Day 3- London
At seven o’ clock in the morning, still disoriented and tired, I faced one of the hardest choices one makes in their first days in England. Do I have my bagel with coffee, what I’m used to, or tea, what should I be drinking? It is no easy decision. I could have a 40 minute conversation arguing both sides. But there was no time for that and as much as I had become fond of tea, by force and overabundance, I stuck to coffee for the extra boost of energy this long day would require. Pardon, Britain.
Outside of the hotel, the group was guided to the tube, only a block away. There were still many unfamiliar faces and everyone was slowly integrating. But while we all still didn’t know each other’s names, the language made sure no one would get lost. It’s hard to find an additional Puerto Rican in England at this time that wasn’t part of our group.
We were scheduled for a bus tour through London but we had no idea what that entailed. And to my eternal disappointment, it was not a double-decker bus.
We drove around the city with our cameras in hand ready for any landmark while feeling weird about being on the wrong side of the road. Every turn seemed like a car crash waiting to happen.
Everyone took pictures as our tour guide pointed out all the big names- Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, London Eye and Parliament. With every landmark, he would add a bit of historic information that kept it colorful.
As much as I understand the practicality of a tour bus and how it’s a helpful introduction for the tourist, there is always something odd about it. Here we are, newcomers to this place, eager and curious, yet we are forced to admire it from inside a capsule of metal and glass. Look, but don’t go near it. Admire it, but only for a second and then forever with a photograph. You could go through every street of a city and never set foot in it.
However, I understood it was what we signed up for and if you want to see 11 cities in 30 days, you better pick up the pace.
Our first stop was back at St. Paul’s Cathedral, my favorite. I’m not sure why I love it more than Westminster. I think it’s because Westminster Abbey reminds me of royalty, of blue blood weddings and funerals, and St. Paul’s will always remind me of Mary Poppins and ‘Feed the Birds’…tuppence a bag.
Yet we didn’t stay for long, to my disappointment, because it was almost 11:30 and it was time to head over to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guards.
I’ve seen it at least four times in the past 6 years, yet it never fails to impress me. It’s fascinating; the magnificent palace behind them, their discipline and coordination has become a performance for all tourists.
Changing the Guard is simply the process that involves the new guard exchanging duty with the old guard at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. The handover is accompanied by the Guard’s band and they play traditional military marches.
Observers and first timers gather around Queen Victoria’s statue that faces the palace while the rest line up along the main road where the new shift will march in. Everyone is looking for the perfect spot to photograph the Queen’s guards in their flawless formation with bright red coats and the iconic bearskins. Their discipline and grasp for tradition made me feel like I was suddenly in another time, a few centuries ago, as the marched to the beat of a drum and the melody of trumpets.
It goes by faster than you’d think, so it is always smart to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early.
Once it was over, we made our way back to the bus for the second part of the tour, which included passing by Hyde Park, historic buildings and a quick peek of Covent Garden.
We finished the day once again by the South Bank, this time with a closer and ample view of Tower Bridge, decorated with the five Olympic rings that signalled the games would soon start.
Dinner was scheduled at Wagamama and you could have anything you wanted, as long as it was a heaped bowl of noodles with chicken and a ginger sauce.
A rumour soon spread that we weren’t really eating chicken thighs but iguana meat. When the rumour made its way to my table, I paused a mouthful of noodles and mysterious meat still intact in my mouth. I really couldn’t back down now. That would be too much of a scene. Instead, I braved it and chewed slowly and carefully, waiting for the foreign meat to hit my taste buds. And in the end, it was actually pretty good.
After dinner, everyone was saying it was really a joke and no iguanas had been injured in order to prepare our meal. But even now, years later, I always tell people I had iguana for the very first time in London. And it tasted just like chicken.