England 2014 (7) – London

We had flown directly to London, picked up our pre-reserved rental car at Heathrow airport and gone straight to Bath. Now back to London from Fowey we returned the car before heading into the city.

Almost ten years ago, we were in London for the first time and stayed in London for about 8 nights, taking multi destination day trips to Windsor, Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cotswold, and Oxford. This time we had 5 nights and four days. I had planned to take two of days for Oxford and Cambridge but we ended up canceling Cambridge.

Coming into London after having been to all the other places that are so quintessentially English, I took a bit of a shock. On the face of things, London is vastly different; it is almost like, New York, in the diversity of its population, manner of people, the hustle and bustle, crowds and traffic that are quite bad and mad during rush hours on the streets and at the Tube and train stations. Luckily, there are pockets of oasis, and our hotel is in a corner of Victoria that is relatively quiet and still close to Victoria Station and places to eat. There is also a Sainsbury just around the corner where we found Cadbury’s Flakes that a colleague of my husband had asked for.

Having been to Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, Kensington Palace, Museum of Natural History, National Gallery, etc., my primary interest this time was British Museum and Buckingham palace.

London Eye

London Eye


Big Ben

Big Ben

Buckingham palace

Rambling and chaotic it maybe, London has its greatness and Buckingham Palace epitomizes just that.

The famous Changing of Guard is not on every day. For this September, it was performed on even days from 11am to 12pm so I made a 12:30pm reservation for a Buckingham Palace tour on an even day. Reservation in advance is highly recommended for Buckingham Palace.

The walk from our hotel to Buckingham Palace is about 15 minutes. It was not yet 10:30am, the place was already swarmed; crowds lined up on the streets, around the gate and it seemed every space on Queen Victoria Memorial was filled. After checking with a copper about the route of the guards, we decided to take a spot by the gate and settled for a second row spot on the right side.

The people in front of us, mother, daughter and her husband were nice and let me squeeze to the front to snap photos every now and then. The husband was very knowledgeable about the guards, he pointed out many things, one such I remember is the feathers in the guards’ hats; English guards have white feather and Scottish guards, red. I probably won’t have noticed that if it wasn’t pointed out by him since the tiny feathers are so easily overshadowed by the big hats.

The changing of guards itself was brief. The rest was essentially an interesting pop concert performed by the Queen’s guards along with the pageantry that only the British Monarch can pull off. Two of the pieces played were “I’ll be there” and a James Bond theme song.

The first stop for tour at Buckingham Palace was a view of the quadrangle. Following that you step inside and see the staterooms. Buckingham Palace opens only when the Queen visits Balmoral in Scotland during the summer months and you see the staterooms in their usual states. Once inside, I was quickly won over. Buckingham Palace knows how to make a first impression, the Grand Staircase. I was riveted at first sight; with richly gilded and intricately patterned balustrade, intriguing and yet perfectly symmetrical form, the grand double staircase is beautiful and magnificent.

All staterooms are opulent, lavishly ornate, and filled with treasures. Queen’s Gallery is spellbinding, where its walls are covered with paintings by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens and Claude, etc. The audio guide is great and for this room it includes interesting narratives for the paintings.

I found myself comparing Buckingham Palace with Versailles. Equally grand, opulent, lavish, ornate and beautiful, both are master pieces of the same caliber. In the meantime, something sets them apart. Versailles is vibrantly colorful, artistically sensual and exuberant. Buckingham Palace is regal, majestic, and compelling in that English sense of dignity.

Photo taking inside the palace is not permitted.

Buckingham Palace Guards

Buckingham Palace Guards


Buckingham Palace Guards

Buckingham Palace Guards


Buckingham Palace Guards

Buckingham Palace Guards


Buckingham Palace – One of the gates

Buckingham Palace – One of the gates


Queen Victoria’s Memorial

Queen Victoria’s Memorial

British Museum

Even though I knew the museum is free of admission, I was still surprised by the seemingly laissez faire fashion things carried on at the museum. There were no greeters or guards staging at the entrance, there was no checking of bags, there did not appear to be security guards or docent/guides available on the floors. Only people working on the floors appeared to be gift shop and café staff.

But of course the truly amazing thing is the museum’s collection. For a museum that is devoted to antiquities, it is extremely impressive both in number and quality. Its Egyptian collection stands out above the others. Its Assyrian, Chinese and European collections are significant. In comparison, its South American and African collections are much smaller.

I had heard of the famous Rosetta Stone and I was obviously not alone. At the museum the 4500 year old stone seemed to the top attraction, listed among the top ten objects of the museum. We located all top ten items, with the exception of Standard of Ur, a Sumerian artifact about 4500 year old and found in the royal cemetery of Ur, which was “Temporarily Removed”.

Another worthy of an introduction is the Enlightenment Gallery. Reflective of British Museum’s early history and the age of great discovery that is of great importance to humanity and civilization, it is stunning and thought provoking.

It is a fascinating place, all those history and mystery packed under the same roof. Imagine Night at the Museum at British Museum!

British Museum

British Museum


Children on field trip at British Museum

Children on field trip at British Museum

Turqoise Mosaic double headed serpent

Turqoise Mosaic double headed serpent


David’s Vases

David’s Vases


One of the Elgin Marbles

One of the Elgin Marbles

Royal Warrant Holders

We had visited shopping mammoth like Harrods and Selfridge the last time so this time I was going to try shopping with a royal twist, visiting royal warrant holders, i.e. companies and tradespeople who supply goods and services to the royal family. There is a long list of them; we visited several closed to Oxford Square and Oxford Street.

Prestat Chocolatier is a small shop at Prince Arcade and the Queen, according to the shop girl, likes their mint Chocolate.

Fortnum and Mason next door is a five story store with all kinds of goodies, from tea to candies and chocolates, cookies, wines and groceries, etc. It also has gift items such as men and women’s accessories, glass ware, tea ware and a Christmas Shop on the top floor. The elegant store has a tea room, café and restaurant and its male staff wears tailcoat tux. It was great fun to visit.

Piccadilly Arcade is nearby on the same side of street and Burlington Arcade, the oldest covered shopping area in London, is right across the street.

John Lewis on Oxford Street is a multi-story department store, where at the cosmetic section I found Floris perfume, which is a health and beauty store with royal warrant itself. I was offered a couple of different scents, rose and lavender, both are intensely fragrant yet extremely fine and delicate in the same time, just divine.

Within walking distance from John Lewis is Halcyon Days Antique on Brook Street, a small gift shop of fine bone china boxes, silk scarves, etc. Fenwick is a department store right across Halcyon Days and I went in. It may or may not be a royal warrant holder, but I just fell in love with their fantastic collection of hats and fantasias.

Also noteworthy is Buckingham Palace’s gift shop. The gift shop inside the palace ground is only open seasonally but there is a shop right outside the palace wall and it probably stays open. I asked the shop girl who was helping me if she had seen the Queen. She said she has not because she is seasonal worker but permanent staffs do have the opportunity such as at Christmas party.

At Fenwick

At Fenwick


At Fenwick

At Fenwick

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