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September 23rd 2019
Published: September 24th 2019
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Fletcher at WestminsterFletcher at WestminsterFletcher at Westminster

Fletcher at Westminster
Saturday morning dawned with a blue, cloudless sky and the promise of a warm, sunny day. We had booked online to visit the Houses of Parliament so set off from our hotel at 9am. We stopped for coffee at our local Costa and then it was onto theTube and four stops and one change later we were in Westminster. As we alighted we could see that there were many people heading in the same direction. Big Ben is swathed in scaffolding for renovation but the clock face is still visible. We stopped to admire and get a photo of the distinctive Churchill statue and then walked along to find the Cromwell Gardens Entrance. As it was only just after 10am and our tickets were for 11am we strolled past and entered the lovely gardens along the embankment just past the tall tower. The gold flags were shining in the sun and the whole building looked spectacular. The garden contained Rodin's Burghers of Calais statues. I was suprised at this as I had not known they were here. There were many people enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere there.

We walked back to the entrance and joined the queue as the website had said it would take at least 20 minutes to pass through security. However, the line moved steadily and we were through and inside in about 10 minutes. We had booked an audio tour so we collected our headsets and prepared to investigate the many rooms. We started in Westminster Hall. This is a very large space which has had many functions over the years. It was the scene of meetings of the early parliaments and now it is used for the lying-in -state of kings and queens when they have died. The Queen Mother and her husband were both occupants for people to pass by the coffins and mourn here. It has some impressive stained glass windows, though one end was being restored.

We then went through a passageway which emerged into the ante chamber of the House of Commons. Because of the entrance that was blocked off from Westminster Hall we then had to walk down to the end and return using our audio-guides.Our tour proper started in the Norman Porch, which, as its name suggests, was intended to hold statues of Norman kings but instead now has busts of former Prime Ministers who were also members of the House of Lords. We then proceeded into the Queen's Robing Room. This is lavishly decorated in red and gold and it is from here that the monarch emerges for the Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords. The walls are covered with scenes from the tales of King Arthur. The ceiling is amazing with reds, golds and greens in an intricate pattern. The Royal Gallery proceeds from this. It is the largest room in the palace and is very impressive. Large paintings adorn each side and it is through this gallery that the monarch processes for the opening of Parliament. There is then a smaller room called the Prince's Chamber which acts as a meeting room for members of the Lords and has small tables and chairs for discussion and negotiation. It has a Tudor theme with portraits of the Tudor Kings and Queens adorning the walls. The House of Lords Chamber is overwhelming in its opulence though size is not impressive. The thrones at one end gleam with gold and the rich red tones shine. There are many microphones hanging from the ceiling so the discussions can be heard. Near the thrones is the Woolsack where the Lords Speaker sits but it was explained that there is a more relaxed atmosphere here and the members run the place themselves, mostly.

We then passed through the Peer's Lobby and corridor to the Central Lobby which has vaulted ceilings and richly decorated in gold with many statues, mainly of 19th century Prime Ministers. This is the midway point between the Lords and the Commons.Along the Commons Corridor which has murals of the Civil War adorning its walls, we then came to the Members Lobby. This was severely damaged during WW2. It has been rebuilt but the archway leading to the Commons Chamber has been left in situe to remember the war. This is mainly of unadorned stonework and has statues of famous Prime Ministers, including Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. It is illuminated by vertical neon tubes in impressive ironwork chandeliers. The House of Commons itself was completely destroyed by bombs during the war and has been rebuilt since. It is very small in size and, as there are about 650 MPs, they cannot all fit in and many have to stand when there is a division. We entered this through the No Chamber where members go when they are casting votes for a Bill. It is far more austere than the Lords and is in the green colour which has been adopted by our own Parliament. The dispatch boxes are the same , as ours were replicas donated by Britain.

The final room we entered was St Stephen's Hall. This and Westminster Hall were the only two rooms where we were allowed to take photos. This was the original place where the Commons met and is now adorned with statues of various 18th Century Prime Ministers. It is very decorative with large murals covering the walls each side. From here we returned to our original meeting place, took our guides back, checked out the shop which was too crowded and departed, pleased we had ticked off another of London's must do places.

