So I Won’t Expect a Postcard from Trafalgar Square

Between the lingering excitement of Highclere and Harry Potter and the building anticipation for discovering London, I did not get much sleep on Thursday night.  Nevertheless, I was up, dressed and chomping at the bit to pound the pavement all over London on Friday morning.

 

I had planned out an ambitious route around London on foot, taking me to all the main tourist attractions while ensuring I got to really FEEL the city along my way.  My marathon path was approaching 15 miles, and that was assuming that I never detoured and didn’t count things like, say, the hour and a half I spent walking around the Tower of London once I had arrived there.

 

I would laugh in your face and tell you to stop doing drugs if you asked me to go on such an exhibition at home, but on vacation, especially in a foreign country, I always want to see everything humanly possible in the limited time that I have.  If “touristing” was a sport, I’d be an Olympic champion.

 

So, it’s with this general fervor that I walked out of the DoubleTree on Friday morning, bouncing with every step, grinning so hard I nearly pulled a muscle in my face.  Every new building that came into view was a detour-worthy distraction, and flipping through my pictures once I get home always reveals my overzealous moments, because I’ll have 30 pictures in a row that are of places of no note whatsoever except that I’d seen them through my rose-colored glasses of enthusiasm.

 

I eventually wandered into a park by the river and caught sight of the first place on my list – the Houses of Parliament.  My friend Levi had once told me that he’d never ceased being amazed at the sight of them, and I quickly understood why, as the design is so intricate that it’s almost hard to process even when you’re standing in front of it.  Incidentally, I had learned the day before that the architect, Sir Charles Barry, had redesigned Highclere Castle immediately after he finished building the Houses of Parliament, which is why those structures bear such resemblance to one another.

 

Westminster Abbey was just a few steps away.

 

Somehow, I also never knew that Big Ben is actually attached to the Houses of Parliament.  (The mini wire statue I’ve had in my living room for years stands alone!  Ha!)  I guess I can add that to the list of things I learned on this trip.

 

 

 

I walked from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square with my camera in the air and head in the clouds.  I got a kick out of seeing all of the quintessentially British places and things.

 

 

I had my trusty walking map of all the places I wanted to see, including an addition from my friend Lana, who said I should stop through to see the Horse Guards.  Since she recommended it, it didn’t occur to me to look into it more, so I marked it on my map and only when I had walked over did I realize that I had no idea what “Horse Guards” were, so how would I know what I was seeing once I saw it?

It’s supposed to be somewhere around here…

 

 

Well… here’s a horse statue, so I must be on to something…

 

 

Oh!  Of course!  THESE are Horse Guards!

 

 

It’s baffling to me how that’s a serious job.  I feel like if it was my job to dress up in that getup and march back and forth in rhythm while tourists with cameras gawked at me, I would not look serious when I was doing it.

 

From there I walked through St. James Park to head towards Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard.  (In hindsight, since I knew what THAT meant, it should have more quickly occurred to me what a Horse Guard might be.)

 

 

I was over an hour early arriving at Buckingham Palace, but the crowds were already arriving to stake a place to watch the ceremony.

 

 

People were already lined up three or four people deep all along the fence line, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see from there, so I walked back toward the monument in front of the palace and parked it dead center next to a guy who had a camera on a tripod.  I figured he must have some idea about where to be.

 

I talked to Tripod Man, who was from Louisiana, and he explained that the police were going to come and make the people in front of the main gate move out of the way, and that while the first 20 minutes of the Changing of the Guard would be behind the fence where we couldn’t really see, we’d have the best view for the guards marching in and out of the main gate, and they’d all come out right in front of us at the end.

 

It all happened as he had said, and at one point, one of the mounted policemen came by where we were and declared, “You guys right here have the best seat in the house – you’ll see.”

 

 

Proof I was there, thanks to Tripod Man:

 

 

And then the big gate opened and they came marching out!

 

 

When the ceremony was complete, most of the (massive!) crowd was heading back toward Parliament Square, but I was happily headed in the opposite direction through Green Park to follow another of Lana’s recommendations – this time for lunch.

