Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 2: Exploration Commences

Our first actual day!! As yesterday included the plane ride and a very disastrous pub experience, it didn't really count. No, today is the official day of exploration.

During our trip in London, we have what we call a 'London Pass'. It's a great little thing that gives you access to a variety of places and also gives you free travel anywhere within the 6 zones of London. However, we only bought one for three days time, and as such we did not activate it this day. Instead, we took the time to explore the nearby streets and apartments (no we didn't break in to any, though that would have been very informative on the lives of British people). Luckily for us, we were along a street called Buckingham Palace Road, and it was a very modest walk to a number of the large attractions you see in the city.

We got ready in the morning (sleeping was difficult, whether it's because the room was too hot or because we were too anxious to sleep properly). Whilst getting ready we had our first experience with British electricity sockets. We had been warned far in advance of the differences, and we had plugged our convertor in to the wall just as we had been told to. We put the flat iron in to the socket, and as soon as westarted to use it on hair we noticed something was off. For one, it shouldn't smoke as you slide it down your hair, yes? I mean, steam is acceptable on damp hair, but my hair was really not very damp. Hm. Secondly, it shouldn't smell like burnt hair, right? Kirstie gives it a try. She pulls the straightener from her roots to her ends but stops 1/3 of the way, because her hair is no longer there. It was burned off! Freaking out, we try another adapter and Aunty L kindly volunteers her hair for the next attempt. It seems to work! But it's odd, because these adapters were the exact same kind, only one seemed to work and one didn't. That's a hard lesson learned -- don't assume things will work the way they're intended.
After we were ready (rather late, about noon), we headed out to Buckingham Palace and St. James park. The walk down was very enjoyable, we passed all these apartments there were made in what you would call the classic London look. What I found odd was a lot of the buildings were offices and places of work, rather than houses and places of domestic stay. We saw a `bobby`, a police officer, and of course as it was our first day we had to get a picture with the first official we saw. The trees were also lovely: big, large and fluffy with all their leaves. We walked along the roads and stopped in for a quick baguette at a cafe, and also paid a visit to the Royal Mews. Of course we couldn't go in to the Mews because our London pass had yet to be activated and it would be a waste of money, but we had a little chat with the woman who allows people in regardless. Then, we kept on along the road and came across some very nice looking buildings. We didn't know what it was, we couldn't find a sign! So I asked the man standing at the gate. I walked in to the yard, looked at him very politely and asked what the place was. He just looked at me and said, "This is the Queen's residence!". Apparently it was the side entrance to Buckingham palace, haha. Silly us. We got escorted off the grounds and Aunty L snagged a picture. When we did as much the guard said "So that's what you really wanted!". Of course we didn't, we actually wanted to know what the building was... but Aunty L is a ninja with that camera. Haha.

Of course, we had to grab some pictures with the telephone booths we saw on the way. The only unfortunate thing is that these ones smelled pointedly of piss. Obviously a few people have used it as a lavatory in the past. We might look like we`re smiling and having a ball, but we actually had our noses plugged for most of our time in there, and our hands never touched any of the glass panelling.

So we walked around and saw that yes, it was indeed Buckingham Palace we had just trespassed on. We got a few obligatory tourist photos at the gate, at the memorial, and area. There were no beefeaters at the gate because of the heat (they had retreated to their covered little areas inside the grounds), unfortunately. We decided we could always come back at another time, though. I mean, we did live in the area afterall!

After seeing the palace we walked in to what was apparently St. James park. It was, in a word, beautiful. There were ancient trees and beautiful flowers, wildlife and surprisingly it wasn't very crowded as far as a city goes. In fact, in general the entire area didn't seem to be as busy as other big cities. It was nice.

As we walked around we learned there were a couple events going on in the area. In the evening there was to be a ballet showing, and a military show of some sort that I think had to do with the Queen's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, but it turns out it wasn't. Instead, it was "Beating Retreat". It is a tradition which has its origins in the 16th century: before sunset, soldiers would beat drums at sunset to let people know that the gates were about to be shut. We dragged Uncle D along to this, and did in fact go to see the ballet in front of the National Gallery as well, but it turns out it was just displayed on a screen rather than live. So of course, as the two events were happening at the same time, Kirstie and I returned to the Beating Retreat and watched till the end. That solved our problem of being in two places at once quite effectively.  We made it just in time for the cannon fire! It was really fun. A ton of black capped beefeaters were there, and even somewhat casually walking around before the show. Kirstie and I were regretting not asking some of them for a picture.

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