TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP
Wednesday, April 4, 2001. Day 6 of 12. CROSSING ABBEY ROAD, WHAT'S A MEWS?, WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL IS NOT WESTMINSTER ABBEY.
NO BIRDING TODAY.
It's 10:12 AM. Sharon and Nancy are in the loo at the Green Park Station, on the Jubilee Line of the Underground. We're headed for Buckingham Palace, to watch the 11:30 AM Guard Change ceremony and this is one of the three or four stops approximately equi-distant from the palace.
A minute ago, I bought a banana for 44 p (pence, hundredths of a pound, pronounced "pee", and I love saying 'p.' It adds a dose of brightness to the day any time I hear it or say it. As in, "Hey Sharon, look at this! Only 99 p!"
I asked the middle-Eastern banana seller where the lady loo is. She had pointed to my right, and said "Downstaih." I pointed the way she pointed, and yelled to Sharon and Nancy, who were looking around for it, "Downstaih!" They go off in that direction, shortly return with the fact that that direction only goes upstaih.
The lady heads us, stepped out of booth, now pointed behind her, says again, but now with a new direction pointer "downstaih." So this time, they found it.
ATTENTION: YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ A FLASHBACK. I'LL TELL YOU WHEN IT'S OVER.
Very early this morning, Portobello road was a bust. There was conflicting information about when they opened. All year, their big day is Saturday morning, which begins early.
Our "best" information said that beginning in April, they open every day at 8:00 AM. This is a huge flea market, except that it's a flea market like "Antiques Roadshow." Expensive goodies of the antique kind. But what was neat were the doors of the houses, each of which opened onto a tiny garden, which in turn led onto the street. My favorite was a nice proper red door.
What we learned again was "Don't believe everything you read." Not only were there no outdoor seller stalls, none of the permanent stores were open that early either. So we moved on to our second scheduled visit of the day.
We took our first red bus ride (covered by our one-week Travelpass) to Abbey Road, to see where the Beatles '60s record album "Abbey Road" cover was photographed. And we encountered a wonderful old English fellow, who tried to help us.
We had a lot of trouble trying to figure out which bus to take to get out there, even with my friend Jim St. Laurent's bus map of Greater London. We finally got the right line, but knew we had to change near Abbey Road. What we didn't know was how long Abbey Road was, and where in a north-south sense on the road, that this album cover was photographed.
So with all these uncertainties in my mind, I asked the bus driver (a young Indian fellow) where to get off for Abbey Road. He seemed uncertain, but then formed a plan in his mind, and pointed out the stop. I asked him to tell us when we got there, and he said ok.
We began to talk with riders, hoping to get confirmation for what the bus driver told us. "No, no! Get off here!" an old codger yelled at me. But this is not the driver's indicated stop. "Get off! Get off! You can walk from here. It's just here," he kept yelling as the driver pulled out from "his" stop. So the old man was really annoyed that I didn't do what he said. He muttered aloud so that everyone could hear him, "Asks for directions, then ignores you. I told him where to get off, and 'e di'n't. Why'd 'e ask for?" And like that for about five minutes. "Don't know what 'e's readin' a map for. Don't know where 'e's goin'." My favorite guy on the trip so far. But he just has to learn to speak out. Stop holding back.
A lady from the opposite end of the friendly spectrum heard us talking about the Beatles, apologized for the old man indirectly, and told us where to get off. We thanked her, and the old man continuds grumbling, now to himself.
We hopped off (listening to the rising tones from the old man, just for our benefit, I figure) and took another bus, which dropped us about one block from the desired intersection. And Holy Cow, Batman, there was Abbey Road Studios, where the album was produced. There's the road sign, which, like most street signs in London, is fastened onto buildings. It said Abbey Road and I wanted to get one of those.
Nancy took a photo of Sharon and me, trying to duplicate the album cover, walking across the street. We figured we were the first Americans to think of doing this.
We realized, when Portobello busted, that we could see Abbey Road and still get to Buckingham Palace before the Changing of the Guard.
