time I'm in London. :)

We met a large crowd of tourists at the statue of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner.  The first thing we learned from our tour guide was that the Duke of Wellington earned the moniker 'The Iron Duke' not from his stern demeanour or strict discipline, but from his having erected an iron fence around his residence.  Apparently, the English public didn't particularly like him, and took to throwing bricks at his house.  The fence was meant to put a stop to that.  I'll be honest, I haven't been able to confirm this anywhere since, but it did make for a good story!  The Duke of Wellington also erected a large statue of himself facing his house.  Who needs a mirror when...?

We walked from Wellington Arch through Green Park to Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guard. 

Well...sort of see it.  Between the crowds, and the fence, you don't get much of a view.  I was actually more impressed by the show in Ottawa.

Buckingham itself, however, was cool!

The 'Canada Gate':

Great!  We have a gate in our country's honour, and it leads nowhere.  Is this representative of the English view of our country? (Just kidding...I think...)

At least we have excellent placement of a war memorial nearby.

Thanks for the respect, kids.  Strong parenting at work...

Despite the impressive looking security around Buckingham Palace,

there have been a surprising number of trespassers.  One child, apparently, lived there for a week, hiding in chimneys and closets whenever people came around.  Another story from our tour guide was about a drunk guy who decided one night that Buckingham Palace would be an ideal shelter from the rain and wind.  He broke through a window and - being drunk - ignored the number one rule when breaking into a royal palace: he proceeded to wander around room after room, setting off an endless string of alarms all over.  In fact, he set off so many alarms that the guard responsible for monitoring them assumed that it was a malfunction, and shut down all the alarms in that area.  Great idea!  The drunkard found his way to the royal cellars, and then on to the queen's bedroom, where the queen was sleeping!  She woke up as he barged in, and spoke to him for several minutes.  When he asked for a cigarette, she offered to call her footman (aka guard) to get him one.  You can imagine the guard's surprise to hear the queen request: "a cigarette for the strange man who has stumbled into my room!!"  I'm inclined to think that guard had plenty of time to consider the strangeness of the request in his subsequent unemployment...

As we stood outside Buckingham, our tour guide asked who among us thought that England should get rid of the royal family (I'm sure he used some less forbidding term which merely suggested that they woudl no longer be supported, but 'get rid of' will work for these purposes).   Being a conscientious tax-payer, I raised my hand.  Then we were told that it is a serious offence in England to voice any suggestion of eliminating the royal family.... Thanks for that one, Dave!  Hopefully MI5 won't peruse this blog too closely...  Just in case, though, my name is Stephen Harper.... ;)

Buckingham Palace is one of several official residences for the royal family in London.  St. James Palace, around the corner, is another:

Strangely, no monarch has actually lived there since 1837.  Even then, it wasn't used much.  King George III had gone to visit the Duke of Buckingham in the early 18th century and told the Duke: "I really like your house."  The Duke replied: "Thank-you, Sir, I like it, too."  The King replied: "No, Duke....I really like your house..." :)

While everyone else was posing with the guards in front of St. James Palace, Shaun and Jessica posed with our tour guide, Dave. 

How could a guy look so unenthused with good-looking women on either arm?

Here's another tidbit about St James Palace.  Before it was a residence for kings, the site on which it was built was a hospital for lepers... Coincidence? ;)

From St James, we continued past the the Canadian Embassy

and the most exclusive Gentleman's Club in London.

I'm not talking about one of those clubs where boozers don't live up to the name, Winston Churchill was a member here!  Ok, I'm still not talking about one of those places where boozers don't live up to the name... I can only imagine what the membership fees are, but on the bright side, anyone who is accepted will have plenty of time to save up; the waiting list is 60 years!

Admiralty Arch was built to honour the Duke Of Wellington, and if the general public didn't like him, the military certainly appears to.  Seven feet up from the street - hip level if you are on horse-back - there is what looked to me like a large wad of gum sticking out from from archway.  Apparently, upon closer inspection, it looks like a human nose; legend has it that it is Wellington's nose, and to this day soldiers rub it for good luck as they ride by.

The Horse Guards Parade is probably more exciting when the Horse Guards are in it. As it was, this was our best view of 10 Downing Street (on the far side of the trees). Whereas the street used to be open so that anyone could wander down at any time, security measures now limit access to the road to only those people who need to be there. Being a tourist doesn't make the cut.

We made our way over to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Westminster Palace (better known as the parliament buildings).  On our way, we saw what any tourist would expect to see among Britain's government buildings: a statue of Abraham Lincoln. 

Yep, ol' Abe standing in front of a chair.  This was a gift from the American government at some point (you all remember when the French gave the Americans that statue?  Who was it - Napoleon?  Oh that's right, the Statue of Liberty is meaningful to the Americans!  What strange behaviour...) :)

As we settled in on the lawn behind Westminster Abbey, Dave told us the story of Guy Fawkes, and commented on the oddity of the English tradition of commemorating someone's failed attempt to blow up the parliament buildings...

Here I am as David mimics 'drawing and quartering' the punishment Fawkes narrowly avoided.  I got a little uncomfortable as he discussed the severing of the genitalia and burning them in front of the criminal's face...

After the our, we made our way to Trafalgar Square for more food.  I don't know what to call it - late lunch, perhaps?  We were so worn down by lack of sleep (not to mention shower and change of clothes!) that food was the only thing keeping us going...  Trafalgar Square is pretty incredible.  It is a shame that younger cities like Toronto weren't able to adopt quite the same feel in our city squares (and I do like both Nathan Philips and Yonge & Dundas).

It seemed fitting that we were staring at the South African High Commission, right across the square.  Reminded us that our trip had only just begun!

We started heading back toward Paddington Station by way of the Bird Cage.

Then through Green Park, where we saw super heroes...?

I like the cycling lanes in Toronto, but these are something new:

How about a Quickie in the pharmacy? (I honestly don't remember what these were)

Finally back to Heathrow, and on to the next flight! (Jessica was sick of having her photo taken by this time...)

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