CITY OF WESTMINSTER
If you are going to London, you are probably planning to see Big Ben. The first time around, we were lucky enough to actually see the clock tower. We made our way over to Westminster around lunchtime to hear the bells chime the trademark melody – along with about a thousand other tourists. During my second visit, the entire tower was covered up for restoration work.
While I passed the Palace of Westminster, the home of the two Houses of Parliament, as well as Westminster Abbey on several occasions, I never entered for a tour. Judging from the intricacy of the facade, the inside should be gorgeous. Fun fact: When the flag is raised on the Palace of Westminster, the Queen is present. The very day the photo to the right was taken, Theresa May was appointed Prime Minister by the Queen. We saw her motorcade travel to 10 Downing Street, where she then first addressed the world as the 2nd female Prime Minister of the UK.
Usually, the Queen is at Buckingham Palace, the primary Royal Residence and administrative headquarters of the monarchy. For this very reason, it is the center of many official receptions and the like. Obviously, regular tourists are not allowed to enter. But you can go to see the ceremonial Changing of the Guard through the iron fence.
HYDE PARK & KENSINGTON
During my first visit to London, I thought I saw Hyde Park – that little stretch of greenery leading from Westminster to Buckingham Palace. I was wrong. Hyde Park is, in fact, located a little while behind the Palace and much, much larger than St. James’s Park! Within, you can find carefully tended flower gardens, long stretches of grass, an abundance of trees, and a lake – The Serpentine – with lots of ducks and other birds. Big ones, at that.
Kensington Palace has an entirely different look than Buckingham. It is calmer, with fewer people milling about. There is no hectic roundabout right in front of the Palace gates. It is surrounded by rose gardens and lush greenery. You could almost be convinced the Palace was located in the countryside.
Coming back from Kensington, I rode my bicycle along the horse racing track. In the distance, I saw the London Eye sparkling in what little sunlight fought its way through the clouds. Another stark contrast: greenery and modern constructions.
TOWER OF LONDON
During my first visit to London, I already wanted to enter the Tower. The fortifications look incredibly mysterious to the outside. Besides, it was a trove of English history that I could not wait to discover. Three years later, I finally made my way in. The stories told by one of the guards permanently station within the tower were incredibly amusing. They also helped me get a better picture of how the Tower developed. While the castle served as a royal residence in the beginning, it was later used as a prison. This, in turn, meant it was a symbol of the monarch’s power. Nowadays, it is the home of the Crown Jewels of England and a museum with many records of the Empire’s development.
Sadly, I had to cut my visit to the Tower short. The rainwater soon reached my ankles, making the walk along the outer walls somewhat unpleasant. To help your imagination, take a look at the picture below. At times, I was almost unable to see Tower Bridge, even though it is only a stone’s throw away.