Last of England

Tuesday, September 5th, 2011:

Okay I need to play this song by The Clash because all that time in London Josh and I kept humming it!

We have our buffet breakfast, still downing my English Breakfast tea and made sure I drank as much still water as I can.  I realize I haven’t been consuming as much water as I’d hoped.  Today we meet our Hawaii group and it’s so easy to spot them.  Our group of 40 people was made up of mostly retirees, local Japanese from Hawaii, one of them was Japanese from Japan-he spoke barely no English (he could say Thank You…but more on him later…he was such a character)!  We were the “newlyweds” as everyone nicknamed us and there were two girls I think in their 20’s traveling with their mom and dad.  The filipino bunch weren’t retirees yet but probably in their 50’s but already starting to travel because their kids are older.

I realized the group already had bonded when they flew to Seattle together but they were nice and welcoming as Josh and I introduced ourselves.  We hopped on a bus and saw Sean (our guide at Buckingham) and he recognized us.  The morning was already wet and cold, it was raining and the umbrellas Josh and I brought for the trip came in very handy.

Agenda today?  Bus tour of London with commentary from our Guide and a stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Sean was fantastic with his historical tidbits plus he’s got a great sense of humor, he kept us laughing! I couldn’t wait to go inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Of course, no picture taking was allowed…as usual…but there was one name that Sean kept mentioning, the incomparable Sir Christopher Wren.  He was a famous architect who rebuilt 51 churches after the Great Fire in 1666 (this whole story of London being rebuilt reminded me of another gorgeous city that had a fire, Chicago)…but his masterpiece was St. Paul’s Cathedral…and you’ve all seen it if you watched Diana wed Prince Charles…it’s THE cathedral she married in.  And once I saw the Cathedral I understood why her train was so long!!

In the financial district

Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Column in front

If only I could take pics inside, this photo does no justice to the masterpiece inside

Queen Anne station, according to our guide she was 300 lbs and ate chocolate everyday

Rain, rain

 The front part of the cathedral was bombed in World War II.  It was a reminder to me, because I keep forgetting, that London was heavily bombed during World War II.  But they were able to restore it and it was a miracle that the dome was intact!

After St. Paul’s Cathedral we headed down to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards…of course due to the weather we weren’t sure if it was going to happen.  Instead of watching the changing though, we watched the parade because traffic was horrendous everywhere with the rain, we had to get back to the hotel, ON TIME for the other tours taking place.

See the crowd gathered in front of the palace?

Buckingham, the balcony where kisses take place 🙂

hats are made of bear skin 😦 BOO

On our way back on the bus, I finally got the perfect picture of a mini all decorated!

Processional through the Arch

So after our morning tour, Josh and I split from the group again and headed to Windsor Castle.  The ride to Windsor was long because we had to pick up various groups of people from different hotels AND the wet weather made traffic pretty bad.  Our bus driver Pat was cursing up a storm.

Oh and let me say something about these coach drivers….I had to shut my eyes a couple times in London because these huge buses drive in small lanes and really tight corners!  They are TALENTED.  Our guide, Carlotta…was…not very nice.  She was NICE but she barely talked about history…she talked about the rich and wealthy and how her son has kids now and how kids are “little horrors, all of them”…she spoke in that really snooty, posh british accent…I’m not sure if there is a name for it, whereas Pat spoke in that Cockney accent…she kept saying “Dahling” and “Sweetie” and I think Pat wanted to hit her because she was the backseat driver….she was annoying ME.  And how do I know about Cockney accents?  I’ve read enough historical romance novels set in London…lol…

Josh thinks every British person is a character and I agree because they are all so animated and the accent is fantastic.  Anyway…so Windsor Caste was cold and dreary, weather wise but wow…what a place for William and Harry to visit grandma, right?

One big surprise about visiting Windsor Castle, there is a whole shopping complex surrounding the entrance for the tours.  Like literally a shopping mall…so you can spend the day at Windsor without even going into the castle, which is really nice.  Many people brought their dogs and were eating at restaurants or shopping at French Connection (f.c.u.k)…fantastic really.

Interesting to know was that when World War II was taking place and the Nazis were bombing London, Hitler ordered them not to bomb Windsor Castle because he had the audacity to think that when they captured London, HE’D like to live in the Castle.  Well, he never got a chance.  Ha!

