Sunday, September 6, 2009

Parks and Palaces

When you've been on a bus for over an hour anda half, sometimes it's best just to get off.

One particularly gloomy London morning I had decided that my best plan for the day was to hop on the first bus I saw that headed into town and see what happened. A lot of waiting happened.
Buses are large creatures, that are slow to start and quick to go nowhere. But you do get a great view of the city. Eventually I had enough of sitting in a traffic jam in central London, and so I pressed the stop button and got off five minutes later at a stop 20 meters down the road.

Exhausted from the experience, but glad to be off, I looked around and saw that I was very close to Hyde Park, and so I made me way to the park famous for its war memorial to the NZ soldiers that fought alongside Britain in both world wars, and also for its ability to transform Dr Jekylls into brutes.

The park is actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be - I expected a massive park with many trees and a tiny corner dedicated to the war memorials. What I found though was that the whole park was actually one great war memorial, dedicated mainly to the Brits, Aussies and Kiwi armed forces that served (and died) together. The Aussie and Kiwi memorials were particularly cool.

One of the things I think I appreciated the most though was that the wreaths that had been laid at the memorial for Anzac Day were still there, undisturbed - nobody had moved/stolen/or thrown them out. That was a nice touch I thought. The memorial itself is particularly cool - each one has something uniquely kiwi about it; one pillar has a list of NZ cities, another has an oar with a minties wrapper tied to it. Very cool.

The Aussie one was cool as well, if not a little pretentious:

After Hyde Park, I took an exit which lead into an even bigger park, called "Green Park" - the Brits have never been known for their imagination. This was the kind of park I had expected Hyde Park to be - trees, walkways, men throwing frisbees to their dogs, and throngs of people gathering in a nearby square. Not sure what was going on, I headed to the gathered masses to find that I was next door to Buckingham Palace, and had just missed the changing of the guard.

I had never stumbled across a palace before, so I decided that I should make the most of this opportunity and explore. I wandered past the throng of people and headed around the corner to see that there was a palace tour open for the next half an hour. So I lined up and paid my tour fee, and entered the palace. The palace was pretty awesome - it was built and designed for King George IV and finished by Queen Victoria.

At the main entrance I picked up a free audio guide and spent some time wandering around the palace which mainly turned out to be a lot of paintings and artwork, as well as dresses worn by the Queen during her many trips around the Commonwealth. It was all very spectacular with the splendour and the pomp and circumstance everywhere, and it was made even more impressive by the fact that it is one of the few remaining working palaces in the world. The flag above the palace showed that The Queen was home, but for the life of me I didn't get to meet her. But she did make the effort to record a message on the audio guide welcoming me to her home.

Disappointed at having not met the Queen (or in fact any royals) during my surprise visit to the palace, I strolled freely through the Palace gardens, within the approved strolling area, and exited. Lovely gardens, but I didn't really get to see very much of them given the rope and many guards (chavs dressed up in robes).

After the Palace I hopped on a bus, got off, and took the tube back home.

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