We woke up at 6:35am (well, Joe did…I guilted him to be “the first one up” because it was still “his turn” to do that from the last trip we had all taken together (the running joke for years is that when the 3 of us are rooming together, either Steve or I will be the first ones to wake up and Joe will “sleep in”more often than not…so today Steve and I “slept in” and woke up closer to 7am) and left the hotel around 8:15am. Took the District Line to the St. James Gardens stop and found a small place called Bon Gusto that was open for breakfast. The food was OK…eggs, toast, etc.

The restaurant was just a few minutes walk from Buckingham Palace. The palace is only open to the public for 2 months a year (in the summer, when the Queen is on holiday in Scotland) and it coincided with our trip, so we had booked our tickets before we had even left the US.

We couldn’t take pictures inside the palace and all of the information on the various rooms of the tour was offered via portable mp3 player. I’ll just list all the rooms we went through, with a few editorial comments here and there.

Long Hallway to outdoor Quadrangle (outdoor area, seen on TV many, many times) to Grand Hall to Grand Staircase to Guard Room to Green Drawing Room to Throne Room (which includes the original thrones from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953) to Picture Gallery (showcased artists included Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Reubens) to Silk Tapestry Room to East Gallery to Ball Room with 80 dresses (this was a special exhibit for the Queen’s 80th birthday…apparently the Queen likes lots of pearls and sequins) to Ballroom (with special commentary of how they clean the 11′ x 5.5′ chandeliers at least once a year – they get lowered from the ceiling), State Dining Room (mahogany table had lilies as part of its live bouquet. Yuck, I hate lilies), Blue Drawing Room, Music Room (Prince Charles and Prince William. among many others, were baptised in that room), White Drawing Room (I noticed several cracks in the walls in this room), Minister’s Staircase, Marble Hall, Bow Room, outside to gardens. This web site has several pictures of some of the rooms.

Sharon outside the “back” of Buckingham Palace

Joe outside another portion of the “back” of Buckingham Palace

Wider view

We made quick stops at the Royal gift shop and Buckingham Palace’s official, royal ice cream kiosk (really, they have their own ice cream! See?) before we bade the Queen toodles, cheerio, ta-ta, cheers, goodbye are farewell.

We next took the District train to King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations (they’re practically right next-door to each other). King’s Cross Station is where they have made a Harry Potter photo opportunity, complete with a mock luggage cart going into the wall at platform 9-3/4. Legend has it that the reason they made it the photo op was that too many people were banging luggage carts into the walls of the station…whatever the case, it’s a good picture-taking spot and a fun place to see Harry Potter geeks of all ages and nationalities take advantage of it.

Sharon & Joe at Platform 9-3/4

The set-up without people

As close to the “real” 9-3/4 as one can get (which wasn’t even filmed between platforms 9 and 10. It was filmed between platforms 4 and 5 renumbered 9 and 10)

We briefly went outside the station to get pictures of St. Pancras Station (which has been called King’s Cross Station in the Harry Potter movies…but St. Pancras is much prettier, so that’s the one they filmed for outside scenes), but it’s currently in the midst of being renovated and is covered with scaffolding.

(Click here for more info on St. Pancras Station and here for more complete information on King’s Cross Station).

We next took the Piccadilly line just one stop, to the Russell Square Station. Stopped for lunch at a pub called The Plough before heading to the British Museum. I had a green salad with grilled chicken, Joe had BBQ chicken and Steve had the Sunday roast special. The place was obviously old and threadbare but the food was fine. I actually found some online reviews of The Plough and, for the most part, people weren’t thrilled with it. Shrug…it worked for us. We were hungry and it was there. That’s all we needed.

The British Museum was our next stop.

The main entrance of the British Museum

We walked in and saw a HUGE Egypt exhibit (Joe, the Ancient Egypt buff of our group, said it was the biggest collection of mummies he had ever seen, surpassing even the King Tut exhibit he had seen in NYC when he was a kid. By the way, funniest line heard was a little boy as we went into the first room of the exhibit: “Will we see Jesus in here?”). We also saw the Rosetta Stone, several sarcophaguses (sarcophagi?) and lots of statues, scarabs, etc.

The museum, unfortunately, was very warm and very crowded (one of the few things that was open on a Sunday), we were getting tired and there was not much else that interested us enough to stay.

Sharon: “Is there anything else to see before we go?”
Joe: “Wait, let me check my map.”

However once I found out they had an authentic Easter Island head on display, I HAD to take an obligatory Easter Island Head picture.

“I want a head like the heads you see on Easter Island…”

Click here to hear a brief mp3 of the “Easter Island Head” song. (In case you were wondering…in 1868, the British Mar of War H.M.S. Topaz stopped at Easter Island and removed two Moai heads, both of which are currently in the British Museum. However this is the only one that is currently on display).

After the museum, we grabbed a quick snack (French-style crepe with Nutella and bananas) at the Pancake Cafe, which was down the block from the museum.

We went back to hotel and Joe and I took a nap from 5p to 7:30p. When we woke up, Steve was gone (he had a ticket for the London eye so he could see it at nighttime, besides when the 3 of us go on Tuesday during the daytime) and it was too late for us to go on the Jack the Ripper tour we had half-planned to go on, so went out adventuring to see what we could see.

Our first stop was to walk to Sainsbury’s, which was in our neighborhood and was like a large 7-Eleven or small neighborhood grocery store. Food Marts in foreign countries are a tourist attraction unto themselves and some of the things we saw included croissants in a bag, grapefruits 39p each (about 75 cents), Ribena brand currant-flavored drinks (sugar-free ones too…I am SO going to try them out another day!), Quaker oatmeal in a rectangular box (not the cylindrical one we’re used to) and low-salt Doritos.

We took the train to Piccadilly Circus…

Piccadilly Circus at nighttime

…and started wandering. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what direction we went but we wound up in area with a lot of gay bars. We were amused at seeing that the theater where Mary Poppins is right next-door to a gay bar (grin)…what would the “family values” idiots back home say to THAT???

We had dinner at a place called Tokyo Diner, which was a Japanese place Joe had read about and we actually tried to find yesterday (when we wound up eating at the Chinese restaurant). The food was VERY good and the meal and service was VERY Japanese (I had a bowl of soba noodles and chicken, Joe had a pork curry plate and we shared an order of vegetarian sushi).

Their website is http://www.tokyodiner.com

After dinner, we backtracked to the Leicester Square area and got Ben and Jerry’s for dessert again (because we could). Then we took the train back to the hotel.

One of the LONG escalators in the Underground

Typical Tube station

On the train

Tomorrow is our trip to Oxford…


PS – Just a few shots for specific people who would appreciate them…

It opens in London on Sept. 30th (or, more properly, 30 Sept.)

And finally, by request:

Ta-da! (and note how well the socks match the pants, too, hehehe)