London is amazing city. Yes, it is big. Yes, it has SO many people. Yes, there are aspects of it that are not pretty, but for the most part, it is really amazing. Lady Hiva and I instantly noticed a few things about London that hinted we were no longer in Istanbul. 1-There was a drastic decrease in the amount of smokers. If there were smokers, they smoked in select areas—away from children. That was such a wonderful change. 2- people actually drove in their lane and obeyed traffic rules. 3- There were parks and trees everywhere. 4-There were sidewalks. 5-They speak English. 6-They didn’t serve Limonata anywhere! On these hot days we were walking around all I wanted was a nice cold lemonade. I finally gave up after asking several times and being told “no” or given Sprite. Just for the record, Lemonade is NOT Sprite and is definitely NOT carbonated. Hehe.
Equipped with our London Pass cards, we were determined to see everything possible. We made use of buses, water ferries, the “tube”/metro, taxis and our feet. After two days of exploring the city we decided that we should dub this trip “the trip of stairs.” Everywhere we went there were small spiral stairs we had to lug the stroller up and down! Our Lucky Dragon was toted around like a king and we were his servants bearing his burden! (he is totally worth it and did not fuss at all during our long days).
|An example of the stairs we climbed up and down the entire trip|
We started the first day of exploration at Westminster Abbey. This is the famous cathedral near the House of Parliament and is where the Kings and Queens hold their coronation ceremonies. It is also where some of Britain’s most famous people are buried; including some of my ancestors—like King Edward I. This remained one of mine and Lady Hiva’s favorite stops on our entire trip. The building and history you learn while in the Abbey are amazing. Sadly, you cannot take photos inside so you will just have to take our word for it.
|Waiting for the metro (at the non-rush hour time)|
|We came out into the Shopping district to which Lady Hiva proclaimed, "This is my kind of tourism!"|
We wanted to take Tau’aho to see the Royal Horses at Buckingham Mews and he fell asleep as we walked there. Poor guy, that was maybe a good thing because the only rain we had on the entire trip was during that hour. We saw all the Royal Carriages and learned about the care for the 30 horses that carry the Royal Family during events.
After that we had a quick stop and Wellington Arch, saw the views from up top, and took a bus to Kensington Palace. Kensington Palace sits on one edge of the large Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was the childhood home of Queen Victoria and the home of Prince William, Kate and George. They have recently redone the museum inside the Palace and it was fun to walk through history. Many of the rooms told the story of those who lived there with hands-on objects. Great for kids (and us that want to explore). This included meeting an actor portraying Queen Caroline. We were able to see her daily routine and learn how everything the King and Queen did was viewed by public—eating, going to the bathroom, and dressing included. (It apparently was an honor to be the one to stand in the bathroom and hand the King his toilet paper after he was done…hmmm not sure having a captive audience of the king would be worth it to me).
|Inside Kensington Palace|
|Queen Caroline (an actress)|
|Posing for a photo and Lucky took the chance to eat Mum's ice cream while she was distracted...!|
|Royal Gardens at Kensington Palace|
We spent some time touring the city via the tour buses and walking and then went to eat that Trafalgar Square and walked through some of the National Art museums. Both of us really liked the National Portrait Gallery.
|Lady Hiva and the Tongan Flag|
|On the tour bus|
|St. Paul's Cathedral|
We happened to walk passed Buckingham Palace again and learned that they were opening for their short annual season where “commoners” can enter the Palace. We booked tickets for the opening day (our last day in London).
The next day we had a list of places we wanted to see and started out at the Tower of London. We walked up and down more stairs with the stroller. (Many people gave us odd looks of ‘why are you toting that stroller around?’ But we wouldn’t miss having our little guy with us for anything—even if we do look and smell like a sweaty mess at the end of the day.) The Tower, of course, holds so much history within its walls. We loved walked around and seeing the Crown Jewels, hearing about the many people how lived there and were killed there. It was especially interesting to me to hear stories of some of my ancestors who were there as royalty and what their lives would have been like (some of them were not kind people). I also had to think what it must have been like to be imprisoned there and know that your day to be killed was coming soon. There were so many of the stone walls in the tower cells that were covered with names and quotes etched into the stone as a last momentum before the person earthly journey ceased.
|Entrance to the Tower of London|
|Poppies to represent each British person who died in WWI|
|Recreation of the bed where my great-great-great.........great Grandfather slept|
|Lady Hiva and Tau'aho, the Hawaiians with the Captain Cooke statue!|
|Names and signals in the Tower of London--the people who didn't come out alive|
We then went up into the Tower Bridge and that was a quick trip. It was also full of history. We went to the “London Bridge Experience” that was less history and more spook alley so we left after the first part in Tau’aho’s benefit.
