Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Glorious Britain! Part II


Monday began with a lesson on British Railway. Our lovely host walked us to our station, Watford Junction, helped us buy Oyster Cards (like a Charlie Card), and instructed us on how to change to the Tube. All went without a hitch for the entire trip! We didn't get lost, or misdirected or confused. It's a very user-friendly system. We did however witness the potential peril of riding the tube. That first day, as we were waiting for our train to pull away from the station, not one but two different people got caught in the train's closing doors. What's even scarier is that it did not seem that the doors had motion sensors, like ours do. They seemed to hit quite hard and take a minute to release. One poor woman, had the door close on her arm, causing her to release her Oyster card and drop it in the gap between the train car and the platform. She and her husband got off the train to try to retrieve the card, and we saw them board our very same train car about 4 stops later. These gaps can range anywhere between a step down of about 4 inches, or a full space of air about half a foot wide. No wonder it's posted everywhere and announced at every station.

We arrive at the Westminster stop, ready to begin our great tour of London. We walk out of the station- Big Ben! We walk across the street to Westminster Abbey... CLOSED! Curses! Tough start. So we continue walking. We walk through the lovely St. James Park, through to Buckingham Palace. We cut over through Knightsbridge to Harrod's and then the Victoria and Albert Museum. We then walk next door to the Natural History Museum because Pablo tells us about its amazing entry way. We follow the crowd in and WOW- it is amazing! It is set up like the galaxy with constellations on the ceiling and an enormous earth that has an escalator that goes up into it. So then you are IN the middle of the earth- so cool! Too bad it wasn't the right entrance. Later that night we checked our tour book and saw that the actual entry way he was talking about is a magnificent, old, gold and intricate ceiling, not the galaxy exhibit. Blast! This museum also had an earthquake exhibit, in which there is a model of a Japanese convenient store where you can stand and feel a real earthquake. Given recent events, this was kind of spooky.
From here we walked up to Kensington Garden which was just lovely. It reminded us of being in Boston Common. Actually, a lot of London reminded us of Boston, like Boston is a mini version of London. I think all of Boston could fit into Hyde Park. The funniest thing in the parks were the large groups of tourists taking pictures of squirrels. Is that another link between Boston and London? Does no one else have squirrels? People were posing with squirrels, trying to feed them. So strange. Meanwhile, we find city bicycles that were FREE for 30 minutes- only 1 pound for 24 hours. Nevermind that it took a good 20 minutes and 3 different people helping us to figure out how to unlock these bikes, we finally did it and rode up and down the park:)
The highlight of Kensington was the palace! Under renovation, it had a special exhibit called "Enchanted Palace". Each of the rooms we went through was designed for a certain princess who lived at the Palace. Each room was also designed by a different artist with a different interpretation. This is the picture from Queen Victoria's room. Other princesses included were Diana, Margaret, Mary, Charlotte and Caroline. Each princess with her own story and with intrigue and secrets.

This was our last stop and we could barely walk another step. Instead of wandering up to Notting Hill, which had been our plan, we walked toward Holland Park, where we were meeting Pabs and Briggie for dinner. We paused at a place called Mall Tavern, and it was heaven! Quiet, with cheap bar snacks (soda bread and butter for 2 pounds, Dorset Meatballs for 3), and chill music. It was just what we needed to rest our weary feet.
From here we met up with Pabs and Briggie at the restaurant Belvedere, which was very lovely and fancy. The perfect end to our second day in London!

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