A week ago Friday (February 11) we went over to Buckingham Palace in the morning to see the Changing of the Guard.
My whole entire life, I have thought it was "the Changing of the Guards" (plural), thinking a guard was one person, and that one guard was coming in to replace another guy in the sentry boxes.
But no! It is "the Changing of the Guard," singular, meaning (of course, now that I stop to think about it) that one entire contingent (a guard) of soldiers is replacing another entire contingent of soldiers.
The things I have gone through life not knowing!
(Remember when I found out a couple years ago that the expression is "one-way street" and not "one-way streak"? Also, until maybe three years ago, I thought a troop was a group of soldiers. So when they say "30,000 troops," I thought it meant 30,000 groups of soldiers. I was so shocked to find out a troop is one soldier. Which is kind of exactly the opposite problem I had with "guard."
Obviously, I need to read more military history and whatnot.
Also, and I hesitate to tell you this because you won't believe it, but I didn't notice that the back lights on cars turn white when they are backing up until about three years ago. Astonishingly, I have only been in one minor accident in my entire driving career, and that wasn't even my fault.)
And it is quite a long ceremony (the Changing of the Guard), and mostly very interesting, with some long pauses inbetween of uninterestingness.
We got there early enough to get right up against the fence, which is where you want to be. This was my view straight up. I was squashed right up to that fence, so I could stick my camera through the fence posts.
Below was my view to my slight left. That's the front gate of the palace.
Below is the New Guard, all formed up (that took awhile) and led by the band. They march across the forecourt of the Palace, and then turn around and slowly face the Old Guard.
The Old Guard presents arms, then the New Guard presents arms, and then the Captains of the Guard march toward each other and turn over the keys to the Palace.
Then the new sentries are posted. (This last bit, where the new sentries are posted, is what I had always imagined the entirety of the ceremony to be. I was so wrong.)
It takes a long time, but Bob explained everything to me as it happened, so I was less confused than I would have been if I were a whole lot more confused. :)
One neat thing happened. When we got to the Palace, the Sovereign's Flag was flying. That means she's in residence. Then they switched to the Union Jack as we watched. So that means the Queen left the palace while we were standing there! I think she must have snuck out the back. We did see some of her folks leave out the front gate in two big black Land Rovers, however. So that was a bit exciting. It was Friday, so I hope she was headed out to Windsor.
I still haven't figured out which guards we saw, exactly, because they were wearing their winter grays.
But I like saying "Coldstream Guards" because it kind of gives me a shiver. It sounds neat. Coldstream Guards, Coldstream Guards, Coldstream Guards.
I gave you the Big Bus tour of London in some detail last year when we went, so there is probably no need to rehash it. But once again, we jumped on a Big Bus and made our way around to the London Eye. (The Big Bus is a jump on, jump off tourist bus, which is so handy.) I will show you a couple highlights on the way.
Right now, there is a lovely model of Nelson's Ship, the HMS Victory, in this bottle on Trafalgar Square. This exhibit switches out periodically.
Last year, Trafalgar Square was filled up with a huge group of people for a Good Friday Passion Play, so it was nice to see it again a bit more cleared out, so I could see the buildings.
You'll have to check last year's post for a view of Nelson's Column, which is the main thing, because I managed to completely miss it in the shot below. You can see one of the lions at the base just to the right.
If you are not up on your British naval history, you should read up on the Battle of Trafalgar and Horatio Nelson before you ever set foot in London.
Here's something I found on Wikipedia:
I feel like this next photo should win some kind of "most British icons in one photo, ever" award. I'm sitting atop our bus, and this is looking south down Whitehall (Trafalgar Square is at my back) toward Parliament Square.
There is even a red phone box. Can you spot it?
Here is Westminster Abbey, and the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square. I can't remember if I told you this last year or not, but Winston Churchill really didn't want a statue of himself erected in London, because London statues are always covered in bird mess. So his statue has a current of electricity running through it, and is, therefore, always bird-free. :)
I am very fond of Winston Churchill. We named our first Corgi, Winston (whom we called "Winnie") after him. (Winnie lives with Bob's mom now.) When I lived in Poland, the only in-English books in the apartment I rented (it was furnished and full of books) were Churchill's six-volume history of World War II, and so I read them, and my life is the better for it.
