Honeymoons can start off well, or they can start off with travel disasters.
We were lucky. We arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport the morning of Monday, April 30th to sunny skies and warmish (for the UK in spring) weather. My carefully planned out honeymoon itinerary (I’m a planner, not a spontaneous traveler) started immediately after we checked in to our hotel.
God must have been good to us – our hotel room at the luxury boutique hotel, Rubens by the Palace, located right across the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace – was available at 9:00 a.m. We checked in, refreshed ourselves quickly and changed into our comfortable walking shoes. Our goal was to explore Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square.
Checking Out Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square
After a seven hour flight, we were ready to stretch our legs and started to talk towards Westminster Abbey. This historic church is the final resting place of many royals – including Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. In the Poet’s Corner, the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer and Alfred Tennyson lay in eternal rest. The list of famous people buried in the abbey also include Sir Isaac Newton and more recently, actor Laurence Olivier.
Frank jokingly calls this the resting place of many of his ancestors. It’s true – his father has traced the family line all the way back to Charlemagne. Many of Frank’s many times great-grandparents were kings or queens.
On the day we were going to visit his ancestors’ final resting place, we were late to arrive. As we had just arrived in London, it couldn’t be helped. Normally I would have dragged Frank out of bed to get to Westminster Abbey for opening time.
Just as we rounded the corner of the Abbey, we saw a huge line-up already in place at 10 a.m. Frank and I queued up behind a long line up of people, mainly Italians. And we waited… and waited…
While waiting, we passed by this beautiful tree covered by this climbing shrub. The trees in London were starting to show their spring leaves. The sky was gorgeously blue and we were getting nice and pink under the sun, while we waited… and waited…
Check The Signs at Westminster Abbey
The wait gave us a great opportunity to view the intricate architecture of the Gothic Westminster Abbey. The present church is from the 13th century, with improvements and additions over the years, however the actual abbey may have been built in the 7th century (such as the western towers, one of which you see in this photo).
While we really enjoyed the visit inside (we couldn’t take any photos as it was not permitted), we were a bit peeved to find out when halfway in the line-up that the line we were waiting for was for tickets paid by credit card only. Another line-up on the other side of the Abbey was for cash only tickets. The sign indicating which line we were in was set too far onto the grounds of the Abbey for us to see which line we were lining up in! So a tip: before you line up to get into Westminster Abbey, check for signs… or come early before it opens to check out the lay of the land.
Exiting Westminster Abbey we had an opportunity to take a few photos of the beautiful Great West Door, flanked by the huge towers.
Looking straight ahead of the Great West Doors of Westminster Abbey, your eye caught a huge column with kings seated on thrones and a knight at top – St. George – killing a serpent. This is the War Memorial to those who were educated at Westminster School and who died in the Indian Mutiny and Crimean War.
The Parliament Buildings and Palace of Westminster
After our Westminster Abbey visit, we started to walk towards the Palace of Westminster and the parliament buildings. We didn’t get in to to a tour as it wasn’t open to overseas visitors yet (only during the summer season). Someday I’d like to see the interior of the building and its historic sections.
Frank had his camera out most of the time, taking photos and taking in the architecture. While a number of buildings in the area remind us of those built in Canada in the 1800s, the historic buildings of the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey can put you in awe, reminding you of the age of the city.
In Parliament Square, a statue of a grim Winston Churchill stares down at you.
The area around the Palace of Westminster is always busy with tourists, protestors, and police and security.
Big Ben started ringing at noon as we walking towards it. Locals ignored its booming sound, but tourists looked up and gawked.
A View From The Southbank
While I was taking photos of the scenes and Frank, Frank was also taking photos – of me! During this second visit in London, I was no longer taking lousy self-photos with a point and shoot camera.
Taking a walk across the Thames, we wandered east of Westminster past the London Eye. High up in the sky, and ever-so-slowly circling around, it was mobbed by people – on a MONDAY! Perhaps it had something to do with the gorgeous weather we were experiencing and the great views to be had.
Walking along the south bank of the Thames you get to see the main sights from a distance. Along this route, walking towards the Hungerford Bridge which takes you north to Charing Cross Station, you get to see buskers putting on a show for passersby. People walk a bit slower on this side of the bank, but in some spots they are numerous, even on a weekday.
An old fashioned carousel graces the south bank close to Charing Cross Station. A great place to stop with the kids if you need a break from non-stop touring.
The Hungerford Bridge is a beautifully designed pedestrian-only bridge, linking you to the north shore of the Thames and the Embankment area. My recommendation: take a moment to pause and take photos of Westminster Palace and Big Ben.
Right alongside Hungerford Bridge is the rail bridge. Even this is attractive with its dark green paint and criss-crossing beams. It leads into the Embankment and Charing Cross Station.
Along the way, across the bridge, I noticed these pigeons hanging out in the sunshine. Many buildings around the city have protective spiky wiring on any area where a bird could potentially land. This is done in order to protect the building from the damaging bird poop – it can be extremely corrosive to old buildings.
I suspect these pigeons have a prime spot here.
Overall, I found fewer pigeons in London in 2012 as in 2008. Back then, they were pretty much everywhere, including all over Trafalgar Square. Not dwelling on this mystery, we took in the scene.
By mid-afternoon, Trafalgar Square is a sea of people. Mostly tourists including many young people who love to climb up the statues and just hang out, for no good reason whatsoever. Such was the case with these young tourist teenagers.
Best bet for great photos here: very early in the morning, if you can wake up with the birds.
I did manage to capture this photo of the lion in profile. These beautiful statues fit the scene at Trafalgar Square well.
The countdown to the London Olympics! Placed right in front of the National Gallery, it is a great reminder to all, including visitors, that the big event is almost here. We reserved a visit to the National Gallery (free entry) to the end of our trip.
Having been up for well over 24 hours, it was time to take a nap. So we walked quickly past the Horse Guards (with the London Eye in the background), past St. James Park and back to our hotel.
Wrapping Up A Busy First Day in the UK
Our room at the Ruben’s was a cozy little room with a comfortable bed, well-appointed bathroom and a TV for our viewing pleasure.
After a short nap and a bit of Top Gear UK, we indulged in room service. To finish off our first day we enjoyed a simple Chicken Club Sandwich and Chicken Caesar Salad – both done to perfection, tasty and filling.