The London Trip - Day 3 - Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Bus Tour

9th February 2003

I had forgotten to set the alarm, but I woke up early anyway. Oh god, I felt seedy after all that red wine. I went down to early breakfast but couldn't get through much of it. Brian seemed a bit disappointed, but I just couldn't face much except the tea and toast. I ran away, explaining that I had celebrated the wedding a little too liberally.

[Redhill Station]

I walked to the station and enjoyed getting out into the cold air for a brisk walk. Helped to clear my head some. I knew my way this time, so the walk was very easy, which was a good thing considering the state of my head. Got to Victoria Station, and used those fabulous toilets again. This time, a young guy had stationed himself at the bottom of the stairs, rugged up in a sleeping bag. As everyone went past, there would be an outstretched hand a call for "Spare change?", and if you ignored him, he would mumble "Git!" as you went past. He did the same thing as I left and I got another "Git!".

Today was going to be a full day of tourism. I had my maps, I had a good idea of what I wanted to see, and Buckingham Palace was first on the list. Why I would want to go and see Buckingham Palace is a mystery to me. Politically, I would prefer Australia to be a republic. But not at the expense of getting the shoddy republic model that Howard proposed. I would much rather we had the Queen of England as our ultimate ruler than have a crappy republic that would be abused by politicians, as I'm sure that they would. I don't revere the Queen like the generation of Australians before me, but I do have some respect. But then again, Buckingham palace is a rich sight, a curiosity, a feast for the eyes, and just going to see it doesn't mean I will suddenly become a monarchist. So I went and saw it because I had to.

I walked there from Victoria Station. It was bitterly cold. I wasn't wearing my warmest coat. It started to rain. I didn't have an umbrella. That's a good start. A cheap umbrella was easy to buy, so that solved that problem. But the damp day didn't spoil my fun. I had a blast. I had so much fun, walking around and looking at everything.

[Buckingham Palace from the
side]

Palace gates.

[Buckingham Palace Gates]

I had a walk around the Queen Victoria Memorial.

[Queen Victoria Memorial]

I don't think this is called Changing the Guard. But then it could have been. It was pretty wet, so they were muffled. When I first arrived, there were none in sight. While I was looking around, a few appeared and took station. After I finished going round the Queen Victoria Memorial, a bunch of them appeared and marched around and swapping themselves around. When this group appeared, there was a surge to the fence to watch them.

[Buckingham Palace Guards
doing stuff]

In the rain, and the dim light, the gardens had a brilliant green quality to them.

Queen Victoria Memorial
Gardens]

For a while, I watched the traffic going around the roundabout in front of the Palace. There were two mounted policemen keeping order. They stopped two cars at the same time. The guy in front was asked to get out of the car and he was roused on for driving without due care and attention.

[Mounted police doing traffic
duties on the roundabout in front of Buckingham Palace]

The policewoman had the pleasure of dealing with this vehicle. I only know this vehicle from early Mister Bean episodes, but Philip tells me it's a Robin Reliant. I love that cheerful colour.

[Dealing with a recalcitrant
three-wheeler]

I spent a bit of time walking around the Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens and looking at the wildlife. I have to travel this far from Australia to see a black swan? I think this is the first one I've seen.

[Black swan]

I wish these two ducks were standing on opposite sides of each so their legs would match up. They aren't one-legged. It's cold and wet, so they have one leg tucked up under them and they are balancing in the wind. It looks pretty uncomfortable to me, but then I'm not a duck.

[One-legged ducks]

I haven't seen many swans, black or white. I was quite taken with them, because of their strong, sinuous, snake-like necks. I stopped and watched this one preening for a while.

[White swan]

I was hoping to see some of the big red squirrels, but these little buggers were all I got to see. They are North American squirrels transplanted over here, and they've taken over. This one walked with me for a long time. He wasn't after food, and he wasn't following me, he just happened to be going my way.

[The scourge - North American
squirrels]

I presume this bird is a water-walker. He's got the feet for it.

[Bird with weird feet]

While I was enjoying myself with the birds, I heard a horrible clattering sound and looked up and saw this group of redcoated riders coming along The Mall. I couldn't get back in time to get a close photo of them, so I just got a photo of the back end of them heading up Constitution Hill. I thought it hilarious that they were preceded and followed by police on motorbikes.

[Mounted redcoats rapidly
receding]

Time to move on, so I went back to Buckingham Gate ...

[Buckingham Gate]

... and walked along Birdcage Walk, past the Guards Museum. There were a bunch of them on parade, so I watched a while, and then continued on towards Westminster Abbey.

