Saturday, September 29, 2001

An Audience with a Queen

An Audience with a Queen
After breakfast, I called Anne and firmed up plans for dinner later this evening. They offered to pick us up at 7:30 pm. That would save us from hunting down buses and possibly getting lost, so that was perfect. It was raining this morning and the forecast was for it to continue on and off all day. That meant the brollies (umbrellas) would have to be close at hand all day.
With our London Pass and travel cards in hand, we were off to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards. I warned Ron that they start to line the gate early to see, though the changing isn’t scheduled until 11:30 am. We had stopped at the Mews, the place where the Queens carriages are kept, but it is only open Monday through Thursday. We knew we would have to return. It started to sprinkle a light mist, but it was welcomed and we did not yet need our umbrellas. When we arrived at the Palace at 11:00 am, I was proven correct and all the good viewing spots were filled three deep with tourists. Ron’s plan B was to stand on the steps of the Queen Victoria memorial directly in front of the Palace, but about 6 dozen people already had that idea too. That is where we perched anyway, he with his video recorder ready for action. The plan was to leave the ceremony at 12:15, fifteen minutes early and beat the rush to get our tickets to the Palace tour. The rain started and was getting to be beyond sprinkles. Our plans were thwarted when at 11:15, people started leaving in droves and we made the assumption that the changing of the guards had been cancelled due to the weather. By 11:23, we were numbers 321 and 322 in line for our Palace tickets, umbrellas in hand and bladders starting to call out for relief. Seven minutes later, the guards started to process down Buckingham Palace Road. Never assume. Ron took off to catch a few minutes on video, but missing the best part, in the Palace courtyard. By the time we reached the ticket office, we were given appointments for 1:30 pm.
We had an hour and a half to find something to do. Not enough time to do anything substantial, we wandered through St. James Park and found the Guard’s Horse House. There are two guards in full regalia that stand without moving in the walkway of the Guard’s Horse House. They do it with pride being of service to the Queen, but the thought of standing in one place for hours while people are staring, cajoling, and snapping your picture sounds like torture. Two others sit stiffly while on horses at the entrance. Amazingly, the horses stay pretty still also, in spite of dozens of people pet the horse’s noses and stand next to them to have their pictures taken. My feet had started to hurt by this time and my ankles were swelling, so I could definitely empathize with the guards as well as the horses.
At 1:15, we decided we had better get in line for the tour of the Palace, but one of the guides told us we would have to come back at precisely 1:30. That meant that aching feet had 15 minutes to find relief prior to two hours of standing and walking. We found the children’s park across the street from the palace and planted ourselves there trying to get some relief.
When we started the tour, we had to go through a major security check, then walk through all of the gift shops to get to the opening of the palace. What can I say about the inside that we were able to see? I have seen more ornate in France and Germany. The outside of the palace is definitely not an architectural wonder, but it was build by and from Lord Wellington, not the royal family, so that is understandable. Inside, one would expect more. I think I was underwhelmed more due to the simplicity of it rather than the extravagance of it. The colors were really rather dreadful with red and pink being overdone. I am not sure if the pain I was feeling was clouding my judgment, but the best room was the theater where you could sit and watch a movie on Elizabeth’s coronation. I stayed for three viewings. It was a short movie. The tour was one of those things that you are glad to say you have done once in your life, but once is enough, for this palace anyway. I still want to see Kensington and Windsor Palaces.
After the tour, we took the bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It started out as a Catholic Cathedral, but was taken by Henry VIII for the Church of England. By the time we reached there, it was too late to use our London Passes for whatever tours were covered, but we were able to see enough to satisfy us without feeling a need to return. I had been here before in 1983, but this was Ron’s first time.
We decided to take a bus for a change and walked down the street from St. Paul’s. We found a nice wine shop and bought a bottle of Gallo Turning Leaf label of wine for Anne and Bruce for dinner. As we were leaving there, we spotted a pub called Bell, Book and Candle. Some of you may remember the movie by the same name with Kim Novak, Ernie Kovaks, Jimmy Stuart, and Elsa Lanchester. This was one of my favorite movies for years, so we decided we needed to explore this pub further. It bills itself as the spookiest pub in London. It is done in a real Halloween type theme on both the street level and the downstairs bar. When I went and ordered two espresso coffees, the barmaid said she would have to call downstairs to put the order in. Just as we made cozies with our seats, she came back and said “Sorry, we are closed.” We thought that was bizarre as it was only 5:00 pm, but we left anyway. It would give us time for a nap before dinner.
Bruce came for us at 7:30 pm and took us home. Bruce is a psychiatric nurse and has just accepted a new position as a manager at a new hospital. His specialty is adults, but he just passed the qualification for children also and is now working with children. Anne is a therapist and has been teaching. She is currently finishing her doctorate as she continues to teach. It was lovely to see a London home first hand. We seem to migrate to kitchens so that is where we started and we never left the kitchen that evening until it was time to leave.
We started with a delightful platter of two types of marinated onions. We had never had either and both were real taste treats. Anne said they are typically British, but not like anything we had ever had in the States. There were cheery tomatoes from their garden which were ruby red and full of flavor, green olives that were marinated with sun dried tomatoes, and marinated mozzarella balls. Bruce had made a Moroccan lamb dish that made our mouth continually discover new flavors with each bite. Two of the more unusual spices he used were sumac and dried lime. It was served over rice and of course we had to have two servings to show how much we appreciated his hard work. Actually, two servings were needed to satisfy our desire to maintain the tastes in our mouths for awhile longer.
Dessert was a wonderful mix of assorted cheeses, a few of which we had never had sampled before, so that was another taste treat that we would never have had left to our own devices. With the wine we had all consumed, it was the best option that after a lively night of sharing food and good conversation, that we take a cab home. This is another example of people’s generosity and caring to nurture new friendships and we were fortunate enough to be the beneficiaries for two nights in a row.
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