Yesterday morning over breakfast, we mapped out our day of being tourists. An ambitious list for our well-fated sunny day, we set out to see Buckingham Palace, The Churchill War Rooms, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the National Gallery. I also hoped to convince Dan to ride the London Eye: the big Ferris wheel overlooking the city.
Our first stop had us joining the throngs of other tourists in taking in Buckingham Palace. Perhaps my expectations were set a bit too high since Ash woke me up a couple years ago pre-dawn to watch the royal wedding, but what I thought would be a majestic palace set against a beautiful backdrop, was actually a large cement structure desperately in need of a good power wash. I thought the experience was to be redeemed when two royal horse-driven carriages approached and I thought my chance to finally see Princess Kate in person had arrived. Alas, I’m sure those Asian diplomats had a nice time having tea with the Queen…
Next up was a beautiful walk through the city of Westminster and seeing the old row homes on Queen Anne’s street. It felt like we stepped back in time; until I tripped over some cobblestone and I was jarred out of my trance. Didn’t spill my coffee though so I’d call it a graceful misstep!
Good thing I had my caffeine fix because after that we stood in line for a few minutes before going underground for the two-hour tour of the Churchill war rooms (clearly a choice of my history-loving husband). We donned a couple audio guides and joined a mass of geriatric tourists below to witness the epicenter of British military intelligence and direction circa World War 2. As much as I was humoring Dan with this part of the day, this tour was actually really fascinating and I could see my trivia stock rise with every press of the play button. Most fascinating was how Churchill knew throughout the whole war that this “bunker” was actually not bomb-resistant, but he never let any of his staff in on his terrifying secret. Can you imagine?! Thankfully, its location’s secrecy spared its attack and Churchill led the Allies to victory.
Crossing the street, we saw the House of Commons and Big Ben. We opted to skip the 20 pound per person price tag to formally tour St. Margaret’s at Westmister Abbey, and settled for a million pictures of the outside of the building; a decision which we may later regret. That said, somewhere along the way, we realized we had stumbled upon Ash Wednesday (jet lag does this weird thing to your sense of time) and thought it would be UHmazing to try to go to St. Paul’s for services later that day. More on that shortly!
Upon stuffing our faces with yet another round of greasy pub food and cider (how are these Brits so thin?!), we saw 10 Downing Street (aka the British White House) and witnessed the changing of the guard at the House of Calvary. Dan even made a new friend who was quite impressed with his beard!
We walked through Traflagar Square to pet the lion and walk through the National Gallery. The National Gallery is one of the largest collection of paintings in the world. We found the Rembrandt and Van Dyke collections, but failed to make it to the impressionists, a must-do before we leave. But since entrance is free, we hope to go again before departure!
We tubed it to St. Paul’s for the coolest thing we have done so far on this trip. We entered the stunning sanctuary just in time to join hundreds of other worshippers for Ash Wednesday. Not only was this the most beautiful and HUGE church we had ever been in, I think that the music left the biggest impression. There was a gorgeous choir and a soprano with the voice of what I imagine an angel to sound like; I am wholly incapable of describing this experience in words, but we both left very grateful to have experienced something so special.
We ended the night enjoying a pub my friend, Katie, recommended called Southwark tavern, its claim to fame that it was once an old debtors prison and you could sit in a booth that used to be a prison cell! Andrew joined us and it was a great end to a long day.
Tomorrow we will be working off some of those pub cals at our first Crossfit abroad and hope to tour the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels! So far, London does not disappoint.