I mean, the natives were there, but before we showed up they were like “Where are we?”

Today we started our day with a turn in Hyde Park. This area is where the Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tour started, but we were there early and needed to kill some time. We did this by walking through the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland…but we will give you more details on that when we do a more complete visit (sometime in the next 2 days). For now, enjoy these photos as a teaser:
20111211-212212.jpg 20111211-212224.jpg

Our Sandeman’s tour met beneath the Wellington Arch. This sits off the south-east corner of Hyde Park and Green Park and was built to commemorate British victories during the Napoleonic Wars.
20111211-212308.jpg 20111211-212313.jpg
The first exciting tour moment was when we passed Buckingham Palace and caught part of the Changing of the Guards. It was crazy busy, but we maneuvered our way into an ok view. It wasn’t the most exciting thing, but we’re glad we got to see this iconic London attraction. This ceremony is performed everyday (only odd days in the off season) and lasts for about 40 minutes. But don’t worry! The guards don’t have to stand there for one or two days straight…the guards actually change every 2 hours, just without the huge spectacle. Hilariously, the band doesn’t just play marching tunes…as we were leaving the area we heard them strike up the James Bond theme. We’re told they’ve been known to do songs from a variety of movies & tv shows, including the Star Wars themes at inappropriate times (like when the Saudi president pulls up…opps!).
20111211-212247.jpg
We were excited when we stopped outside a palace that we hadn’t seen yet. St. James’s Palace is one of London’s oldest palaces. It was commissioned by Henry VIII. Interestingly, two of his children died here. It is still a working palace even though no monarch has lived there in over two centuries. Today the Royal Court is formally based at the palace and it forms a large complex of Court offices and officials’ apartments.
20111211-212254.jpg
Other than that, the tour pretty much covered things we had already seen. However, we got to hear a few new anecdotes, it was nice to walk past all of the major sites again and there were a few places that were Christmas-a-fied, such as Westminster Abbey:
20111211-212301.jpg

We did a post-tour break at Costa Coffee. This is actually the top coffee chain in Britian and we enjoyed a lovely hot beverage and snack while warming up.
20111211-212158.jpg

The afternoon activity of choice was the National Portrait Gallery. We talked about this on our first visit in the post “Fish and Chops”. We’d been rushed by closing last time and had missed the modern floor. This time that’s where we started. The gallery is really interesting in how there will be 3 portraits side by side, one of the William & Harry (aka the Princes), one of the guy who first statistically linked smoking & lung cancer, and one of Keira Knightley (the actress), and none of them gets any more or less attention. There was an interesting exhibit chronicling the progression of actresses from their beginning as ladies of questionable nature to the well publicized and much honored women they are today. This set of portraits really highlighted how amazing the cast of the Harry Potter movies was…there were probably about 50 actresses shown and at least 10 of them had acted in some part of the series. When we’d seen the modern era we moved backwards through history, re-examining the portraits of so many famous Brits (and people of other nationalities that had lived important lives in Britian). We ended with our favorite section: the Tudors.

For supper we indulged in delicious meat pies (chicken & mushroom to be exact) with mash and a beer. Justine had a Strongbow and it was a Fullers local London brew for Kristin. British pub food is just the best. And after months of having to ask & wait 8 hours for our bill it is nice to pay when you order and have it done with early…for those of you who don’t understand that, in British pubs you order at the bar and pay right away. Your food is then delivered to you when it’s cooked and you can just leave when you finish. It’s a good set up for a place that is also a bar and can have people drinking before or after they eat or not eating at all.
20111211-212205.jpg

The evening featured a walk through Trafalgar and a bit of souvenir shopping. Then we blog posted and planned out what was left to do in the next two days…only two days left…craziness…

And it’s question time, as this is now becoming a daily thing! Today we are looking for everyone’s favorite post title…did it make you laugh? leave you scratching your head and wishing for an explanation? Either way, which title did you like best?

What We Miss:
Justine – Having a big cup of well made coffee in the morning…and another one if I want one.
Kristin – Ordering a steamed milk and not being looked at like I’m a nut case…and not being charged for a latte (just with no coffee).
Both of Us – Tim Hortons! We are addicts in withdrawal!

Love, Luck & Last Walking Tour,
K&J

It’s not that easy to get a kidney now-a-days…unless you’re in China.

