Our first few days in London were filled with lots of errands–finding the grocery store, some sheets for our bed, etc–but we also managed to spend most of Saturday in Hyde Park. I can’t say we saw everything in Hyde Park (it is HUGE), but we walked around until my feet felt like they were going to fall off. Of course I was also wearing un-broken in shoes…
After having lunch at an old flower-covered pub called Churchill & Arms in Notting Hill that also serves delicious thai food, we walked to the park and soon came upon Kensington Palace. This is where Prince Charles and Diana lived while they were married; according to tradition Prince William and Catherine will live there too, we shall see. There was a construction privacy fence around the palace as they are redoing the grounds in front of it, so there wasn’t much to see unfortunately, but I think it will reopen soon. We walked slowly through the park past manmade (I assume) lakes with ducks and swans. Supposedly the Queen owns all of the swans. The park is vast with huge greens lawns, some kept wild so the grasses were a few feet tall, and trees growing into thin pockets of woods. Every so often you stumble upon a memorial, people playing football (soccer), rose gardens and even an art gallery! At one point there is a river that flows through Hyde Park where people rent paddle boats and canoes, take in some sun on cloth chairs or walk over beautiful bridges to get to other areas of the park. We live only about a 10 minute walk from here, so I’m looking forward to spending time in the greenery.
The next day we took the tube to a stop near Buckingham Palace to begin a walking tour of the major tourist sites. It was also our first time dealing with the tourist crowds. I’m glad DC has prepared me for this and I’m looking forward to most of the tourists leaving at the end of the summer, it’s just so hard to walk downtown with them around.
Anyway, the palace was just as it looked on tv during the royal wedding and we watched the guards pace back and forth between the entrance and their posts. There was one point were both guards were facing away from the entrance at the same time and the outside gate was open. I was going to run for it, but J cautioned me against it…there were police with very large guns nearby. I wasn’t afraid of that (I’m invincible, of course), but I realized the front door was probably locked. I hadn’t called ahead.
After not getting arrested for pretending I’m track star that can trespass, J and I went down the mall (London has one too!) towards St. James’ Park. I loved this park at first glance (its pictured in my first post and below). The pond looked so natural and beautiful as did the gardens. Everything looked a bit more wild and stumbled upon then in Hyde Park. You also got great views of some beautiful buildings downtown, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and (turning the other way) Buckingham. It was a bit crowded with tourists, but this is my favorite park in the city and I know I’ll be back to read beneath its trees and wander though its gardens.
Once we decided to continue on towards Trafalgar Square, it began to pour. Now it had rained already this weekend, but only light rain that you just put up your umbrella and kept walking through. This was an east coast style rainstorm–large raindrops in
buckets waterfalls and of course wind blowing it at an angle. Luckily we somewhat sensed it would come (DC has taught me well) and had time to run to the nearest arch for shelter. After about 5 minutes of standing around with strangers under the Admiral’s Arch (even our spontaneous sheltering spot was historic!) we made to Trafalgar, but continued on towards Parliament without going into the square (we had both seen it on previous trips to London and the street looked like a writhing mass of humans).
We fought the crowds to walk around the Parliament and Westminster Abbey and tried to remember any history about them with no real luck (I’m looking into buying a history of London book soon), but it was one of those moments when we were both pinching ourselves to realize that we were actually here. We didn’t try to go inside Westminster today, for the most part we just wanted to see everything and start to get our bearings on navigating the city, there’s time for tours.
Once we got our fill of beautiful architecture and ducking out of tourist’s photos, we crossed the Westminster bridge over the Thames to Southbank. As we walked north along the water it began to pour again and we found a pedestrian overpass to hide under. I was thankful to rest my feet until the rain stopped. There are a lot of art galleries, film institutes and the like in Southbank. We wandered around outside of those until we happened upon an outdoor food fair. Just in time for a late lunch. After spending way too long being indecisive, I had a saltmarsh lamb burger and J had a couple of Polish-style meat pieroges. We split churros and chocolate for dessert. Delicious.
We ended our walk that day, after crossing back over the Thames towards home, at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s was beautiful as everyone would expect. It was close to 5 pm by this point and we weren’t certain we could go into the cathedral, especially for free. Somehow we managed to slip inside (I believe a public organ concert had just ended and a mass was going to begin soon) and get a quick look around the front half of the cathedral (from my experience, the back half is almost always roped off from tourists in these situations, sometimes you get access if you pay a fee. The coolest paintings are always in the back). I didn’t take any pictures inside because you are not supposed to and given that we didn’t even pay to get in like you usually have to, I didn’t want to break another rule, especially in a church. J was very impressed with the architecture, but having seen many European cathedrals before I only yearned to see the murals and statues at the back up close. Maybe another day.
That ends the tale of our first weekend. I know these stories and pictures are already known to some of you, but I hope it helps whet your appetite for adventure. I will gladly give anyone a tour who happens to show up in London.