London Bus Tour & Changing of the Guard

We attempted to sleep.  Each of us with varying success.  Some of us slept the whole night through while others were awoken by allergies, to bed to late because of face-timing or, in my case, up at 5:30am blogging because that’s how I roll with jet lag.  Whatever the sleep situation though, the entire team made it down to breakfast and was ready to roll out the door at 9:20 – one of our latest starting dates.

The hotel has a wonderful breakfast spread for us to choose from – bacon, sausage, eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, yogurt, bread, croissants, jams, fruit salad, muffins, coffee, hot chocolate and 3 types of juice.  Something for every palette.  The group, in pairs of 2 and 4, slowly made their way down throughout the morning hour, and awoke with a hearty meal, or as was needed by some, a hot cup of coffee.

At 9:20 promptly the group headed to the Shepherd’s Bush underground station – only 3 minutes away from the hotel if you manage to catch the lights right.  We are riding on group passes – which was BRILLIANT.  Anyone familiar with London will know the tube isn’t cheap.  But a tube pass for a group gives us access to 6 zone (which includes the airport), unlimited, at a cost of £4.50 per adult (19 and up) and £1.70 per “child” (18 and younger).  So this is unlimited transportation for very very little.  Each person gets their own ticket for entering and exiting and so far it’s worked great – though we did have a student misplace her ticket and have to replace with (which is pricey on it’s own).  Lesson learned – treat them like cash!!

The group is starting to get a good feel for navigating the underground.  It’s a great way to travel, though not without it’s bumps and hiccups.  Being the leader (often Mr. D) with 19 ducks trailing after you is a challenge in not getting anyone lost – we’ve been good so far.  We have also encountered our first jam packed train (squish in there like sardines in a can) and first cancelled train with 20 minute wait on the platform (which they withstood after whining – impressive given it was the end of another long day).

First visit to Trafalgar Square, with National Gallery in the background.  Harpreet, Harsimran, Qudrat, Kimmi, Manroop, Harleen, Simran, Rene and Suesha, Top; Ms. Mulji (bottom left), Ms. Garr (bottom centre) and Mr. and Mrs. Becker (bottom right).
National Gallery, Serena & Celina (bottom left), Janey & Shelby (center), and the Rooster – aka – Public Art.

We took the tube to trafalgar square to meet up with our “Royal London” walking tour.  We made sure to arrive a little early, so the group could photograph themselves in the square as well as with the red phone booth around the corner.

Top Photos Booth Pics (L to R): Janey, Group jammed in, Simran, Harleen.
Bottom: Group Pic at the fountain in Trafalgar.

At 10:20 “Royal London” walking tour began, where the guide, a rather boisterous and well-informed gentlemen, carried a Scottish flag and guided us from Trafalgar square down to St. James Palace – apparently still an official residence of the queen.  It is currently home to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.  On our way there we passed monuments to the queens parents – including the queen mother who lived until 101.  We were reminded frequently of the GOOD royal genes – also that the Queen is 87, she is well loved, and Princes Charles is the longest waiting Prince for the throne ever.  Also – did you know Prince George its he most influential person in England right now?  That’s one powerful baby!

Top Left: Janey, Celina & Serena with their sunglasses (photobombed by Mr. Becker). Top Right: marching guards.  Bottom Left: Mr. Dewinetz confirms our direction through Green Park.  Bottom Right: Harsimran and Qudrat get settled in for a cold bus tour.

