Friday, August 22, 2014

Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and more . . .

Parliament and Big Ben.
August 22, 2014 -- Our first full day in London began at our lodgings with a delicious breakfast. As we left the front door, I noticed a cute little "falafel" joint across the street. We went to investigate and met Brian the owner. He promised us a delicious meal anytime we want!! We've decided to take him up on it later this week.

Today we decided to take the "underground" to the center of London around the Parliament Building. As opposed to our long and arduous bus ride yesterday, the train took only a few minutes before we climbed the stairs and came into view of "Big Ben". The sun was shining, the sky was mostly clear with a touch of puffy clouds and it was beautiful.  Even if you've seen it before, it's still a beautiful sight. We learned that, for a few pounds, we'd be able to tour the building. We've decided to do that later in the week to.
At Westminster Abby.

Next door is Westminster Abbey, the church that has catered to kings and queens and even Parliament itself. It has been on the same site, in one form or another, since 624 C.E. The current church was built in 1245 on orders from Henry III. The grounds and building are impressive. Because of the current state of affairs, there was a notable contingent of "security" in and around the site. Sight-seers were everywhere, walking the grounds and paying admission for entry into the building. We decided to forego going inside the Abby itself.

Self and 'Skip' Basiel.

Next door are the buildings to the Choir School. We were granted entry to the courtyard, which itself seems removed from the busy city. As we walked along, we noticed an assembly of people. At first we thought it might be a choir practice -- but in fact was it was a graduation photo session for the Hult International Business School in London. Hult has campuses in eight sites throughout the world, including Boston, San Francisco and New York. The graduates we saw had just earned their MBA degree and were in great spirits. As the photo shoot ended, I noticed a couple of gentlemen sitting with the graduates in attractive "robes". I introduced myself and met Dr. Anthony 'Skip' Basiel.  Skip, yours truly and one of his colleagues (himself an Oxford grad) enjoyed a few minutes talking about the "robes" and the graduation ceremony. Skip, as it turns out, is an American living in London. He had earned a degree from Hult some years ago and stayed on in a teaching position. He is now Associate Dean of the School.
The "suspicious" bag!!

Our next stop was Buckingham Palace. More than impressive, it is an "imposing" sight. It, too, was under guard but the tourists paid no-mind! Hundreds of visitors lined themselves along the fence around the front of the Castle. We chatted with a few tourists and one of the "bobbies" standing guard. Within a few minutes, the entire crowd was asked to "STAND BACK PLEASE"! by one of the bobbies. It seems that a "suspicious bag" had been seen unattended on the drive to. Once safely removed from the scene, and after a few minutes, a bobbie simply walked up to the bag, walked around it one or twice and then leaned down and picked it up. He held it in the air, showing there was no threat, and we all applauded. It was both tense and fun at the same time!!

Parliament in the evening.
Well, we've taken our "internet" break at a Starbuck's and we're ready to get underway again. So, to quote the "governator" I'll Be Back!!

7 p.m. -- After Buckingham Palace, we found our way to a cute "neighborhood" for a bit of lunch and coffee. We continued exploring the area around the Palace and set out in the general direction of Westminster Abby. The goal was to investigate the large "ferris wheel" on the Thames. Crossing Westminster Bridge was a challenge in itself. The sidewalks were teaming with tourists. We stopped along the way to take a photo or two before finding "The Queens Walk" along the south bank of the river. It too was busy with tourists and shoppers.

The Queens Walk is a promenade densely populated with shops and attractions of all kinds. Street performers are everywhere. The London Aquarium is along the way. As it continued to warm up, under the clear sunny sky, we stopped for a beer and chance to rest our feet! It was a delightful break and we enjoyed people-watching and talking about the events of the day. We continued our exploration of the area as far down as the Waterloo Bridge passing the huge ferris Wheel called the London-Eye on the way.

The London-Eye from
Westminster Bridge.
Once we ventured to the other side of the river, we started our way back to the Westminster Underground Station. By now it was getting late and we were getting tired. We found, along a street called Victoria's Embankment, a series of beautiful flower parks and walkways. Entering the walkways, it felt as though we were "removed from the city" even though the busy traffic was just outside. There were a number of statues to explore and benches to sit on. The flowers and lily ponds were beautiful. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I know I keep saying this -- but we won't soon forget our experiences of the day. Our first full day in London has been extraordinary. It is quite a city.