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 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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