How many places have you traveled to in your life that have had a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum? How many times have you glanced at it and walked by without entering? For us, it has been a lot…and that’s just on this trip. Those places are everywhere…Amsterdam, Las Vegas, New York, Paris… Today we decided to try it out. The London Madame Tussaud’s is actually the original. The woman herself came to London to create death masks after doing the same job in France during the revolution. Today the museum is not filled with dead revolutionaries but celebrities, politicians, athletes and super heroes. The visit included a “Spirit of London” ride (that told us of London’s history using wax figures), a haunted house area and a 4D superhero movie, but basically it is a couple of hours spent posing for photos with different well known figures. We think our subject & posing choices say a lot about us for these categories…
Royalty:
20111211-102129.jpg 20111211-102137.jpg
Music:
20111211-102215.jpg 20111211-102244.jpg
Movies:
20111211-102039.jpg 20111211-102048.jpg

We decided that after such frivolousness we should try something educational. It’s so nice that we could just pop into the British Museum for free! This country knows how to attract people to their cultural/educational sights: don’t make them pay! We walked through the most famous/visited part again (you may recall that we did a Rick Steves audio tour of these areas last time we were in London). Egyptian mummies and Greek sculptures are always worth a view! Otherwise we wandered kind of at random. We picked a room and strolled through it and into a connecting room, making sure to read the title plaque when we entered so we would know what part of the world and what period in time we were dealing with. One of the more random rooms was the one featuring clocks & watches from the first models to a 2008 alarm clock.
20111211-100356.jpg 20111211-100403.jpg
We thought we should have just donated Grandma & Grandpa’s to this display:
20111211-100907.jpg
An interesting display was just set up in the foyer at the top of the main staircase; it was the story of the design that will be used for the London Olympics medals. We also got to see a copy of the medals for both the Olympic games and Paralympic Games.
20111211-100417.jpg

Random walking from the museum took us back to our favorite place in the city: Trafalgar Square. When we got there we expected the large Christmas tree and crowds of people. What we did not expect was that the majority of that crowd would be dressed as Santa Claus…
20111211-101325.jpg
It was an insane sight to see hundreds of peope in Santa suits all congregated together. It felt like a holiday edition of Where’s Waldo? And, hilariously, we did see one guy dressed like Waldo…and one that was a creepy snowman…and some reindeer and elves and presents and a tree and every take on Santa people could think of (Cowboy Santa, Army Santa, and, of course, Slutty Santa).
In case you’re curious (because we sure were!) this was the 2011 London Santa Pub Crawl, which is literally just hundreds of people getting dressed as St. Nick, gathering in random places around the city (including Trafalgar Square & Tower Bridge) and getting right drunk…so random and ridiculous!

The British National Gallery sits at the top of Trafalgar Square. It is extremely grand from the exterior, with it’s large staircase climbing out of the square’s center and towering columns, but we hadn’t actually seen the interior. It is also grand! And is packed with great art. We had planned on just stopping in for a quick peek but ended up walking through the majority of the gallery. It is our kind of place because it isn’t too large and has a lot of variety. To put it into perspective, it fits into one medium art museum what Paris has in 3 extremely large buildings. We gazed at some soft Monet’s and contemplated the works of the crazy van Gough. All in all it was an enjoyable cultural experience.

We took a stroll away from the square to find a good pub for supper. We were there a little early so we first enjoyed a hot mulled cider and did a bit of blog writing. When we ordered food we decided to go for the ultimate British classic: Fish & Chips. It was most delicious!
20111211-095122.jpg

After supper we took the underground to the Tower stop and walked around by the Tower of London. It was all lit up in the darkness and had cheerful Christmas lights on all of the trees. There was also a skating rink set up on the green in the old moat. We wanted to be out there, but it was awfully busy so the urge was a little less.
20111211-095536.jpg 20111211-095541.jpg