But back to the present.
ATTENTION: END OF FLASHBACK. ALL READERS MUST EXIT THE BUS.
Nancy and Sharon are just now coming back from the loo.
We walk to Buckingham Palace in the light rain, and I wonder if they will do the ceremony in this weather. I pick a spot in front of the main gate, to wait. But first, I asked a couple of bobbies if they would have the change in this rain. "If it stays like this, they will 'ave it," he says, emphasis on the "will."
I go back to my waiting point, and the rain and wind get heavier. It's about 10:45 AM, and Nancy is stationed across the street and up some stairs, where one person told us that that was the best place to watch from. Sharon says that my waiting spot will disappear because the marching band and guard will come through this very gate, after they open it. Which means they'll run me and my wait mates away from the gate.
I look over at Nancy, who is furiously motioning to get my attention. She points off to her far right and looks over there. I know something's up, so I abandon my gate wait and rush over. There are a number of mounted guards, riding down to do the Horse Guard Change at another location. This will occur at 11:00 AM, about a quarter- to a half-mile from here.
I get some nice video, but no photos. Then it's back to the gate, which is now becoming crowded. I manage to get back to the front after another couple leave.
Shortly, a coach arrives, and about 15 young men, dressed in business suits, exit the bus, which is inside the fence surrounding the palace, and take shelter in an entrance to the palace. But they can see us from their location. I don't know why they are there, except I hope that it's to watch the guard change.
About that time, 20 or so over-coated guards march from around the side of the palace toward us, then do a 45 degree angle turn and are heading right for me. I get my video camera out and film them. They march to the front of the palace, between my gate and the palace front, then halt. Sometime in there, I get off one photo of the troops.
A leader walks about them inspecting and commenting, occasionally adjusting their traditional tall, black, bear fur hats. The business suited men watch all this. It's raining pretty good, and blowing.
After a few minutes, the "captain" gets them marching again, and they march back where they came from, disappearing.
A police lady, in yellow raincoat comes to the gate and says that we must all move back from the gate and behind the ropes. The guard change procession will come through here. Hot dog! This is great.
I move over to where Nancy is, and get ready with my video camera. I think this will be a better location anyway. It's now POURING down rain, and blowing hard. Then someone next to me says to his mate that the official Changing of the Guard has been cancelled. I ask a mounted policeman and he confirms. We have seen what's known as a "wet guard change."
We get our heads together and decide to go visit the Royal Mews, where the carriages and horses are stabled. It's only about a ten minute walk. So with our new plan, we are off.
Lots of other people got the same idea, and we get in line for tickets, then wait for the noon opening, just ten minutes away. A fellow from Florida starts talking with us, and he says that he went to Stonehenge. It was closed, but the bus drove by, stopped or slowed, and people took photos from the high bus windows. "It's really small," he offers.
I think, "Hey, we can see it!" Then the noon bell rings and we are off, into the mews. We learn that mews or mue is a French word (as I recall, maybe erroneously) for changing of skin, cloak or feathers. They were great falconers centuries ago, and the king kept his falcons in a special building when they were molting. It began to be referred to as the mews. Then a fire came along, but the building was rebuilt, bigger. The king needed more space for his many horses, so he moved the birds, but the people continued to refer to the building as the mews. You learned something new today, aren't you proud?
The first thing we see is a bright, shiny carriage, elegant and handsome. A couple of carriages later is the wedding carriage, used by Charles and Diana in their at-the-time fairy tale wedding ceremony.
Sharon says the glass in the carriage lamps is actually crystal, Waterford I think. We then go inside and see a front view and back view of the gold carriage, the back view showing a triton. Unbelievable. I picture gold paint being used to cover every square millimeter of this coach, but it's not. It's actual gold.
We finish off the Royal Mews, then find a pub to pay attention to our hunger. We sit down at our table, make our decision, then go to the bar to order. Sharon has the small and I have the regular chicken pot pie (Not it's real name. This is what I would call it if I forgot its English name, which I have).
