May 05, 2011

Royal London

London, May 2010 (Bank Holiday) - We had been in London for three days. But this was our first day of touring on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour, starting with a morning of London sightseeing.

A local guide showed us sights such as Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London

and Royal Albert Hall.

Royal Albert Hall, London

I was able to get a closer look at one of the many colourful elephants inhabiting the city parks and sidewalks as part of the Elephant Parade, an event to create awareness of the endangered Asian elephant, and raise funds for the World Wildlife Fund.

Elephant Parade, London

Our guide had us arrive early at Buckingham Palace to stake out just the right spot for the Changing of the Guard at 11:30 a.m. The Union Jack flying overhead signified that the Queen was not in residence at the palace that day.

Buckingham Palace, London

Changing of the Guard, London

After the tour we were on our own again, and we took the Underground from Victoria Station to the Tower of London, where we planned to spend the afternoon. Several of the Tube lines were closed for the holiday weekend to allow for more preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

I found Transport for London's online Journey Planner very helpful in planning our travels around the city. This resource provides ticket options for visitors, route planning, and notifications of route and station closures. It will even include the amount of time it takes to walk from one point to another among your options.

Before entering the Tower of London, we stopped for lunch (fish and chips, for the third time in as many days) at a restaurant just outside the Tower gates. We had our tickets already in hand (purchased at the Britain and London Visitor Centre) and quickly gained entry, joining the next Yeoman Warder (or Beefeater) tour. The commentary was very entertaining, and gave a good overview of the Tower's history.

Beefeaters, Tower of London

The Crown Jewels are a very popular attraction at the Tower and are found in the Jewel House. A moving conveyor belt shuttles visitors past the display cases to view the magnificent array of crowns, scepters and other royal regalia. No photographs are allowed here.

There was plenty more to see at the Tower of London - the Dungeons, Medieval Palace and the Wall Walk to name a few. Eventually we were in need of a rest and some refreshment so we sought out the Armouries Cafe, a comfortable cafeteria-style eatery where I found a warming and surprisingly delicious cup of hot chocolate.

At nearby Tower Pier, we boarded a City Cruise boat back to Westminster Bridge. The half hour trip included commentary about the sights we passed on the banks of the Thames.

Tower Bridge, London

We arrived at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square for dinner at Cafe in the Crypt. This unique eatery (one of Rick Steves' guidebook recommendations) is a find. Diners enjoy a delicious, inexpensive meal in the surprisingly warm and cozy crypt beneath a vaulted ceiling. Service is cafeteria style, starting with chilled glasses of red or white wine. We chose the dinner special that evening: pork chop in leek and red wine sauce, red cabbage, and swede and leek mash (7.95) followed by a bread and butter pudding with custard for dessert. Highly recommended.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Concert, London

And the location could not be more convenient for anyone attending a concert upstairs in the church after dinner. St. Martin-in-the-Fields has a long musical history - both Mozart and Handel have played here -  and an outstanding international reputation. The evening's program featured two of my baroque favourites, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Pachelbel's Canon, performed by London Concertante beneath glowing chandeliers and candlelight. It was a memorable end to our time in London.

And tomorrow, we were boarding the Eurostar train and heading for Paris, the City of Light.

Next:  Bonjour Paris

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