Sunday, July 30, 2017

First Day in London

I see London, I see France....I see Nana's, underpants!!! lol

Since yesterday did not go quite as planned, and we spent the day in the airport in Rome, instead of out exploring London, I felt as though we had a bit of making up to do!

I had purchased a 6 day "London Pass", as it was only $20 more than the three day pass, and we WERE going to have a full six days to use it, but since we lost a day, I had to get over the fact that we now only had five days to explore all of the options in the book; which was quickly turning into four, as I was slow moving, getting out of the apartment.

I was very glad that we had walked to the market the night before, so we were able to have a bite to eat and a cup of coffee before hitting the streets of London. I found that our "host" had graciously left the makings for tea and coffee, and a few CD's so that we could enjoy a little music as we were getting ready for our day.

Since clothes dryers are not something they seem to use in Europe, we threw a load of clothes in the washer, so that we could hang them to dry, while we were gone. This made for a relaxing morning/early afternoon, and gave us time to peruse through the London pass booklet, to see how we might structure our day.

The nice thing about these passes is that you have, at your finger tips, just about all of the options that are available to you, in that particular city. And since you have paid one flat rate, you don't mind stopping in here and there, for short periods of time; enjoying many sites, without feeling as though you need to spend hours, to "get your money's worth."

After leafing through the booklet, getting dressed, and hanging up our laundry, we left the apartment, with the idea of going to Westminster Abby. The first thing that I noticed when I stepped outside was that it was actually quite cool; with a breeze blowing. For this girl, after all of the hot places we had been, this was a very welcome surprise! I actually had to go back upstairs for my sweater.

The neighborhood was even busier than the night before, with people walking everywhere; I could not keep my eyes from wandering over to all of the hookah bars, and I hoped that my sunglasses hid my staring eyes! I just could not get over the size and ornate beauty of the hookah pipes, and marveled at the fact that these Muslim men just sat around and smoked hookah all day; AND all night! lol I am sure that they were not the same people there for hours and hours, but what I can tell you is that there was never an empty seat.

We were keeping our eyes open for a bakery of some sort, to hopefully get something more substantial to eat, before heading out on our adventure, and much to our delight, we found exactly what we were looking for; a typical European Bakery. This one was called "Paul", and it became our go-to for breakfast, and our to-go lunch, while we were in London.

It is interesting as they have an eat in, and a "take away price". To eat in, it cost just a bit more. This morning we actually did "eat in", we had a quiche, a pastry and a cup of coffee; everything was delicious! We also grabbed our beloved baguette sandwich for our lunch on the go, and hit the road.
Marble Arch tube station was just a bit down the road from the bakery, so we were well on our way. We had purchased a seven day tube pass the night before (33 pounds) and since we had become so used to mass transit, we had no problem figuring out how to get where we wanted to go.

Of course, in typical "Michele Fashion", that plan quickly changed! lol As we were on our way to Westminster Abby, we arrived at the Buckingham Palace stop, first. That was all it took! I said to Joe, "We are getting off here!" And off we went; our day of discovery was about to begin!

Upon exiting the tube station, we came upon Green Park. There was a lovely fountain with a person and a greyhound, that made me think of my friend Peggy, so the picture taking had begun! The park was lovely, with sling-back chairs set up all over the grass; there were people walking, and children playing. The trees were HUGE and arched over the walkways. It was an amazing park that we took time to stroll through, and enjoy.

Eventually, we made our way to Buckingham Palace. I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the palace itself, and was surprised at how close the palace gates actually were to the palace. There were throngs of people looking in through the gates, and what I noticed first, was that there was a unicorn and two lions, on the emblem on the gate, and I thought that that was cool!

Then I noticed the palace guards, and watched them standing still, and then start their "march", back and forth in front of the castle. All pomp and circumstance, I suppose.  I think that the lanterns and flags impressed me more.

On the upside,  there was a HUGE fountain in front of the palace. People were sitting and standing all around the fountain, and I was a bit surprised that they were actually climbing all over the statues. I get the sitting on the walls around the fountain, but the climbing on the statues, disturbed me a bit.

Doesn't look too friendly, huh?

As we continued to work our way around the fountain, the most magical thing happened; out of the park where we had just strolled, the group of people that we saw, in uniform, with instruments, started playing music, right in  front of Buckingham Palace! A group of people quickly formed around the band, and it didn't take me long to inch my way up to the front of the circle to enjoy this impromptu concert. The musicians were talented and entertaining!

