Our decision to take a tour of the changing of the guard and of Buckingham Palace was a relatively recent addition to our London agenda. I was somewhat apprehensive as we set out this morning to our meeting place, wondering if it would be a tacky tour or a good one.
My anxiety grew as our cabbie, who was a perfectly pleasant gentleman, second-guessed everything we were doing. "You could have purchased tickets yourselves to the Palace," he said. We had told him that Mark had limitations when it came to walking. "Waterloo Place? You're going to have to retrace your steps from where I drove from." (We had passed Buckingham Palace on the way.) "You should 'ave called me," he deadpanned, "before you made your plans." "Right-o," I responded. "If only we'd had your phone number." He laughed.
Our cabbie was like other people we have met since we landed at Gatwick Airport yesterday. When we went to purchase our train tickets from the airport to Victoria Station, we were very politely and helpfully assisted by a young man whose purpose was to help idiotic tourists like me figure out how to use the ticket machine.
Then, when we arrived at Victoria, we were assisted by an older East Indian man to find our way out of the station toward our hotel. Then, when Mark got stuck with his luggage in the exit turnstile, a very pleasant, well-groomed attendant pushed a button to release him, then came up to him and asked if he was alright. Assured, he very politely said, "Next time, you should use the wider turnstiles for people with luggage as is clearly indicated," raising his arm and waving it from left to right, "right here." Ahem.
|Polite and direct|
As it turned out, my fears about the tour were completely misplaced. Our tour guide - Augusta - was "brilliant" (as the Brits say). Our meeting place was chosen because it is only a short distance from where the horse guards change. She knew exactly where and when to go to get the best view, and she was very knowledgeable and informative. I'll spare you the details.
From the changing of the horse guards, we walked through St. James' Park to St. James' Palace, where Augusta placed us in a primo position to see the foot guards set off on their way to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. "You guys are SO lucky," she said. Apparently, the horse and foot guards don't change every day. "You get to see both the horse guards and the foot guards, and the weather is beautiful and you get to have tea as well!"
She was definitely "spot on" about the weather. The sun gods continued to favor us. In notoriously rainy London, we woke up to beautiful clear blue skies this morning. The air was cool, and it felt like - and was - a beautiful early fall day here in London today.
|Love the lips|
|The foot guard sets off from St. James' Palace|
|One of London's finest, I dare say|
|The guards, our guide explained, are very young - between the ages of 17-20|
From St. James', we walked down the Mall (pronounced with a short "a") to Buckingham Palace, where Augusta took us to a primo picture spot.
|Note the cloudless blue sky. There was such a sense of peace and "lightness" about our tour, even though we were in the midst of hoards of people. Augusta knew the right places to go to avoid the throngs.|
Then, it was time to go into Buckingham Palace. The official home of the Queen is open only two months a year - August and September - to the public, and tours end a week from now. There are no 'guided' tours inside the building, but we were provided with audio guides that provided all the information we needed. It was jolly cool to see sights that I have seen many times over the years in photographs and news clips. No photographs were permitted inside the palace, but images are apparently available for download on the palace's website. We were, however, permitted to take pictures once we emerged from the rear of the building - which has a totally different look that the front.
|I like this picture because of the reflection of the clouds on the upstairs window ...|
Our tour completed, we walked along a winding path through the gardens that took us to the rear entrance to the palace grounds. From there, we walked a bloody long distance back to where we had entered, then to St. Ermine's Hotel for tea. I was concerned about Mark, but he had planned ahead with his pain medication. Today, we experienced the longest walks of our trip so far.
Tea was brilliant. Tea. Dainty cucumber, salmon and caviar and slivered beef sandwiches, lemon cake and macarons, and scones with clotted cream and jam. Smashing.
|We sat at a table with a lovely couple from the Philadelphia area.|
What a fun day! What was billed as a 4-1/2 tour ended up being a 6-1/2 hour day with no complaints from us. Quite the opposite: a beautiful, early autumn day that was immensely enjoyable. Tomorrow, we're off to Bath, the Cotswolds and Stonehenge.