Exploring London - Part 1

All aboard the Great Western Rail to London

All aboard the Great Western Rail to London

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Directly after finishing our Thames Path adventure, we walked to the little town of Kemble and boarded a Great Western Rail train to London. It almost seemed a let-down as we sped across the countryside, whizzing through towns in a blur and arrived at Paddington Station in London a couple of hours later. Paddington Bear, by the way, was not to be seen at the station.

We walked the three miles from Paddington station to our hotel in Westminster … not so much for the exercise as it was out of habit. The malaise of having finished our trek was still lurking. We bought a 4-pack of cider and fresh salads and ate in our room. Planning for the next couple of days in London elevated our spirits and by the next morning we got our groove back and were ready to hit the road again … like tourists

First on my list … the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. This event … and it is an event … takes place every other day and we were in luck because this was the day. I’d read all the ‘tips’ about getting a good spot … how early to arrive and where to stand for best viewing. Off we trundled on a brisk, windy day to Buckingham Palace with plans to arrive no later than 10:15AM for the 11AM change. We arrived in plenty of time and froze our butts off waiting just outside the palace gates.

Gob-smacking Buckingham Palace … very regal digs!

Gob-smacking Buckingham Palace … very regal digs!

The lofty Victoria Memorial stands just in front of the palace.

The lofty Victoria Memorial stands just in front of the palace.

We were a little disappointed when the sentry on duty looked like a regular military guy and not the big bearskin-hatted grenadiers that we were hoping to see. All that changed when the guard changed. There are several regiments that guard the Queen and identifying their uniforms with sometimes subtle differences, like which side their plume is on, differentiates one from the other. The current guard was the Life Guards of the Household Calvary … lots of horses, no swimming involved. The Queen’s Guards, complete with bearskin hats, were on en route to relieve them.

We were looking for bearfur hats on the guards, so we were a little disappointed … at first.

We were looking for bearfur hats on the guards, so we were a little disappointed … at first.

There is a tremendous pomp and circumstance involved in this traditional ceremony. In fact, the military band played Pomp and Circumstance as the new guards entered through the palace gates. One of my new pieces of information today included the fact that there is a series of Pomp and Circumstance marches and the one and only I was familiar with is called Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1 In D (aka in the USA as the graduation march). Who knew?

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Bands played, marchers marched, guards were relieved of duty after much ado and new guards manned the sentry boxes. The whole process took an hour or so and we enjoyed every shivering minute. We read that the day Aretha Franklin died the Welsh Guard Band played ‘Respect’. How cool was that? Today, the band, after the military marching songs, played Stevie Wonder tunes and had the crowd mouthing lyrics and tapping their toes.

We were exhausted and cold and found a nearby tea shoppe to warm up and re-energize then headed for London’s most famous department store, Harrods. Founded by a merchant, Charles Henry Harrod in 1834, ‘the store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has 330 departments covering 1.1 million square feet (102,193.344 m2) of retail space.’ In other words, it’s ginormous. We had to pick up a thick booklet with a map to negotiate our way around the store. We managed, even without a GPS.

Harrods … it’s absolutely ginormous!

Harrods … it’s absolutely ginormous!

We wandered through department after department to view the luxury clothing items (Hermes scarves - £350), shoes and handbags. We breezed through the perfumes collecting whiffs as we passed. A whole department was dedicated to fine chocolates … no samples to be found. Then there was fine china (and I do mean ‘fine’) and exquisite crystal, linens, housewares, chandeliers, toys, furniture, electronics including home robots, fine art and sculpture … the list goes on and on and on (330 department’s worth) until it’s overwhelming.

We found our way to the Christmas department … just for a look-see. I’d been wanting a memento of our Thames Path walk, the icon of which is the acorn. And there it was, a golden acorn ornament in Harrods Christmas department. Clearly, a must-buy item.

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The best part of Harrod’s (other than the ‘golden acorn’ department) is definitely the Food Hall. What a place! Every imaginable menu item displayed in grand style.

The day was waning and we’d left our backpacks at one hotel and needed to move to another. We retraced our steps to Westminster and then, too lazy to walk the 3.5 miles to King’s Cross, we ventured on the Tube (subway) for the first time. We originally thought we’d buy discount Oyster cards for Tube travel, but found our ‘contactless’ credit cards worked perfectly. We scanned on the way in, scanned on the way out and voila … we were at the King’s Cross station within 10 minutes. We found our hotel, grabbed a quick dinner and started making plans for another day in London.

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Next time, we continue to play tourist … hop-on/hop-off and a different way to see the Thames River … by boat. Join us … you can ride in comfort this time.