Monday, September 07, 2009

London, Day 4: A royal day out

Day 4 was a very royal-focused day, as we visited various sites of royal lives and burials.

For the beginning of day 4, we went for an early morning at Buckingam Palace, the Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews. The three sites are combined into one ticket, called "The Royal Day Out." We were lucky to get these tickets, because (1) entry is only allowed for Buckingham Palace when the Queen is away, and (2) you almost certainly need to get tickets in advance.

Luckily I got our tickets online months ago. Dave was really excited, because even though he's been to London a bunch of times, he's never been able to get into Buckingham because the Queen has always been there. (Also luckily, the Queen is always at her vacation castle in Scotland in September!)

We got u
p early and I picked up our tickets so we could bypass the huge line. Buckingham Palace is pretty impressive, although not as glamorous from the outside as other castles that we visited on our journey.

Before we could visit the palace, our ticket required us to visit the Queen's Gallery, a collection of beautiful furniture, porcelain, and jewels from the monarchy's treasure cache. Because we were early and awesome, we were literally the first entrants of the day.

The collection was truly immense and beautiful, although my favorite room was a small treasure room with a massive amount of beautiful jewels, such as the 158-carat Cullinan Brooch and this diamond-encrusted sword. Yeah, seriously.

Our ticket then granted us admission to the State Rooms, which are very fancy drawing rooms and ballrooms that are open for ambassadors, state officials, and tourists. Sadly, they did not allow us to take photographs in the State Rooms, but many of them looked something like the dining room at left (from the Royal Collection website).

Dave commented that it was interesting to visit the castle of a living monarch, because virtually all other castles I've ever visited in Europe were of dead monarchies. There were fresh flowers and a throne room that was still in use! Weird.

Next we visited the Royal Mews, a.k.a. the stables. Their biggest attractions were royal stage coaches, including this one, plated in gold:

Yeah. Yikes. Apparently Queen Victoria complained that the carriage was not comfortable. Too freaking bad, Victoria - you have a carriage of solid gold, stop complaining!

For lunch, we went to a cute Asian restaurant called Noodle Noodle, which had nice heaping portions for reasonable prices.

Then to Westminster Abbey, which is a gorgeous cathedral with an even more interesting interior. Basically almost every famous dead person in Britain is buried here, and even some foreigners, too.

The tombs of royals (including Elizabeth I), nobles, artists, and writers are simply piled on top of each other so that you feel like you walked into some sort of crazy cemetery attic that happens to be beautiful and Gothic. Incidentally, the British royals have been getting married and coronated here for many years, too, making it an important site of the British nation.

Again, no photos allowed inside, but I don't know how photos could have captured it anyway. I appreciated Westminster Abbey for its eclectic sentimentality, which I felt an affinity for; I imagine this would be how my house would look if I had been burying famous dead people in it for 1,000 years. (Which is about how long the British royals have been using the abbey for marryin' and buryin'.)

Then Rob and Diane headed off to Greenwich, and we paid a visit to St. James Park and the National Gallery.

In Greenwich, Rob and Diane got to stand on the Meridian Line and be in two hemispheres at once!

Meanwhile, we enjoyed a stroll through St. James's Park, which is a park and bird sanctuary near Buckingham Palace. We saw a variety of pelicans, sea gulls, pigeons, swans, and geese in the park, including some black swans and geese with zebra striped heads!

The Blue Bridge in the park gives lovely views of downtown London, and if you look the other way, you can see Buckingham Palace.

Then Dave and I went to the National Gallery, which is sort of like London's Louvre. The artwork pretty much runs from the Middle Ages to the Impressionists, and I liked the museum a lot. Rob had worn his "Crabs do it sideways" t-shirt on Day 3, so I thought he would like this Van Gogh painting.

After Diane and Rob rejoined us in the western hemisphere, we went underground for dinner and drinks. Literally.

First, dinner at Cafe in the Crypt, which is a cafeteria-style restaurant under St. Martin in the Fields Church on Trafalgar Square. It was funny to go to this restaurant after Westminster Abbey earlier in the day, because the cafe is literally in a crypt - you are walking on tomb markers, just as you do in Westminster. Weird.

Then drinks in Gordon's Wine Bar, which is London's oldest wine bar, located in a cellar near Charing Cross Station. We crouched down, found a table, and picked out a lovely bottle of white wine to share.

It was a really unique and relaxing experience, and I was very happy we listened to Let's Go's recommendation on this one. I could meet up for drinks in this cellar every night of the week!

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