Chapter Three: Champagne At Buckingham Palace

P1000550Chapter Three:  Champagne At Buckingham Palace

Day Four – Swans & Squirrels, Horsing Around, A Huge Cock, Glorious Gallery, Hyde But No Jekyll, The $16,000 Purse, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Go Soak Your Feet, Going Green, Our Corgi Will Be So Happy (Maybe), An Evening Appearance At The Queen’s Residence and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Part Deux

Turning the television on in our room early Sunday morning, we heard the now familiar London forecast: “It should be pleasant today, but it looks like rain tomorrow,” the weatherman promised.

P1000477Somehow our feet were able to get going, and across the river we walked, heading for St. James Park.  After our Starbucks experience of the previous day, we decided to give another chain our business.  

Pret A Manger has about a million stores in London, and their food and coffee were quite good.  I had a fresh Focaccia breakfast sandwich that had a hard-boiled egg and Canadian bacon.  When you are walking 11 miles a day, you can throw calorie intake out the window.

P1000488We walked by Westminster Abbey and about 9 a.m. we found ourselves at the lovely St. James Park.

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Once just a swamp near a leper colony, St. James Park is lush with beautiful foliage and full of birds and waterfowl. Squirrels, pelicans, swans and ducks frolicked (not all together).  P1000493 All the while, we took a ton of photos.

P1000490There were plenty of flowers in bloom.

P1000489 We wished we could have spent more time there, but we had an “important event” to attend.

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After the “important event,” we REALLY wished we’d spent for time here.

P1000494 The reason we were in this part of London was because Tracy had been told not to miss the Changing Of The Royal Horse Guards, which takes place across the street from the park.  The last time we took time out from our schedule to visit some horses while on vacation was when we visited the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia (below is a photo from that trip).

LIPICA 1We witnessed the world famous Lipizzaner stallions prance around and do virtually nothing for an hour. Nothing could be worse than that, we surmised…We were wrong!

P1000496At about 9:45 a.m. a bunch of beautiful black horses ridden by guys with red and white uniforms with cool gold helmets appeared from under an arch. The horses and riders stood in front of the Horsey Palace (not the building’s real name). About ten minutes (seemed longer) later, another bunch of horses came from the direction of Buckingham Palace, hoofed it past the crowd and were positioned so they were facing the first group of horses. “This is going to be good,” I thought.

P1000502I was wrong.

P1000507Half of the horses (as it turned out, the lucky ones) left.

EngDay3K #04The excitement was, well there was yet to be any excitement, but we were sure the pageantry would begin any second, and these beautiful creatures would amaze us as the changing of the horse guards transpired before our very eyes.

As we watched intently, the horses stood…and stood…and stood…and stood, doing nothing…and I mean nothing. Fifteen minutes later the horses were still doing nothing, although I think I saw one of them check his iPhone to see what time it was as he pawed at the dirt. “This can’t be it, can it,” Tracy asked?

Oh, yes it was. Looking around at the crowd, that horse was not the only four or two-legged creature checking to see what time it was.  By 10:15, the horses had now continued this World Wrestling Federation-like stare-down for nearly 20 minutes. I actually think one of the stallions became cross-eyed due to excessive staring.

We don’t know what happened next at this gala event, because the four of us walked away, shaking our heads in bored disbelief; a half hour out of our lives that we will never get back. As we were nearly out of sight from this non-spectacle, we turned around one last time to see if maybe, just maybe, the horses were doing something. Nope…the horses were still just standing there, staring at each other like they were on the worst blind date ever.

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It was time to move on to The National Gallery. As we neared Trafalgar Square, I looked up and saw something that somehow I had missed the first day we were here. Sure as hell, there was a huge, blue cock (please insert your own joke here) looking out over the square.

“That’s the biggest cock I’ve ever seen,” Kim said. “I wonder when it was erected,” I asked?  Trust me…it got worse from there as we reverted back to eighth…no make that sixth… grade humor.

P1000514Mary and Tracy (quickly) headed directly to the entrance of the National Gallery, as they had heard this shtick too many times before.  The folks mingling in Trafalger Square fortunately paid no attention to our nonsense.

P1000516Founded in the 1820s, it contains something like 2,500 works of art from the 13th through 1900.  We didn’t see them all.

seurat-bathers-at-asnieres-NG3908-fmWe toured the National Gallery (free admission – no photography…picture from National Gallery website)) for about 75 minutes. Tracy’s favorite painting was Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières while I was partial to Van Gogh’s Wheatfield With Cypresses.  On a really positive note, I didn’t see any horse paintings.

art-wheatfieldThe plan was to have lunch at the Café At The Crypt below St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but the menu did not appeal to us this day, and the restaurant seemed (somewhat ironically) dead. Instead, we hopped on the tube to the Hyde Park stop. After quickly checking out the park, we walked down to London’s “Department Store On Speed”…aka Harrods.