 

London is of course known for its pubs, and she’d given me a few recommendations including The Grenadier.  Unlike with the horse guards, I actually looked it up ahead of time and saw that it had great reviews, but everyone talked about it being nearly impossible to find.  I therefore printed a more detailed map just for the twists and turns on the way to The Grenadier.  I am glad I had all of this information ahead of time, because I definitely felt like I was getting lost while I was following the map, except luckily, the feeling that I was in the middle of nowhere actually reinforced in this case that I must be on the right track.  It was a pretty neighborhood for wandering, though!

 

 

I eventually rounded the bend of what appeared to be a residential driveway, and voila!  The Grenadier!

 

 

I didn’t realize when I walked through the door that I still had my camera dangling from my wrist, so I had outed myself as a tourist immediately.  Three servers looked up at me from behind the bar, perplexed, and said, “Are you OK?”  I’m sure they thought I was lost.  I dropped my camera back into my bag, smiled, and said, “Yep!  I’m here for lunch!”

 

I was shown to a table where I ordered the day’s special – chicken and mushroom pie – and then I took my camera out again to sneak a photo of the ceiling.

 

 

There was a group of gentlemen at a table near me, and I could tell that four of them were locals hosting two visiting Americans, one of which was a first time visitor to London, and they were ribbing him good-naturedly about his lack of knowledge of the local cuisine.  Naturally, when his plate was brought out, it was fish and chips, and everyone wanted to know how he liked his “mushy peas.”  It’s impossible not to eavesdrop when dining alone, three feet away from six rabble-rousing gents.  They kept me entertained until my food arrived and stole all of my attention.

 

 

I don’t think the picture adequately portrays size, so let me assure you that the puff pastry on top of the pie made the whole thing roughly the size of my head, even not counting the sides.  Everything on the plate was absolute perfection.  The sauce inside the pie was delicious, so I took to scooping some of the vegetables and potatoes from the plate through the sauce, gathering some chicken and pastry in the process, and savoring every heavenly bite.  The food I encountered through four countries (including Paris, mind you) was average at best, but there was a three-way tie for first place, blowing all other meals out of the water, and all three of those meals were consumed in London.  (So, go ahead and toss that stereotype about English food right out of the window, because it’s total bollocks.)  This meal was the first of the three.

 

Although food is usually just a means to an end while traveling (the “end” being that I don’t pass out in the street while sight-seeing), but The Grenadier was an EXPERIENCE, and I was inclined to linger there for a bit and soak it in.  I contemplated whether I might make my way back there when I got hungry for dinner.  (I did not, but it will absolutely make my list for any and all return visits to London.)

 

After lunch, I was headed to ride the London Eye, which took me back through the tourist frenzy in and around Parliament Square.  I had walked unimpeded through the entire area around 8:30am, but by 2:00pm, the closer I got to the Thames, the more it looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  People were EVERYWHERE.  People were so thick, in fact, that I couldn’t even dodge around them, so I was forced to do the penguin walk with everyone else.  I seized the opportunity to take some more pictures, though.

 

 

I did finally inch my way over to the London Eye, where people were lined up for miles to ride.  Because I lack patience and firmly believe that “time is money,” I paid extra to go through the express line to board sooner.

 

When it was built in 1999, the London Eye was the world’s tallest ferris wheel.  It has since lost that title, but is still the tallest ferris wheel in Europe at 443 feet.  (There are three taller in the world as of this writing, the tallest of which just opened on March 31, 2014 in Las Vegas.  The “High Roller” stands at 550 feet.  Time to go back to Vegas, I guess!)

 

Luckily, it was a beautiful day with clear, blue skies, so it was a great day to take in the view!

 

 

After disembarking from the London Eye, I was able to shuffle my way out of the worst of the crowds as I made my way along the South Bank.  I crossed on the Millennium Bridge to walk toward the distinctive dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Of course, I also remembered upon sight that it’s the bridge that collapsed at the beginning of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film, as depicted here (or watch the clip):

 

 

No Death Eaters attacked while I was walking across, though.

 

 

 

My next stop was to the massive Tower of London, also known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, which has been at times a royal residence, a prison (with a bloody reputation), an armoury, and home of the Royal Mint, to name a few.  It is currently the location where the Crown Jewels are displayed.

