Day 9: Buckingham Palace, and a Tour for Muggles


Me in front of Buckingham Palace

It’s Tuesday, this is my last day in London. Did it on foot for the most part and it was my 2nd highest walking of the day at 12.1 miles. (“Roaming” in Paris was 14.6). And boy are my feet feeling it, with a blister to prove it 🙁

But it was great fun. On foot is so the way to go when you’ve got time. Today was interesting in that, like that day in Paris, I ended up in places I’d been before – either in 2014, or on this trip already, or at times even this day already, and yet because I was coming at them from different angles it felt new, and added layers of familiarity like: I know where I am and I know where I’m going. It’s a great feeling.

I was in bed early last night, just after 9pm, but that meant I was up early, too, sometime after 3am. It was clear I wasn’t going back to sleep – that happens at home all the time, nothing new – so got some coffee going and worked on the blog. There were a lot of photos from yesterday and it took awhile.

Ain't it the coolest?
Ain’t it the coolest?

The temperature was in the high 50’s, cloudy and a little breezy so decided I’d wear my new outerwear. Have I said how happy I am with this thing? I left for breakfast around 7:30, with no destination in mind other than a direction I hadn’t been in yet. Eventually someplace for breakfast would show up.

Caffe Concerto
Caffe Concerto

This was a confusing place culturally: a French bistro serving both French and English food with what appeared to be an Eastern European staff. But it was open, the menu looked good, prices reasonable, so in I went.

A Croque Madame and a scone with clotted cream
A Croque Madame and a scone with clotted cream

I’d been wanting to try a croque – kept seeing it in Paris but wasn’t sure what it was. Croque Madame is essentially a grilled ham and cheese with an egg on top. A Croque Monsieur is same without the egg. This was excellent and really hit the spot. I took advantage of the mixed menu and got a scone, too. It wasn’t that great. I made up for it later.

It had warmed up enough after I was done to go back to my room and drop off my jacket and change into shorts, and still have plenty of time to make it to Buckingham Palace for my 10:45 entrance time. I walked along Knightsbridge to Green Park/Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Arch of Wellington in Green Park
Arch of Wellington in Green Park
World War 1 Memorial
World War 1 Memorial
It's a fairly long walk through this park to the palace but it was beautiful
It’s a fairly long walk through this park to the palace but it was beautiful

And it’s very green, just like its name.

Queen Victoria Memorial
Queen Victoria Memorial

They sure do love Victoria! I’d forgotten how big this thing was. It was unveiled in 1911.

There are several fountains flowing into the pool that encircles it
There are several fountains flowing into the pool that encircles it

I thought this one was pretty interesting because the soldier is reflecting the woman both in pose and lack of dress – but still carrying a gun and wearing the helmet.

Getting the selfies out of the way for the day
Getting the selfies out of the way for the day

All of the statues I’ve seen of her do a really nice job of capturing her look.

Me in front of Buckingham Palace
Me in front of Buckingham Palace

The front perspective of this is misleading; it can lead you to believe it’s not all that big. What you don’t see here is it’s a big square, with 577 rooms. It’s one of the only remaining working palaces in the world, meaning this is where official business of the Royal Family is conducted. It’s only been open to the public since 1993, and even then only 10 weeks a year. I just happened to catch it at the right time. It has a staff of 450 people.

Aerial view of Buckingham Palace
Aerial view of Buckingham Palace

I got this from the internet to show what I mean. The original house/palace was the bottom portion of the U as you’re looking at it from this direction; the front/top piece was added during Victoria’s reign. The tour was only of the state rooms, used for official Palace business like state dinners, balls, visiting diplomats, ceremonies, etc. We entered from the bottom right and covered only a portion of the bottom section as seen here, exiting under that white canopy in the back. No photos were allowed. In a way I was happy about that; it was pretty crowded, and maneuvering around other tourists, everyone taking photos, would have gotten very annoying. I’ve included a few links to make up for that a little.

The history is rich, the art is incredible, including some Rembrandts and Rubens. And somehow, they were able to convey the personal meaning this place has to members of the royal family, that they really do consider it their home, and yet that it doesn’t belong to them – they just keep in trust for the public good. That lawn at the bottom of the aerial photo is where the Queen hosts several garden parties a year, where citizens – up to 30,000 over the course of the season – are invited to the palace.

You always hear things like how the royals support charities, the arts, etc. The current tour includes an exhibition of art being generated by three different arts charities supported by – I believe some if not all started by – Prince Charles. The exhibition is also honoring his 70th birthday. I have to admit I found him being 70 hard to believe – made me feel really old. This website provides more info about these charities if anyone is interested.

I enjoyed every minute of the hour and 15 or so I was here. There’s a cafe under the left side portion of that white covering in the back.