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Encompassing a mere million square feet or so, if you’re a shopaholic, this is where you could spend your entire London vacation. Unfortunately, you would also probably end up in Debtors Prison.

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As we walked through the store, Tracy said, “Look Tom, here’s a purse for 10,000 pounds. Should I buy it?” For a minute, I thought I was married to Oprah.

P1000522You don’t see produce departments at your local grocery store that look like this.

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The floral department wasn’t too shabby either.

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Walking through all the massive and elegant food courts, we surmised that Chef Mario Batali and all those involved with Eataly in New York City came up with some ideas from the layout here. We ate at an Italian restaurant upstairs, and the pizza, pasta and beer were good. By this point, we were all just happy to sit down.

Yesterday’s march had taken its toll.  After lunch, we walked through various parts of the store, which really was overwhelming, including a huge section devoted to Christmas. Tracy and I got our picture taken next to a large stuffed bear. “It is only September, isn’t it,” I asked?

ImageSure, Harrods is touristy, but as I always say (at least when I’m on holiday), “What the hell…I am a tourist.” If you’re in London, I think it’s a pretty neat stop in the midst of all the museums, parks and still-life horses.  

All our dogs were barking, so much so that we all decided to go back to the hotel and soak our sore feet for a bit before we ventured out for our evening tour of Buckingham Palace that I had booked several months before we departed for England.

P1000539 After a little down time, we rode the tube to the Green Park stop, where we disembarked and took a stroll (one always strolls when in a park) through the smallest of London’s eight Royal parks.

P1000535A short time later we were at the Queen’s residence (she had smartly packed up the Corgis and traveled to Scotland on vacation knowing we were coming).

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Actually, the reason we were able to secure these tickets is because when the Queen hightails it to Scotland during August and September, they open up the joint for crazy tourists who want to spend some discretionary cash.

P1000541Cost for this experience is £70 apiece for the 90-minute or so tour, and I had debated whether it was really worth the price, but thought, “You only live once…let’s give it a try.”

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In addition, we would be offered a free glass of champagne, a souvenir book, 20% off at the Palace gift shop and free admittance to Buckingham Palace for the next year (doubt we’ll take advantage of that deal).

P1000542Speaking of the gift shop, Tracy now has a beautiful Swarovski crystal crown brooch that thankfully was much less expensive than a $16,000 purse. She also purchased some gifts for her mom, my sister and some friends, although she has not given the brooch to our female Corgi (Remi) like she had promised her before we left. I might have to go online and get one for her.

P1000540Our tour group of about 20 people consisted mostly of Aussies and UK citizens. We were the only ones from the U.S. We patiently awaited the tour until we were escorted in by our guide.

EngDay4M #06Was the evening tour worth? Well, it depends on your point of view.  Sure, you don’t necessarily see anything that a regular tour doesn’t offer, but it’s pretty cool to go zipping around Buckingham Palace on your own personal tour while getting some of the inside skinny on the goings on of the Royal Family.

P1000550It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

EngDay3K #02Plus, I’ll do anything for a free glass of champagne (Tracy had already started to wear our corgi’s brooch), which was fun to sip as we stood on the palace terrace overlooking the expansive grounds.

EngDay3K #05Darkness had now descended on the palace, and since the people in charge would not let us spend the night there, we were escorted by golf cart to one of the entrances, where a lot of tourists were still milling about outside the fence taking photos.

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As they opened the gate to let us out, one person asked me, “How did you get in there?” I answered, 

“Oh, we were just having a couple of beers with Harry, William and Kate. By the way, that George is a cute little guy.”  I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or just thought I was an idiot, but I really didn’t care because I was hungry.

Our tour guide had suggested a nearby pub for dinner that was open on Sunday night, so we walked down to The Bag O Nails for our first real pub dinner. The food once again exceeded my pub food expectations. The Guinness was cold and the atmosphere friendly.

P1000558Looking over to the bar (as I am wont to do), there were already placards touting their Christmas holiday meals. It would be the first of many times we would see establishments showing off the holiday menus. I guess Christmas comes early in England.

P1000557When we returned to the hotel, Tracy perused our vacation insurance policy to see if transporting corpses back to the U.S. was included in the price.  Tomorrow would be the day that prognosticators were listing me at even odds of not making it back alive.

Our group would attempt the great climb at one of London’s most spectacular landmarks. Sure, there was the off-chance chance I could die tomorrow morning, but on the flip side, if I survived, I knew later in the day we would visit the coolest little pub in all of London. Damn…I hope I made it!!

Next: Day Five – Blood, Sweat & Whispers, Fantastic Audio Guide, Museum Overload, Walk Like An Egyptian, Soane Near Yet Soane Far, A Cute Pub Right Down Our Alley (if we can find it), We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Nap, Photo Ops, A Change Of Plans and A Little Bit Of Italy In London

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