After staring wistfully at the ice we grabbed a tea from Starbucks and headed back up Tower Hill to the large sundial. This was the meeting point for out nighttime walking tour. It is one of the paid tours offered by Sandeman’s New Europe here in London. There are plenty of creepy evening tours offered in this city (as it has a pretty sketchy history) but we knew this one wouldn’t operate on cheap gimics and would actually be educational alo g with entertaining.
Our tour began on tower hill. With the famous Tower of London in the distance, this hill was the spot for numerous beheadings throughout London’s history. We walked towards the Tower of London and our guide told us the stories of some of it’s famous inmates and executions. Since it was chilly, he only elaborated on one: Anne Boleyn. You may remember she is one of our top historical figures and as a result we know a lot about this young woman and her fate. We were disappointed and kinda began to question him when he messed up his Anne Boleyn story and ended up combining a three wives into one. Come on now, there’s only six wives to keep straight. 😉
The emphasis of the second part of the tour was the unsolved murders by Jack the Ripper. London in 1888 was home to a string of horrible murders, each involving a prostitute having her neck slashed (always from left to right) and her body mutilated to varying degrees (thought to depend on how long the killer could remain undisturbed with the body). There are thought to be anywhere from 3 to 11 Ripper victims, although it is decided pretty unanimously that there were at least 5. The facts are pretty scarce in the case too as that time in history lacked good forensics and details were often skewed by the newspapers (which were a new invention with no legal regulations and a thirst to sell as many copies as possible). The main reason that there is little known about the killings though is that “Jack” was never caught.

One a happier note (because its always nice to wrap up with something that doesn’t depress your audience), we saw the Tower Bridge go up! Our tour guide got super excited because this is apparently really rare so most tourists never get to experience it. It was only a shallow opening to let through a river boat cruiser. We were told that it only opens the full way for the 2 or 3 times a year that a really large boat has to sail that far up the River Thames or for when the Queen takes a boat down past it.
20111211-095649.jpg

Today we’re going to throw another question at ya…remember, we offer participation points for answering, but encourage everyone & anyone to answer! What has been you’re absolute favorite blog post? You may have liked how entertaining it was, or how much you learned from it, or you just thought the photos were really pretty…whatever the reason, we want to know which post you liked best!

What We Miss:
Mexican food…*hint* *hint* Mom P…*cough*Dec 23rd*cough*…

Love, Luck & Lady GaGa,
K&J

I think that bagpipe player is an undercover cop!

Today is the last time we can start a post by saying “Today was a travel day…”, unless you count flying home…but that’s a whole different thing. Our Eurostar tickets weren’t until 1pm (because we are paranoid about missing important trains) so we were able to get up late (in Justine’s case), pack up slowly (in Kristin’s case) and still get to the station with plenty of time to change our money, print our tickets and get through security. The train ride was uneventful, but we made sure to note when we were in a tunnel. Last time neither of us had been paying attention and we’d missed out on the chance to have a “we are under so much water right now!” conversation.

When we pulled into St. Pancras in London, we reloaded our Oyster metro cards and hoped on the underground. It wasn’t too bad of a ride to our hostel, which is the same one we stayed at in August. We are actually even in the same room as last time, although different beds. As an exciting change, the Walrus Waterloo now has code locks (last time it had keys) and has improved their breakfast selection.

Once we were settled in we did the walk across the Westminster bridge. Our imaginations had not gone crazy: the view of Big Ben & Parliament is just as unbelievable as we remembered.
20111210-234846.jpg

You know what else is as unbelievable as we remembered: British food! We had it built up in our minds…so much meat, potatoes, peas and gravy…yum! We went for supper at a random pub and were treated to a lovely combination of all of those foods. We fell back into our same routine we’d held for the month we toured the UK: Justine had a meat pie (steak with veggies & mash) and Kristin had bangers & mash (with onion rings on top and so many mashed potatoes that she couldn’t even finish half of them!).
20111210-234754.jpg 20111210-234803.jpg

It was still early when we finished eating so we wandered towards Trafalgar Square…we just love it there so much that we couldn’t stay away! We weren’t dressed warm enough to just sit around but we enjoyed the view of the giant Christmas tree in the square’s center and listened to the carolers in front of it. The tree is actually a gift that the city of London receives every year from Norway for their help during the Second World War.
20111210-234839.jpg

And we are going to finish up with a question. We offer participation points for answering, but also encourage people who are not playing for points to answer as well…we really want to hear from alllll of you! Since we are now at our last stop of the trip, what is the place we have most inspired you to visit? Tell us the city/country/sight that you read about and said “I just have to go there!”.

What We Miss:
When everyone spoke our language and we understood everything everyone was saying…oh wait…

Love, Luck & London we Missed You!
K&J