Wednesday, May 27, 2015

European Experience -- London Calling

Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of visiting England, especially London. I guess it must have been the influence of the Beatles and the British Invasion in the mid-1960s.

But I always had a deep love and appreciation in the history of western civilization and I also believe that played a big part in my desire to travel to one of the great cities of the world.

I finally realized my dream on May 7 when the US Airways' Airbus touched down at Heathrow International Airport. I marveled at some of the sights along the way as my wife Mary and I were whisked to the H10 Waterloo hotel, about a 45-minute drive from the airport. Let me add that I've read where Heathrow ranks high in lost/misplaced luggage, but our two pieces were there at baggage claim.

A selfie at Westminster Abbey
One of the first things we did on our guided tour was to go by bus to Buckingham Palace. Along the way, we saw Parliament Square, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other places. 

It was an eventful and busy day in London, with the election results in, and Prime Minister David Cameron's party dominating the results. It was also VE Day -- Victory in Europe -- commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. There was a lot of excitement in the air.

The large crowd at Buckingham Palace
for the changing of the guard
Led by our London guide Henrietta -- she said we could call her Henri -- we moved through the congested traffic to within a short walking distance of Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. We piled out of the bus and followed her in the direction of Buckingham Palace, along with a few thousand other folks heading that way.
Changing of the guard ceremony

Well, somewhere along the way, I was diverted one way and my wife and other 35 travelers on the tour went another way. I could see them across the road, but the police wouldn't allow me or others to cross the street. I wasn't worried.

After the ceremony, I took off in the direction to where I had last seen them, but they weren't there. I could hear Henrietta -- I prefer that to Henri -- on my transmitter, but her voice began to fade. I headed toward Trafalgar Square, and at times I could faintly hear her voice, but then I lost it completely.  I suppose I was a little concerned.

At noon, I knew they would probably be heading back to the hotel so I started my trek across the Thames River. But I had one problem -- I needed to go the restroom, or as they call it in London, the loo. And I needed to go bad. Real bad.
Mary on a bridge crossing the Thames River,
 with Big Ben in the background.

I went to a place across from St. James Park, hoping it would have a public restroom, er  loo, but it didn't. I finally found a public loo but discovered that it cost to use it. And I didn't have any pence -- I believe it was 50 pence to use it -- and I was about to p.. in my pants.

Parliament Square
I located another one near Parliament Square and was about to jump over the turnstile to get to the urinal. Fortunately, a man was coming out and gave me the needed coin,  to my great relief. I don't know his name, but I will be forever grateful and will always "pay it forward" when I see a person in distress at a restroom.

Fortunately, I do have a good sense of direction, for the most part, and walked back to the hotel, arriving about 15 minutes after my fellow travelers. I did ask for directions from a couple of guys along the way, and after they used their GPS apps on their cell phones, they steered me in the right direction.
A Van Gogh painting in the British Gallery

During our three days in this magnificent city -- I wish I could have stayed a lot longer -- we visited the British Gallery and the British Museum. Incidentally, if you plan a trip to London, both of these places are free. 

A bust of Zeus, dating to the second century A.D.,
 at the British Museum

I learned on the last day that we were fairly close to Abbey Road of Beatles' album fame, and my new friends from Boston -- a family of four -- were able to have their photo taken crossing the iconic street. 

Others visited the London Tower and told me how impressed they were seeing the crowned jewels of the British monarchy. My Boston buddies also took a train to Stonehenge to see the historic rocks. 

Mary and I  did a lot of urban hiking, taking in as much of this historic city as we could before traveling to Paris. But alas, so much to see and so little time. We hope to return someday. 

Here are a few more images:

Children playing on one of the giant lions at Trafalgar Square

The coat of arms on the Buckingham Palace gate

Would you believe this guy at Buckingham Palace is a tourist?

Until the next time...


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