Anyway, the only problem with the Number 10 bus was that it stopped on nearly every single street, so it took almost an hour to get to the central part of London. I got off at Grosvenor Gardens, which was exciting because I remembered it from The Importance of Being Earnest. I was starving, so I located the nearest food source - a little sandwich shop called Pret a Mange - bought myself some lunch, and ate it in the park. It was just too cool to be sitting there casually eating lunch in the middle of a famous place in London.
This was a funny statue in the park that I liked. I'm dying to know why he's standing on his head.
Another statue in the gardens
The famous Grosvenor Hotel
I bet you can tell why I liked this pub
After lunch I decided to go into Victoria Station and look around a bit (and also find a public restroom). Here it is from the outside:
It was quite pretty inside - but I was also surprised to find it was kind of like a giant shopping mall as well as train station! I guess we don't really have trains much here in the southwest, so maybe it's like that back East too, but I found it interesting and different.
Inside Victoria Station
Took this picture of the train for James
After I left Victoria Station, I went in search of Buckingham Palace, which several signs informed me was nearby. This was a pretty sort of hanging garden covering a building along the way.
I started to walk along a big long stone wall, still looking for Buckingham, and then I saw a small side entrance with a sign inviting me to come pay 22 pounds to see the Queen's furniture and art in Buckingham Palace.
Not exactly what I expected
I was quite surprised that I had just walked right past Buckingham Palace without realizing it! Where were the beautiful gates? Where were the guards? Where was the...grandeur and spectacle?? I decided to keep walking and see if things got any more exciting. It's a good thing I did. I rounded the corner and there was the main entrance, which more than lived up to my expectations!
The Queen Victoria monument outside the Palace
A close-up of the gates
The whole gorgeous palace
And another angle
A view of the Victoria monument from the park right next to the palace
It was at this point than my camera battery died! Heartbreak! You will just have to imagine the rest of the things I visited as I do my best to describe them. After walking around the palace a bit, I walked into Green Park, which is right (literally right) next to the palace. It was a beautiful little park, full of huge old trees and birds and squirrels. I sat on a bench and nursed Jules and thought about Lewis and Tolkien, two of my favorite English authors. Somehow it felt like the kind of place they would have loved. I wondered who else those trees had looked down on over the years - what famous Brits had sat under them and loved them and been inspired by them. Then we meandered through the park, watched an adorable little curly-headed toddler chasing squirrels, walked around some war memorials, and finally found myself in Hyde Park, which is an enormous - simply enormous - park with all kinds of lovely sights. I meandered through rose gardens, ivy-covered archways, giant trees so massive that groups of children were completely hidden under their branches...past duck-filled lakes and fountains and elaborate bridges...down paths with dancers and roller skaters doing incredible maneuvers...past playgrounds and horse trails and bike trails...I spent several hours in the Hyde Park and I barely covered a quarter of it! I kept thinking how much I wished my children were there to enjoy it with me. If we lived in London, I would take them there every day! (Or maybe I wouldn't. It's huge....if they ran out of sight, how would I ever find them again?!) Around four o'clock, which as everyone knows is Official Tea Time in Britain, I went into a little tea shoppe (yes, they have tea shops in Hyde Park too!) and got myself a cup of tea and a muffin, and had tea out in the courtyard. Unfortunately, one bad thing I noticed about London is the number of people who smoke. Everyone seems to smoke - and since they're not allowed to smoke indoors at all, I believe, the entryways to buildings were always filled with a crowd of people surrounded by a smoky haze. Blech. So the smoke was enough to make me hurry up my cup of tea and move along to a new place.
After leaving Hyde Park, I wandered in the the direction of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I stopped in a little shop that looked sort of like a natural pharmacy - the sign was in Arabic, which was kind of interesting, and the man who initially tried to help me find cough drops didn't speak much English. I finally was able to make his supervisor, who was English, understand what I wanted ("throat lozenges" is what I should have called them ;-). After studying my map, I discovered I was still pretty far from the Victoria and Albert Museum, but very close to Harrods department store, so I decided to go in and look around. I knew it was a fancy/expensive store, but I had no idea just how expensive until I actually went inside. It was amazing! In some ways it was more like a museum than a store. The entire first floor was dedicated to jewelry....delicate, ornate, sparkling under lights in glass cases. There were no price tags. If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know! The second floor was gloves and scarves, purses and shoes. I thought I'd buy something, just some little thing so I could say "I got it at Harrods," but there was nothing even close to what I could afford! The third floor had long, gorgeous formals and elaborate hats with famous labels. And unlike much of what you see in the Hollywood red carpet photos these days, these were actually pretty and classy-looking. I skipped the menswear floor, but the fifth floor was children's clothes and baby's layettes and furniture. Most of the baby clothes cost more than I have ever paid for any article of my own clothing! And the most crazy thing of all - wandering through the children's section, I discovered that there is an entire Disney store inside the department store! Crazy!
Right about this time, Harrods was closing, and I was supposed to meet my dad outside Buckingham so we could go to dinner. This was when things started to a bit....wonky, as the Brits would say. I decided instead of walking all the way back up Brompton Road, up Knightsbridge, and then up Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, I decided to take a side street that seemed to lead right toward Buckingham. This, obviously, turned out to be a huge mistake. Unlike Albuquerque streets, the streets in London are not laid out in nice, neat, N-S and E-W grids! Instead they wind and meander all over the place. Long story short, I ended up lost - very lost. I was wandering around a bunch of tiny little side and back streets and couldn't seem to manage to find a main one again. Dad kept calling me and trying to help me navigate back via the map on his phone and I kept looking at my map of London, trying to figure it out, but I just couldn't find my way back. My feet were killing me and I was exhausted and Julie was extremely fussy, and of course there were no benches to sit on to put her to sleep. Finally I managed to find my way back to one of the walls of Buckingham Palace grounds, a landmark I actually recognized! The only problem was, it was the wrong side of Buckingham....and I ended up having to walk all the way around it to make it back to the front gates and the Victoria Memorial, where Dad was waiting! Oh, my aching feet! The grounds of Buckingham are absolutely enormous! Also, this is what the wall looks like the entire way around:
Those are some serious spikes protecting the royal family! Yowzers!
At long last, I met up with Dad and we got someone to snap our picture in front of Buckingham Palace:
Then we made our way over to Soho, where Dad's friend was playing in a jazz club. We were supposed to eat dinner there before the show, but unfortunately they wouldn't let Julie into the club. I guess their laws are pretty strict about kids under 14 in certain places, like bars. They were really nice about it though. So we ended up going to a little Italian place right across the street. It was so delicious - the second best Italian food I've ever had in my life! (The best ever was in Jena, Germany, made by an Italian immigrant, but that's another story.) Even our salads were magnificent.
Who knew beets, feta, and asparagus could be so delicious?
After the meal, we took a quick picture outside the jazz club, Ronnie Scott's, and then Dad went inside to watch his friend play and I took a taxi home.
I was pretty much beat by this point, so I went to bed. But not before I took this photo of London nighttime from our hotel room window:
Goodnight from London!