Another interesting thing about the castle, there are razor sharp stones imbedded in between the stones so that anyone who would try and breach the castle by climbing it, would seriously damage their hands or slip and fall.  It’s a large castle and the Queen spends more time here as she ages, but I don’t blame her.  If I grew up in a castle, why would I want to live anywhere else?  It’s humungous!

See the church to the right?  Well, you can’t really see it in this photo…but the Queen’s parents are buried there along with the infamous King Henry VIII with his favorite wife and the only one to give him a son,  Jane Seymour.

The tour of the castle only allows you to view once again, the state rooms and dining rooms.  Josh was bummed because he wanted to see bedrooms…lol…and no photos allowed inside of course.  Afterwards when we left the castle there was a downpour so thank god we brought our umbrellas.  It was raining pretty hard and then the wind kicked up and I started to get wet.

Rose garden

The rain kept up and so Josh and I headed to the bus to take shelter.  And as we waited for the whole tour group to rejoin us by the designated time, there was one problem.  An asian-american woman, probably in her 60’s who had joined our group with her sister said she and her sister were separated in the Doll House room, which I remember was dark….she said since then she hadn’t seen her sister.  The doll house was the beginning of the castle! To think she never saw her throughout the whole tour seemed impossible…but she like Buckingham Palace, it’s crowded and you walk around like cattle.

So here is the thing about tours…especially ones where you sign up for independently, they will leave you behind if you are late returning on time BECAUSE there are other people who have signed up for another tour right after.  I believe most people on the bus that day were signed up for the Taste of London tour (josh and i weren’t) and needed to be back at their hotels at a certain time.  Being stuck at Windsor Castle though kind of blows because it’s outside of London…meaning there is a train that goes there, but at that time, the last train that leaves Windsor takes you only so far into London and then you need to catch a cab the rest of the way.  The plus side?  At least if you get lost in London, it’s a country that speaks English.

I felt awful.  For one, Josh and I started talking about if that ever happened to us, what would happen.  I said I think we’re smart enough to figure out how to get back to the hotel, but the women were older and her sister was worried that maybe something happened to her sister, injury wise.  But the guide in a sense was right…the woman was lost at Windsor Castle, if she was injured, they would take care of her, if she was lost, they would take care of her…at least she was lost at the Queen’s residence, you know what I mean?

But it was a somber mood getting back and I liked our guide less because she wasn’t exactly gentle with the woman, she was blunt but I felt awful for her.  Plus her sister carried no cell phone on her….(sigh).  All we could do was tell her that her sister would be fine and I hope she was.  And why didn’t her sister stay back at Windsor to wait for her?  Because our guide didn’t want to lose both women…she said it was better than she go back to the hotel and wait for word there.  Josh says if it were me, he would have stayed at Windsor to wait for me.

By the time we got back to the hotel…I felt bummed for the woman, irritated at our guide and Josh suggested I get a massage at the Mandara Spa at the hotel.  Sounded like a fabulous idea and so I booked it.  The massage was awesome, too short, of course, but I was almost snoring on the bed…my body was worn out from flying and it was only the beginning of the tour so I’m glad I got the massage.  The only thing was that 85 pounds is not 85 dollars and I totally forgot about that….so when I paid for it and she said, would you like to charge in american dollars I said sure and then saw the bill,  $144!!!  yikes…I never pay that much for a massage, but it was too late now!  (sigh)….puts into perspective how weak the American dollar is…which is a bummer for traveling.

It was 8pm when I got back to the room and Josh had skipped lunch so I knew he was starving but it was still raining and cold outside so I suggested we go some place near.  So we walked along the Thames again and wondered if this was our last chance to go up the London Eye because there was no queue…but Josh was hungry.  We ended up at a Chinese restaurant.  It was good, expensive, but it was nice and hot and that’s all I needed.

After dinner we saw the London Eye was closed, so oh well, we never rode it, but I wasn’t regretting it.  It’ll always be there, I can go some other time.  It was our last night in London and already our trip was fabulous…I was sad to leave London and anxious to see what awaited us on mainland Europe…now the adventure truly begins!  We had to wake up 5am the next morning, with our luggage outside at 6am and boarding the bus at 7am…so off to dreamland we went, ready for the next adventure!

Beautiful night scene along the Thames

London Eye at night

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