Fletcher was keen for some Chinese cuisine for lunch so it was back on the Tube to Leicester Square and into China Town. We took a while to decide but finally settled on the Golden Phoenix which was well furnished and seemed very busy with local Chinese patrons. We had a couple of starters and then shared a plate of scallops and
The Royal GalleryThe Royal GalleryThe Royal Gallery

This is a photo of a postcard as we were not allowed to take photos in here
vegetables with good fried rice. A nice bottle of Pinot Grigio went down a treat.We then worked out how to get to Forest Hill, to the Horniman Gardens which Tracey had recommended to us. The Tube to Whitechapel and then the London Overground did the trick. Unfortunately, there was then a half mile walk to the gardens, mostly uphill. It was very warm so several stops along the way were necessary. My legs were aching. I hadn't been doing enough walking lately and with all this sudden activity my body was telling me how old I am!!. We finally made it and walked into a beautiful open space with lawns and mature trees and various garden beds abloom with colour. We sat down for awhile and admired the Lego inspired garden planted in blocks of red and yellow and purple. Many young families were picnicking in the garden and it was very pleasant in the sunshine.We walked further then stopped for icecream. The view back to London was quite impressive and we could see the Shard and other buildings in the distance. There was an animal enclosure with rabbits, guinea pigs and a couple of alpacas as well. We declined
Thrones in the House of LordsThrones in the House of LordsThrones in the House of Lords

Another photo of a postcard
the butterfly house as there was a cost involved but strolled back along the path. My legs were now screaming at me so it was time to return to the train which blissfully was mainly downhill. We got back to the hotel around 4-30 where we rested and recuperated.

We had noticed a small Italian restaurant just down the road so we tried there for dinner. This was busy and lively but with excellent service. We both had the agnoletta stuffed with lobster and crab which was delicious. We bought a bottle of white from the supermarket next door and returned to the hotel to watch some telly and rest. An excellent day.

Sunday morning, and looking out of the window we could see the weather had changed. It was very overcast and rain was threatening. We had arranged to meet Helen Fawkner, a student of mine from1982, and her husband, Ben. They were coming down all the way from Leeds just to catch up with us. Their train came into Kings Cross Station so we agreed to meet at Platform 9 and 3/4. We repeated our routine of the last two days and after breakfast we got the Tube to Kings Cross. We were a little early but the wall painted with the 9 and 3/4 sign was already packed with many people lined up to have a photo. There was also a Harry Potter themed shop next to it which was doing a roaring trade.

Helen and Ben crept up on us and there was much joy in the meeting. Then we had to decide where to go. In the end Fletcher suggested the Sir John Soane's Museum, which we had visited but they had not. The train line which would have got us there was shut for repairs so we hailed a London cab and it was only a short drive to the Lincoln Inn Fields. The cabby was one of those typical old guys who exchanged much repartee with us. We entered the Museum, checked our bags and then went on our tour of this quirky place. Sir John Soane was the architect for the Bank of England and was an avid collector of antiquities.The house, or should I say three houses which he joined together, is stuffed with Roman, Greek and Egyptian statues, artefacts and carvings. There is the sarcophagus of Seti 11 in the basement and it takes a long time to take it all in. He also had an amazing collection of art work. In the Picture Gallery are four Hogarth originals depicting satirical scenes from an election and then the attendant opened the shutters and revealed two more layers of drawings and paintings. There are at least two Turner's in the collection as they were contemporaries.The living rooms are furnished in the original tables and chairs and I loved the way they stopped people from sitting on these by placing a prickly bush on each one. Soane left all this to the state through an Act of Parliament as he did not want his younger son to inherit who had estranged himself through drinking and gambling. I highly recommend this as a quirk place to visit as you will certainly not see anything else like it.

After a pleasant hour and a half there we walked to Holborn High St and just then we were caught in a shower of rain. We found shelter in the Belgo Cafe, a Belgian inspired restaurant where we proceeded to have lunch.There was much conversation about all sorts of topics as we had two courses accompanied by nice wine. It was well after 3pm when we left. We took another taxi back to the station and had a farewell drink before Helen and Ben boarded their train at 4-03pm. A splendid day, with excellent company, thoroughly enjoyed by all.

We made it back to our hotel and had a quiet night with dinner in the hotel and lights off early as we had to arise at 4-30am to get to Heathrow to catch our plane to Doha.

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