Friday, August 29, 2008

Clarence House, a couple of parks, and lots of guards

The main attraction of the day was an interior tour of Clarence House (more on that below) but the actual day tour began as we strolled through the first park of the day, Green Park. By the way, 2 pounds will buy you one of the chairs for 3 hours.

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Exiting Green Park, we came across one of the most common tourist sites of London, Buckingham Palace.

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A view of the palace from the Mall.

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Clarence House, which stands beside St James's Palace, was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of John Nash for Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence. He lived there as King William IV from 1830 until 1837. During its history, the house has been altered, reflecting the changes in occupancy over nearly two centuries.

It was the London home of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother from 1953 until 2002 and was also the home of The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and The Duke of Edinburgh following their marriage in 1947.

Today, Clarence House is the official London residence of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall. It is open to the public during the summer months each year. So, technically, we did wrangle an invite to Chuck and Cam's place.

Sadly, only the photo of the garden was snapped by moi as apparently NO photos are allowed AT ALL, even of the exterior and its garden. It is a wonder my camera was not confiscated but in all fairness, no where did it say I could not take photos of the exterior.

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Guards outside Clarence House.

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Clarence House...a thumbs up! Moving onwards, we strolled through St. James Park.

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Next on the top 10 tour, the Horse Guards Building and the Queen's Life Guards. "Here a guard, there a guard, everywhere a guard, guard...".

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You gotta feel for these about a bunch of yahoo tourists (like me) snapping photos right and left.

The working offices of governement, such as the "Foreign" office and the "Home" office.

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Last but not least, we could not help ourselves.

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houses of parliament

One of the August "palace" tours could technically include the Houses of Parliament since the originaly structure was built as a palace by Edward the Confessor in 1065. Parliament officially remains a royal palace and is still referred to as the ‘Palace of Westminster’. The site was used as a royal residence until Henry VIII moved the royal family out in 1512 following a fire.

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Westminster Hall is the oldest part of Parliament. The walls were built in 1097 and the hall is one Europe’s largest medieval halls with an unsupported roof. It was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century. Once used as a law court, the hall has held several notable trials, including that of Sir William Wallace (1305), the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (1606) and King Charles I (1649).

Today the hall is often used for important State occasions such as the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the lying-in-State of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, both in 2002.

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The Palace almost completely burnt down in a fire on 16 October 1834, which destroyed everything except Westminster Hall, the crypt of St Stephen’s Chapel and the Jewel Tower.

The Houses of Parliament, as we know them today, were rebuilt after the fire. The process, which incorporated Westminster Hall and the remains of St Stephen’s Chapel, took just over 30 years. The rebuilding was completely finished by 1870. During the Second World War, on 10 May 1941, a bombing raid destroyed the House of Commons chamber with must renovation work being required.

Sadly, no photo opps were allowed but all in all an entertaining hour and half. Put on your running shoes if you take the tour because our tour guide moved at break-neck speeed, though.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

It has been a summer of quite a whirling social calendar. First, Liz and Phil invited us over to Buck Palace for a walk about the pad (see the post earlier this month), and then Gordie asks us to pop over to Downing Street.

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And if you believe that, I have some swampland in West Texas to sell you, too.

as if an Olympic medal was not enough

WOW! As if winning an Olympic Medal wasn't the icing on the "Olympic cake", so to speak, the Great Britain Olympic Team all get to fly home on a BA flight, eat a first class meal with extra champagne on ice (guess they will get more than the complimentary one glass of bubbly), and choose from an onboard menu that includes steak and mushroom pie with parsley mash, fillet of beef with lyonnaise potatoes or baked cod with a herb and lobster sauce. Hmmm...I think I've had that before...sadly.

But wait...there's more! British Air is giving gold medallists Gold Executive Club membership and silver and bronze medal-winners Silver Executive Club membership, valid until 2012. Ah...well then.

I am sure that will rate right up there with the victory parade through the streets of London set for October 16th...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

not getting alot of sleep

The nights are late and long as we stay up to catch Olympic coverage in UK. Can I tell you how excited the UK is over their medal haul, especially in the cycling events. They are fifth overall in the medal count.

But I the Budman and I were catching up on the day's events...gymnastics, track and field ("Athletic" as they say here), cycling, diving, triathlon, etc....all those sports we follow so religiously in the states, the "lesser" events started getting coverage.

Too many years of living in Asia has tainted me, where the main Olympic coverage was for events like archery, judo, and table tennis....but not anymore. The Chinese are on fire. Which is why I had to laugh when we had 20 minutes of the strategy of the trampoline event. Trampoline? An Olympic sport?

Before I mock, I have to remember these guys have Olympic medals!

Friday, August 15, 2008

We are all just a bunch of "smarties" in Chiswick

My little area of London, known as Chiswick, now has the prestigious honor of being the new record holder in the Guinness Book of World Records.... How you ask?

More than 4,000 employees of a local Chiswick business park as well as Chiswick community citizens created an edible depiction of London attractions such as the London Eye, Big Ben, the Royal Albert Hall, and Wembley Stadium...made of more than 250,000 Smarties.

