London (Day 1 Part I)

  

  
This is what it looks like at 3:30 AM local time south of Greenland over the Atlantic Ocean. This was the shortest night ever! It was great fun to finally see land about 7 or 7:30 local time: Ireland! I could see the cliffs on the western coast clearly. It felt surreal to know that I was looking at Ireland…this southern girl from Lee County, NC who had never been overseas.

Small biographical aside: twenty-one years ago, on my 21st birthday, I had my first plane ride and my first trip west of the Mississippi. Now, almost exactly 21 years later, I am making my first overseas plane ride and my first trip to a foreign country (if you don’t count the Toronto band trip and high school, and you really shouldn’t). Both trips were solo…and I remember feeling pretty similar feelings that time, looking down at Arizona, which felt like a foreign country to my 21-year-old eyes.

The other feature, aside from the cliffs, which stood out to me about Ireland were the incredible number of windmills (see the photo below – top right corner). I know these things are massive, but was still suprised to be able to see the blades moving from 39,000 feet. Ireland has a beautiful countryside, yet they are clearly full on with renewable energy. Oh, America. Let’s get a move on!

  
Heathrow seemed like any other big airport, and the Tube seemed like any other subway in a major city, but emerging from the tube, I had my camera poised and ready to capture my first real glimpse of London:

  
Not what was I was expecting. When they said it was the “Green Park” subway stop, they weren’t kidding. Little did I know that this picture and view held much portent for my day.

First stop: Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was just a short walk across Green Park from the Tube Station. Thousands of people. The gilded palace gates were pretty over the top; the flag holders that looks like giant ship masts were pretty cool, the flowers were very nice. I was not really sure what to expect or where to be looking for the changing of the guard (and could not see much or get very close due to the crowds). Often in these situations, I clue in by hearing others’ conversations. Despite being in London, everyone I walked past or near was speaking German or French.

  
Eventually, we heard band music, and a troop of Bobbies (is that even what they are called?) marched in playing instruments. They came down the flag-flanked “mall” and marched around half the circle in front of the palace, and into the gates where they disappeared from view. About ten minutes later, music again. Now, from a road in a different direction, another troup marched in, playing instruments, and disappeared into the gates. Everyone kept standing around, but I finally gave up being able to see more and departed.

I walked off, schelpping all my luggage for the week on my back, with a list of things I was planning to see: Traflagar Square, the British Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Hyde Park, Notting Hill before checking into the hostel at around 8 PM.
  
My next entry will tell what really happened the rest of the day. Best laid plans, and all that…

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