Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Two Day Whirlwind of London and on to Frankfurt

Our week in Scotland and England seemed to fly by much too quickly. On Saturday, we drove our car to Heathrow airport. The trip was uneventful and we had a lot of help from our "Tom Tom". Aside from the first day he drove, my husband did a wonderful job of navigating the narrow streets and following the English system of driving. He admitted that the first day nearly ruined his nerves, but we mastered the round abouts by the time we returned the car.
We took the express train to Paddington Station and from there caught a cab to our hotel. I was very impressed with the express train which only took 15 minutes to take us to central London from Heathrow. Good rapid transit for us!
Our hotel was lovely but the wireless internet service cost roughly $32.00 a day and only worked well in the lobby area. I would have done better bringing my laptop which I could connect in the room....but I would still have had to pay. It is very evident when traveling abroad that the value of the dollar has greatly diminished and all things European are expensive.
On Sunday, we set out to see what we could. We travelled by a hop on hop off sightseeing bus which made it much easier to reach points of interest. It was a long holiday weekend for the British citizens since Monday was a bank holiday. This added to the crowds attending various sightseeing spots. We had a chance to see London Bridge, Tower Bridge (the most famous of the two)Trafalgar square which is quite impressive, the outside of Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul's plus the Tower of London and the crown jewels. To their credit, both churches are closed to visitors on Sunday.
Perhaps the most famous of our stops was the Tower of London best known for its bloody executions and holding the beautiful crown jewels of the realm. We took pictures of the tower tour which I will try to upload to my Flickr account so you can see them. Unfortunately and understandably, we were not able to take any pictures of the crown jewels which were the most magnificent jewels I have ever seen. The crowns, scepters and swords of the kingdom were laden with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires. They were not small either. The number of crowns staggered the imagination and the size of the diamonds was unbelievable.
In another section of the tower complex, we saw an amazing display of armor worn by kings and nobles. Even the horses wore armor and it was astounding to see the fine detail. Of course, both nobleman and horse had to suffer under the weight of all that metal; yet it provided the only protection they had during battle. Guess you had to be in shape in those days for sure!
On Monday, Glenn and I set out on foot to walk from our hotel to Buckingham Palace which is currently open for tours while the Queen is on her vacation. It appeared to be a moderate walk; however, never trust a map! What looks like a couple of blocks can turn into a mile or two. Once we arrived, we had to wait in line for tickets to see the Royal Mews, art gallery and palace. After the purchase, we proceeded to the Royal Mews which house the royal coaches and horses. It was breathtaking to see the coaches in all their finery. Gilded with gold,polished to perfection, and emblazoned with the royal coat of arms, these carriages reflected the pomp and ceremony that has come to identify the British crown.
While all the coaches were outstanding, only one stood above the rest. It was the golden royal coach that carried Queen Elizabeth II to her coronation. This is used only on special occasions and may likely be seen when the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee (sixty years on the throne). In addition to this special coach, we also had a chance to look at the harnesses for the horses. The work involved in keeping all the brass shined must be enormous. Certainly, keeping tack in good condition is a major chore in itself. My hats off to those who keep up with this job along with caring for the 32 horses stabled there.
After this tour, we were ushered into the Queen's art gallery. There was room after room of beautiful artwork by famous Dutch painters. Many had been obtained by King George IV. Various special tables, clocks and chairs were also part of the display. The most striking portraits for us were of King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. They were almost life size in dimension and the detail was exquisite.
Despite all that we had seen, nothing could have prepared us for the Royal State Rooms in the palace itself. Gold gilded designs on each ceiling and around the woodwork dazzled the
eyes. It reminded me of the Baroque era of architecture. The size of the rooms, the decor, the furniture were extravagant but tasteful. There really is no way to explain the grandeur that we saw. Unfortunately, for security reasons, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the art gallery or the palace. If I could share it with you, I would. I felt privileged to be able to see where the Queen hosts state events and special occasions. We were also able to see the wedding gown worn by Kate Middleton at her wedding to Prince William.
Upon leaving the palace, we traveled to Westminster Abbey for a visit inside. A remarkable old church once used as an abbey for monks, it has now become the burial place of the famous. We saw the tombs of T.S. Elliott, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer,
W.H. Auden, Sir Laurence Olivier, and ironically Charles Darwin. I say ironic, because he was a doubter in the existence of God. Queen Elizabeth I, her arch rival Mary Queen of Scotts and various other Kings and Queens are laid to rest there as well. It was an interesting tour of historical significance.
Fortunately, we caught a bus right after this visit to head to St. Paul's Cathedral. We didn't have much time before the tours were to end but we came in as the choir was rehearsing for Evening Song. What a beautiful sound as we walked through the building and looked at its simple beauty. It is possible to go up several tiers and look down below...but....1) I am afraid of heights and 2) my knees could take no more English steps. So we settled for the beauty we could see from the ground floor.
Our day ended with a celebration at the Savoy Grill run by famous Chef Gordon Ramsey (Hell's Kitchen show). Our children got us a reservation and provided us with funds to enjoy this evening. We were treated like celebrities and the food was perfectly prepared. The staff gave us a special piece of pure chocolate mousse with happy anniversary written in chocolate on the plate. Then, we were given a tour of the kitchen and had the opportunity to meet and thank the chefs working that evening. What a glorious evening and one we will never forget!
Today, we flew to Frankfurt, Germany where we have had a day off from our sightseeing. It is a relief too as our feet have done a lot these last few days. Tomorrow, however, we will begin our German tour with a trip to Heidelberg to see the sights. I will keep you all
updated of what we have the opportunity to see as we continue our adventure.

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