It's been very cold and rainy here since I arrived on Monday. People have been telling me all week that this is the coldest winter they've had in recent memory and it makes me feel a little better about being such a wimp. It's been raining on and off but it hasn't kept me from spending every spare minute I can outside sightseeing. There have been times when I've been very grateful to get inside a church or a museum, though, not only for the astounding sights they have but for the warmth.
I'm not going to bore you all with a travelogue. But here's some photos from my first few days in London, with a surprise at the end.
The Westminster Abbey is nothing short of astonishing. Besides being an architectural marvel, it's also the site of tombs of the most powerful people in the history of England, including Elizabeth I and her half sister Mary 1, and Mary Queen of Scots. By the time you get to the poet's corner you're in a daze before you realize that you're standing on Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Unfortunately they don't allow photos inside, but then it's probably a good thing as I would still be there if they did.
I managed to stumble on the Horse Guards as they were standing at inspection, which they only do at 11 in the morning.
Even though Big Ben has been the icon of London for as long as I can remember, so long that it's almost become a cliche, I was still overjoyed when I first saw it at a distance from Trafalgar Square.
When I get closer, it finally hit me that I was finally back in London after 40 years.
People always say that you get the best photo op of Parliament and Big Ben from across the Thames, but honestly it was so cold that this is as far as I got on the bridge before I turned back.
As I walked on the other end of Saint James Park, Buckingham Palace peeked out from across the way.
But when I looked down the Mall and saw how long it would take me to get to the Palace, I thought...Nah. Not today.
I am SO grateful for these thoughtful little reminders at every cross walk.
My hotel is about 5 blocks away from this place, Kensington Palace, which sits on the west end of Kensington Gardens.
Now here's my chance encounter.
The night before I left for London I got a phone call from my sister Becky.
"I'm calling to confirm your appointment with the Queen," she said when I picked up the phone.
"Very funny. Ha ha." I was very tired and had been trying to get rid of a cold since the day before. I had 24 hours to get ready and wasn't really in the mood to deal with old jokes. We talked for a while about a few things and then hung up. It was nice to hear from her - we don't talk as much as we used to - but I had way too much to do and I promptly forgot about the conversation.
The day before yesterday, I went to the Aldgate area to have lunch with a friend. As I walked up the stairs from the Tube, I noticed there were a lot of policemen standing around on the platform. When I reached the entrance to the station, there were more, and enormous crowds had gathered both on my side of the street and on the other side.
I tried to peek over the crowd and couldn't see what they were looking at.
What's going on, I asked a station employee.
"Oh, the Queen is here!" he said. She was there to inspect the station. (I didn't find out until later the the Aldgate Station had been one of the sites that had been bombed by terrorists in 2005, and seven people had died at the Aldgate Station).
It didn't take me long - about 3 seconds - to get over the shock of the fact that she was there and to go onto paparazzi mode and want to get a photo. Once an opportunist, always an opportunist.
But this is what the crowd looked like from my view.
So I managed to find a spot over on the curb and leaned over as far as I could go. (I didn't push anyone out of the way. Honest). I saw her car...
Then someone opened the door.
And then there she was!
I'd recognize that coat and hat anywhere.
And off she went in her carriage.
Followed by a police Range Rover.
I read the next day that the Queen's Bentley actually broke down shortly after this event and she had to hitch a ride with the Range Rover.
As I left to go meet my friend, I thought of my sister Becky. For once, her joke wasn't far from the truth.