London, Day 6: Last night in town, in the p.m.

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I was back from Highclere Castle at 4:00 p.m. The weather in London looked a bit clearer, so I considered what was left on my to-do list. I hadn’t yet even glimpsed Big Ben, which is probably some sort of sacrilege while you’re visiting London, so I headed in that direction.

(Side note: just last week I saw that they’re going to rename Big Ben the “Elizabeth Tower” in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee. Raise your hand if you think that new name will stick …

{{crickets}}

Yeah, that’s what I thought.) 

Big Ben is also near Westminster Abbey and the Cabinet War Rooms. I’ve visited Westminster Abbey every time I’ve come to London, and it’s one of my favorites. But with the day waning, I had to choose between those two sites. I hadn’t seen Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms since the first time I was in England when I was nine, and I’ve learned and come to admire a lot more about Winston Churchill and England’s role in WWII since then. So the War Rooms was actually an attraction I didn’t want to miss. I quickly grabbed a photo of Big Ben on the way out of the Tube and ran up to the War Rooms entrance around 4:30 p.m. I had until 6:00 p.m. to speed through the exhibits. A guided audio tour is included, one of those “push this number to hear more” deals. I tried to go quickly, but also to listen to as much as possible and do it justice.

  

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London, Day 6: Downton Abbey…er, Highclere Castle, in the a.m.

(One month ago I was leaving for London, so it seems appropriate that the first post of my last day publishes today!)

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When traveling, I always try to save the best for last.

I love a period drama on film and tv, especially one that features an old, English house and tells about the social heirarchy of bygone days. So I was completely captivated, like most Americans, by the “Downton Abbey” series. While in London, I knew I had to take a day trip to see the real thing, Highclere Castle. I actually booked my tickets to the castle back in March, and already few days were left in June. It’s that in demand.


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London, Day 5: Oxford and the Cotswolds, in the p.m.

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We stepped off the coach into the bustling city of Oxford for the second walk of our day tour. Richard had told us that students at the university were in the middle of exams, and sure enough, he pulled us to the side of the street to spy on a student in full robes, which they are required to wear to exams, as he mounted his bicycle nearby.

Oxford city view.

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London, Day 5: Oxford and the Cotswolds, in the a.m.

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On Wednesday morning, I got up early (again) and tubed over to Paddington Station. Remember my earlier London Walks tour of Notting Hill? Well, the company also does day trips to nearby cities and sites by train. The one that fell on Wednesday during my trip was to Oxford and the Cotswolds, which was perfect, since I’d never seen the Cotswolds and haven’t been to Oxford since I was nine. Plus I love all the “Inspector Lewis” mysteries that are set in the town of Oxford.

At the station, I spotted our guide, Richard, in his telltale red cap, paid for my ticket and waited for them to call our platform. I started chatting with Debby, another American visitor who joined the tour that morning. She was also in town for the Jubilee and told me a great story — she’d actually been watching all the preparations on CNN at home in Buffalo that Saturday, decided she couldn’t miss such a royal occasion and got on a plane within two hours. A woman after my own heart! Keep reading »

London, Day 4: Jubilation! in the p.m.

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After the hub-bub died down in front of St. Paul’s, I walked in the other direction to get a better view of the church. Pretty soon I found myself on Fleet Street, but was lost and turned around. After the late revelry of the night before, I was hoping to find a Tube station that would whisk me back to my hotel, and specifically my bed. But the innumerable barricades along the streets prevented me from navigating in the direction I thought I should be going.

As I stood there confused, I noticed a significant amount of people still lining the barricades expectantly. I walked over to lean against one and look at my map, just as someone asked a police officer, “What time will they be coming by?”

My ears perked.
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London, Day 4: Jubilation! in the a.m.

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I figured this would be the hardest post to write, and probably also to read. To write, because I may have to explain why I get so teeny-bopper excited over the British royal family, and I have no justification. To read, because most of you aren’t going to care one whit. So, I’ll give you an out — there is lots of mooning and fawning over royals to come, so I’m not offended if you need to cut out. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. (Har, har, har.)

As Day 4 dawned, I woke early and tubed over St. Paul’s Cathedral, site of the morning Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving service, which was to begin at 10:30 a.m. Most of the streets were blocked, so I had a heck of a time actually getting to the cathedral, and I passed groups of men and women in full church attire making their way to the service. How’d they get to be so special?


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London, Day 3: Another year older, in the p.m.

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I emerged from Hyde Park near Knightsbridge, on my way to Harrod’s. I don’t actually care much for Harrod’s itself, but some souvenir (and food) shopping was in order. I later learned that the al Fayed family sold the store to the Quatari royal family, which may explain the disproportionate amount of Arab visitors. I wandered through the food stalls, past exquisite pastries and tins of biscuits and jam. It’s very touristy, and was very crowded. On my way out, I caught the shoes that were part of a contest Kate Middleton judged earlier this year (or last?). Neat.


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London, Day 3: Another year older, in the a.m.

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Monday was my birthday, so I planned to take it a bit easier and enjoy life. The only Jubilee-related celebration that day was the evening concert at Buckingham Palace, but only U.K. residents could score tickets, and in a lottery at that. I had thought about pitching a blanket to watch the concert in Hyde Park, but the weather was just too unpredictable.

I had breakfast at a little cafe by my hotel, Carmina Cafe, that was good, hot and filling — poached eggs with roasted tomato, goat cheese and rocket (arugula), toast and coffee. I actually had really excellent coffee the entire time I was in London — definitely a highlight.

For the morning, I pre-booked tickets to Kensington Palace, which was refurbished and reopened just recently. As I walked over from the Tube, the weather looked weirdly menacing but held.


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London, Day 2: Thames River Pageant

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After my weird sleep patterns and full day of sightseeing the day before, I slept in a bit on Sunday morning. The mission of the day, however, was to get in position for the Queen’s Thames River Pageant, one of the first high-profile events of the Diamond Jubilee weekend celebration.

I had been watching the crowd build up at Tower Bridge on television, so I knew I didn’t want to go there. Tower Bridge was the end of the pageant, where the Queen would disembark to watch the rest of the procession. That = craziness. Instead, I got out at the Mansion House tube stop, a ways down the river. With the rest of the country. We all — gobs of children, teenagers, families and strollers — walked for ages down the barrier streets, looking for a way in to the river. But, security was tight and every building and establishment along the river had scheduled private, ticket-only events. I’d had the opportunity to buy such a ticket, for a cocktail reception at about $250 a pop. That seemed ridiculous at the time, but not so as I walked and walked to get a decent view.

Near Blackfriars, along the Victoria Embankment, I spotted a place at the top of an incline that was only, oh, 15 people deep. So I wedged myself in and prepared for the two-plus-hour wait for the boats to reach us. There were screaming children, moments of aggressive pushing/leaning and close quarters among people who had both traveled from around the country and camped out there for the morning. It was not what I would call ‘pleasant.’ I tried desperately to protect my tiny sliver of a view of the river anyway. I was also positioned across the river from the Tate Modern museum, where a large screen was projecting someone’s, probably BBC, television coverage. So we could see images of the royal family boarding their boats, and had a vague notion of what was happening elsewhere.

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