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  • Devin Gackle

Journals from Across the Pond: 3 Days in London, England (Day 2)

Our first full day in London brought us an enthusiastic, hilarious, tracksuit-wearing Londoner as our local guide; not only was he a bright, delightful character, but his cheerful knowledge made his tour all the more pleasant.

He first took us to Abbey Road, where we stopped to take our own iconic photos at the legendary zebra crossing. We passed by 221B Baker Street (boy was that line long) as we made our way to Buckingham Palace.

There was already an enormous crowd gathered for the changing of the guard. Our guide lead us to a the sidewalk across the street, just outside St. James’s Park, that provided a wider view; he let us know that spot was better because we could see the parade clearly, and we could leave when it was over—whereas all the people crowded around the gates would be stuck. We did indeed have a good view of the palace, the Victoria Memorial, and the streets.

Fun fact: National Treasure 2 got it wrong when explaining how to tell if the queen is in residence; if I recall correctly, Ben says she's not home because there's no flag flying. This actually used to be true, but after the death of Princess Diana, the people of England wanted to be able to fly a flag at half mast in her honor. Today the way to tell if she's home is if the Royal Standard flag is flying; if the Union (British) flag is flying, then she's not home.

The wind was keeping the flag close to its pole while we were there, but we could tell that was the British flag, so the Queen was not in residence.

While we waited for the ceremony to begin, he lead us down the short Spur Road over to Birdcage Walk. We stopped outside the gates of the Wellington Barracks where a band of royal guards (the Regimental Band if I remember correctly) began to play music in the large paved courtyard. We got to hear them play “Festmusik der Stadt Wien.”

After the guards and their horses marched their way to the palace, we walked a little ways down the The Mall, past St. James’s Palace to our bus as our guide told us fun facts about the Royal Family. We drove over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, getting off the bus to go stand outside the Globe. Here our local guide parted from us, quoting one of his favorite lines from Shakespeare.

Since we were hungry by then, and he had pointed Borough Market out to us (mentioning it’s in that one scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary), several of us headed there. And let me just say, if you like food, this is the place for you. Pop-up stands and tables and tents filled the open, industrial, brick-walled area, and a mixture of scents wafted even through the humidity, each tent its own temptation.

I settled on a meat pie tent and ordered the one they called the “Hurrikane”; this was one of the best food decisions I made the whole trip. The “Hurrikane” was a beef and potato pie with red bell peppers and seasoned with cinnamon, and was music to my taste buds. Still hungry, I went in search of a goat’s milk ice-cream stand I’d seen, and bought a creamy Earl Grey ice-cream cone. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy the flavor of bergamot, and that day I absolutely was.

We then decided to hit up a plethora of museums—all of which were free! First up was the British Museum, mostly to see the Rosetta Stone and the Greek exhibition. Since I have an affinity for Greek history and mythology, this was particularly interesting to me—and it’s a huge exhibit! Greek pottery and sculptures and artifacts galore, and of course Athens’s caryatid statues from the Erechtheum, and pediments and marble sculptures from the Parthenon. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

After that we went to the National Gallery, and spent a lot of time wandering and admiring. There were many beautiful paintings, and we enjoyed them, but the real jackpot was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

Several of his other paintings were there as well, including one of a couple crabs I had never seen before. Though we had come in from a bottom floor entrance our local guide had told us about (a way less busy entrance), we exited from the main entrance, pausing on the wide stone balcony to enjoy looking out at Trafalgar Square.

We then headed across town to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There were so many different rooms!: A room full of lovely sculptures, a little library, the sacred silver room, a room of medieval and Renaissance pieces, and an interesting historical section on the late 18th century and other cultural things from that period, like clothing and musical instruments.

It was in this exhibit that the rooms started to fill with a lovely, lilting music. When we wandered toward it, we were delighted to come across a small, intimate concert, where a solo cellist played emotional pieces in a sound-amplifying dome made of wood. We paused to listen a little while before we moved on.

Since we were near Hyde Park, we took a pleasant stroll around its grounds, pausing to admire the scenery and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. We ended our day, since I and another in our group had an interest in finding the T.A.R.D.I.S., by making our way to Earl’s Court—and there it was, right outside the Earl’s Court Station! Luckily, I had my handy-dandy sonic screwdriver flashlight for the photo op. Perfect way to end the day if you ask me!

And with the close of our second London Day, that meant our trip was nearly halfway done. Already the prospect of leaving was a hard swallow, but we weren’t about to let that spoil our adventures.

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