Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bustling London

Parliament Building
September 22: We left Augsburg bright and early at 6:30am to catch the train to Munich airport. We actually bought the flight from Munich to London before we booked a place to stay. So a 10:45am flight didn't seem so early, until it occurred to us that we were staying two hours from the airport. Ugh.

The flight was easy and only an hour and a half. We arrived to the London Gadwick airport, got our bags and train tickets with ease and were off to East Croyden where our hotel was. As soon as we got to the East Croyden train station, we knew we weren't exactly in London. Actually, it was a pretty sketchy place. However, the Hampton Inn was only a five minute walk from the station and it's really very nice, so that's a plus! We ate a late lunch at about 3pm and then went back to the hotel to start planning our itinerary for our exciting four full days in London!

Kensington Palace
September 23: Our day was planned around our dinner plans with Dorothy Mackenzie and her husband. Dorothy is a cousin of my mother and lives in London. Not wanting to venture too far away, our first stop was Kensington Palace. Rather expensive to tour, and the online reviews said it wasn't worth it, we decided to forego the tour. Instead we went in and looked around the rather large gift shop which I really enjoyed, and we toured the gardens.

Our next stop was the world famous Harrods department store. And wow, it didn't disappoint! Top of the line luxury brands we could not afford from clothing and jewelry to home goods and accessories. The actual department store was beautiful in itself. I very much enjoyed looking at everything and soaking in the high class London atmosphere!

We made a quick stop for lunch on a park bench before heading down the street in search of our next stop. We stumbled across the Victoria and Albert museum. Being government owned it was free which always makes for a more fun experience. It was basically a huge gallery of things from sculptures, pottery and paintings to fashion exhibits displaying clothes through the ages.

Scene from the park
From the museum, it was time to start heading in the direction of Dorothy's office which acted as our meeting point. With 45 minutes left to kill, we got off the subway and sat on a bench in Hyde Park. The day had turned out beautiful as the sun had come out so it was nice to just enjoy the day.

At 5:30pm we walked and met up with Dorothy. I have had some email correspondence with her but we have never met in person. We walked with her to the train that would take us to her home in Ealing. Once we got on the train I asked her about East Croyden and her reaction was hilarious! She said that Croyden is kind of a joke amongst London'ites. She wondered how we ended up there and I told her "an flash hotel deal and a lack of London geographical knowledge." We had a good laugh about it anyhow. Ealing is a lovely London suburb and it was nice to see where people actually live. She cooked us a delicious meal and we had a really nice time chatting with her and her husband as well as gaining a lot of insight on things to see and do during our stay.

It was a great first full day in London and so amazing to meet relatives I've never met before!

Buckingham Palace! Gorgeous!
September 24: Buckingham Palace day!! We arrived and bought our tickets to see the palace staterooms as well as the Royal Mews where they keep the horses and stagecoaches used in various processionals. I’ll be honest, the tickets are WAY overpriced but it is Buckingham Palace and if I had any chance of being invited to tea with the Queen, I had to pay the high admission fee. HA!

Touring the palace was so much fun! The audio guide did a great job of explaining the state rooms with just enough detail to keep things interesting. The rooms are of course so beautiful and over the top. I just kept “playing princess” and day dreaming about what it would be like to live there or to be invited to a state dinner or something. It’s all part of the fun experience.! I wish we could have seen more or been given a guided tour by the Duchess of Cambridge herself, but I guess she’s a little busy with baby Prince George. A girl can dream…  (pictures were not permitted inside the palace, that’s why I didn’t post any.)

Golden carriage used during coronations. 
Sadly, we weren’t invited to tea by Her Majesty the Queen, so we headed to the Mews. This exhibit was not worth the extra nine pounds each that we paid. Actually it was really disappointing. We saw a few carriages, and two horses but nothing that really wowed me except for the golden carriage, that one was pretty neat to see.

We left the mews and grabbed a bite to eat before continuing down Victoria street to see a few more historical sites. We first went into Westminster Cathedral which was free, SCORE! Next we saw Westminster Abbey. We decided not to wait in line or pay the $20 each to go inside. Instead, we took some photos from the outside, and went into the gift shop where we flipped through a Westminster Abbey souvenir book to see what the inside looked like.  We have been in so many gorgeous churches this trip, that we decided to opt out of the high admission price and just view this from the outside.