I was so grateful for the impulsive stop at Buckingham Palace, as if we had gone straight to Westminster Abby, we would have missed this bit of magic! What a wonderful welcome to London. The group played everything from Oh, Canada, as it was "Canada Day" to the Beetles, and it was fabulous! I had tears in my eyes, from the joy in my heart.

Eventually, someone from the palace came down and told them to "wrap it up", as they were concerned with the group that was forming, in such close proximity to the palace. I thought that it was great that they were able to play for as long as they did (30 minutes), and I was so happy that I was there to hear it. Talking to the band members afterwards, I thanked them for their performance, and told them how much we enjoyed it. They said that the pleasure was theirs' and that they enjoyed making others happy, while earning a little bit of $$!

All of this walking and excitement created a great hunger, so we decided to walk back over to the park, to sit on one of the benches and enjoy our lunch. A gal that had moved to London, from Russia, seven years ago,  asked if she could join us. She explained that the park was her happy place and she appreciated all of the oxygen that she received from the many trees. After being in all of the big concrete cities, with little vegetation, we understood her craving for the trees, the grass and the birds that were singing, all around.

She had an interesting view on life, and it was another enjoyable encounter which we were fortunate enough to experience, throughout our time in Europe; we were appreciative for a glimpse into how other people live, and how they accept and navigate their surroundings.

After our visit and our lunch,  our adventure continued. We decided to walk through St. James Park, to reach Westminster Abbey. It was another beautiful park, full of flowers, ducks and swans; of course, I had to stop and take many photos! It was interesting how peaceful the atmosphere was, despite the throngs of people.

Once we left the park, the scenery changed; we were now enjoying a different type of beauty ;  old buildings, telephone booths,  lanterns, and street cafes.We even ran into the place where the palace kept their horses and standing right there, were two palace guards.

I walked over to one of them, and commented that he must be very hot, in that uniform. I was a bit surprised when he answered, that "Yes, I am very, very hot!" I asked him if it was alright to talk to him, and he said yes. He was a nineteen year old, young man, and had been on the job about four months. He said that the most difficult part of the job was standing still, with the extremely heavy "hat" on his head. He said that he lived on the premises and hoped that he would not have to be a guard for the rest of his life. He also said that there were several times that he almost passed out, from the heat and exhaustion of just standing there.

It did not look like a fun job to me, and I asked him if it would be alright to take a photo with him, as I did not wish to be disrespectful. He said it would be fine, and thanked me for taking the time to talk to him; of course, I thank him for sharing with me.

We continued on our journey, and I believe that I was truly shocked, seeing "Big Ben", in real life, for the first time!

I, like all of you, have seen Big Ben in photos and movies for as long as I can remember, but seeing in with my own eyes, right across the street was amazing! It is SO much "bigger", and "golder", and "greener" than I ever envisioned,and we were lucky enough to arrive, right in front of it at the top of the hour. The sound of it ringing out the time was enchanting. We loved hearing the bell, which is actually "Big Ben" ring,  and loved seeing its' face. I don't think I would ever tire of that site.

                                               Gotta wait for the Dongs! Last second is the best!

Not far from Big Ben, sits Westminster Abbey; another place that I have seen, in so many capacities; coronations, weddings and burials. Of course, we were too late to go inside, but knew that we would be back, another day. Just seeing the outside was incredible, and I was so in awe with everything that I was seeing, that not being able to enter the Abbey today, was alright by me.

We walked around a bit more, across the Westminster Bridge and over to the eye, enjoying the architecture, sights and sounds of London, until we got hungry, and had to use the bathroom. Toilets are not an easy thing to find in Europe, and you often just have to find a pub and take your chances. Since we were actually hungry, this was not as difficult as it usually is, and we quickly settled on a pub that offered fish and chips.

It was a quaint little place that was packed to the gills with people, both inside and out. The bathroom was down bunches of stairs and had a huge line; I am sure it consisted of patrons, and tourists from the street, as well. By the time I got in and out, Joe had already ordered our food, and had a beer sitting on the table.

The fish and chips are served with peas in almost every establishment, which I find interesting, and the fish is always one huge piece of white fish, which I find delicious. I can honestly say that it was the best fish and chips I had ever eaten, and that is saying a lot, since I rarely eat fried food, and am very picky about it; the batter was light and fluffy, and just the right amount. It was perfect! A great topper, to a great day.

At this point I was hobbling and moving quite slowly, so we headed back to the apartment, stopping along the way for breakfast, for the morning, and Epsom salts for the tub, tonight.

I was going to sleep well that night; dreaming about what we were going to do tomorrow!

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