Thursday, July 14, 2011

In the Thick of Things

My friend Robin is very well-traveled, but this is her first visit to London, so it's been a fun challenge to narrow down the myriad of choices and come up with a plan for the day.  Tuesday morning we headed to Buckingham Palace to see the famous Changing of the Guard.  We arrived in the midst of chaos.  Busloads of people dressed to the nines (ladies with fascinators, men in tails) were thronging by the side entrance, and around the corner, the roads were lined with police tape -- and police.  What the heck was going on?  We had no idea, so we continued on our mission to find a viewing spot.  Apparently we should have arrived an hour earlier, as the crowds around the gates were already 4 or 5 people deep.
It was hard to tell what was happening, or even when the ceremony officially began.  We had to rely on narration from small children sitting on their father's shoulders:  "There's a dude with a flag walking back and forth."  But eventually the crowds thinned out a bit and we were able to get a better view and some decent photos.

At one point, two carriages and a fancy car drove through the gate and onto the palace grounds.  No idea who was in them.

Then a marching band showed up and joined the rest of the guards in the square.  They played some ceremonial-sounding music, and then launched into the James Bond theme.  Robin and I looked at each other in disbelief.  It seemed a bit -- I don't know -- unbefitting the dignity of the situation?  The next tune was "Puttin' on the Ritz."  Really?
After it appeared that the guards were done changing -- it was kind of hard to tell as they all look the same -- we grabbed lunch at an Italian cafe nearby and then headed to the Royal Mews.  This is where they keep all the royal carriages and the horses who pull them.
This carriage is traditionally used to transport the bride to a royal wedding.
This is one of the Queen's Bentleys.  The roof is high enough that she can stand up inside the car to make it easier to get in and out in a ladylike manner.
This carriage was used to transport Wills & Kate to Buckingham Palace after the Royal Wedding.
The Gold State Coach is used for coronation ceremonies, and any other special events that necessitate traveling in gilded box covered with mermen.  It's a bit over the top...
When we had seen all there was to see at the Royal Mews, we went next door to the Queen's Gallery, which had a lovely exhibit of art depicting mythological themes.
After we had seen everything in the Gallery, we walked through St James park and stopped for afternoon tea at Inn the Park -- just as they ran out of scones.  But we still had some little pastries and finger sandwiches.  Then we walked up to Trafalgar Square to check out the scene -- there's always a scene there.  Sure enough, we were treated to the usual assortment of odd street performers, including this guy with his flaming tuba.

From there we walked over to Westminster to see the Parliament building and Westminster Abbey. Once again, there were more going on than we expected, including a huge line of people waiting to get into Parliament, a row of TV cameras set up in a park across the street, and a large group of people protesting the war in Libya. We asked a policeman what was happening, and he said the MPs were about to question the chief of police about the phone-hacking scandal. OH!

After taking some more photos, we walked across the Lambeth bridge to the Southbank Centre and had dinner at an Italian restaurant before taking the train from Waterloo back to Wimbledon. When we got back to my house, I did a little online research and discovered that not only had there been a garden party for 8,000 people at Buckingham Palace that day, but a man had hanged himself in front of the palace that morning, and his body had been across the street under a tarp the whole time we were watching the Changing of the Guard. Creepy! I'm glad we didn't know that at the time.

It was a full but fun day, and I don't think either of us had any trouble falling asleep.


  1. I'm dying of curiosity. What are "ladies with fascinators"??

  2. Eeeek! Very creepy, indeed. And the musical selection at the changing of the guard strikes me as odd, too.

  3. Fascinators are ridiculous things women wear on their heads here -- sort of a hat substitute -- when they get dressed up. Essentially, it's a headband with lots of feathers and tulle. You can see some examples here:


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