We parked ourselves across the street from St. James’ and watched the beginning of the guard formation.  First is was one, then two, all dressed in grey instead of the expected red (not certain why – winter attire?  different regimen?).  The first group of guards assembled, followed by the band.  They stood in arrangement in the courtyard and played the 80’s classic “Fame!” as in “Fame!  I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly.  High.  I feel it coming together, People will see me and cry. Fame.  I’m gonna make it to heaven, Light up the sky like a flame. Fame.  I’m gonna live forever, baby remember my name.”  Yes – that song.  Band was good though.  As they began to march, we began to march along side – slightly faster and to the other side of the street, so we could photograph them marching towards us.  We then bee-lined it down the side, cut through St. James’ Park, and across to the guard forming on the other side, and watched a similar formation play, and march towards buckingham.  It was amazing to see buckingham, but of course the gates were lined thick with tourists waiting to watch the change.  We didn’t actually stay for this part.  To summarize it as per the guide “They stand their for 30 minutes, and then exchange keys.”  So we got to see the marching and “interesting” part, and skip 30 minutes of almost nothing.  Should this be accurate, then I think that seemed like a pretty fair deal.  We then skipped the tourist crowds, and cut through Green Park on our quest for lunch at Pret a Manger (there are dozens in London – great place for good, affordable eats).

After our lunch break we began the bus tour portion of the day.  I can only speak for myself, but it was GOOD to sit.  GREAT to sit in fact.  Our legs have been logging a lot of km – 15 on Monday and 8.9 on Tuesday in fact.  So the sitting portion was nice.  The spitting rain, and super cold wind not as much, but Many of us were willing to tough it out for the photos!  In our 2 hour loop we saw SO much, that I couldn’t possibly detail it all here.  We went through old London (like Roman London), the financial district, past the Shard, through shopping areas, past Hamley’s, across the Tower, London, Westminster and Mayfair bridges, past the eye, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, City Hall, Scotland Yard, Tower of London, numerous old churches and more.  Our guide, Nuri, was well versed in interesting anecdotes and Harry Potter fun facts (perfect for our group), and made the commentary educational and enjoyable.  I wish I could have stopped and fully photographed every since item we saw – but their just wasn’t time.  In the end I have snapped pictures of more buildings that I can remember the stories for.  However, I clearly remember a story of Thomas Hardy (writer of Tess of d’Urbevilles) who, when died, wanted his heart buried in Dorset – his home.  He obviously meant his whole self, but the literally meant it as his HEART, and removed it from his body and placed it in a tin, intending to bury just his heart in Dorset, while his body at Westminster.  But a (his?) cat ended up eating the heart in the tin on the counter.  So….not sure what lesson to take away from that…

Top Left; Shelby and Janey embrace the cold.  Top Right: Trafalgar Square.
Bottom Left: St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Bottom Right: London Eye
Sites from the tour: Tower containing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Australia House (aka Gringott’s Bank from Harry Potter)
Driving over Tower Bridge, and then seeing the Tower of London

We got off the bus for a short break at Buckingham Palace.  The majority of the crowds were gone now was the changing of the guard was long over.  We took pictures of and in front of the palace, before getting back on and heading back to the beginning, intending to take the blue line of the bus to Harrods.  The narrator, Ricky, this time around was not so engaging.  In fact, it was a little more of the typical British professor nod you off to sleep type.  He did love Richard Gere though – giving him three mentions over 10 minutes.  We got back to the beginning and instead of taking the blue line, thought it be quicker to take the Tube to Harrods.  Once there we gave 30 minutes to explore (I’d say shop, but it’s not the kind of store that most can afford to shop in.)  Some headed for perfume section and others for the toys.  I personally went with Mr. Becker towards the food – it is pretty outstanding what they offer in there.  That being said, at those prices….I can’t imagine myself doing much grocery shopping there (apples were £6/lb!!! crazy!)

Buckingham Palace
Qudrat and Kimmi on the escalator up at Knightsbridge, leading to Harrods (complete with food)

By this time we were ready to head home.  It had been a full day already!  We decided on the tube, though ended up with a variety of crowded cars and long waits – such is the tube during rush hour – and finally made it back to the hotel.  We then went next door to Pizza Express for dinner, and finally had a little down time before room checks and (hopefully) sleep!  Another busy, wonderful, amazing day.  I’m going to admit though – my legs are starting to feel the affect of all the walking!  While there is more walking in store for our busy Wednesday, Thursday will give us a little reprieve has we are up early for a bus tour to Stonehenge!  Great things in store!

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