London 2009 was an inspirational adventure in the first week of June. I had just gotten settled into the new job in Germany, paid off some long standing bills and decided that I deserved a weekend away. Getting to London from the Continent is easy and usually inexpensive with super saver airline tickets sometime being offered for $0 (they never really are because of taxes and fees).. There are many flight options and the distances are small by American standards. The details are getting fuzzy, but as I remember I took a Ryan Air flight from southern Germany to Stanstead Airport which is located about 30 miles north of downtown London. Ryan Air has phenomenal ticket prices if you book ahead. Of course the actual cost will be at least twice that due to taxes and fees but even so flying for two hours and paying less than 30 Euros is difficult to beat.
I'd booked a hotel near Hyde Park, the largest and one of the most famous of London's royal parks. The hotel itself was just OK, an aging 3 star in the midst of more affluent neighbors, but just right for me since I was only sleeping there between tours. London cannot be properly visited on a weekend such as I had, but even so making efficient use of the long daylight hours in June I was able to at least hit many of the main attractions and even the Queen's birthday parade at Buckingham palace. I'd actually visited the city first time in 1968 while I was serving with the US Army in Munich, Germany. But even a venerable old girl such as she is gets some new attractions. The London Eye for example did not exist in the late 1960's. Normally when I visit a new city I take the city bus tour first thing to get my bearings and decide where I will focus my attention later on. I did this as usual in London, but there is an option worth considering as an alternative. The London Eye is perhaps one of the largest rotating Farris wheels anywhere. Since it's inception other cities have copied the Eye and perhaps made their wheels even larger and more plush, but the London Eye was the first of the mega sized Farris wheel attractions and it still has the ability to impress. Unless you want to pay for a heli ride around town the Eye is the best way to get a quick overview of the city. If you only have a few hours this is a solution. Of course the bus tours allow you to see the sights up close and to step off when you want to explore. So I did both taking first the bus tour and then doing a spin on the Eye.
While I was there a fortuitous event occurred. Completely unplanned, I had arrived on the weekend of the Queen's official birthday. She has two you know, the actual date of birth and the official day when England celebrates the event. Wikipedia explains it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen's_Official_Birthday and the interesting thing is that it can change from monarch to monarch and by proclamation or local decree in the various countries of the Commonwealth. So it seems it's just a day when the British honor their current sovereign regardless of actual birthday. I sensed something unusual was happening when as I approach Buckingham palace I saw throngs of people and lots of security folks. This wasn't just a changing of the guard. Something big was going to happen. So I joined the crowd moving towards the main boulevard leading to the place grounds and took my place along the roped off line that kept the onlookers in check. About every 20 yards a guardsman in full dress uniform was posted. Regular and other police were in high concentration throughout the crowd. The atmosphere seemed light and tinged with excitement. I still really didn't know what was going to happen, but I figured all those folks must be waiting for something interesting and since it was free I decided to find out what was happening.
After about 15 minutes the first contingent of horse cavalry in rode by. It's been awhile since I've seen such pomp and precision especially with mounted troops. Next came some folks in horse drawn carriages. From the people nearby I learned these were some of the younger royals but I don't remember exactly which ones. Then prince Phillip rode by followed by the Queen in her special carriage which amazingly was open. I would have imagined that she would have been protected by some kind of glass or screen, but as far as I could see she was just sitting there alone in full view of the crowd. The crowd was shouting and cheering saying "happy birthday mum". Finally the Household Cavalry band rode into view and struck up a martial tune with impressive force. I've never seen a horse mounted band before. They really were splendid looking and the power of the march really gave one the sense of the majesty and power of the British Empire even though it is not nearly today what it was 100 years ago. I would like to have known the name of the march they were playing. Here is a link that shows more or less what I saw although the tune is not the same. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YDbGgO7r14&feature=relmfu After the parade the crowd slowly moved toward the palace and I just let myself be carried along with them. I took several photos there and then escaped down a side street and back to my hotel.
Later that afternoon I visited the Tower of London. The photos towards the end of the display show some of the highlights there. Most of you know something about the tower which really is a small fortress dating back to the very early years when London was tiny. It was built by the Normans shortly after their successful invasion of England in 1066. Rather than have me re-phrase its history I direct you to a link that will presents the essential information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London
The Queen's birthday parade and the London Eye were for me the most remembered items of this trip. The city bus tour was about what one expects. London has so many attractions it really impossible to even make a small dent in a weekend. Next time I hope to go with Lana as she hasn't visited the UK due to visa restrictions on Russians. A relic of the cold war days.
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