The morning tour of London included St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard, and ton of walking in the rain - so Mom decided to pass on this tour, which she'd taken on a previous visit to London, and wait for Megan to arrive from Prague.
So I went with the tour group. Our first stop was St. Paul's where our new tour guide told us about the water brigades that stood atop the church during the blitz and put out any blazes before they could spread. I had no idea the significance that Londoners attached to being able to look to St. Paul's as a symbol of their resilience and survival.
After St. Paul's, we headed toward Buckingham Palace - just in time to enjoy a real taste of London weather. The temperature was a good twenty degrees cooler than anytime on the trip and it was pouring rain. Of course, the rain meant no ceremonial Changing of the Guard - but it was interesting to learn that the Changing of the Guard is not the hourly shift change, as some tourists believe. It occurs daily, weather permitting, when the regiment that is retiring their duty of service turns over the mantle of responsibility to the new regiment. It is, we were told, accompanied by the regiment's band and a grand procession of the entire company that assemble on the grounds of Buckingham Palace to be inspected before assuming their duties.
The bus cruised through a good bit of the city giving us a brief tour before returning to the hotel around lunch time - just in time for me to meet Megan as she emerged from the subway station. Our plan was for Megan to fly into Heathrow and take the Underground from there to Victoria Station, which was within a block of the hotel. Seems simple enough, right? It turns out, they were doing some type of work on that line and she had to lug all her luggage from her nine weeks in Prague up five flights of stairs, onto a bus, then back down at the next Underground station and then up several more flights at Victoria Station. She was really dragging by the time she met us!
After settling her luggage in our room, we ventured out in the pouring rain to find The Albert - the pub our bus driver had recommended. The block that our hotel was on was not so much a block as a triangle, which made it a little confusing. Add to that the fact that his description - brown wood with potted flowers hanging outside - turned out to describe half the pubs in London! By the time we found it, we were pretty soaked.
With the weather continuing to be nasty, Mom decided to relax in the hotel while Megan and I braved the Underground to see Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Piccadilly Circus. We actually had someone come up and give me their day pass for the subway as we were waiting to purchase one! Brits are so nice. But I must say as we made our way through the tunnels to the platform - tunnels that were completely packed with people, more crowded than the rock concerts I attended in high school - all I could think of was the bombings that occurred there a number of years ago. The thought of being trapped in those tunnels with people stampeding in panic was quite nerve-wracking. I was quite glad when we arrived at Westminster!
They had just closed for the day, so we didn't get to see inside, which was a disappointment, but the outside was beautiful. I never realized how similar Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey were.
I was determined not to take the Underground again until we had to so we walked from Westminster and Parliament to Piccadilly Circus. The main purpose of visiting Piccadilly was so that Megan could point out the Piccadilly Backpackers Hostel where she and two fellow study abroad students stayed for several days at the beginning of her adventure. Suffice to say, if I or her daddy had seen this place before she left, she would have been in a hotel even if it meant selling a kidney. Picture a motel in Times Square that rents by the hour and you'll be getting close.
We finally headed back to the room to synch up with Mom for dinner. The ride back in the tube was even more packed - in fact, at one point, I had to yell at this man who was crushing Megan against the pole. I imagine this is what India is like. After that experience, there was one thing I was sure of - Mom would NOT be getting on the London tube.
We had dinner across the street from the hotel at a pub called The Bag O' Nails - we figured with a name like that, it had to be good. And it didn't disappoint! In fact, I think it was probably better than The Albert.
We plotted our final day over dinner. The Hop-On, Hop-Off bus that almost constantly had a bus parked in front of our hotel seemed like the best way to see the things that remained on our list - ideally, the British National Museum, the Museum of Victoria and Albert, and hopefully at least a glimpse of the Tower Bridge. We had made our reservation for the following evening at the Heathrow Hilton and decided it would be the best $100 we had spent to take a taxi to the airport after hearing Megan's harrowing tale of trying to maneuver the tube with her luggage.
I have to point out a few amusing aspects of London that we noticed - first, the water pressure for their toilets is pitiful. They seem to require you to stand there and cheer them on, 'You can do it! You can do it!' In Paris, on the other hand, if you don't hop up fast enough, they could suck you right down the drain! The other thing we noticed in London is the poor placement of their automatic hand dryers - at least three times we walked into a ladies' room and in walking in, set off the dryer. The last time, in the Bag O' Nails, Mom set it off and was so startled by the sudden rush of hot air, she jumped three feet in the air and nearly had an accident right there on the floor. I think this may be a plot to get back at American tourists. Just sayin'.