 

 

 

I explored the White Tower, built by William the Conquerer in 1078, where The Royal Armoury keeps displays including weaponry and suits of armor that belonged to famous figures such as King Henry VIII.

 

 

 

The Tower is also where two small skeletons were found and presumed to be the two sons of Edward IV, last seen in June 1483, and assumed murdered.  There is no proof the bones belonged to the brothers, but the “Princes in the Tower” theory was so widely held that King Charles II had the bones moved and reinterred within Westminster Abbey.

 

The Tower of London is certainly brimming with rich history, but I am typically more interested in the aesthetics of a place, so you won’t generally catch me walking around listening to the audio guide, but I will definitely have my camera at the ready.  Walking along a fortress wall, I found a lovely view of the Tower Bridge just waiting to model for me.

 

 

To the right, The Shard was making quite an impression as one of the newest members of the London skyline.

 

 

While waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels (no photos allowed in there, for sure!), I was behind a woman who was chattering animatedly to a couple in a language I couldn’t identify, but guessed it may have been Dutch.  She gestured to a nearby building, nodded some assurances, and the couple walked away from the line.  Shortly thereafter, her phone rang and she answered it in English and chattered away to the person on the other end with the same ease she had been using with the couple.  Then the name tag she was wearing caught my eye, and it identified her as a tour guide.  I guess if you don’t speak the language of a place, you hire someone like her to show you around and explain everything in a familiar tongue.  When she ended her call, I struck up a conversation with her and asked if London was always this filled with tourists.  She said that Easter weekend was always the busiest of the year, outranking even the weekends in the middle of summer.  She gestured toward the long line ahead of us and said, “Four days ago, there was no one here.”  Whenever I return to London, I will definitely choose an off-peak time, because the crowds were truly overwhelming.

 

 

When I was about to leave the Tower of London, I realized a crowd had formed over by the water and they seemed to be watching something.  I glanced over and discovered that the Tower Bridge was being raised.  I didn’t even realize it DID that, but it makes sense.

 

 

From there I headed toward the pine cone in the sky – officially named The Gherkin.  I was so absorbed in walking toward it that I forgot to stop for dinner at another pub that Lana had mentioned.  It seemed that most of the businesses and restaurants I passed were closed at that time of day, anyway, so it could be that I wasn’t missing anything.  Nevertheless, I finally arrived at a good vantage point to view the interesting architecture of The Gherkin.

 

 

I walked back toward the river, keeping an eye out for somewhere to eat, and ended up at a cute restaurant called The Folly, where I rested my screaming feet and had a rather tasty club sandwich.

 

Along my way down Gracechurch Street, I passed by this street that was lined with stores and covered.  It was called the Leadenhall Market and nothing was open then, but it looked like a place that would be bustling at other times.  Regardless, it was pretty enough to make me stop for a photo.

 

 

I took the London Bridge back across the Thames to get to The Shard, which overtook the London Eye as the highest view in London.  I went up 72 stories above London to see “The View from the Shard.”  I think there may have been a few higher floors that weren’t open, but I wondered with the design of the building if those were enclosed as well.  The view was impressive, but photos are not when they’re taken through glass.  I stayed for a while anyway, but the sun was fading and so was I.   In the picture of me below, you can see the Tower of London behind me to my right, and notice it also in the picture featuring the Tower Bridge.  It gives you some idea of how large it is, which still surprised me even after I’d walked around the whole thing.

 

 

My body was expressing its supreme displeasure that I’d spent 12 hours walking on mostly pavement.  I considered catching a cab back to the hotel, but the sun had nearly set and I knew I’d enjoy seeing everything lit up after dark, so I decided to suck it up and trek the last three miles on foot.  Excluding that not-proud moment when I was almost back to the hotel and accidentally walked two blocks out of the way (not wanting to pull out a map on dark, now-deserted streets) and considered crying about it because everything hurt, it was still worthwhile to see everything with fresh eyes against the night sky.