[The Guards Museum]

Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, Westminster Abbey was being used for services and not for tourism. So all I could do was wander around outside and marvel at it. It's big. It's a big complex of big churches. I walked all round it, and then up a side-street with strangely labelled gates that opened onto what appeared to be private residences attached to the Abbey. Around the back, I saw parts of the old Abbey.

[Westminster Abbey]

[Westminster Abbey gateway]

[Westminster Abbey old face]

After a good look round, I moved off to see the Houses of Parliament, and came across Big Ben. Behind you can see the new London Eye, which is like a giant ferris wheel but moves very slowly so you can get the views of London.

[Big Ben and London Eye]

I walked past the Houses of Parliament, saw the statues of Oliver Cromwell and Richard the First. It didn't appear to be open to the public, so I didn't attempt to go inside, just walked around the outside.

[House of Parliament]

Opposite the Houses of Parliament was a protest against the US intention of attacking Iraq, and Britain's role of being lapdog to the USA.

[Protests opposite the House of Parliament]

Winston Churchill looked down on the protesters and the police minding them.

[Winston Churchill looks down
on protesters]

At Westminster Bridge I had lunch, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. That was all I felt like. I couldn't find a rubbish bin to get rid of the cup. And that reminded me, I hadn't seen rubbish bins anywhere, not in the stations, not in the streets. I originally thought it was a political move to save money by making people take their rubbish home, but after I did a survey in Victoria Station about the service, I found that it was a remnant from the IRA bombings of London some years ago.

Right beside Westminster Bridge, is a statue of Boadicea in her chariot. And the London Eye is behind her too.

[Statue of Boadicea framed by
the London Eye]

By now I was very very cold, and a bit damp, and I wanted to sit down in comfort for a while. I bought a ticket on the The Original Sightseeing Bus Tour. I sat upstairs in the rain for a while. The bus tour had three four lines. I got on the Red Line. This took me back past Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, the Planetarium, and Piccadilly Square. There was a tape playing as we went round, telling what we were seeing, telling anecdotes and giving good info. I stayed on top of the bus, in the open, in the rain, getting colder and wetter until we got to about the Planetarium. I gave up and went downstairs.

[Upstairs on the bus tour]

Because of the cold outside and the steamy press of bodies inside, the windows were completely fogged and I couldn't see out. But I didn't mind. I was so cold that I shut down for about half an hour and dozed. When I'm cold and wet, my body just turns off for a while. When the bus stopped at Piccadilly, I got off and walked around a bit. I went inside a large modern shopping mall and stood in the hot downdraft just inside the doors, and I warmed up. When I was feeling better, I went back out and joined the next bus. This time I got the Yellow Line.

This time we went past Trafalgar Square, the Strand, St Paul's Cathedral, The Monument, over London Bridge, then the Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, and back to Westminster. That's where I got off finally. I saw a lot of stuff, albeit briefly. There was so much to see. Two big things per day is about enough before my senses are overwhelmed.

[Ticket for the
  Original Tour bus tour]

I left the bus near Westminster Abbey and walked back to Victoria Station. Along the way, I spotted a little shop, open on Sunday, doing money changing. He was giving a great rate. He had signs up showing what you got in the hand, so you didn't have to calculate conversions and subtract commissions. he made it easy to see what you would get. $100 converted to £60, which was the best I had seen. I did my calculations and he was within 10p of the current exchange rate. I have no idea how he made his profits, but I changed all my remaining cash. I wish I had waited till today to convert my money, and hadn't exchanged such a big wad the day before. I've learnt my lesson now, and I know where to go and what to do, so next time I'm over here, I will not be financially disadvantaged with the exchange rate.

After I left the money changer, I spotted this fabulous Byzantine Church. I didn't catch the name of it, but I went and had a good look at the front. If you look closely at the mosaic above the doorway, it's definitely a Byzantine Church. [Byzantine Church near
  Victoria Station]

Got to Victoria Station and had to wait for ages, standing up and waiting for the platform to show. I saw a bald guy standing near me, with a huge metal eye through his earlobe and a large ring through the eye. It was impressive. While I was waiting, I was approached to do a survey about the station, and answered questions and learnt why there are no rubbish bins anywhere - IRA bombings. None on the streets, none in the stations. I still had my orange juice cup from lunch.

Finally the platform was announced, I dashed there and boarded the train, and slept all the way to Redhill. I was lucky I woke up in time to get off. Stopped off at the Internet cafe and wrote to Anne. This was a good Internet cafe. Relaxed staff, relaxed rules, cheap prices, good hardware. After getting in touch with the home world, I walked back to the B&B without getting lost this time. I was cold and tired, and didn't have the energy to go out that night and do anything. Surprisingly, I wasn't hungry, despite only having a bit of breakfast all day. I fell asleep at 6pm and slept through.

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