A coffee and a scone
A coffee and a scone

The coffee was good, the scone was amazing, with clotted cream of course, strawberry jam AND fresh strawberries. I’d expect nothing less from the Palace! They had ice cream, too, but I managed to control myself…

I left there just after Noon. I didn’t have to be at my next stop until 2:20 so had plenty of time to walk there and find lunch along the way.

Current state of Big Ben and Parliament
Current state of Big Ben and Parliament

I feel bad for anyone traveling to London for the first time right now, as all they can see of Big Ben and much of Parliament – arguably the most iconic buildings in the city – is scaffolding. I learned later it will take 3 years to complete the work.

I crossed the River Thames at Westminster Bridge and was able to get some other shots from there.

The London Eye - a Ferris wheel
The London Eye – a Ferris wheel

Still no desire to do this, but it makes for a festive background.

Westminster looking a little more classic from the bridge
Westminster looking a little more classic from the bridge

At least you can see the clock face!

Street food
Street food

I discovered a little street that had several blocks of food vendors out, and lots of office workers getting their lunch from there, sitting around on park benches enjoying their food. I love doing what the locals do so this was definitely the lunch plan.

This polish vendor had the most beautiful pork belly I'd ever seen
This polish vendor had the most beautiful pork belly I’d ever seen
Pork belly, cole slaw, pickled beets, rick and pickles
Pork belly, cole slaw, pickled beets, rick and pickles

All for just £6! Can’t beat that. After lunch I made my way over to the meeting point for the Tour of Muggles which was by London Bridge. I got there around 2pm and had some time to kill. There was a little place across the street that looked inviting so I stopped in for an espresso and some much needed water, and a restroom break.

"When a man is tired of London he is tired of life"
“When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”

I just sat at the bar; this was on the wall of the restaurant in neon lettering.

The Tour of Muggles
The Tour of Muggles

Meet Joseph, the very enthusiastic tour guide I had for Tour of Muggles. I don’t remember now how I discovered this but I’m glad I did it, it was terrific fun. The premise is to take you all around London to show you various location shots for the movies. Joseph was a true Harry Potter nerd – having read all of the books like 10 times he claims – and had a mountain of fun and often interesting trivia, much of which left my head as soon as it entered it. Oddly, the tour itself didn’t lend itself to great photo opportunities – so many things no longer look like they did, or have been moved, or replaced, etc. The last movie came out 11 years ago after all. But it was still quite a bit of fun and I enjoyed all 2 hours of it.

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's
Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s

The tour covered a lot of ground I had been to either earlier today or yesterday, including this particular spot in the Southwark area. (The pronunciation of that, by the way, is closer to “suffolk” than what it looks like. I still can’t say it right: suthuck maybe.) He told a couple of stories here.

One about the bridge: It opened in July of 2000, but had to be shut down pretty quickly because it was wobbly and a safety hazard. It took 2 years for it to re-open. In the opening sequence of Half Blood Prince, a bridge collapses. The Director David Yates chose to use this bridge as an inside joke for Londoners.

The St. Paul’s story is about how a wood spiral staircase up to the first landing of the dome – where I was yesterday – was used as the way to Sybil Trelawney’s (Emma Thompson) apartment in the castle. As I learned yesterday, no photos or filming allowed. However, St. Paul’s made an exception for Harry Potter – along with accepting £30,000 for allowing the privilege.

We ended close to the Piccadilly line so I was able to get back to my room pretty quickly.

Subway escalator
Subway escalator

Some of these escalators are really long!

I got off at South Kensington and ate at an Indian place very near the station, Khan’s.

Calamari with finely chopped peppers and onions
Calamari with finely chopped peppers and onions

I like to order calamari whenever I see it on a menu because everyone does it so differently. This is easily top 3 of the best I’ve ever had. There were some other spices in addition to the peppers and onions that I couldn’t identify, but the flavor was incredible.

Mushroom masala, rice, naan
Mushroom masala, rice, naan

This also had amazing flavor. I didn’t think I was that hungry at first but I ended up finishing the whole thing.

And with that, I was done with London. I got back to my room about 6:30 and just vegged for a little while, then started to work on the blog. This will be the first time all trip I get it up before I go to bed. Tomorrow I leave for New York City.

 

10 thoughts on “Day 9: Buckingham Palace, and a Tour for Muggles”

  1. so, U missed Liz & Phil because they’re in out of town! Too bad!! Was Buck house all that shabby? Big renovation going on there!! It must’ve been interesting, though. It’ll B good to have U back in town!!

  2. I absolutely look forward to reading these every morning. You’ve taught me so much through these daily entires!! Thank you!

  3. You have done so many fun and interesting tours! Great adventures which are so much fun to follow. Travel safely to NYC- Karen

  4. I love the coat. I want to borrow it and go to a garden party. Have a safe trip back across the pond

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