Chiswick, now the victor in the ever impressive "Who can build the biggest candy mosaic" category, built the world's largest candy mosaic measuring 40 square metres (48 square yards). The mural was moved after judging to a local office building in the park until early August to prevent the chocolate melting and birds feasting on it. Sadly, we did not get to see the mosaic in person...there is just too much to see and do in London in the summer. Here it is:


As if anyone needs another reason to visit London....(note the slight sarcastic humor as I write this). The sad thing is, had the mosaic been made out of "Dots", I'd have been there with bells on.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The rolling birthday celebration

The rolling birthday celebration came to a conclusion with a couple of remaining activities. First, I did break down and go to see Mamma Mia (the movie) last weekend as I was quite skeptical that any of the actors could carry a tune in a bucket. Better than I had expected but let's not underestimate the power of good orchestral accompaniment and a chorus of strong background singers. Still an entertaining movie....

Mamma Mia

The culmination of the birthday weekend came from Sunday's ALL day tour of the interior of Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews, and the Queen's Gallery. Thanks to the power of the internet (everything is self-service in UK and in a language I can actually read and understand), I had purchased the day's tickets well in advance along with the souvenir booklet, as I knew better than to expect photos to be allowed inside the Palace.

First stop: the Queen's Gallery. The Queen's Gallery is a permanent space dedicated to changing exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection, which is the wide-ranging collection of art and treasures held in trust by The Queen for the Nation. Constructed forty years ago on the west front of Buckingham Palace out of the bomb-damaged ruins of the former private chapel, the Gallery is now open to the public on a daily basis.

Today's tour involved two exhibitions, (1) Amazing Rare Things, natural history drawings and watercolours in the Royal Collection, including drawings by da Vinci, and (2)Treasures from the Royal Collection, an exhibition of paintings, furniture, and decorative arts. It was very enjoyable and the perfect first stop.

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Second stop: the Royal Mews. The Royal Mews houses the State vehicles, both horse-drawn carriages and motor cars, that are used for coronations, State Visits, royal weddings, the State Opening of Parliament and official engagements. It is truly one of the finest working stables in existence, and also provides a unique insight into the Royal Department that transports the Queen and other members of the Royal Family by coach or car.

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For most of the year, the stables are home to the working horses that play an important role in The Queen's official and ceremonial duties. They are mainly Cleveland Bays, the only British breed of carriage horse, and the Windsor Greys, which by tradition always draw the carriage in which The Queen is travelling. As they may be on duty, undergoing training or having a well-deserved rest away from London, the horses are not always on view.

The Royal Mews Horse Barn, Harness Room, and Training Ring.

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Most of the horses were "on vacation" when we toured but we could see 2 of the Windsor Greys and the Cleveland Bays. (That gray one would not sit still for a photo - didn't he know the papparazi wanted a photo?!). Good to know even horses get annual leave.

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Visitors can see the Gold State Coach which was last used during The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 to carry Her Majesty and Prince Philip to the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul's Cathedral. It takes two days to remove it from the building where it is housed. Yep, pretty amazing.

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There are a few other carriages used for official Royal business, including the one used for Royal brides (first photo), the Scottish coach (second photo) and the Australian coach (last photo).

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Lastly, there are the Rolls Royces and the Bentley...yes, just what is in my garage. Interesting factoid: the Queen can stand up in the interior of this car.

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Last stop: Tour of the State Apartments of Buckingham Palace. Indeed, last but not least. One of the few working palaces in the world today, it houses both the administrative offices and home of the Queen and Royal Family. During today's tour, we visited 19 State Rooms, including the State Ballroom which had been styled for a State Dinner.

Sadly, no interior photos were allowed of the Palace State Rooms, but you can see a great description of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and State Banquet.

A few outside shots of Buckingham Palace and palace garden.

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And so the birthday extravaganza comes to a close.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Did you vote?

OK, so now that the all consuming work allows me to putter about with fun stuff like updating the blog, let me know your thoughts to the poll question to the right.

And for the record, yes, I am an "Olympics Watching" junkie!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Technically, I root for two countries

With the opening of the 29th Olympics in Beijing, we will continue with the tradition of rooting for the home team and the host country team (the team of the country in which we are currently living). Hey, we should be allowed! So, this year, we will cheer on the US and the UK Olympic Teams.

After almost 9 years living abroad (is that hard to believe or what), we have perfected the system. For those of you who are interested, read on. For those of you who are not, you can check back tomorrow.

Official Rules of the Two Country Cheering System:

Rule #1: When you find yourself living in another country, the home country (in this case, the US) always takes first precedent. Come on, you can't forsake Old Glory!

Rule #2: When a major sporting event, such as the World Cup, Tour de France, or Olympics come around, we also select the host country team (the teams of the country where we are currently residing) as the additional team we cheer for. In this case, we will cheer the UK Olympic athletes on to victory as "adopted" countrymen.

Example 1: We cheered for Mark Cavendish's four stage victories in the 2008 Tour de France.

Example 2: We cheered Korea World Cup team on to a third place finish in the 2002 World Cup in Seoul.

Example 3: We cheered for Germany in the World Cup Finals in 2006.

Rule #3: When the US and the host country teams or athlete(s) (in this case, the UK) are competing in the finals of the event against one another, we must be "homers' and pull for the Yanks! However, IF the host country team ends of winning, we get over the loss reasonably quickly and in a good-natured and sportsmanship-like manner. Technically, either way we are rooting for the winners!

Rule #4: Rewards have responsibility. By adopting 2 teams, we must also pick up the inevitable responsibility for informing ourselves on the teams/athletes of the home and host country. We need to be informed on the events, athletes, medal wins, and in some cases, controversies, of both nations.

And so the medal count begins

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Magical birthdays!

Birthdays are important every year, however, some years we have those "event" birthdays. Our neice, SaraBeth, had one of those birthdays this year...the big "21".

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SB - hope the day was a special one! Thinking of you....