When you decide to go somewhere for 8-weeks, you naturally assume you’ll have plenty of time to see everything. You try to avoid the tourist traps and travel the city like a local. You sit in the parks, duck in and out of cafes and seek out the more obscure shops and galleries. Ok, well maybe that’s just me, but on the last Wednesday of my trip an alarming thought came to my attention: I haven’t visited Big Ben, the House of Parliament, or St. James’ Palace, and I have only seen Buckingham Palace by accident the night Remi and I got lost and mistaken the backside for some really nice royal embassy (embarrassing, I know). So, just as was the case with the National Gallery, I boarded the Tube in the peak of rush hour, heading southwest toward Charing Crossing station.
Cue the music from the Parent Trap where Lindsey Lohan rides past London’s monuments, head out the window, beaming at her new surroundings. I’d been in the city for nearly two months, yet the sights were getting to me like I’d never been here before. I snapped picture after picture, and no doubt irritated the commuters returning from work.
Walking along Whitehall Avenue toward Big Ben, a crowd accumulated near a constable guarding a seemingly uninteresting side street. Finally my eyesight registered the street sign: 10 Downing Street, ahh, the Prime Minister’s home and office. I still found the sight rather funny. Being late afternoon, the buildings had begun to create huge patches of shadow across the sidewalk, while intense rays of late afternoon light peaked through narrow avenues and occasional circle drives. As the sun drenched the side of Big Ben, (or rather Elizabeth Tower, for those wanting to be precise) I marveled at the structure’s absurdly intricate façade. When was Big Ben was built, was it a form of gothic architecture, and what on earth went on inside this massive complex? I had suddenly become so fascinated by this cliché structure.
Behind Big Ben was a simple and unnamed patch of green space where a wooly dog ran after a tennis ball and a handful of folks sat under the trees. Parks always reminded me that London was a real place. Closer to the Thames, I came across yet another green space; though this one was well labeled as Whitehouse Gardens and kept under the careful care of Westminster Parks. Landscaped with the most unusual plants, the garden sat behind the Royal Horseguards Hotel, and contrary to most London parks, hosted a very particular crowd. I got the feeling the area was unofficially private. Walking along the backside of the park, I passed through the quiet avenue of the hotel’s entrance. Doormen in top hats held the door for couples strolling out in evening wear. I enjoyed feeling like I’d step back in time for a few minutes.
On the last leg of my walk, I meandered along the waterfront, passing by a floating restaurant. The crowd sprawled across the deck of the ship, clearly enjoying themselves. How fun? I wished I could stay another 8 weeks.