 

 

Having pushed myself quite beyond the limit on Friday, I was very slow moving Saturday morning.  Liz knew I was exhausted on every level and let me sleep in a bit later than planned.  She was leaving to drive back to Scotland, so we were both packing up because I was staying in London, but switching hotels.  We went to a Laundromat (excuse me – a “laundrette”) I’d found that was halfway between our hotel and the one I was checking into, and we both did a load of laundry while we ate pastries that we pilfered from the breakfast bar before we checked out.  I had actually packed enough clothes to make it through the whole trip without doing laundry, but came prepared with detergent sheets just in case.  Liz was doing laundry anyway (as she still had another full week ahead in Scotland), and I’d gotten one pair of pants muddy during the Kilchurn Castle excursion, and if I ever have the choice between clean or dirty, I will always choose clean.  I also officially laundered my tennis shoes that had only been “cleaned” by creek water after my feet went mudding.

 

Despite my sleeping in, we were still good on time when we left the laundrette, so Liz drove me over to my hotel so I could leave my bags before setting out for the day.  I was 4 hours early for check-in, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask, and I was actually upgraded and allowed to check in right away, which was nice!  I felt like quite a VIP.

 

Liz was nice enough to drop me off in Richmond before she left for Scotland, even though it was a bit out of her way.  It did give us a chance to say a proper goodbye before she left, though, as our adventures were heading in different directions from there.

 

At this point in the story, I can’t help but pause to give a little bit of background information.  This is good stuff, folks, so bear with me.

 

Some years ago… at least three… it could even be four years ago, I was playing WordFeud (the Android version of Words With Friends) with my friend Levi.  He and I are both overly-competetive people, and usually quite worthy opponents for each other.  That said, I was repeatedly and unapologetically kicking his tail in WordFeud.  OK, OK, probably “usually but barely emerging victorious” would be a more accurate depiction.  So, one day, within the chat feature on the game, Levi said, “You and this one other girl are the only people who consistently beat me in this game.  You should be playing each other.”  He proceeded to give me her username and admit that his plan was to distract us with each other so he could defeat us both.

 

I sent her an invite right away, and she messaged to ask if I had clicked to start a game with a random opponent, because she didn’t think that she had, and yet we didn’t know each other and had started a game.  I explained how it all came about and we chatted throughout our first game, which I believe we finished within an hour.  (These games usually last about a week, typically.)

 

We have kept a game going constantly ever since, trading off wins and chatting sporadically, so after about a year of that, we decided to graduate our phone-gaming friendship and become Facebook friends.

 

Her name is Vicky and she just so happens to live in London, so when I started making plans for my trip, I immediately messaged her to see if she’d like to meet in person.  She agreed, and the following is a faithful account of how fantastic it can be to make new friends in the strangest of fashions.

 

Vicky and I agreed to meet at the Richmond tube station at noon, and I was there a few minutes early.  I couldn’t help but think that the entrance did not seem very prominent for the only tube station in the area, and I thought perhaps I should go through the station to see if there was another exit, but wasn’t really sure I could get through without a ticket.  Shortly, a nice fellow happened by to catch a train, so I asked him, and he led me through the station to where I could get out of the other side.  As I headed out of the much more prominent station side, I was panning the faces in the crowd until I found the familiar one, smiling back at me.  I think I probably squeaked with joy and hugs ensued.

 

We walked through Richmond and stopped to pick up some lunch before walking down along the water and choosing a park bench to picnic on.

 

 

Vicky grew up in Richmond, so she was an excellent tour guide, and we just wandered along through gorgeous English countryside and talked about all manner of things.

 

 

Then, we walked out to Ham House and explored their gardens for a while.

 

 

We found a pub on the way toward the Petersham Hotel for our afternoon reservation, so we stopped there and lounged on the porch until it was tea time!

 

 

I had several people recommend High Tea to me as a must-do during my London trip.  It didn’t seem like it would be much fun alone, so I had asked Vicky if she’d be interested, and not only was she eager to go, but it was her first high tea as well, and she recommended the Petersham Hotel because she’d had her wedding reception there.

 

The hotel was quite elegant, but still more laid back (and less expensive) than the famous hotels that serve high tea in the center of London.  I didn’t really know what to expect and feared being underdressed and under-refined for such a proper affair.  Happily, Vicky and I were of like mind about it, so we were in it together.

