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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 51.5002, -0.126236
After waking up today, Jake checked the internet to learn that there was a tube strike. (Not a tube steak, this means that the underground subway workers unions' were shutting down service from tonight at 6:30pm for a 24 hour period in protest of expanded 24-hour services.) During the 24 hour period involved, we planned on using the tube both for today's London adventure as well as transport tomorrow morning to our rental car. Uh oh. After a cooked British breakfast (beans on toast plus sausages, British bacon, and fried ripe tomatoes), we checked in with reception and they didn't seem to think it would be a problem for us to book a taxi early tomorrow morning. Hopefully it shows up at 8am.
We departed the Travelodge around 10am bound for Westminster and ended up signing up for a guided tour of the Palace of Westminster, more popularly known as the British Houses of Parliament. We had the pleasure of the most knowledgeable, charming, and gracious tour guides of almost any on the many trips we've taken. She had lots of quirky traditions and insider information to share as well as a solid grasp of British history in a nutshell. We toured parts of the original palace dating to 1050 as well as the areas rebuilt following a 19th century fire. Barb and Jeannette especially enjoyed the Queen's Robing Room, decked out in all symbols royal. This is where monarchs come to be gowned and crowned prior to the opening ceremony. He/she is happily greeted by the House of Lords where he/she reads a prepared speech written by the new Government in power, but first dispatches Black Rod to knock on the House of Commons to invite those MPs. They ceremonially shut the door in his face, but then peek through a little window, open the door, and head into the House of Lords to hear the speech (at least as many MPs can fit… the rest get relegated to closed circuit TV.)
We learned that there are two stripes on the floor of the House of Commons, which are kind of like the coaches' box in American basketball. If an MP starts to charge, he/she is admonished to “tow the line.” The distance between the two stripes is said to be 2-1/2 swordlengths apart. So, no slicing and dicing allowed.
It was also interesting to learn that when votes are called, MPs shuffle into one of two halls, one being that in agreement, the other in disagreement. As they shuffle, their heads are counted and names are recorded. Despite modern technology, this tradition has held out because no MP other than the Speaker is guaranteed a permanent seat and there are more members than seats available. We seemed to think “there should be an app for that” but traditions have their place.
When a new Speaker of the House of Commons is chosen, he puts on a charade that he doesn't want the job and someone else should do it, a tradition dating to the days where a Speaker could be killed for delivering bad news to the monarch. In reality, it is an esteemed and honorable position.
Next we walked over to the Cabinet War Rooms and Winston Churchill museum. This was where the Government went underground during the air raids on London during WWII. It was a complete underground bunker protected first by secrecy and later by 6 feet of poured concrete. In the complex, we saw map rooms, conference rooms, bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and communications rooms. There was also an annex upstairs that served as a surrogate for No. 10 Downing street during the war. In the middle of the war rooms tour was a second museum to tell the story of Winston Churchill's life. It contained a wealth of information from various periods of Churchill's childhood, early political life, role as Minister of Defence (a self-proclaimed title) during WWII, his second politcal career, and elder years. Unfortunately, the information was not laid out in a chronological or linear manner. Jake described it as an Ikea store with no signs or arrows. We paused for a refresher in the museum café which was housed in the former mechanical room of the complex. Another quirk was a room where Winston Churchill could connect directly to the White House via an encrypted line. It was marked as his private bathroom so no one would dare consider eavesdropping.After leaving the Churchill complex, we decided to visit No. 10 Downing street. We hoped to include this adventure prior to the advent of the tube strike. Luckily for us, the walk took about 10 minutes, but upon arrival there was no No. 10. New security protocols had placed armed guards and a barricade like structure at the base of the street. The best we could do was, with the help of camera zoom, capture an image of No. 12.
So, it was back onto the crowded tube to head back to the Kings' Cross area. We thought it best to head closer to home for dinner rather than get stranded without public transportation. Exiting from the St. Pancras station, we turned right rather than left, which led us to O'Neil's Irish Pub and a dinner time four of Guinness and Steak pie. It turned out to be a wise choice and a nice place to spend our last evening meal in London.
On the way back from O'Neills, we decided to take the back way home. Google maps and our own sense of direction led us through a residential area along Argyle Street. The area was charming and included a small neighborhood pub that would be a great place to enjoy a meal sometime in the future. It was a nice little surprise stuck in the middle of the urban jungle.
This update brought to you live from Winston Churchill's private bathroom… I mean Jake's iPad. Tomorrow it's up early to catch (hopefully) our cab to London City Airport to pick up our rental van. This pickup location was chosen for two reasons. 1. It is outside the congestion zone (refer to 2007 blog for information). 2. It is far past our great friend the Vauxhall bridge. (Also refer to 2007.) Next stop: Canterbury.
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