Sunday, our first full day here, I specifically planned to do the Royal London Fat Tyre Bike Tour. They had been recommended by a friend from her trip to Paris, and are really highly rated on the travel sites, so I thought it was worth a shot. Then, I also read how it was good to do that early on on the trip to familiarize yourself with the area – so we took all that advice, and I’m so very glad we did!
In order to even do the tour, it meant navigating the Underground, with a connection and all, first thing, first morning here. Thank goodness the London system is: 1. in English 2. clearly marked throughout 3. far easier to understand than our home system as far as I’m concerned.
We made it to Queensway station, and found our guide 15 minutes before the start of the tour, and it was a pleasant, and even funny tour. Throw in a little exercise and most of the major sites of London, and it makes for a thoroughly memorable day. Jonathan, our guide, was full of funny anecdotes for each of the stops we made, and when we later found out he had been a dual major of history and theater in university – it made total sense. Add to the fact that he is 6’7″, and he’s even really easy to spot in a crowd!
The tour started at Kensington Palace, wound through Hyde Park, toward Buckingham Palace. However, before we made it there, Jonathan stopped to talk to the police who had a road blocked off that we wanted to go on.
I forgot to mention, we’re here for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day. This is completely by accident, but has led to several very nice surprises.
The policeman told Jonathan that we could still use the road as a bike tour, but if official cars come down the road, we had to pull off to the side and stop. Ok, sure, we can do that, so we head off. We’re not 1/3 of the way down the road, and here come the official vehicles, escorted by all kinds of police/security/flashing lights. So we slow, and come to a single-file-line stop on the side of the road. Jonathan is peering and peering down the road at the oncoming vehicles, then becomes visibly flustered, and turns to us all and calls out, “Ladies and Gentleman, Her Majesty the Queen!”
I cannot even describe to you the shock and flurry of activity from all of us. We were all fumbling, and unable to decide whether to try to peer in the windows or get a camera up and out for a quick picture. In the end, I tried to do both, and completely failed. The caravan was moving too quickly for a picture, and the windows were so tinted, there was no seeing inside. But it was clearly the queen on board, as indicated by the royal colors on the hood.
So we can say, Yes. We saw the Queen(‘s car).
After it passed and was all over, Jonathan looked around, and muttered kind of to himself, “Well. So, that happened.” It was quite funny how surprised he was!
From there we arrived at Buckingham Palace just in time for the Changing of the Guard. I had assumed we wouldn’t be able to see this due to the timing, but was pleasantly surprised. Jonathan even pointed out the best place to stand that was away from the main mass of people, so the girls had a view with no one in front of them as the guard marched by. They got video and pictures, and were overall completely enthralled. It was pretty awesome to get to see after knowing of it and seeing it on TV shows and movies. Much better in person. After that passed, we were gathered together to hear the story of the many break-ins to the Palace over the years. It’s truly astounding!
This included the story of Michael Fagan, who jumped the fence, entered the palace, snagged a bottle of wine to drink, lit up a cigarette, and went looking for the Queen. By a series of shocking coincidences, he actually made it into Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber and stood at the foot of her bed, smoking his cigarettes and watching her sleep. She woke, and asked ‘What are you doing in my bed chamber?’ They went on to have a conversation for some 15-20 minutes. Finally Fagan, ran through his cigarettes he had been smoking to calm his nerves. Seeing an opportunity, Queen Elizabeth says, “You’ve run out of cigarettes, would you like me to order some more?” He said he would. So she reached over and rang the guards and simply said, “The man standing in my bed chamber has run out of cigarettes, would someone please bring him some?” Whereupon one of her personal guards runs in the room and tackles Michael Fagan to the ground.
In the end, it turns out to be extremely hard to charge Fagan with a crime. At that time, simply jumping the fence is not a crime. He also didn’t break in, a door was open and he walked in. Because of the timing of his stroll through the palace, he encountered no guards and therefore never used any force. Even smoking in the palace was not against the law at that time. The only thing they finally were able to get him for was stealing the bottle of wine. Also, neither the theme or any details of his chat with the queen were ever revealed.
FYI – were you to attempt this today, you would be breaking quite a few laws, and the security has changed significantly, too. So fair warning.
We continued on through the Palace Gardens, to Westminster Abbey and around the bend to Big Ben and Parliament. Here Jonathan told us the history of Guy Fawkes, and then with a disclaimer and time for anyone with a weak stomach to excuse themselves (he was serious, he had someone pass out before), he went on to explain in detail what it was to be “Hanged, Drawn & Quartered”. He then told us how this never actually happened to Guy Fawkes, because he waited until the noose was around his neck, then took advantage of a good moment to elbow the hangman, and throw himself off the platform, snapping his own neck. After hearing the details of what was to follow the non-lethal hanging part – I think Guy chose well.
We then came to Trafalgar Square, to hear about Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s navy at Trafalgar. It was all quite interesting and dramatic, and a better retelling of what the girls have learned in history. But, there were a few tidbits none of us had heard before.
For instance… One of the things Lord Nelson was known for, were his famous final words after continuing to lead the battle on to victory after being mortally wounded, “Thank God, I have done my duty.” Very dramatic. Very patriotic. Very inspiring. Well, actually, there is very heated debate which leans toward his last words being much more wordy than this, and including the final request “Kiss me, Hardy!” Hardy being his second in command. Well. There you go then. According to the reports of the crew – who loved him dearly, Hardy then kissed Nelson on the cheek and forehead before Nelson then died.
And speaking of Nelson’s crew’s dedication to him… Typically, when someone in the Royal Navy would die, he would be rather quickly given a burial at sea. I mean, there’s no good place to store a dead body on these ships. When Nelson died, there was still a 6 week journey home, so what would you do with a rapidly decomposing body? Ick. However, Nelson’s crew knew that if Nelson’s body made it home, he would be given a state funeral second only to royalty, and they dearly wanted to give him that. And, well, there happened to be a keg of whiskey on board.
So – they stripped him naked, folded him in half, and stuck him in the keg with the whiskey. Six weeks later, they arrived home, popped the top on the keg, and inside was a perfectly preserved Admiral Nelson! There was also a bit less whiskey than the journey home had started with, which was quite the mystery. It wasn’t accounted for by absorption or evaporation. Upon closer inspection, very small holes were found around the top seal of the keg, just the right size for the hollow feather quills the men had. Which could be poked in and used as… straws. And that is where the phrase “Tapping the Admiral” came from. Eeeewwwww…
I told you, this was a very entertaining tour!
The Lunchtime Show
We broke for lunch and everyone went their separate ways. However, we went to a rooftop restaurant overlooking Trafalgar Square our guide took us to. Great views, beautiful day, and a couple additional surprises in store.
Remember when I said we were there for VE Day celebrations? Well, while we were up there, there was first a flyover by WWII fighter planes. Then, as we were still recovering from that surprise, and the awesome vantage point we had, over flew the Red Arrows, trailing red, blue & white. Since I still had my camera out, I got a great video of them, and KatieRose got a gorgeous picture.
There was quite the excitement among everyone on the rooftop restaurant. Apparently not many people had known this was going to be happening. I’m sure it was something that many knew – just not a bunch of tourists! Jonathan made a big show of joking about how this is all in a days work, it’s always like this is London. It really was just an amazing time.
After that we made our way back to Queensway, back through parks. Stopping to talk about the Princess Diana Memorial and the Prince Albert Memorial. All in all, a great way to spend the day, hear some interesting history and stories, and spend the day together. It was totally worth being worn out and a touch sunburned at the end of the day.
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