Sunday (New Year’s Day)
On New Year’s Day, we went down Piccadilly to watch the London Parade. After about two hours, rain began to fall and the crowd thinned noticeably. We found shelter in a nearby storefront, and with the sparser crowd, we could still see the parade as it continued to pass us. The people in the parade were getting soaked, but they did not seem to mind even though they still had a couple of miles to go before they reached the end of the route.
After the parade finished, we headed back to the hotel and had a pretty lazy, but relaxing, afternoon. With rain pouring down outside and having spent four full days touring London, this was a nice respite. We had an early dinner at Citrus and, since the rain had stopped, we then walked to Trafalgar Square to see a chamber music concert by the Festive Orchestra of London.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a beautiful venue and it shone in the night with candles throughout the church adding to the atmosphere. The church is a wonderful place to listen to music — the sight lines are good and the acoustics are wonderful. The church was probably 90% full and the New Year’s Day Extravaganza truly lived up to its promise with uplifting selections from Handel, Mozart, Pachelbel, Vivaldi, and Bach.
This was our last day in London and we set out in the late morning on what would later seem like a forced march. We ended up walking about 9 miles that day, far more than either of us had anticipated when we left the hotel in the morning.
The weather for our last day in London was crisp and cold, but the sun was shining brightly and the sky was blue and nearly cloudless. We began our day with a stroll down Piccadilly to a French pâtisserie for breakfast. There is something special about having a latte or cappuccino in a ceramic cup and being able to choose from a scrumptious assortment of freshly baked pastries. The aroma from the coffee and from the ovens is simply enchanting. Coffee in paper cups and pastries packaged in cellophane just aren’t quite the same (sorry Starbuck’s.)
Out first real stop of the day was at Fortnum and Mason’s Piccadilly store (point B on map below.) Fortnum’s dates back to 1707 when it began as a grocer to well-heeled Victorian London. The store is noted for its high-quality exotic and specialty provisions, its teas, its cheeses, its honey and its confections, it also has more basic foodstuffs including canned goods, green groceries, fish, and meats. The provisions in the store are beautifully displayed and very tempting. The store also has kitchen supplies as well as men’s and women’s fashions for the well-heeled.
When you are next looking for a unique gift for a loved one, a friend, or even yourself, I’d suggest that you visit Fortnum’s website and peruse the wide variety of “hampers” that they offer. These hampers are wicker baskets filled with a wide selection of wines and foods including smoked salmon, jams, cookies, chocolates, teas, cheeses, etc. Anyone would be delighted to receive one.
From Fortnum’s, we walked back to Buckingham Palace (point C) and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. We had a front-row view as the New Guard marched down The Mall into the palace grounds accompanied by the regimental band. After they had passed, we scrambled over to the fence that surrounds the palace to see what we could of the ceremony. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people watching and the fence is quite a distance from the courtyard of the palace, so the views were a bit limited. The British Guard wore the traditional bearskin hats along with grey overcoats covering their tunics. The Queen’s Life Guard, dressed in long red capes and silver helmets with white plumes, were also part of the changing ceremony, and they left the grounds when the Old Guard departed.
We next walked by the Royal Mews (point D), which is where the monarchy’s vehicles — both motorized and horse-drawn — are kept. There is a working stable inside the Mews where the carriage horses are stabled. From the Mews, we walked around the palace (not much to see because it is enclosed by an 8 to 10 foot brick wall), passed the Wellington Arch (point E), and made our way into Hyde Park.
Hyde Park dates back to 1536 and Henry VIII who used this land for a deer hunting. Charles I opened the park to the general public just over one hundred years later, and today it is clearly enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens together span 625 acres. During this summer’s London Olympics, the triathlon and the 10 kilometer open water swimming events will be held in Hyde Park.
We walked by the Serpentine (point F), which was full of swans, ducks, geese, and other water fowl, and ultimately made our way into Kensington Gardens (point G — scroll the made to the left). At the very western edge of Kensington Gardens was Kensington Palace, the former home of Princess Diana and currently the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
From the palace, we made our way back along the northern edge of Kensington Garden and Hyde Park and ultimately ended up at the Marble Arch (point H.) The arch is built of white Carrara marble and it was constructed between 1827 and 1833. John Nash designed the arch to be a grand entrance to Buckingham Palace that was being built in the 1820s for George IV. The Arch was moved to Hyde Park in 1851.
We continued east down Oxford Street from the Arch, walked by Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Place, and ultimately made our way to the National Gallery (point I) in Trafalgar Square. We only had a couple of hours to tour the gallery before we had to depart for Heathrow to catch our flight back to Bangkok. We saw at most 20% of the National Gallery, but we were able to wander through the halls that contained works by the Impressionists painters Monet, Seurat, Manet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, and Cézanne. Unfortunately, we had neither tickets nor time for the Da Vinci exhibition that is at the Gallery.
By 5:30 that afternoon, we were riding in a Black Cab out to Heathrow, and the end of our long winter holiday was just hours away. Our BA flight left a bit after 9 p.m., and 12 hours later we were on the ground at Suvarnabhumi where our driver and Calliope welcomed us back to the City of Angels.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.