Monday, September 13, 2010

We venture into downtown London for the first time

After 12 hours of sleep, we were ready to face London. We took the Tube down to Green Park--I felt right at home, it was so much like the D.C. Metro at rush hour. Then we needed to do some housekeeping and get our London and British Heritage passes.

There is just too much to see and not enough time to see it all. We stopped in Fortnum & Mason and Hatchards next door. (Sadly, no naked nobles in residence.) We walked passed Floris J. Ltd. on Jermyn St. , stopped in to see St. James’s Church, and window shopped through the Burlington Arcade where I saw some fabulously expensive Faberge eggs. Mr. MacKenzie was a trouper.

Then it was on to the National Portrait Gallery, where we looked at the British paintings from the 1700s and 1800s--Turners, Gainsboroughs, Hogarths, and Stubbses. From there we headed down to the House Guards, watched the changing of the guards, looked around the parade grounds, and went through the museum. And yes, I am kicking myself for not getting any pictures of horse and man on guard, though you can see I got one of man alone. I must say those uniforms looked uncomfortable to me. As a reward with putting up with all that, I let Mr. MacKenzie choose the next sight--a tour of the Cabinet War Rooms. Fascinating--and a bit terrifying--but not Regency, of course.

We walked back and forth over Westminster Bridge and visited the Jewel Tower by the Abbey. (And no, there are no jewels in the Jewel Tower, though there used to be jewels there.) Then it was on to the Abbey. One small complaint--Westminster Abbey is very expensive, IMHO. It is also rather overwhelming. We did the audio tour and I still felt I missed seeing so many things. I did like how they asked everyone to pause once an hour for a few minutes of prayer. After all, it is a church.

We walked through St. James’s park and Green Park and saw more interesting waterfowl, including something that looked like a cross between a swan and a pelican, but fortunately we did not see any more rats. I dragged Mr. MacKenzie up Half Moon Street to Curzon and South Audley and Grosvenor Square and then along Upper Grosvenor to Park Lane, trying to recreate some of a scene from The Naked King, but I find it so hard to subtract all the modern bits and see the streets as they might have been almost 200 years ago.

By the way, a friend told me Londoners drive like maniacs and I have to agree. The folks on motor scooters and even bicycles are fearless, out there with the cars and those red double decker buses. And there seem to be many more people on regular bikes than I see at home, though I admit it’s been a while since I’ve been in the city. They act just like cars, stopping at lights and keeping to their lanes. No way I would drive anything here, though. The driving on the “wrong” side of the road would have me crashing in no time, I’m sure. I’m nervous enough I’ll be squashed just crossing the street. Some of the corners have helpful directions in the pavement--“Look left” or “Look right”--but not all of them. I try to stay with the natives and scoot across when they do.

We finished up or day in London with an amble across Hyde Park, our feet protesting that they had had enough. (I saw some more birds--a gray heron, geese, ducks, and coots.) We’d been on the move from 9 am to 6 pm without even stopping for lunch--we grabbed an odd kind of soft ice cream cone and a bottle of water at Westminster Bridge. It was time to hop the tube back to the hotel area and enjoy a nice, relaxed dinner. Since we’ve been skipping lunch, I feel completely justified in having a full course dinner, including dessert.

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