|We survived on water and snacks from Pret a Manger--they were EVERYWHERE|
We hopped on a train and headed out to Hampton Court—the favorite home of King Henry VIII. It was a beautiful place and we wish we had more time to spend there. The gardens were spectacular and the history of the events that occurred made it an intriguing place to be. It made me want to go back and re-read all of the books I have read over the years about the Tudor Era now that I have seen where they walked, lived and slept. It is clear that Henry and his court lived in opulence. When later queens and kings lived there, they too added a flare of richness (including a royal chocolate kitchen)We had to rush back to London for our appointment at Buckingham.
|Entrance to Hampton Court|
|This fountain would flow with wine from time to time during the Tudor era|
|The Grand room where Henry VIII and his many wives ate|
|The room where people would wait all day to get a 'glimpse' of the king or queen|
|The Chocolate Kitchen|
|We met some random Turkish people that took this picture for us|
The train took a long time to leave the station and we made several stops along the way. Tau’aho made friends with the people around us and because he was sitting in his stroller in the aisle of the train he was able to see anyone that passed him. One lady passed him wearing orange stretch pants with gold glitter on them. They must have been interesting because Lucky reached up to touch it and ended up grabbing her rear-end a few times. I apologized in his behalf but she must not have minded because later she gave Tau’aho a fresh peach out of her bag. He was in heaven—sticky mess of a heaven, but heaven none the less.
|Tau'aho still eye balling the sparkling orange pants...hehe|
|Do you want some?|
When we arrived in London we had 15 minutes to get from Waterloo Station to Buckingham Palace. I knew it was cutting it WAY too close, but the distance was not far and Lady and I decided a taxi would be fastest. Yet, after we ran all the way from the train, dodging people as we went, we jumped into the taxi and he told us the most direct route to Buckingham—over the bridge--was closed. We jumped out and ran back in to take the tube. We ran all the way down, up and over the many random staircases (still with the stroller) and when we arrived at the platform we were informed we were at the wrong one. Retracing our steps, now fully sweating in their non-air conditioned cement corridors, we found the correct line and rushed there. We rode over to Westminster station and came out to find we were 15 floors below the surface which meant we had to take 5 escalators up. They seemed painfully slow as we rose to the top. As we did, we started to notice people with protest materials (Living in Istanbul you pick up on these cues quickly).
Sure enough, we came out of the station right in the middle of a strike over Gaza. People were ALL Over the place. Police and Swat teams were all over the place. Rubbish and flags and signs were all over the place. And we were right in the middle of it with our baby and late for an appointment at the Buckingham Palace! All we know about protests is—WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE! We set our direction towards Buckingham and moved as quickly as possible through the crowd.
Once farther away we could run, we started to run. We were now a few minutes passed our appointment and hoped that they would have mercy and still let us in. But I also knew that in 10 minutes the “last entrance would happen.” We were just under 2 miles from the Palace. We started to run…I had the stroller and backpack. We saw two taxis speeding away from the protest area too and neither would stop so we kept running. I am sure that Lucky’s cheeks were rattled from the cobblestone sidewalks. Once we were far enough away from the protestors, I ran ahead to at least let the people at the Palace know we were coming. Lady would come behind. I arrived to the gate with a back and Tau’aho in tow. By then I was soaking wet, panting like a dying race horse, and surely completely red. The young (fit looking) guy at the gate said, “Mate, you OK?” I had to laugh. He had NO idea that we had ran to a train, sweated it out in a car, tried a taxi, tried two metro lines, accidentally joined and ran through protest, and sprinted two miles with a 20lbs bag and a stroller with a one year old to be there for this Palace experience. All I could say while mopping my face and huffing was, “Yes. I am.”
It was SO worth all we did to be there. The Palace is beautiful. Everything is ornate. If a palace’s job is to empress those that enter, Buckingham Palace surely does that. Again, we could not take photos inside, but think of your wildest dreams of what a Palace looks like and realize that is a true dream in this case.
|Royal Gardens behind Buckingham Palace|
|Back of Buckingham Palace after our tour|
We ended our tour in London with dinner at a cute Italian restaurant in Piccadilly Circus. It was beautiful and delicious and surprisingly affordable (London is SO expensive). The only draw-back is that they didn’t serve lemonade either.
|Treat for being good|
The next several days we were driving throughout the country so we will have a few more great posts to come!