Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, The British Museum AND Westminster Abby!

Aug 15

Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, The British Museum AND Westminster Abby!

Phew, did we have a busy day today! I was still sore from the 9.5 miles we walked yesterday when I got up this morning. And then we walked 10 miles today!!! Yuck, I’m out of shape! We made a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast with jam, and an apple then headed out for our tour of Buckingham Palace! We took the Tube in and arrived with half an hour before our allotted time at 10am. So, we meandered through the streets of London, grabbed some coffee at a cafe and headed through the public park to the entrance of the palace. After loitering around the palace, waiting for the gates to open, we realized at 9:59am we were probably in the wrong place. After asking for directions, we rushed around the block to the public entrance, got our tickets (yay! We weren’t too late!) and waited in the queue before being ushered through security and into the first State Rooms!

*Disclaimer* – for the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abby, photos were not allowed to be taken inside, hence the lack of photos for this post! Tried to sneak a few, but they turned out all shabby.

The term ‘State Rooms’ is applied to those rooms that were designed and built as the public rooms of the Palace, in which monarchs receive, reward and entertain guests, including dignitaries. Today the State Rooms are used extensively by The Queen and members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain on State, ceremonial and official occasions. We received free audio guides and made our way through the maze of rooms filled with royal portraits, silk furniture, crystal chandeliers, gilt gold, ornate rugs, and 19th century style architecture. In a few places, we found gifts given to the Queen by foreign diplomats including a carved jade polar bear and Inuit tribesman from Canada. We couldn’t believe how outrageously ornate and expensive everything was. Of course, the State Rooms are meant to impress upon visitors the immense wealth and power of the King or Queen. In one room, the ball room built for Queen Victoria, there were 8 crystal chandeliers 11ft tall and 4ft wide, each weighing half a ton! We were dumped out of the tour into the Royal Gardens. Unfortunately we were only able to skirt the perimeter on our way out of the palace grounds, but what we could see looked beautiful and tranquil. Oh how nice it must be to be royalty.

After our tour, we headed off to the Churchill War Rooms Museum. It was a bit of a walk, but well worth the pain. The museum is housed below ground where Winston Churchill directed the wartime government during World War II. The quarters were all very cramped in the underground bunker and of course very secret. There was a transcontinental phone line used by Churchill to phone Roosevelt and then Truman during the War. It was housed in a small room, marked as a lavatory in the bunker that was constantly “in use.” Because there were no flushing toilets in the bunker, the staff of the Cabinet believed it to be the only working toilet in the whole place reserved especially for the Prime Minister. The importance of the phone was such that even government officials, working night and day in the bunker, did not know of its existence. The museum was a plethora of detailed information regarding the layout of the bunker, use of each room, and the history of Churchill in a smaller museum dedicated specifically to him. We wandered through each exhibit, ending, of course, in a gift shop. We headed off to find lunch, then find the British Museum.

We bought to-go sandwiches at a small cafe with NO eating space, so we walked over the the nearest train station and found some seats. Ryder checked the proximity of the museum to our location and deemed it walkable. We headed off only to discover half a mile later that we walked to the wrong museum (I can see this happening to a lot of people with a museum name like “The British Museum.” How unspecific can you get??). Bummer. We caught a bus (double decker!!) back the way we came and down a few more streets to the actual museum. Admission was free so we went in and toured the highlights of the museum, namely the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, an Easter Island head, and Hokusai’s Great Wave painting. Unfortunately, because of the delicate nature of the painting, the Great Wave was not on display, but we were able to see the other famous works. We headed out to Chipotle for dinner after then on to Westminster Abby.

Westminster Abby was a very interesting place as it has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. Among these monarchs, we found the graves of other prominent people of history including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Darwin. It was pretty spectacular to stand at the monuments of these legends and of course I tried to remember what happened in the Da Vinci Code regarding Sir Isaac Newtons tomb. We finished the tour at the Coronation Chair, commissioned by King Edward I to enclose the famous Stone of Scone (Stone of Destiny), which he brought from Scotland to the Abbey in 1296. The Stone of Scone was used in Scotland as the seat for Scottish Kings at their coronations. The symbolism is just too much. Apparently the stone was allowed to be sent back to Scotland in 1996, but will be brought back to London for the next coronation.

After our walk through Westminster Abby we headed home and are now more than ready for a good nights sleep!! Tomorrow its off to Stone Henge!

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