Next we saw  the London Eye, Big Ben and the parliament building. Sadly, we could not go inside the parliament building as they are sitting at the moment, but it is a beautiful and really neat site to see. We took a rest and sat on a bench overlooking the river reliving all the sites we saw today. 

September 25: Today we made our way to The Tower of London. Built in 1078, it’s a historical castle on the north bank of the River Thames. The name is confusing, but The Tower of London is actually a mini complex made up of several buildings. Again, the admission fee was outrageous but we paid it and went in. We lucked out and joined up with a short tour with a truly fantastic guide. It's quite an honor to be a tour guide of the Tower of London. You have to have served in the Queens army for at least 21 years, and had a perfect record for 18 of them. You also had to have been awarded a special honor and then you can be appointed as a tour guide. Anyways, he was so enthusiastic and really told us a lot of great info, I wish it would have lasted longer.

After the tour we walked around for about two and a half more hours. Of course my favorite site was the crown jewels. We saw about eight crowns which were adorned in huge diamond and gems. Sadly they were not letting the public try them on...who would have thought?! We also saw the coronation staff that tops out with a 500 carat DIAMOND! Gorgeous! I was hoping to see necklaces, rings, bracelets and tiaras all belonging to past queens, but they must lock them up someplace else. I was a little bummed. We continued walking around looking at old suits of armor and brick towers. We also had a stunning view of London Bridge. I didn't realize how pretty the bridge actually is!

Leaving the Tower we headed to Trafalgar Square, a public space and tourist attraction. We listened to a group of boys playing they own music which was actually really good, the we made a few laps inside the National Gallery. I literally mean a few laps. It's this massive art gallery full of hundreds of paintings and we could not find our way out. We saw some of the same paintings three times!

We left and began to head towards the London Apollo Theater where we had tickets to see Wicked! On the way, we decided to stop in a local pub for a beer and an appetizer. It was a cliche British Pub and we loved the atmosphere. Bellies full of beer, we made our way to the show. I had high expectations I admit. Everyone raves about this musical. And let me confirm, it was truly amazing! The script was pure genius, and such a creative way to tell the story of the wicked witch of the west as well as Glenda. I will never look at The Wizard of Oz the same. Such world class talent they had. The singing, and costumes and stage sets were perfection! Amazing, amazing, amazing!!! Well worth the super expensive, four rows from the
top, had to use binoculars at times, tickets! Woah.

Made it back to East Croyden at 11 to rest up for an early start to get to Windsor Castle.

September 26: It was a bit earlier of a start today as we were making our way to Windsor to see Windsor Castle. It cost us $80 just to travel the hour to get there…sheesh. I told you London was expensive!

We arrived and met up with Dorothy’s daughter Sarah, who is actually living on the castle grounds serving as an aupair to children of one of the choir singers at the chapel. There are about 150 people that live on the grounds besides the royal family which is an interesting fact I did not know. Because of her employment, she was able to get us two free tickets to actually tour the castle which was so sweet of her and such a savings. We got there in time to see the famous changing of the guards ceremony, so that was fun to see in person.

We then collected our audio guides and toured the castle. Since it’s still an inhabited castle by the royal family, mainly their winter home, much of it is blocked off to the public. We were able to walk around and see some of the staterooms which were obviously beautiful and impressive. After we finished our official tour, we met back up with Sarah to take her dog for a walk on the famous ‘Long Walk’ which is a beautiful walking path just behind the castle. After the walk we parted ways and Andrew and I took a stroll around the adorable town of Windsor before stopping for lunch at the “Duchess of Cambridge” pub where we had London’s most famous dish, Fish and Chips. Delicious! If I couldn’t see the real Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, then the next best thing is eating lunch at a pub named after her!

Trying on the virtual crown jewels!

I didn’t meet my goal of drinking tea with a royal, which only means one thing, we are going to have to return to London!!
As close to Kate as I could get!

In front of our future residence; Buckingham Palace!
Obligatory guard photo!

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