It was, says Emily, one of the best experiences of her life. She’s referring, of course, to the tour of the Houses of Parliament we enjoyed on our London trip, and in particular to being able to stand at the despatch box, see lots of behind the scenes areas and watch PMQs from the gallery 🙂 🙂 🙂
We had an absolutely fantastic time all round, although my feet have never hurt so much in my entire life! There are dozens of lovely photos for your delectation here, but I’ll restrict myself to one in this post otherwise I’ll be here forever. The one below is the future Prime Minister herself, at the Downing Street railings. You’d have thought they could have let her in 😉
Emily’s been nagging me to do this post ever since we got back, but I’ve been snowed under with work. I’ll do my best here with some recollections of what we did, a combination of my thoughts, Jon’s and Emily’s.
Sunday – left here at just gone 6.30 to catch an early train; thanks to my Mum and Dad who gave us a lift to the station. Train left on time but was delayed for nearly an hour en route and the tickets which were supposed to be 3 together turned out to be 2 together and one some way off. Hrrrmph. Anyway. Made it to London an hour late and Emily’s first view of our capital was the rather grubby Kings Cross station, followed swiftly by her first encounter with the underground 🙂 I think, initially, she found it rather scary – and that was on a Sunday afternoon when it wasn’t all that busy. It was to get much worse 😉
Navigated our way to Waterloo, left the suitcase at left luggage and hot footed it to the London Eye where we had advance tickets. First experience for Emily of security checks as bags were searched and x-rayed before going on the eye and we all had one of those lovely wands waved over us. Also, her first view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, as we stood in the queue. The Eye was good fun, but over much faster than I thought it would be. We were all glad we’d done it, but not at all convinced it was worth the sky high price.
From there, we went back to Waterloo and back on the underground to Covent Garden where we had a goodly mooch around, something to drink in a pavement cafe, lots of fun watching street entertainers and Emily spent her first lot of spending money on a CD from a group of extremely talented busking violinists. By this point, she had already declared that she was absolutely besotted with London, even though she’d only been there a few hours. She loved how alive it was – and let’s face it, it’s a revelation if you’ve only ever known this rather grotty end of North Lincolnshire.
We walked back to Waterloo from Covent Garden, which was surprisingly not all that far, and enjoyed some lovely views from the bridge along the way. Pick up suitcase, walk to hotel which, thankfully, was only five minutes from the station. A good surprise was finding that our room was a) very big and b) had a lovely view of the Eye. Less good of a surprise was that there wasn’t any bedding for the sofa bed, but they soon sorted that out. It was a fairly new Travelodge, so not luxury by any stretch of the imagination, but we were quite impressed. I wrote a review of it here if anyone needs a good budget place to stay in London 🙂 (nikkielysian, if the review has gone from the top of the page). We ate there and then went out again to walk down to the South Bank, take some pictures in the dark and generally ooooh and aaaah over the pretty lights 😉
On Monday morning we headed out bright and early by tube to Tower Hill, where Emily and I had tickets for the Tower of London. Jon had already been and didn’t want to go again, so he went off to explore nearby areas. Emily and I had a lot of fun at the Tower, although our feet were starting to hurt already after having walked so much the day before. We were practically the only ones in the Jewel House and spent ages looking at the Crown Jewels. Wasn’t impressed with their cafe, however, spending over £8 on a cup of tea, a soft drink and piece of fairly stale cake. We didn’t join one of the guided tours, preferring to make our own way, and we didn’t see absolutely everything as we ran out of time, but what we did see was very informative and enjoyable. I particularly liked the poignant memorial on Tower Green. Emily bought a gorgeous gold plated Big Ben clock from a gift shop near the Tower and in the Tower itself she bought some souvenir tea – she loves tea 😉
Meeting back up with Jon outside the Tower, we all paused for breath and to ease our feet before deciding to head to the Bank of England museum. Can’t remember what tube stop that was, but it was yet more tube anyway. Honestly, half the time you ended up thinking that you’d walked so far down tube tunnels that you could have just walked to where you were going! The B of E museum was really interesting and we were practically the only ones there. They didn’t allow photography (boo!) but you were able to feel the weight of a real gold bar and there were lots of activities explaining inflation and the role of the Bank in the national economy as well as its history.
It was time to head back to the hotel, as we had to get ready to go out to the theatre. I think Monday night was Emily’s first experience of the rush hour tube and my goodness, there was barely room to stand. I guess Londoners get used to being up close and personal with total strangers on the tube! It’s been so long since I was in London I’d forgotten how bad it can get. Made it to Covent Garden in good time; we went to see Woman in Black at the Fortune theatre and we all absolutely loved it. I’m glad we chose that over one of the more sparkly musicals – there are only two actors on stage throughout the play (if you don’t count the rarely
appeaing appearing ghost) (what happened to my spelling ability?) and it had a real riveting quality about it. Not particularly scary scary, but definitely chilling and jumpy with some real scream aloud moments. We were sat in front of a party of slightly hysterical students, which was a bit irritating, but overall an excellent night out which I would highly recommend. Back to the hotel again in the dark, but still loads of people around – another stark difference to “don’t-go-out-after-dark Gainsborough and Scunthorpe”.
