London calling

Okay, maybe I’m hormonal, but I got teary eyed tonight at about 6:30pm. Let me tell you why…

My train ride was fine – I sat with 4 Americans from Florida and we chatted – they had just spent a long weekend in Ireland and had been at the Giant’s Causeway on that really rainy day. So it wasn’t as fun for them. We parted ways when we changed trains. The one couple will be on their way to Paris via the Chunnel in the next few days.

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My Welsh train to Chester.

Then I sat, sleepy and annoyed that I didn’t get my reserved seat on the Virgin train, and that the wifi was wonky. But I did get another gruyere and portobello mushroom panini, so that kind of was better (plus I was starving) (but the fellow at the snack counter asked if I was Slovakian… …?)

We pulled into London and I unwedged my suitcase from the foot space of my neighbouring seat (there was no room on the luggage rack). And I found the Tube. It was end of day so everyone was walking with a purpose. I was trying to but I didn’t know where I was going most of the time. I walked with a purpose in the wrong direction from my hotel, but the helpful (potentially bored) girl at the Mailboxes Etc. (including stamps… *wink*) turned me the right way and I got to my hotel fairly quickly.

Now, I’m staying in Westminster – which is super convenient to the Tube, the station where I pick up my bus tour tomorrow and is super convenient for tourist walking and gawking.

Like, I was almost all the way to Westminster Abbey before I turned back. I walked past Westminster Cathedral twice by that point.

Then, when I left my hotel to wander and find dinner (would kill for a veggie pad thai but that may have to wait until I get home), I finished my walk to Westminster Abbey.

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Westminster Abbey – I was not the only tourist taking photos on my little Apple device.

And then I turned the corner and saw these guys.

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Houses of Parliament – their gold is very shiny in the sun.

There were protestors of the gay marriage vote that was going through the House of Commons today (passed). They best part about that? There were only two protestors. Actually, no, that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the well dressed woman who walked up to the one yelling protestor and who said to his face, “You’re wrong. You’re wrong.” And then she walked off. The protestors were predictably quoting Old Testament stuff on their placards. Most people were looking at them like they were the crazy ones.

I walked around the corner to Westminster Bridge and got a shot of the Thames.

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Thames River looking towards the Waterloo Bridge.

I stopped short and that’s when tears popped into my eyes. It was 6:30 pm and Big Ben had just chimed. I’d just heard Big Ben in real life. I love the sound bells make, and one of my favourite post-work activities, when I lived in a different part of Ottawa, was to walk home across the bridge from Gatineau (where I worked at the time) and sit at “my” willow tree down by the Ottawa River and listen to the Peace Tower chime.

I walked along the Thames for a bit, walking past the statue to Boudica, the Iceni queen who resisted the Romans, and (high-security) Downing Street. Then I doubled back and found my way in to the square in front of the Houses of Parliament and I hung out by this guy:

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This one’s for my friend, M.

And I waited the last four minutes. Then…

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When the bells toll, it will be seven o’clock.

I stood, listening, big grin on my face. The richness of the hour bell toll reverberated over me despite the traffic noise. Then, once it was done, I turned and continued on. I walked along St. James’ Park, along the Birdcage Walk.

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Pretty.

And then (I think N will like this next part) I turned the corner and passed under a black and gold gate with a swan on one side and a lion on the other. I recognized the place from all that news coverage not so long ago. The gardens out front in the plaza were planted with blue forget-me-nots and yellow snapdragons. The middle bed had a dark red flower that I couldn’t see from my vantage. The air smelled sweetly of them, though. One of those delicious, water-soluble, nectar-like sweetnesses. Not cloying, but light and still rich.

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Buckingham Palace.

Again, shockingly not the only tourist there. In fact, there was one man with his brand new walking machine (cute little girl babbling and running). And he stopped to get a photo on his tablet and she started running for the road and I went after her going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” She grabbed onto the fence bars and I was ready to scoop her up if she went under but she turned to find her father. I looked back and he was coming and he said “Thank you” with big eyes. Mental note – little legs can go fast.

Then I got to help someone orient themselves because I had picked up a tourist map for this part of London. She was looking for Victoria Station, which is my new expertise. She didn’t believe me or take my advice because she was trying to retrace her steps. But she was appreciative all the same.

I stopped in at Lime Orange, a tiny but hoppin’ Korean and Japanese fusion restaurant. The food was lovely and the ladies were good. I’m still tipping in my normal fashion – hopefully that’s okay here.

Now I’m setting my alarm so I can get up in time for my bus tour tomorrow. Stonehenge, here I come!

Also, there’s a conference going on in my hotel, apparently. The World Stem Cells Regenerative Medicine Congress 2013. Neat!

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