One of the girls soon brings us our order, and these pot pies are fantastic in their appearance, as well as taste.
At 4:47 PM, we head out into the now light rain, having gotten directions to Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic and five minutes away) and Westminster Abbey (Church of England and five more minutes past that).
As we come around a corner, and I see the famous tower of Westminster Cathedral, it strikes me that this terra cotta-looking tower is something I've been seeing from all over London.
Upon entry, we learn that unlike the Church of England churches, we can take all the photos we want. So of course, I'm not too interested. We tour the Cathedral, then head on over to Westminster Abbey, still in the rain.
Westminster Abbey is a spectacular place, in the general form of a cross, inside, with extremely high gothic ceilings. I want to take a picture of those ceilings so badly, but I can't. "No photos, smoking or video."
Somehow a photo of one of the tall walls at the end of the long arm of the cross-shaped abbey jumps into my camera. I can't explain it.
We see burial stones in the floor of all manner of famous English people. Chaucer, Handel, Winston Churchill and many others.
At one point in the one-way, looping tour around the abbey, the path passes through the cloisters. We take a break and since photos are allowed here, I get one looking outside the cloisters, where the sun has now come out, and one of the cloister ceiling, which is also gothic.
We continue walking through the cloisters when the keeper of the abbey exits a huge door, into the cloister area, turns around to lock it, and Nancy says, "Look at that key!" He's holding a key about 12 inches long and extremely cool. Very heavy duty. He motions Nancy to come over to lock the door. As she is doing so (I video tape this), he says that Oliver Cromwell had this key made about 500 years ago. Nancy and Sharon are ecstatic about this lucky little event. "I can't [rhymes with 'want'] be photographed [again the broad 'a' in photographed]," he says to me with that wonderful English accent, which I either subconsciously ignore or else cahn't understand.
He's in the video too.
There is a wonderful view of the top of the abbey through open cloister grillwork. A little further on, and we see an extremely appropriate plaque honoring Sir Haley, who discovered his own comet. What a coincidence, huh?
I see another great view of the rose window (architectural window shaped like a rose, not rose-colored) through the cloister grillwork, and I love this picture. We head for the underground, and I get one last look at Westminster Abbey with the Parliament Building to the right.
We make our way through St. James Park to the general location of our underground station, but there's yellow tape across a street just beside the station. "Oh no," I think, "our station's closed." But we ask, and a bobbie says that only area behind the tape is closed, and we can go on down and catch our train.
It's now 4:56 and we are waiting on the platform at St. James Station. The Circle Line train will arrive in 3 minutes. It's fun, in a crowded sort of way, to travel in the underground with the commuters. Everybody reads newspapers or books while they travel to and from work.
We have been warned that pickpockets are common in crowded areas, and just a couple of days ago, Nancy was in line at a small fruit/food stand. The guy just behind her put his hand in Nancy's coat pocket trying to get something that was in her sweater pocket, inside her coat. He could apparently feel the thing, but he didn't get anything.
A District Line train comes (just about two minutes before our Circle Line train), discharges its passengers, and others get on. The doors stand open, and the lady announcer is saying something I can't understand. I hear something that sounds like "earthquake" and then everybody on the train is waving for us three to get on NOW.
The lady is saying that there is a bomb warning, and we must get on the train.
We get on the train.
It zips out of the station, headed west, in the correct direction, and I find I am subconsciously expecting to hear a blast. Luckily for us, I don't. Just the screeching of the train, which seems to need a shot of three-in-one.
We get off in one stop, exit at the Victoria Station, and wait for our Circle Line train. Nobody seemed particular upset by the bomb scare. Nobody British.
Both the Circle Line and District Line ply this underground track, but in a couple more stops, the District Line splits. Some of its trains also go to our Paddington Station, but others continue on and don't.
We arrive at our now-extremely-welcome Paddington Station, and walk the four minutes to our hotel.
Except for dinner and photo review, our great day is done.
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