Saturday we got up early to check out of the apartment by 10. We drove to the London Bridge Travel Inn to drop off our luggage, then to Victoria Station to return the rental car. From there we walked to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, which was just as crowded as it had been at Windsor and even more so in the surrounding park where a paralyzed man was finishing the London Marathon several days after it began. We were very amused when the band segued from some traditional march into the James Bond theme music. The gardens were beautiful, dozens of colored flowers in bloom, and the sky was overcast so I got my first glimpse of London as it is reputed to look most of the time -- not as we have seen it this trip.
From Buckingham Palace we walked to the Tate past a very crowded Westminster Abbey, where we met my friend Veronica, who walked me through the Elizabethan paintings and the Pre-Raphaelites while Paul did some of the wonderful children's activities with Daniel and Adam (make your own Victorian comic strip, identify Ophelia's flowers, etc.) I spent a lot of time looking at Burne-Jones' Golden Stairs and Sargent's Hearts Are Trumps. The Tate has fabulous art but horrible lighting, and most of the paintings are hung one above the other, so the track lights leave a green line across the top of the upper paintings. This was the fate of Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott and Millais' Vale of Rest. Nonetheless the collection is incredible and I was in heaven.
From the Tate, where we also ate a quick lunch in the cafeteria, we headed to Westminster which we were very sorry to learn was closed for Easter rehearsal, so I did not get to see the tombs of Elizabeth I or Sir Isaac Newton. Veronica took us across the street to the centuries-old Jewel House, which houses the official weights and measures of Britain as well as an exhibit on Parliament and the era of Cromwell; from there we walked past Whitehall, where King Charles built himself a pleasure palace where he was then executed. Then we walked through Trafalgar Square to the National Portrait Gallery, where we had tea and scones (actually carrot cake and chocolate biscuits), then headed through Covent Garden to Waterloo Bridge and the tube back to the hotel.
We crashed for half an hour with Veronica before going back to Charing Cross Station and through Covent Garden to the Drury Lane Theatre, where we saw the excellent revival of 'My Fair Lady' which Daniel found absolutely fascinating and Adam rather enjoyed though he was annoyed that we couldn't get ice cream at intermission -- we didn't have enough pounds and couldn't cash a traveler's check. It was great fun getting to see historic London reproduced on the stage in London and to hear cockney accents much stronger than any we've encountered; Veronica says that since BBC TV started entering homes all over London, all the traditional accents of Yorkshire, Cornwall, etc. have been softened and gentrified.
The sets were superb, on moving walkways with, and from our seats in the balcony we could see the computers in one of the boxes that controlled them, so the boys were wide awake and interested as the show ran late into the night, though Daniel rolled his eyes at the love story (him and G. B. Shaw!) We took the tube back to London Bridge Station along with many drunk young Londoners, some of whom were throwing up all over the trains, then took a cab back to the hotel, where we found nothing to eat in the pub but junk food and beer, so we had a late dinner of salt and vinegar crisps and breakfast bars. None of us were asleep until after midnight.
Sunday we ate a huge breakfast at the hotel, then took the Tube to the Museum of London where we met up with Veronica again. She walked us through the Roman ruins -- both the collection inside the museum and the remains of the Roman wall outside that used to mark the outskirts of the walled city. This is an excellent museum for kids with hands-on exhibits on Roman weights and measures, a film about the Great Fire, appropriate music playing in exhibits on different eras and a wonderful collection of prehistoric artifacts: "London Before London" as they call it.
From the museum we took the Tube to Kensington Palace where we had lunch in the Orangery, a teahouse where we had potato soup, scones, ham and cheese sandwiches and, of course, tea. We walked around the palace and the beautiful grounds, which include a formal garden and a lake; there were many people around, both tourists and Londoners enjoying the lake with swans and the big grassy fields where some were flying dual-string kites. The kids' favorite thing was the Peter Pan playground, including a large pirate ship with a mast they could climb, a big jungle gym and a fake Indian encampment. Unfortunately the entire playground was filled with sand, so we all left with sand in our hair and shoes. But the sun was out, the temperatures were in the low 60s and we had yet another magnificent afternoon.
We went briefly to Piccadilly Circus but nearly everything was closed for Easter -- except the tourist shops, where Daniel insisted on getting a t-shirt with a map of the Tube, which we then took back to Covent Garden to take pictures of the Drury Lane, the carousel and other things we'd seen the night before when it was too dark for photos. The stores were closed but the street fair was in full swing: there were people riding the flipping space chair, people giving impromptu performances as clowns and musicians, and one man balancing a bicycle on his head. It started to drizzle while we were there -- pretty much the only rain we had seen the entire week. So we took the Tube to Tower Bridge, and since the sky had cleared by the time we got there, we walked across and back to our hotel, where we had dinner (salmon, fish and chips, fried chicken) in the restaurant there. Then we had to pack to return home.
Our cab to Heathrow drove us past a few remaining places we had wanted to see in London, like the Wellington Arch and Harrod's. I bought 'Sharpe's Prey' in one of the airport bookstores and read most of it on the plane; I also watched 'Tuck Everlasting' which was quite good. We landed nearly 45 minutes early, but lost most of that time in customs and taking the bus to the long-term parking lot. We all survived the five-hour trip home in holiday weekend traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and crashed.