Tuesday was due to be our shopping day, so off we went to Tottenham Court Road tube station and Oxford Street. Feet were absolute murder by this time, but the show had to go on. Emily bought some great stuff on Tuesday morning including some posh tea from Whittards (did I mention she loves tea?!) and a lovely London poster. Eventually we made it to Regent Street and the Apple Store, blessed be it among shops. Emily had a ball in there, trying out iPads and iPhones and i-goodness knows what else and I was impressed with the shop ethos and the feel-free-to-just-playness of it. There was also somewhere to sit, which was very, very welcome! After that we had a brief look around Libertys, but weren’t particularly impressed.
Next move was discussed over coffee and then we hot-footed it – literally, feet were on fire – to Kensington and the Natural History Museum. We had a good look round there, but it was starting to be painful to walk for all three of us, having been on our feet non stop for three days at this point, so we didn’t see as much of it as we would have liked. We did, however, really enjoy a free talk by one of the scientists in their posh lecture hall; very interesting indeed. From the Natural History museum, we made it to Harrods for a very quick look round but didn’t stay long – too much pain and weren’t impressed with the snooty atmosphere. Have to stay that I had a minor meltdown outside as I was in a lot of pain and it slightly panicked me that I wouldn’t be able to sit down until we’d made it back to the hotel, a long way away – knew we couldn’t sit on the tube as we were well into rush hour by then. Pulled self together and somehow we all made it back to Waterloo.
Decided to call a cab on Wednesday morning to get us to Parliament in good time for our meeting with Mrs Leigh, our MP’s wife. The security was quite, um, aggressive! Bags searched, pat down search (just for me, the other two got away without that; I must have looked suspicious!), photographs taken, passes issued, orders barked – I got told off for waiting for them. Finally made it into Westminster Hall and waited for Mrs Leigh.
I dislike Edward Leigh’s politics intensely, but I have to say his wife was absolutely charming and couldn’t have made the experience nicer for us. The Commons chamber itself was closed to tours on that morning, as she had said it would be, but she took us there as her private guests, explaining everything the whole time – Emily got to stand at the despatch box and smooth the seats 😉 At various points during the day she also took us into the division lobbies, behind the speaker’s chair, into the Members’ library, the Speaker’s office and all sorts of other behind the scenes places where the main tour didn’t go. We rejoined the tour were booked onto a little bit late, but hadn’t missed anything because she had already explained it all. The main tour did take us into the Lords chamber, where we spotted Geoffrey Howe showing around a very awed looking Anthony Head of Nescafe, Buffy and Little Britain fame! Just as the organised tour ended, back in Westminster Hall, Emily saw David Cameron walk past with a big folder under his arm.
After the tour, Mrs Leigh met us again and took us to “take tea” in the Members’ tea room where strangers are only allowed as specific guests of an MP 🙂 Emily loved, loved, loved that, and the posh china cups with the Houses of Parliament crest on them. She also took us to watch the Speaker’s procession; because she’s well known in Parliament (Leigh has been an MP for over 20 years) she was being acknowledged and greeted by all sorts of people, so we were greeted by them too, which was rather nice. Even got a wave from the speaker 🙂
Then it was off up to the galleries. We had two tickets for the main gallery and one for the side gallery; Emily and I went in the main one and Jon went in the side one on the opposition side. I think his ticket was actually more of a VIP one, as that area doesn’t have glass in front of it and there was hardly anyone there, as opposed to the main gallery which has a glass screen and was packed – however, Emily and I had the better view as we could see nearly the whole chamber, so that’s why Jon opted for the side one.
Watching PMQs from the gallery was absolutely fascinating. We watch it on TV nearly every week, but to be able to see all the coming and goings, and watch the PM’s reactions while a question is being asked and he’s frantically hunting through notes – very funny! David Cameron’s notes folder has stuff highlighted in orange in it; would have loved to have known what it said. The TV normally focuses on whoever’s asking the question, so you miss a great deal. It was a lot noisier than I thought it would be. At one point we saw Cameron scribble something and show it to Clegg; we could also see that the Speaker’s clerk (I think) who was stood next to the Speaker’s chair, had a crib sheet of MP photographs to refer to as she was making notes for the Speaker on who to call. After PMQs we stayed a little while and watched part of the urgent questions about the BBC world service. And then, alas, it was time to leave Emily’s future workplace 😉
That afternoon, we walked along Whitehall to the Cenotaph and Downing Street and then on to Trafalgar Square. Got told off for feeding the pigeons. Went into the National Gallery, but to be honest wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be, and we didn’t stay all that long. Then we walked all the way from Trafalgar Square back to the hotel – on feet of fire. Fabulous day and one I’m sure Emily will never forget.
On Thursday morning it was a rush to get everything packed up again and leave the hotel. Jon took the suitcase to Kings Cross to leave it in left luggage, while Emily and I got the tube to the British Museum, where we eventually met Jon after he’d had a very long walk, having taken a wrong turn at KC! Enjoyed the British museum very much, but only saw a fraction of what they had to offer. We did see the Rosetta stone, most of the Egyptian statuary and mummies, the Elgin marbles and the Sutton Hoo treasures. Was very put out at the price of £12 each to see the Book of the Dead exhibition, so we didn’t. I know entry to the museum is free, but even so!
Then back to Kings Cross – for the last time on the damn tube – and an agonizing wait for the train. Nowhere to sit and our feet were just dying! Finally onto the train and home in double quick time, to be picked up again by Nana and Gramps. Fabulous few days – we packed a lot in. We did have to miss Westminster Abbey – just ran out of time and the will to keep walking – but that gives us an excuse to go back again very soon. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