England Day 5

After 4 hours of sleep, I awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Small problem; it was 3:00 AM. I squished the pillow, I tossed and turned, I counted sheep and ex-girlfriends. Finally, with thoughts of a particularly boring and homely ex drifting around my head, I fell back asleep about 5:00. It was a good, deep sleep - until the alarm went off at 6:00. Bright-eye and bushy-tail was dead. But I managed a zombie walk into the shower and let the water bring me around.

Paddington Station
We made it to the station with a few minutes to spare and boarded the 7:01 train. We purchased a Family Pack, which allowed us to ride any train, subway, or bus all day. Cost 32.80 Pounds - about $52 in real money. After changing trains at Maidenhead, we made it to Paddington Station where we were to catch the tube that would stop at Buckingham Palace. It was then we discovered the Central Line, the one we needed, was "shut" all weekend for repair work. Fortunately, the wife figured out an alternative way and after several more rides, we emerged above ground at The Green Park.

After walking a short distance through the park, there it was, Buckingham Palace - and about 30,000 people! We walked up as close as we could get, but were stopped about 100 yards away and across a road with cars whizzing by. The road was now roped off to pedestrians so we found a little open spot "on the front row" and looked around. After a while when nothing was happening we thought we had missed the Changing of the Guard ceremony so we were about to leave, but first I brought out my Nikon 300MM lens and took a few photos. Then we heard someone say the ceremony was about to start and would come by right in front of us. The crowd was rather large behind us by then and we had to fight off one particularly determined Indian lady who tried to push her way into our spot. I couldn't believe this "lady." She stepped on my toes twice, kept bumping into me much firmer than if it was by accident and eventually pushed her arm in front of me and tried to force me to get behind her. Several times while she was doing all of this I tried to politely get her to stop by saying, "Excuse me" and "Ma'am, please stop." Nothing worked. I finally grabbed her by the shoulder, got in her face and forcefully told her to back off. She retreated and the next time I looked over she was gone.

Changing of the Guards ceremony at
Buckingham Palace
The ceremony itself turned out to be a bit anti-climatic. Guards on horses rode in, the band marched in, guys on foot marched in, the band marched out, guys on horses rode out, and men on foot marched out. End of ceremony. Glad we got to see it so we can say we did, but it didn't live up to the expectations in my mind.

After it was over, we saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then headed toward the London Eye, a 443 foot Ferris wheel located on the banks of the River Thames. The wife had purchased tickets the night before so we wouldn't have to wait in line. Good thing as there were about 1,000 people waiting to buy tickets and only about 100 in the pre-purchased que. After getting to the counter, they didn't have a record of our purchase. I was having rather unkind thoughts as I contemplated standing in the ticket line which now had about 2,000 people in it, but the helpful clerk agreed to let us buy our tickets from him. We found out later the credit card the wife used had been frozen for fraud alert. Somebody in London was trying to use her credit card! A quick call to let them know it's us trying to use our card solved that problem.

Big Ben from ground level.
After an interesting 3-D show and waiting in another long line, we boarded the ride. Pretty darn cool ride. All of London was laid out in front of us. I didn't ask the wife how much it cost and still don't know, but it was probably worth it.

From there, it was a short walk to catch the boat for a River Thames cruise. I really enjoyed that also. The guide was informative and amusing as we passed by many landmarks and under numerous famous bridges.

Big Ben, London and River Thames from the
top of the London Eye.
By now it was long past lunch and the youngest daughter was allegedly about to die of hunger. As we walked the streets, what to our wandering eyes did appear? McDonalds! Since youngest daughter has single-handedly kept afloat McDonalds stock, there was no way we were getting around it. And to show how bland I found the food over there, that Big Mac was the best burger I had the whole time. Sad.

We hopped a double-decker bus and took a tour of London. It wasn't as good as the river cruise because it just had a rather bland, recorded spiel describing the famous sites, but we did manage to get upper, open-air seats and it was fun seeing buildings and places I had heard about over the years. We stopped at a couple of places to look around and then just hopped on the next bus since they come around about every 15 minutes. Nice.

Tower Bridge over the River Thames on a
very overcast day.
We hopped off the bus to visit the Tower of London and found that it's a 2 - 3 hour tour and was past the time they let anybody in. So we saved that for the next day and just walked around the outside walls. It was getting dark and we were tired from all of the walking and standing in queues so we headed to the subway for the trip back. Of course the map we had wasn't detailed to the individual street level so there were several false starts and standing around street intersections trying to figure out where the heck we were. During our little unintended walking tour, we came across the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Youngest daughter was very excited as she is a big fan. Unfortunately, it was closed. So was the official London Beetles Store across the street. More for tomorrow.

We finally made it back to Marlow on the 11:01 PM train and fell in bed about 12:15. Set the alarm for 6:00 again and looked forward to another day of adventure in London. And for the first time since arriving, I slept soundly and all the way through the night. Blissful.