** I owe you pictures, please check back on Monday.
Breakfast at the hotel was delicious. They serve a traditional English buffet. There is always an egg dish , a meat dish, cooked vegetables, and a large assortment of breads, cereals and pastries. The children's meals were complimentary daily and the adults paid 10GBP each.. So, for 20GBP the family of 4 had a very substantial breakfast every morning.
After very careful consideration, we will see London via the Big Bus On/Off Tour and we will also purchase the London Pass for the entrance to the attractions. We did the math and figured out this was the least expensive way to see as much as possible in our only full day in London. We bought the one-day pass with the option of the extra second day for just a few GBP more. You can use it for 24 hours from the time you first board, so technically we have it until Monday morning, which is plenty of time.
We boarded the bus at the London Eye stop, went over Westminster Bridge and took the bus tour to the Tower of London. (We bought the London Pass there across the street from the bus stop.) We were promised a Royal Wedding mug with the purchase of the London Pass, but they didn't have them there and we'd have to go to Piccadilly Circus to pick it up.
We finally made it inside the Tower of London, which was once a luxurious Medieval Palace as well as a fortress. The Tower has served as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
We went straight to the Crown Jewels exhibit. (Its best to do this early, we avoided huge "ques" by arriving early). Needless to say...it was magnificent! Such opulence! They display crowns, scepters, swords, serving pieces from Royal celebrations and coronations, etc. Photography is not permitted so I purchased postcards with pictures of a few pieces. It is a beautiful exhibit.
My son was very anxious to see the torture chamber so we went to that area next. Prisoners were tortured there for information. It was a little gloomy and disturbing, yet informative.
Lastly, we visited the White Tower, the most important building in the Tower of London. On display at the White Tower, is original armour worn by Henry VIII and Charles I. There are weapons, armour, gifts and many interesting pieces. We spent quite some time admiring the displays.
Within the walls of the complex we saw the infamous ravens and enjoyed the historical reenactments by costumed guides.
There were plenty more things to see but after spending several hours there we got back on the Big Bus and went to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. There we saw Treasures from the Royal Collection. We saw the Dutch Landscapes exhibit which will run through October 9, 2011 and the Mythology and Regency Exhibit which retells the classical Greek and Roman myths through paintings, sculpture and furniture. They were interesting and we were given complimentary headsets for the audio tours.
WE walked over the to Royal Mews and had a wonderful time there. The children, ALex and I enjoyed seeing "one of the finest working stables", the horses, and the royal collection of coaches and carriages.
We saw the glass coach used by royal brides, the state coach and the Gold State Coasch used at every coronation since 1821. We saw some of the carriages that will be used for William and Kate's Royal Wedding in just 6 days.
It's funny because we made reservations for this trip in early November, 2010, shortly before the prince and Kate announced their engagement and wedding date. Friends and family asked whether we'd planned it and why weren't we going to stay for the wedding? We weren't really affected by it and didn't care about not being in town...but now as we are in the city, seeing the preparations and the pagentry, we would LOVE to be here...it should be a once (or twice) in a lifetime experience.
Once we saw the carriages we were hooked...we called home and asked for family to DVR the Royal Wedding for us, since we would be in Ireland that day.
After the MEWS we had a casual lunch as a small cafe across the street.
We boarded the bus again to some other spots and finally got off at Hyde Park so we could go to Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana and the future London home of William and Kate). The gardens just outside the palace are beautiful. The colors of the flowers are exquisite. The current exhibit at the palace was fabulous, yet a little eerie or "spooky" as my son described it. My husband also described it accurately as "obscure and very unexpected". Basically, they have a scavenger hunt through the palace with clues to help you figure out the names of seven princesses that had lived in the palace. We figured it out and had a great time doing it.
After Kensington Palace we walke a bit through Hyde Park and got caught in a rain shower. It didn't let up so we put on the raincoats that my husband efficiently picked up on the Big Bus (during the very sunny day) which saved us and allowed us to move from Hyde Park (thank goodness he plans ahead). We went to the closes bus stop and waited an eternity in the wind and rain for a bus to come. They were delayed because of the rain and traffic. When it finally came it was packed. passengers were crammed in like sardines. Another family was waiting also and had the insight to squeeze through the crowd and climb to the uncovered top floor of the bus. We followed them up.
Although it was raining, cold and windy the alternative was to continue waiting there in the rain for another full bus.
WE sat at the top with raincoasts on each seat and a second one completely covering our faces, heads and bodies. It was miserable!!!
At some point we noticed a large group leave the bus so we ran down and got seats. We just rode around in the rain hoping the rain would stop so we could get off and walk around. We rode through several stops and finally got off at the Westminster Bridge stop. There we walked back over the bridge to try to go on a Thames River cruise but it was closed already.
We walked back on the bridge and back towards our hotel. We stopped at a restaurant with middleeastern food and satoutside for dinner. Alex and I had red lentil soup and hummus with bread. Our children ordered beefburgers (what a surprise!!!) Dinner was enjoyable. Afterwards we walked to the hotel and tried to organize our bags for our departure on Sunday, but more importantly, we studied all the brochures and wnet on-line to try to figure out how to make the most of our last hours in London.