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Friday, May 23, 2008

London Closure

And so it goes... Our third day in London arrives, and I'm no more intrigued than the first day there.

The four of us arose early on Sunday morning to beat the traffic to Abbey Road, north of Picadilly. After a brief walk, we found the famous Beatles crosswalk, and took turns photographing each other in character: Siebe as George, yours truly as Paul, Mandy as Ringo, and Lana as John. It would've been cooler if we'd all been able to be in the picture at the same time, but alas, we were up so darn early that no one was around.

After our photo session, we raced to the train station to catch a ride to Windsor Castle, a little under two hours outside the city. The ride to the castle was so incredibly boring, hot, and it felt like it took forever, but Windsor proved to be a really quaint little town. And the Castle and its gardens were absolutely stunning. We had a grand tour, and saw a lot of ornate, yet empty rooms and left wondering what in the world they need so many rooms. According to the flag bearing the coat of arms, the Queen was at her residence, but of course, she kept to her private quarters.

The four of us made it back to the Kensington area of London by 3 p.m., promptly on time for high tea at the Orangery. The Orangery is the tea room located on the grounds of Kensington Palace, and is the grandest tea time experience in all of London. The restaurant is a large, long white room, with white columns, white tablecloths, and huge windows. The only color splash came from the miniature orange trees centered on each table, each with lilliputian-sized citrus fruits dangling among their leaves.

We each ordered the four-course signature Orangery tea service. Our first course, was of course, the tea. I ordered a traditional Earl Grey, and I went heavy on the cream and sugar cubes. They even had brown sugar cubes! Then, shortly after, our cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches arrived, stacked neatly without their crusts. The third course yielded a large shortcake biscuit and strawberry jam and fresh butter. To conclude our tea time, we were served a slice of the house Orangery cake, with melt-in-your-mouth, sweet orange icing. The Orangery was one of my favorite London moments.

After we'd carbed it up, we walked on the grounds to Kensington Palace, to see the much anticipated Princess Diana exhibit. Much to our disappointment, it was only a few of her dresses and a photograph or two. Woh-woh-woooohhhh.

By this time, it was early evening, and we decided to enjoy a little downtime in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We finally parked ourselves on a large bench on the main walking boulevard connecting the two parks. For the next three hours, the four of us did what we do best: people watch. It was fascinating to observe the Londoners in their own habitat. I think it was one of the most fun and relaxing parts of our trip. We nicknamed our perch the "bench of judgment," as we'd try to figure out where people received their motivation for clothing choice, hairstyle, and other physical accoutrement. You let your imagination run wild when you try to figure out others frame of reference.

The Bench of Judgment

We did notice that no one really laughs in London, even during times of leisure. I'd guess this is just a cultural difference between Americans and the Brits, but I don't feel like a day goes by when I don't have at least one good laugh.

Sunday was a long day, and we had one more to hammer out before we hit the Chunnel for Paris. Our Monday morning started quickly with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Not that we actually saw the ceremony---there must have been thousands of people there! It was insane.

A short jaunt across town led us to the foot of Big Ben and Parliament, and it was a magnificent sight to behold. And Westminster Abbey was right at our doorstep.

Westminster Abbey is a Catholic church. When Siebe and I were planning our trip, I read online that you can only visit the Abbey during services. Upon learning this, I was disappointed, and decided that the four of us should attend Holy Communion in order to observe the Abbey during a service. This made perfect sense to me. Little did I know that this would cause us drama.

We arrived at the Abbey and walked into the side entrance for observation of Holy Communion. We were met at the gates by a Priest, who radioed in to another Priest that we were coming through the doors. Odd, I thought. But whatever. When we walked inside, we realized that you can go inside the Abbey without actually attending a service, but we were promptly met by the Priest and escorted to our seats. Immediately, we realized that we didn't need to be here for this, so we quietly got up and tried to walk out of the roped off area for the service. Seconds later, the same Priest escort got all in our business and told us to leave, and that we had to pay to get into the Abbey. Umm...we weren't trying to get a free ride, buddy. We were just confused. Needless to say, he was very rude and practically slapped our behinds when we walked out.

Soon after, we managed to secure paid entrance into the Abbey and we carried on with our plans to see the beautiful gothic structure. I was so impressed with the building and its ornate style, but was shocked to see so many tombs, crypts and memorial displays for priests, kings and queens of old. Hundreds of dead bodies in this building, all on display in little nooks and crannies all over this huge church. And we even found many authors, poets and songwriters in a section called "Poet's Corner." Pretty incredible stuff. All of the weird statues of the dead and ritualistic wording and symbols on the walls kind of makes me think conspiracy theory of the Catholic church. I think there were probably some crazy things that went down in that religion way back when. Just sayin...

Late afternoon led us to Covent Garden, synonymous with tourist shopping, dirty streets (and people) and expensive cokes. It's almost not even worth a mention, except for getting our second wind.

Next up was Harrod's, an old luxury department store in Knightsbridge. It was shuttered up on the outside for repairs, so we didn't see the famous twinkling lights that normally adorn every inch of the exterior of the building.

Dinnertime sent us back to Leicester Square, where we had one of our best meals in London, an Italian place no less. After a leisurely meal, we walked over to Trafalgar Square, our last destination on our itinerary.

Trafalgar Square is considered the heart of London, and is littered with monuments, fountains and tons of concrete. Mandy decided she'd like a picture atop one of the large bronze lions. We hoisted pint-sized Mandy up with no issue. Of course, leggy Lana wanted in on the fun, so she tried to scale the wall to the big beast. After several minutes of dangling off the side, she gave up. And I have it captured, frame-by-frame. It was hilarious, and we weren't the only people laughing.

Reading back through this, it doesn't sound terribly interesting. I didn't love London. I felt dirty the entire time I was there. And I'd be more than okay if I never went back. I was glad to experience a foreign hub city, but London isn't so foreign afterall. City of Lights onward!

Siebe & MA on the London Underground


Blogger Kristen said...

What gorgeous gardens!

I wonder if the "no laughing" thing is a "rainy place" thing...that's one thing I really miss about living in the south now that I'm home in Seattle.

Thanks for taking us on this tour with you--I am living vicariously through your travels! :)

12:03 PM

Blogger thesciencegirl said...

I hope you loved Paris. I'm always sad when I hear people say they hated Paris. I think it's lovely. Looking forward to hearing about the next leg of the trip.

Also, I love people-watching as well. Whenever my sisters visit me in Chicago, we spend at least one afternoon at a sidewalk cafe or park bench people-watching. It's someone always more fun than the planned activities that we do.

6:32 PM

Blogger Sarah said...

The Bench of Judgement makes me almost pee my pants..! Hilarious.

Keep the blogs coming...

9:14 AM

Blogger emmysue said...

love it!! anxiously awaiting the Paris recap...ahh, Paris...

1:46 PM

Blogger Jai said...

Actually Westminster Abbey is an Anglican church...in America that would be called the Episcopal Church.

From their website (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship/life-and-witness/):
Westminster Abbey is a living Church, part of the Church of England: a House of God, where almighty God is worshipped daily, continuing a 1400 year tradition in this place. Every day of the year (except Good Friday and Holy Saturday) the Eucharist is celebrated at 8.00 a.m. Almost every day the Abbey’s world-famous choir sings one or more of the daily services. You can find details of the worship elsewhere on the website. Whether you are Anglican (Episcopalian), or of another Christian Church or of another faith, or seeking or doubting, you are warmly welcome to attend any service.

8:56 AM


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