Guards, Games and Gaffes

Trip Start May 09, 2012
Trip End May 16, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, May 12, 2012

As suggested by many of my previous trip entries, Rufio and I tend to have a minimalist approach to trip planning. We book the flight there and back, a hotel for at least the first night and other than a general idea of things we would enjoy doing, the extent of thought and effort put into planning is
limited. That changed slightly last year in Italy because there were works of art we were both passionate about seeing and I learned that making reservations for the galleries and museums in advance would save us from wasting precious time in long queues. I used that knowledge again for this trip, but for all my planning and coordinating the comedy of errors that was to ensue this day has convinced me to return to my more capricious ways...

The previous day we had set out slightly later than I had hoped, but it was of no concern since we didn't have any time constraints to abide by. This day was somewhat different since we had an advance ticket train. I booked the train time to get us to Windsor precisely 30 minutes before the commencement of the Changing the Guards. The night prior Rufio and I planned out the route to Paddington Station and approximated the total journey time in order to arrange a timely departure in the morning. What we did not accomodate for was the total time for three women to get ready in one tiny bathroom with one mirror and one working power adapter. Nor did we know the local bus driver regarded his timetable more as a guideline. When all was said and done we were running about 30-45 minutes later than I had planned, but we had factored in lag time, so we would be arriving at the station within minutes of departure. It was going to be a long shot.

I was feeling mildly frustrated as we finally reached the tube station from our tardy bus. But then I caught glimpse of three young men dressed in nightgowns, grandma wigs and smeared makeup waiting for the tube train ahead of us. As they clutched their purses and gossiped to each other in high pitched voices, I couldn't help but break a smile and remember life was more about the journey. I relaxed and resigned to being content with just being where I was instead of wishing I was somewhere else. We arrived at Paddington just minutes before departure, but unfortunately we could not collect our tickets and get to the platform in enough time before final boarding. We consulted with the help desk who directed us to the next departures. We spent a little while getting breakfast and checking out the souvenir stands before we finally boarded a train for Windsor.

After a relatively short train ride past a few sleepy towns we arrived in a fairy tale. I was amused to see a children's carnival just outside the station, as if a real castle wasn't enough entertainment for a 7 year old. Once off the train I took off in a dash in the direction of the castle. Although it was nearing noon, I was hopeful we would catch the last few minutes of the daily ceremony. As we turned the corner from atop the hill we could hear drums beating. I looked back at Rufio with a smile as big as his on our first Disney trip (Epic Adventures blog entry in progress). With the rest of my crew in tow I ran down the hill to catch the Guard's band marching in unison down the street, marking the close of the ceremony. I was satisfied with the brief glimpse into the centuries old tradition.

With that we skipped the queue and headed through security with our pre-purchased tickets. I was happy with my planning at this point. We spent the next few hours admiring the castle grounds, learning a great deal of history through our complimentary audio guides. The queue to the State Apartments was rather long thanks to the popular Queen Mary's Dollhouse exhibit. The line could be skipped to enter the Great Hall only, but I was insistent upon seeing the "60 years in photographs" exhibit in honor of the Jubilee that directly followed the doll house, so we suffered through the biting winds for some time. I thought the photo exhibit was worth the wait, and I was surprisingly rather impressed with the doll house.

After the grand tour of the castle, a visit to St. George's Chapel and quintessential photo op with a Royal Guard, we explored the town for a few minutes then settled into the Horse and Groom pub for roasts and pints. After lunch we decided to take the next train to avoid the mass exodus that was sure to ensue for the last train of the evening.

Upon arrival back at Paddington, Rufio and I picked up a Paddington bear toy and book for our goddaughter while my mom purchased a "Mind the Gap" London Underground magnet for a giggle. It was fairly early in the afternoon so we had plenty of time to get more exploring done. With the exception of Jessica, each of us had come with an obscure "pet" destination we secretly hoped we would have the time to scope out while in the city. As for mine, the Broad Street pump, I was content with hoping to serendipitously happen upon it, similar to the cat sancturary in Rome (see "Pantheon and Trevi" entry in the Italy 2011 blog), and decided I wouldn't trouble the crew with seeking it out since I was the only one who had ever heard of it. We were all interested in Mom and Rufio's choices, and so we headed in what we thought was the correct direction of both. The events of the next few hours would become my biggest travel gaffe since...well since the day we landed in London.

Many my childhood days were spent playing in the pool with the sweet tunes of the entire Beatles anthology blaring through speakers in the window as my mom did her housework. In a way, their music inspired both of our young lives, and needless to say we are both avid fans. That being said, one of the three things on Mom's Must-Do list for the entire trip was visit Abbey Road Studios, if for nothing more than to walk across the intersection. I knew it was important to her and it was of huge interest to me, so during my pre-trip planning I found the GIS map location of the studio and saved it in my email documents. However, we didn't have internet access in our apartment and the few times we found wi-fi we only had our mobiles with us, from which I could not access my map. Indeed, I could have just googled it again from my phone, but I decided to go the more adventurous route. You see, there is an Underground station called Abbey Road. At this point anyone remotely familiar with London and the tube will immediately scoff and laugh. I never overlayed the map of the studio with the tube map, nor even zoomed out enough to see where the map point was in relation to other landmarks in London. I naively assumed the first time I looked at the tube map that my map point must be close to the station. I was wrong. After what was probably 40 minutes on a tube train that became more empty and more dodgy with every stop, we arrived at Abbey Road. No longer were we in the glistening hustle and bustle of central London with castles and statues made of gold. We were standing in the middle of a desolate industrial zone that just so happened to have a curfew enacted. My puzzled travelers looked to me and I hung my head in shame. I attempted to keep face by walking to the street and trying to figure out which direction would be best to journey. Rufio implied it would be back onto the train. Everyone concurred.

Luckily Rufio's pet sight was Olympic Stadium and it happened to be on the same line, farther down the tracks. I felt some relief knowing the entire journey wasn't in vain. As we boarded the train my poor mom took a picture of the Abbey Road underground sign just to have some relic to take home. Once back in the States I decided to compare the station closest to the studios and the Abbey Road Station. First, the station name is not in fact a misnomer, the street at the north entrance is in fact Abbey Road. It's just not that Abbey Road, which is probably 10 km or more away. The correct stop is St. John's Wood for future reference.

Our next stop was much more successful, although we did walk in the wrong direction for a few minutes. We finally found ourselves window shopping in the shiny new high end shopping complex called Stratford Westfield, built to appease the masses that will descend upon east London this summer for the 2012 Olympics. We spent some time admiring the Olympic Stadium and Orbit from a lookout location in a department store, then made our way back to our home base to find food and drinks.

It was our last night in London, and as such we wanted to have a relatively relaxing evening. We hopped into the Mayflower for dinner and drinks. The food here was highly recommended by our host, which is undoubtedly the reason seating inside was nonexistent. After crowding around a one-person table for some time, we snagged a booth that had one lonely patron remaining. We chatted with the Irish transplant for a while as we ate and enjoyed our final pints in London. Then our merry foursome, Jessica being the most merry of us all for the record, retired to the apartment readied for our next sojourn.

London 2012 Olympics

Map of Abbey Road Studios
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