We shrewdly planned our visit on the Sunday as the changing-of-the-guard happens only every other day in off-peak season and Sunday was it according to the schedule. We got there nice and early, grabbed our spot by the gates and waited as the crowd grew and grew. We waited and we waited. 11:30 came and went and still, we waited. You would figure that the changing-of-the-Queen's-Guard would be something you could set your watch by. But thousands of people were waiting - it must have just been running a little late. After all, the Queen is up at Balmoral - maybe her guards get a little sloppy when she's away? Finally, about 11:50 we decided to walk away. We had a tour to catch and we still had to get lunch. As we made our way across the square to cross the street, we happened to notice, purely by accident a 2x2 placard mounted at the far end. We walked a little closer to read the small message - "changing-of-the-guard cancelled today." Oh bless British efficiency! A major tourist draw. Literally, thousands of people gathered and waiting. And one small, hidden sign announcing the cancellation. I don't know how long it took for the crowd to disperse, but I imagine there were a few hearty souls still there in the late afternoon.
It turns out the reason for the cancellation was the Mayor of London's Skyride. With our usual impeccable timing, the one day we choose to travel into London is the one day a year the centre of the city is literally shut down for bicyclists to ride through. So in addition to missing out on the changing-of-the-guard, we spent much of the day dodging bicycles.
Mira waits for the changing-of-the-guard.
At least we saw the guards.
After lunch near Trafalgar Square, we set off on our coach tour. I have mixed feelings about coach tours, but with kids it seemed the best way to see some sights and not go mad in the process. The first stop was St. Paul's Cathedral. It was interesting to learn that the fact that St. Paul's survived the Second World War bombing unscathed was down to a few brave men and women who camped out atop the dome each night and threw the bombs away from the building when they landed. The bombs were time delayed so there was enough time to either toss them or sandbag them once they landed. Really quite amazing!
The girls, who saw Mary Poppins for the first time just a few months ago, had fun sitting on the steps of St. Paul's and singing "Feed the birds."
Next stop was the Tower of London. Now this is an interesting place to bring children. How does one explain the concept of treason and beheading to a 4 and 6-year old? There is a lovely memorial to the likes of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. A crystal pillow is encircled by a plate that bears the names of the unfortunates who met their end upon that spot. One is meant to walk round it, read the names and have a quiet moment. Hannah piped up first, "What? They put their head on the pillow and then someone cuts it off?" I tried to quietly whisper an explanation while I sheepishly looked around at the faces of the other tourists. Then Mira chimed in, "But what? Where do they put the heads?" At which point, myself and the poor woman in front of us lost it. I'm sorry Anne and Jane, I couldn't help but laugh.
We all enjoyed having a peek at the Crown Jewels. The girls were very excited to see all those glittering gem-encrusted crowns and swords.
After the Tower, we took a boat ride up the Thames to Westminster and caught a glimpse of Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings. Then it was time to wind our way back up to Victoria Station, grab a quick bite and hop on the bus back home to Oxford. I'm not sure who was more tired - the kids, or Stan and I? Sightseeing with children is hard work!
Hannah looks at two of the ravens that live at the Tower. Legend has it that if the birds ever leave Tower Hill then the city and the country will collapse. Needless to say, they are kept well-fed and happy!