I guess several of you have seen the movie The King's Speech. (I haven't seen it yet, but am anxious to.) When George VI died, and his grief-stricken daughter Elizabeth flew back from Kenya after receiving the news (and of course she'd just become Queen, as soon as her dad died, although they're not sure of the precise moment because he died in his sleep), Churchill (among others) met her at Heathrow. And then of course he was her first Prime Minister. (He had started his second term under George VI a couple years before George died, and Elizabeth loved him and kept him on.)
When we got to the London Eye, we were tickled to see that the base was decorated for Valentine's Day.
We'd ordered our tickets online before we left the States, and so had a very short wait before we got on.
The London Eye is not a ferris wheel, we learned, but I can't remember why it's not. :) Something about the axis. It's an observation wheel. It was created and then opened on December 31, 1999 for the start of the new millenium, and was expected to last only one year, but of course is now going on eleven.
There is lately always one pod missing (you can see where one is missing in the photo of the Eye above) from the wheel as they refurbish each one individually. Each one of the 32 pods represents one of the London boroughs.
The views are great! I am afraid of heights and so was worried that I would end up freaking out (internally)(and then not talking to Bob for ten minutes)(kidding), but something about the way the pods are constructed fooled my brain into thinking I was on solid ground.
I did, however, focus on looking straight out of the pod rather than straight down, because no use being stupid. :)
Here's a view of the Thames.
Charing Cross Railway Station is down in the lower left corner, below. The bridge in front of it (and also in the photo above) that looks like Spiderman made it is actually three bridges. The middle part, where the trains go, is called the Hungerford Bridge. Then on either side are two pedestrian bridges called the Golden Jubilee Bridges.
Can you see the tallest skyscraper on the horizon, in the back towards the left? That's the Shard, under construction. When it's done, it will be the tallest skyscraper in all of Europe. Until another country one-ups it. Nevermind. That's not the Shard at all, now that I look at it. I think it's the British Telecomm Tower.
You can see St. Paul's Cathedral to the left, below. And that partially obscured building in the middle back that looks like a bullet is the Swiss RE building, known as The Gherkin. (That means "pickle," if you aren't familiar with gherkins.)
Here's the pod (I think they are actually called "capsules") that was below our pod. If you look inside, you can see that there is a bench in the middle, in case you need to sit down.
And of course here's Westminster Bridge, the Palace of Westminster (Parliament) and the Clock Tower (the bell inside the Clock Tower is named Big Ben, not the Clock Tower itself, but everybody calls the whole Clock Tower Big Ben, so whatcha gonna do?)
The sun was on this side when I took this, so it's a bit bright.
I do recommend the London Eye. It's a lovely, slow (half hour) ride around, and it gives you plenty of time to really examine the skyline, which is fantastic.
So then we hopped back on the Big Bus and rode on over to the Tower of London.
(I just remembered another huge hole in my knowledge. Remember how I learned last year that the Tower of London was its own separate thing, and not just part of the Tower Bridge? My whole life, I thought the Tower of London was one or the other of the two towers on the Tower Bridge. And then this year I was surprised, again, to find out that the Tower of London is actually comprised of several buildings. It's actually like a little hamlet, once you get there.)
Legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower will crumble and a great disaster will befall England.
When Bob saw these ravens in cages, he said "Hey! That's cheating!" :)
But there were some free ravens, too, kind of hanging out by the caged ravens.
They were probably planning to bust out their caged brethren after dark.
First we went and saw the Crown Jewels. We weren't allowed to take photos in there. They are magnificent! Just like you'd think. And I'm telling ya, visit London off season! We practically had the Crown Jewels to ourselves. I've heard that in the summer when it is crowded, you have 28 seconds to see the jewels as you stand on the moving walkway that goes by them. But we had loads of time, and I got up close as I could to everything and just stared at it all hard, to imprint it in my brain.
The Koh-i-Nur diamond is pretty impressive.
Then we went to the White Tower, where the Royal Armoury is, and Bob was as excited about that as I was about the jewels.
The armor below, which dates from 1540, was made for Henry the Eighth. He had lots of different armor. He needed it when he jousted and engaged in foot combat in tournaments, and when he invaded France. (He invaded France three times.)
He kind of let himself go there at the end, and by the time this particular armor was made for him, he was no longer participating in tournaments. But he was still excited about going to war, so it was in his (big huge) size, just in case he needed it, although frankly, he would have really had trouble actually moving in it, given his state.