 

Luckily, when we checked in for our reservation, we were shown to the best table in the house, with a gorgeous view out of the windows on all sides of us.  Our waiter was kind enough to snap a photo of us.

 

 

Ever the bull in a china shop, I got the ball rolling by pouring my tea directly from the pot to my cup without noticing the strainer laying nearby as a hint that I was missing a step.  I figured it out quickly when tea leaves were rushing into my cup, and we got a good laugh out of that.  Vicky saved me by giving me her cup so I could strain my tea properly, and then she used my cup after I emptied it.  Then, I overfilled the cup, forgetting I was supposed to add milk (everybody stare at the newbie!), so I ended up with tea sloshed over into my saucer.  Vicky then very kindly also spilled a bit of coffee, so we could laugh off these snafus together.  You just can’t take us anywhere!

 

Our tiered platter arrived shortly thereafter and definitely made this the cutest meal I have ever eaten.  Look how pretty!

 

 

The bottom layer held four types of sandwiches.  Vicky and I each had a cucumber sandwich, then I passed the smoked salmon to her while I ate the ham and mustard.  The fourth sandwich was cheese and pickle, but not pickle as my American brain understood it, but rather a vinegar-based sweet chutney.  I was not a fan of that one, but I did eat the piece of cheese out of one of them.

 

The middle tier held a variety of sweet treats, some of which we divvied up according to preference, and some that we cut in half to share.  Vicky let me have the cream puff AND the side of the chocolate cake that came with a raspberry.

 

But the real star of the show is what was perched there on top – the scones with clotted cream.  First of all, I have had a so-called scone in the U.S. in a moment of desperation at an airport Starbucks, and it was hard as a rock and flat-out disgusting.  These scones (which I am inclined to say are REAL scones) were like soft, sweet biscuits – absolute perfection.  You slice these in half, smear on some strawberry preserves (I suppose other flavors are acceptable, but we had strawberry), and then you add a dollop of the clotted cream to it.  Or, if you’d like to have it the Amanda way, you slice it, smear on some strawberry preserves, and see how much clotted cream you can balance on top of it all while still being able to fit it inside your mouth without getting it all over your face.  In a dainty, lady-like way, obviously.

 

Between the two of us, all that remained at the end was a cheese and pickle sandwich, some fruitcake, and maybe a few tell-tale crumbs.  Since it’s an afternoon “meal,” everything was very light, so we were full without feeling stuffed, and would be ready to eat again by dinner time.

 

I loved everything about my high tea experience.  The best view, the best food, the best company, and I even came away with a newfound fondness for hot tea, or as the British have it — tea.

 

When we left the hotel, we got right to working off those scones and climbed the hill where we were treated to this lovely view for our trouble.

 

 

We walked back to Richmond station and I took my first tube ride with Vicky back to her house where I got to meet her husband and daughter before it was her bedtime.  We hung around the house, just relaxing and talking for a while, and Vicky’s husband Paul recommended some places we could go that evening.

 

We settled on walking into Wimbledon for Indian food, and we stopped at yet another adorable pub called The Swan on our way.  We then had dinner at Wimbledon Tandoori, and since I was just discovering Indian food, Vicky suggested I order a dish I knew I liked, and then she ordered a different one and an appetizer so that I could taste some different things.  The new dishes I tried – both of which were fantastic – were Sag Aloo (a spicy spinach and potato dish) and Chicken Jalfrezi, which was cooked in a thick sauce with chili peppers, tomatoes, and onions.  My goodness, it was amazing.  And I simply live for pilau rice.  (Writing this post is making me very hungry.)

 

Therefore, as you might have guessed, the afternoon tea and dinner at Tandoori completes the list of the three meals tied for first place in the course of my trip.  All three were perfect.

 

All of Saturday, in fact, was perfect, until Vicky walked with me back to the tube station and we realized our day together was at an end.  We hugged goodbye and then waved pitifully at each other for another moment, rather sad to part.  The good news is that we’ll definitely make it a point to get together again… maybe in New York, or maybe in Spain!

 

I got back to the hotel still reflecting on what a wonderful day it had been.  And then I slept like a log.

