Nick and Kathy visit, part 2 of 2

Wednesday

After the very big day we had in Bath, which ended with going to bed around midnight, we got a more leisurely start to the next day.  We didn’t have any urgency to get anywhere Wednesday morning.  During the previous day’s breakfast, they’d had some black pudding out, and my mom tried some, but didn’t get past one bite.  (I had tried it before and didn’t need to try it again, like, ever.)  So we were going to suggest my dad try it, just for the experience, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any out at the time we happened to pass through the buffet.

We left the hotel around 10:00am and took the bus to Trafalgar Square in Westminster, to wander and see a list of sights we’d chosen, eventually getting to our ticketed time at the Churchill War Rooms at 2:00pm.  We saw Trafalgar Square, the Admiralty Arch, St James’s Park, and Buckingham Palace (from a distance).  We saw swans landing in St James’s Park Lake just before reaching the palace.

In St. James's Park, near Buckingham Palace
In St James’s Park, near Buckingham Palace

We arrived there at almost exactly 11:00am, coincidentally when the changing of the guard happens (which we did not know or plan in advance).  This meant that a few thousand people were thronging The Mall and Constitution Hill and the area around the Victoria Memorial to watch the changing of the guard, and plenty of security detail was present.  We could only see the Beefeaters moving from a great distance away, but we did see a parade of horsemen that was part of the process.

Buckingham Palace at the changing of the guard, but too far away to see it
Buckingham Palace at the changing of the guard, but too far away to see it

We walked down Constitution Hill, through the Wellington Arch, through Hyde Park, and eventually to Grosvenor Square, one of our main goals for the day.  This was a goal because we have recent ancestors who are Grosvenors.  The square is a one-block green space adjacent to the building that, until recently, was the U.S. Embassy in London.  Consequently, all the memorials in the park are related to the United States, including one to Roosevelt, one on the September 11 attacks, and one about British and American pilots in the Second World War.

Grosvenor Square. See? Grosvenor Square.
Grosvenor Square. See? It says so right there.

We then walked to Harrod’s, the famous fancy department store, but quickly realized that we wanted to buy absolutely nothing, because it’s super-fancy, super-expensive, and not at all our style.  We grabbed sandwiches at a grab-and-go and took the subway to the War Rooms.

They were truly fascinating, but so extensive in scope as to be exhausting.  This may not have been the case for someone who did them first thing in the morning, but we’d already walked several miles and been outdoors for several hours before this, plus our huge day yesterday.  So, although we got a lot out of the War Rooms, about three quarters of the way through we began to skip some content from fatigue.  They tell a fascinating story of London’s underground World War II command center, an amazing time in history led by a very unique man.

Wax figures showing how the war rooms were once used as a command center
Wax figures showing how the war rooms were once used as a command center

After some souvenir shopping and a quick dinner, we got back at a much more reasonable hour (7:30pm), so we could get some real rest.  Even so, we did 20,000 steps today as well, so we’re not shirking on the exercise!  Everyone was having a wonderful time, and we are all very grateful for the experience.

Thursday

Today’s only attraction, because it is so huge, is Hampton Court Palace, in Hampton Court, outside of London.  So we took tube, train, and our own legs to get there.  There were so many things to see in the palace that we certainly cannot come close to describing them all.

Entering the palace
Entering the palace

The weather came and went; some of our photos are sunny and some rainy, and it was always chilly.  This is relevant because the palace has enormous grounds with flowers, topiary, pathways, sculptures, fountains, lakes, lanes, gates, hedges, walls, and more in a vast area around it, which we certainly wanted to see.

Rear of the palace, some of the grounds, and cloudy weather
Rear of the palace, some of the grounds, and cloudy weather

The countless outdoor gardens were all immaculate.  Everywhere you walked there was a new view.  It was impressive, as it was designed to be.  There’s no way we could list everything, but to lift out one small example, we also saw the largest grape vine in the world, which is housed in a greenhouse dedicated to that vine alone, and whose root system has its own garden beds–just to care for the root system!

One example amazing garden from among many, this time in sunny weather
One example amazing garden from among many, this time in sunny weather

Indoors were paintings, tapestries, and sculptures, some from antiquity and some from recent centuries.  The primary themes of these works seemed to be England (of course) and ancient Rome.  The palace itself is, of course, quite impressive and quite large.  We toured the kitchens, the bedrooms, the courtyards, and the galleries.  We learned about much of the life of Henry VIII, whose right-hand clergyman had the palace constructed, and from whom Henry took it when he was displeased with the clergyman’s ability to help him achieve his goals.

One of the impressively decorated interior locations
One of the impressively decorated interior locations

We ate lunch at one of the cafés on the grounds.  We tired of much walking about an hour earlier than we had planned to return, but our train tickets were good for any time, so we came back to London early and used the extra time to run back to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, where Mom wanted to get a souvenir for a friend back home that she had not purchased the first time around.  We then grabbed some pasties, muffins, and beer at a nearby train station (with gifts of chocolate for the family in St Andrews as well!) and headed back to the hotel a bit early.

We had to buy our own beer.  This belongs to the crown.
We had to buy our own beer. This belongs to the crown.

Only about 15,000 steps today, still plenty, but minor exercise compared to our previous days.  We packed up a bit in the evening in the hotel room so that we could be ready to catch our train on time in the morning.

The rest of the trip

Friday was train travel home, restfully, together.  Saturday was family time in St Andrews, so the grandparents could spend time with the grandkids again.  Sunday we did church as a family and in the evening packed the grandparents’ belongings, so that in the morning I could drive them to the airport.  Everybody had a great time, even if it made us want to rest afterwards!

In fact, as we write this post, now having returned to the U.S., we’re looking forward to seeing Nick and Kathy for the first time since that visit, now on this side of the pond.

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