First Full Day in London (Nov. 17th)

Sorry, I had neither the time nor the energy to work on the blog last night, as we had been walking around most of the day.

First thing we did was head from the hotel over through the park (I think it was St. James’s Park–there are quite a lot of parks around here) to Buckingham Palace, where we were just in time to see the Changing of the Guards.  They were far back behind the gate, though, so we couldn’t see them up close, but it was still kind of funny.  They take it so seriously.  Also, in light of the big news of Prince William & Kate Middleton’s recent engagement, there were a bunch of journalists & media outfits parked in the area, apparently waiting for any glimpse of William and/or Kate; probably more likely Kate than William.  They’re already speculating in today’s paper about how, if they have a girl, she can become queen one day.  Too bad the old queen doesn’t step down & get out so that someone else can have a chance.  I was wondering aloud yesterday if she ever wears pants while she’s tottering around inside her palace, or is she always dressed to the hilt?  Neither Bill nor Willie thought that question was worth pondering, so then I wondered whether, if she ever does step down, will they boot her out of the Palace?  Bill said they would probably make her go live in the servant’s quarters.  That must be why she won’t step down.  What do you think?

After that we headed on, past several interesting buildings and monuments, including the Prince Albert Memorial, which was quite an elaborate shrine.  As my Frommer’s London book puts it:  “An inconsolable Queen Victoria spent an obscene amount of public money on the 55m-tall (180 ft.) shrine to her husband Albert, who died of typhoid fever in 1861.”  It was very impressive, although I don’t know what was so great about Albert.  I don’t remember anything about him from my history lessons, but that isn’t saying much.

Anyway, on to Kensington Palace, which is where Princess Diana was living at the time of her death in 1997.   By the time we made it to the Palace it was time for lunch, so we first went into The Orangery on the grounds at the Palace, where we had High Tea.  I learned that High Tea was different than regular Tea in that the 3 small plates of scones, tarts, & finger sandwiches are arranged on individual 3-tier “high” stands, rather than just served on one larger plate.  The orange tea and orange scone were wonderful, the finger sandwiches and tarts, not so much.  But anyway, it was fun.  Each table had a small potted miniature orange tree on it.

Then we walked over to the Palace.  At this time, they had the Palace all decorated as “The Enchanted Palace,” which was good for school kids, & they did have a few groups attending.  The theme was pretty much “Can you find the Seven Princesses?”  (It had been the home, apparently, of seven different princesses, the last ones being Princess Diana & Princess Margaret, who died in 2002 from a stroke.)  Most of the decorations were really pretty, but we all decided we could have done without them just as well.  But it was interesting.

Next we went to the V & A Museum (Victoria & Albert), where we viewed the “Serge de Diaghileffs Ballet Russe” exhibit, which is an exhibit that Willie’s been dying to see.  It was “The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929.”  It was very interesting.  The costumes were outrageous.  The blurb on the literature states, “Diaghilev imaginatively combined dance, music and art to create ‘total theatre.’  A consummate collaborator, he worked with Stravinsky, Chanel, Picasso, Matise and Nijinsky.  Diaghilev’s dramatic performances transformed dance, reawakening interest in ballet across Europe and America.”  Some of the highlights included the actual props & stage sets used in each ballet.  The stage set backdrops were painted (many by Picasso) on huge (approx. 75′ high x 50′ wide or so) pieces of fabric & were hanging on the walls with stage lighting showing them off like in a real dance performance.

After that, we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit & have some wine in the tea room, where a woman was playing a harp.  It was really fun.  We didn’t have tea, though.  We had wine made in New Zealand.

Then it was time to walk over to the Pizza Express Jazz Club.  The doors opened at 7:00, but the show didn’t start until 8:30, so we had time to order dinner.  The jazz club part of the restaurant was underground, which made it quite cosy.  The place was sold out too, but we got a nice table pretty near the stage area.

Harold Lopez-Nussa is a jazz pianist from Cuba.  He’s only in his mid-late 20s, & I think he was self-taught.  Anyway, he & his brother, who played drums, & a bass player were just fantastic.  It was really good, & I’m so glad I got the tickets beforehand.  We didn’t stay for the entire show, though, because we were all tired, & poor Willie was beginning to nod off.  But we had a good day.