 

Easter Sunday was my last full day in London, and it was supposed to rain all day.  The two most famous churches in London – Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral – had been closed to visitors on Good Friday, so I thought what better way to see them than to attend their Easter services.  I decided to attend the 10:00am Choral Matins at St. Paul’s and then go to the 3:00pm Evensong and Procession at Westminster Abbey.

 

Thinking of the crowds I’d encountered on Friday, I set out early for St. Paul’s, assuming many others would have the same idea I did.  The rain hadn’t started yet when I walked to the tube, and then I only felt a few sprinkles as I walked on to St. Paul’s.  To my surprise, the church was still nearly empty.  I walked around a little bit and admired the general splendor (again, no photos allowed inside) and then found a seat near the front.

 

 

A few other people trickled in, and after 15 minutes or so, someone from the church came around and let us all know that the seats weren’t “open” yet and that we’d have to move to the back of the church until 30 minutes before the service.  There was nearly an hour until then, so I inquired about a bathroom and was directed to the Starbucks across the street.  It was just as well, because I hadn’t had any breakfast and was starting to get hungry.  I had an egg salad sandwich, which made me think of my friend Jessica and how appalled she would be if she knew that, in England, it’s called an “egg mayo” sandwich.  Jessica will eat things that she knows contain mayo, but she doesn’t want to talk about it, so I had a bit of a laugh to myself thinking about that.

 

By the time I returned to the church, a crowd had formed in the back of the church and they had just started to allow folks to sit down.  I walked down the aisle and a gentleman in front said, “just one?” and then pointed me to the sole empty chair on the front row.

 

A lady sitting beside me struck up conversation.  She was from the north of England, but said she comes into London almost every weekend and had been doing so for years.  It didn’t seem like she had ever been in St. Paul’s before, though, because she kept marveling aloud about all of the notable people who had stood in the church throughout the course of centuries.  She also informed me that Princess Diana was married there.

 

Naturally, the service was quite a bit different than anything I am used to, but the music was beautiful and the service was poetic, though obviously ceremonial.

 

It was raining much harder when I left the church, but I wasn’t ready to unpack my poncho just yet, so I pulled my hood up and made a break for the subway.  The rain let up a bit along my way and I noted how deserted the streets seemed to be, in stark contrast to how I’d seen them two days prior.

 

 

I took the tube over to Picadilly Circus, which is, I suppose, the London version of Times Square.

 

 

I walked in and out of a few shops and then saw a cute café sign advertising the day’s special as Chicken, Asparagus, and Parmesan Risotto.  I thought that sounded good, so I went inside.  I couldn’t help myself and also ordered a tea.

 

 

The rain was still falling steadily, so I took it as a good excuse to linger a bit longer and then have a berry tart for dessert.  Everything was quite good.

 

The rain had lightened up a bit, so I headed back out into the elements and decided to go ahead and walk from there to Westminster Abbey.  That took me back by Trafalgar Square and across in front of St. James Park, where the tree line protected me from the rain for a while.

 

 

I got to Westminster early as well, but no more than thirty people were lined up outside.  I joined them and was able to connect to WiFi and send a “Happy Easter” text to my family at home, who were just getting out of Easter service themselves.

 

 

Somehow, I wound up on the front row at Westminster Abbey, too, which was situated much differently than St. Paul’s, so that the pastor spoke from a place over my right shoulder, the boys’ choir was in a hallway to my left, and I was looking directly across at others who were attending the service.  The front row on either side was divided by a wide walkway leading up to the altar.

 

I found it somewhat odd that the Evensong service at Westminster was nearly identical to the Choral Matins at St. Paul’s in content.  The main difference was somewhat of a revolting development for me due to my allergies.  During the service, I noticed a strong incense smell emanating in my direction and looked beyond the pastor to the altar and saw a smoking lantern being swung about at various objects.

 

Wikipedia tells me that this is called a “thurible,” and it’s swung a particular number of times for a particular set of reasons, but even having glanced through the article, I still fail to grasp the purpose.  I wondered how much of a faux pas it would be to pull my shirt up to cover my nose and mouth, but I knew there was no escaping.  I had already been incensed.

