Weekend Tourists - Parliament

22:07 Alyson Tart 0 Comments

Sometimes, it's good to remind yourself of how lucky you are and what a great situation you are in.

As an expat, it's easy to get into a routine just like you would in Dallas, or Houston or wherever in the world it is. Work on the weekdays, sleeping in on weekends, laundry, hanging out with friends. Sounds like fun?

But sometimes, as an expat, it's good to get a refresher for yourself on how fantastic your new home is and why you chose to live there.

With this, we've been making an effort to get out and see London! All of the well known tourist sites and some of the less known ones.

A few weekends ago, as the summer wound down to an end, we chose to see one of the most popular tourist sites - Buckingham Palace. As it was the second to last weekend of its opening, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

And while we were out, we went all out. We decided to visit Parliament too.

Bad news - no photos at any (bummer!).

Good news - both were some great places to visit.

First up, the Houses of Parliament.  This building had a whole history I didn't know about! Before becoming a government building, it was actually a royal palace.  Construction began in the 11th century under Edward the Confessor as a palace, so that he could oversee the construction of the nearby Westminster Abbey.  It was used for several centuries, as the true parliament began to unfold under the rule of the Plantagenets (Henry II - Richard III). Disasterously (and despite exclamations of the risks from others), the buildings of Parliament caught fire in 1834.

Westminster Hall - built in 1097 before the palace; one of the
only buildings that survived the fire


So, unlike so many other things in London, the Houses of Parliament are relatively new!  Construction of the new palace began in 1840, after the gothic design was chosen from 97 entries from around the world. The successful designer was Charles Barry, with Augustus Pugin lending more of his input on the interior fixtures. While most of the building was done in 1860, the building of Parliament wasn't completely finished until 1870. However, when you walk through, you don't for one minute feel like you're in a building that could be deemed contemporary - it seems like you step back in time, with the vaulted ceilings, ornate tapestries, and paintings that were supposed to rival the Sistine Chapel. You can imagine the good old men, sitting around talking, smoking, alughing and dreaming up big things for England.

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As a resident of the UK, we have the chance to explore more of Parliament, if we write to our MP for tickets to sit in on session (including talks with the PM) or to climb to the top of Big Ben.

After a snack in the cafe at Parliament (where you can get a cuppa and scones!), we made our way up to Buckingham Palace.

The palace is only open 2 months of the year, while the Queen is out on holiday, or most likely visiting her home in Scotland. When she's away, they open up the State Rooms where visitors would be hosted to all of us who wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise. (Tip - book in advance!! You can also get tickets to tour the gardens, but these sell out early).

The State Dining Rooms
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While you have to queue to get in, once you get inside the building, it's a bit of a free-for-all as it is a self-guided tour. You can tell what's most popular as the tourists all push forward to get a peek at something the audio guide points out as important. I would probably have found the whole visit to be less than impressive if it weren't for the Coronation exhibit.

The Blue Drawing Room
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 With 60 years on the throne, the palace had a display on to celebrate the affair. Everything from the gowns and jewels worn on the day, to paintings to completed to commemorate the event, to recreations of the dinner table for the feast.  The best part of it (besides the clothes) were all the videos of the coronation itself and the excitement on the streets of London. As the first coronation to be captured on film, it's amazing to see things that can be described, but somehow only truly captured through the video.

After we made it through the rooms spanning 2 floors, we headed out the back, through the gardens to the real London. Perhaps, someday, I'll be back to explore more of Buckingham, and if I'm lucky, outside the State Room tour.

View of Buckingham Palace as we exited

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