Day 11: "Look kids....Big Ben...Parliament!"

Trip Start Aug 26, 2010
Trip End Sep 09, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, September 6, 2010

We woke up to Malcolm and Emmanuelle laughing in the next room.  Kim brewed up excellent espresso for the two of us and we enjoyed it while watching the kids play.  Emmanuelle shadowed Mark for a while, asking him a thousand questions a second.  "Maaah, what's that?  Maaah, what's this?"  Malcolm continues to amaze us with his intricate Lego creations.  He loves to tell us all about the cool space ships and the "mobile command center" (writing it just doesn't convey how cute that phrase sounds in reality).  After a lazy morning, we rallied and made our way out to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  The Tube let us off at Green Park giving us a pretty segway, coming out through the trees just in time to see the band lead the Guards into Buckingham.  We wandered over to The Mall, where we got an upclose view of the Horse Guards riding their black horses down the road, and the "tired" Guards returning to the barracks.  Continuing on down the road, we walked by St. James Park and into Trafalgar Square.  We marveled at the huge lions and enjoyed the art on the Fourth Plinth, Lord Nelson's ship in a bottle.  We followed the Rick Steves' Westminster walk and passed the WWII monuments, Parliament, 10 Downing Street, Old Scotland Yard, Westminster and Big Ben.  The flag was flying over the South tower of Parliament, which means that Parliament was in session.  Feeling a bit "peckish", we made our way back to Trafalgar Square to St Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt Cafe.  There was an exhibit there of the six finalists for the Fourth Plinth for next year.  We cast our votes for the artwork we liked best: Marla liked the sculpture by Hew Locke called Sikandar and Mark liked Hanh/Cock by Katharina Fritsch.  The Crypt Cafe was, you guessed it, located in the church crypt.  Under our feet were the stone plaques of the monks who had died here.  On that happy note, the food was excellent, we both had vegetable and pasta casserole and shared a bread and butter soup dessert (pretty much bread pudding with custard poured on top).  Refreshed, we made our way into the National Gallery.  We had a great time in the special exhibit, Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries.  It was so interesting learning how they uncovered fake masterpieces, verified the true painters and discovered lost treasures.  We moved on to the permanent collection and saw many beautiful works of art.  Among our favorites were Stubbs, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Monet and Vermeer.  We especially loved an artist new to us, Camille Pissarro, with our favorite painting being "The Boulevard Montmartre at Night."  It was raining outside so we decided to go to the cafe in the museum and had traditional cream tea - tea with scones, jam and clotted cream.  Mark had peppermint tea and Marla had Assam tea.  The scones, jam and cream were delectable and we felt like true Brits having a cuppa.  The rain slacked off and we made our way to the house to change into slightly warmer clothes.  After saying goodnight to the kids, we headed out to Piccadilly Circus. Ubenounced to us, the Tube workers were having a planned strike at 7pm.  We were told that the Underground may or may not be running depending on the station and line.  After memorizing the bus route home, we stepped out into the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus at night.  We wandered around a bit, until the rain started again in earnest.  We picked a traditional pub, Salisbury, to dine in.  Ordering the fish and chips, we indulged in a beer each - Mark had the Mad Goose and Marla had the St. Austell Tribute.  Both were exceptional with hints of citrus in the flavor.  We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting next to us from, Kevin and Freddie.  Their plans included a visit to Oxford, Paris and driving around Italy for the next three weeks.  Jealous, we chatted with them about our adventures so far and shared tips and places to see, things to do.  The manager of the pub, Jas, talked with us for a bit about why he did not have TV's or slot machines in the pub despite corporate pressure to do so. He felt that the couples would never had talked tonight if we were distracted by the TV or slots like other pubs have.  He was spot on, the whole establishment was perfectly conducive to talking.  Little nook-like tables, quiet music with a wide range of rock playing in the background made the experience memorable.  After lingering over dinner and our beer, we made our way out into the rain.  The rain was coming down pretty hard for London rain, so we ducked into a mini-mart and bought umbrellas.  It just wasn't conducive to walking around, so we headed back to the Underground.  Luckily the station and line were running, so we made our way to the flat.  Kim and Alex were still up, so we chatted until late about movies, the kids, traveling and more.  We headed off to sleep still pondering how we'd spend the last half day in London.  
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