 

I thought the worst of that was behind me until the procession began.  All of the pastors marched from the altar down the middle aisle, and the “thurifer” led the pack, swinging the thurible (coincidence how similar that is to “terrible”) back and forth as he went.  So, the stinky smoke that had been bothering me from 30 feet away was now 1 foot from my nose.  I felt the affects of that for the next three days.

 

That aside, the procession was interesting to watch.  The choir filed out behind the pastors, and they continued singing their song until they had walked so far away that I could barely hear it anymore, and the novice congregation had given up trying to sing along.  Once it was silent again, I heard one of the pastors reading off a verse or a prayer in another section of the church, after which, the music recommenced and they all marched back to the front again before concluding the service.  It was certainly a new experience for me, but my headache was very glad to hear the final prayer and get ushered back outside again.

 

For whatever it’s worth, both Westminster and St. Paul’s are magnificent to behold, but St. Paul’s is by far the prettiest in my opinion, in case you ever need to decide which one to tour.

 

The rain was heavy again when I left Westminster, and part of me (the so, so tired part) was tempted to just go back to the hotel and crash.  But, it was my last day in London, so I felt I had to press on.  I caught the train and rode up to Notting Hill, where the torrential downpour finally coaxed me into donning my poncho.  I got drenched anyway, of course, but Notting Hill was cute as expected.  Almost everything was white, so I enjoyed it when I’d see a splash of color on some of the townhomes.  (I’m going to bet they’re not called townhomes, but you’ll have to forgive me;  I’m an American.)

 

 

I walked from Notting Hill back toward Kensington Palace, and saw this restaurant making quite a statement in unusual décor.

 

 

As I walked along further, I heard music coming from a café up ahead, and as I got closer, I could see that people were packed into a narrow room, dancing their hearts out.  One of the gentlemen had stepped outside the door and saw me smiling as I looked on.  He said, “It’s a party.  Do you want to dance?”  I laughed and declined, but as I started to pass by, another guy came running out of the door, grabbed my hand, and before I knew it, I was swirling around this café as well, poncho and all.  I think everyone in the place was Greek except for me, but nevertheless, I danced along with them for a while before continuing on my way.  I guess you never know what will happen when you’re walking down the street in London!

 

The rain had finally ended as I arrived at Kensington Gardens, so I took off my poncho and held it up, flying like a flag behind me, in the hopes that it would dry so I could pack it away again.  I took a path called the flower walk and then detoured when The Albert Memorial caught my eye.  As I walked around the memorial, I started to see blue skies returning in the distance.

 

 

From there, I walked down to the water and found the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.  The weather meant it was fairly deserted, but a sign nearby invited children and adults alike to splash and play in the fountain as much as they liked.

 

 

I walked across a mushy lawn and out of the park after that and headed in the general direction of a tube station that would take me back to my hotel.  My feet were once again protesting, and I hoped that following the road at the edge of the park would lead me to a pub for dinner.

 

I eventually spied the Paxton’s Head and went inside for – what else? – fish and chips with mushy peas.  This was much better than the abysmal fish and chips I’d had at the beach in Wales.  Paxton’s Head seemed to get it right.  I was at a little table by the bar, so the bartender was serving me himself and kept me well stocked in ice water.  I think he found me charming because I was so obviously American and he kept asking me questions about life in the States.  I barely got through half of the fish or the chips before I was stuffed, but I ate every bit of the mushy peas.  That stuff is delicious!

 

It was still early when I finished dinner.  Darkness had barely fallen, but I was finally ready to surrender and caught the tube back to my hotel to pack up my things and turn in early, so I could be up and at the train station by 7am the next morning.

 

I took the laziest possible approach to getting to St. Pacras the next morning and hopped in a cab out front.  I had enough cash leftover in pounds, and I was about to go to a country that didn’t take them, so I figured I might as well.  So, my last sight-seeing opportunity in London was another ode to my love of Harry Potter – King’s Cross Station!

 

 

There was no Platform 9 and ¾, unfortunately, so I couldn’t go to Hogwarts, but I suppose I did the next best thing and boarded the Eurostar bound for Paris!  (And yes, I got some hot tea from the snack car for the journey.)

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