I really can't stand Henry the Eighth. He was a total creep.
Here's the suit of armor for a man named John of Gaunt. It's the tallest suit of armor in the world, at 6 feet 9 inches. (John was 6'7".)
I don't know who the little armor was for.
There was armor for each Royal House on display, right through the Windsors, but of course once firearms were readily available, metal body armor became obsolete.
So armor today looks a bit different. That photo (hard to see) on the back of the case is Prince Harry.
After we left the White Tower, we breezed quickly through the Medieval Palace, which looks out over the Thames. (Sadly, the Tower of London was closing.)
Out a window in one of King Edward I's rooms in the Medieval Palace, you can see City Hall (which to me looks like a giant, reticulated roly poly bug wearing a Shazam! shirt) by looking straight ahead, and the Tower Bridge by looking slightly to the left.
I recommend the Tower of London at dusk in February. It's not crowded, and everything glows in the low light, and you can imagine, so clearly, what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.
When we left, we walked along the river for a bit.
There is my Shazam! roly poly on the far left. Everything about it, from its design to its function, is slightly confusing. City Hall houses the Greater London Authority, which includes the Mayor of London and London Assembly. You have to be careful throwing the word "city" around in London, because "the City" or "the City of London" is a section of what we think of as London. (It's the financial district, and the historic core of London.) City Hall doesn't serve the City of London. It serves London (Greater London, or the London metropolis, or whatever you want to call it -- just not "the city of London").
And here's the Shard again, in progress. That whole "and now we'll have the tallest building in Europe again" thing seems kind of dumb to me. I wonder at what point you start compromising the integrity of your building and skyline just to make it taller. Although I do think the completed Shard will be a pretty building. It will look a bit like the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco when it's done.
Right now it kind of looks like that tower in Mordor, where Sauron lives.
Tower Bridge is my favorite edifice (is a bridge an edifice?) in London, I think I have decided. I like everything about it, all the time.
Do you see those little sparkly dots in the sky? I am pretty sure those are Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, and John. Tinkerbell has flown on ahead, in a huff. :)
After I finished sighing at the beautiful Thames, we walked over to the Mansion House tube station. It was a few minutes before we were to meet our London Walks guide for our Along the Thames Pub Walk, so we checked out a new, interesting outside shopping mall called One New Change close by.
Jamie Oliver and Perry Lang's Barbecoa restaurant and butcher are there.
The butcher had beef on one side ...
And pork on t'other ...
Gordon Ramsay is opening up shop next door soon. That should get interesting.
There was also the loveliest, loveliest view of St. Paul's.
And then it was time to join our tour. Boy, I tell you, if you do nothing else the entire time you are in London, get yourself out on some of these London Walks. Bob concurs. They are superb, and this Along-the-Thames-Pub-Walk is probably the superb-est.
Don't confuse "pub walk" with "pub crawl" ... we don't do pub crawls. :)
This pub walk was a history-and-culture-filled walk along the river and its environs, strung together by twenty-minute stops at four worthy pubs. We started at 7 and finished up around 10.
The owner of London Walks (and our guide for this tour and a few others they offer) is a Wisconsin farmer's son. He went to London forty years ago to get a doctorate in Dickens (which he did), and ended up staying forever. He is absolutely delightful -- brilliant, dramatic, informative, entertaining, and friendly -- and Bob and I were so hooked that after this pub walk, we canceled our previous Sunday morning plans to sleep in and do nothing so that we could go on another walk with him (which I'll tell you about later).
I couldn't get many photos because it was now nighttime, and also I wanted to pay attention to the tour. But here is our third pub, the Market Porter, on Stoney Street in Southwark, next to the fabulous Borough Market.
And here is our fourth pub, The George. The George is London's only surviving galleried coaching inn. It is a medieval building, owned and leased by The National Trust, and it shows up on the first known map of Southwark, dated 1543.
I was super excited to see The George, because I am reading Little Dorrit (I still am reading it, and was reading it on our trip) and in it, Dickens mentions The George. William Shakespeare also visited The George.
Another inn in this part of London was The Tabard. It no longer exists, but that's where Chaucer started The Canterbury Tales.
What a great day! Friday was our busiest day in London, because I think a good way to handle jet lag is to stay so busy that you forget you're tired. And then when you get back to the hotel you fall asleep in about two seconds because you are not only jet-lagged, you are completely exhausted from your day. It's awesome. :)