We ate breakfast at the flat (Nutella on toast, baby!) and headed into London via a double decker bus to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. By the way, I've never tasted bread as delicious as the straight off the shelf bread from the Fulham grocery store. Not even in Paris! This stuff was nutty and delicious and supposedly from the countryside outside of London. Yum.
Buckingham Palace was crowded, but exciting, and felt very London-y to be standing in the crowds watching the British guards with their tall hats and different colored plumes playing Christmas carols. The Queen wasn't in London, since she was celebrating Christmas in Sandringham (see how I learned so much about British royalty?), but I guess there is always a changing of the guard and the crowds come no matter what. It was actually surreal to go see The King's Speech last weekend and see scenes from Buckingham Palace and know that I was JUST THERE! The miracles of modern travel, huh?
Anyway, we left as the crowds thinned and walked up to Hyde Park again, and bought a Big Bus Tour to give us an overview of London, because seriously, I've been a lot of places and never felt quite as overwhelmed as I felt in London. This place is GINORMOUS. Huge. Monstrously large. The bus tour was fabulous because it made London seem manageable and helped us to understand how the whole city fit together and how where we were standing related to the rest of the city. The best part was that as part of a winter promotion, we got two days of touring instead of one day, AND we were allowed to take a free boat cruise and free walking tours from a local tour agency. It was great!
The only problem (and don't laugh) is that we could barely understand the tour guide! Of course, he was speaking English, but with the thickest accent ever! We sat on the bus as it weaved it's way around London and got off when it neared the theatre district and went over to the TKTS booth to purchase tickets to a show. After several minutes of indecision, we finally settled on Chicago for that night. I was desperate to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest show, but eventually decided I thought Josh would enjoy Chicago more. We grabbed a bite to eat, and then jumped back on the bus. Thankfully, our new driver still had a British accent, but was totally understandable. Even better, we got the front seats on the top deck! It totally felt like London!
As we approached Trafalgar Square I realized THIS is what I was missing from London. All the rest, the shopping, the parks, the squares, it didn't feel like my image of the city. This. This was the London I'd been waiting for. The National Gallery, the monuments, and THEN, further down the road, Downing Street, Parliament, Parliament Clock Tower with Big Ben inside, Westminster Abbey. LONDON, people, we're in LONDON! It was amazing.
The tour continued across the river to that (sorry) hideously ugly London Eye. What is WITH that thing? Ugh, Josh and I could barely stand to look at it. Then the Tate Modern, the Docklands, the recreated Shakespeare Globe Theatre, eventually crossing back over the Tower Bridge (what I'd previously thought was the London Bridge), passing by the Tower of London, and then through the actual city of London (where the financial district is), and St. Paul's Cathedral (where Prince Charles and Princess Di were married).
The bus looped back around and we got off next to The Ritz, where of course I took some Notting Hill dedicated pictures and pretended to be Julia Roberts. I mean, wouldn't you?
And then we grabbed a coffee and booked it back over to the National Gallery to do a SPEED TOUR of the museum. Literally, a speed tour in under an hour. Kind of shameful, but kind of awesome, I'm not going to lie. The museum guards booted us out promptly at 6pm, in such a hurry to close the museum, I lost my only winter hat inside, which was kind of a bummer, and they wouldn't let me back in to look for it! Bastards.
I did take several precious minutes to stand on the balcony of the National Gallery and just be. Stand in the shadows of the setting sun and breathe in London. Glimpse the mess of traffic, the crowds, the street performers, and as I was standing there, Big Ben began to sound. Surreal, honestly, and gloriously wonderful. Not a moment I'll soon forget.
We were quickly approaching THEATRE TIME so we started walking back in that direction and stopped in a pizza place on the way, before seeing the show. It was around this point that I realized, rather stupidly, that my wish for seeing a show featuring actors with British accents wasn't going to be fulfilled. Because, you see, Chicago is set in, oh wait, you guessed it, CHICAGO. So the British actors and actresses were going to be modeling American accents. Isn't that freaking fantastic? I'm practically a genius. Regardless, the show was fabulous. Sexy, and sultry, and funny, and everyone was ridiculously talented, and the music was gorgeous, and we loved it. When we came outside it had started raining, as it does in London, and Josh and I walked the streets at midnight, hand in hand, in the rain, singing the music. Sigh.
Another bus ride home, another Skyped call with the kids (where they asked me again to please come home tonight) and to bed, to bed, for another crazy day tomorrow. At this pace, I might be wearing Josh out. What do you think?