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4 September, Thursday

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 5 September 2008 | Views [711]

Yesterday was our last sight-seeing day and, whilst it wasn't exactly a case of saving the best for last, it was nearly so!

We (Jean, Chris, Ron and I) drove to the station and caught the train to Waterloo, after which we took the Jubilee Tube line to Green Park. We walked through the park to Buckingham Palace where there was a great crowd awaiting the Changing of the Guard. What a good time to arrive! We managed to get a few pictures of the Guards in the red tunics and busbies and also of the Household Cavalry with their shiny brass helmets. Good stuff. It occurred to me that the British would be ill-advised to get rid of the Monarchy, it is a huge tourist revenue earner.

Chris had booked our tickets online and our first stop was the Queen's Gallery, a treasure house of paintings, drawings and objets d'art. The exhibition was entitled Amazing Rare Things and included several drawings, by Leonardo da Vinci, of plants, horses and other animals, showing his incredible eye for detail. There were also drawings by other artists of plants, birds, shells etc. whilst in two smaller rooms were examples of exquisite miniatures painted of Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren, as well as eggs and other things by Faberge, jewellery and gold plate.

From the Gallery we went into the Royal Mews, where all the carriages and cars are kept. These were particularly interesting - especially (for us) The Australian Coach, which was designed and built in 1988 by Australian craftsmen and which is the first Coach to have been built since 1907. It is a real work of art and, unlike the older coaches, has wonderful suspension, central heating (powered by its own generator) and electric windows. The other coaches we saw were the Glass Coach, used by Royal brides, the Irish State Coach which is often used by The Queen to travel to the State Opening of Parliament and, of course, the amazing Gold State Coach, which hs been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. It is quite remarkable and very large and apparently doesn't have any suspension at all, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it is! We also had a look through the stables but there were only two horses in residence, a Windsor Grey ("Verdi") and a Cleveland Bay (can't remember his name). They must be about the most pampered horses on the planet.

After lunch, we went into Buckingham Palance for our tour - talk about security, it was worse than the airport. The terrorists have certainly made sure nothing is simple any more.

We were quite overwhelmed by the State apartments in the Palace, they are simply magnificent and an absolute delight to wander around. It's especially interesting to think that it is a working Palace and that these rooms are regularly used. The piece de resistance was the Ballroom, where an enormous horseshoe shaped table (well tables in a horseshoe formation would be more correct) was set as for a State Banquet. It was an amazing sight, with wonderful flower arrangements and it was nice having a little imagine about actually participating in such a banquet. What was remarkable, we thought, was the information that after the meal, all the crockery, cutlery etc. is handwashed - it's too precious to trust to a dishwasher Imagine having to do that - plus the responsibility. Seven florists are engaged to create the 31 floral arrangements and a band of Guardsmen plays in a small gallery during the meal.

After we had finished inside, we went out into the gardens, which are very extensive and it was hard to believe we were in the middle of one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world. We had a cup of coffee in the Palace cafe and then sat down for a while. A very cute little Indian boy was having his photo taken by his parents - he was dressed in a tiny Guardsman's outfit, obviously purchased from the Palace shop. We asked his parents if we could take a photo, and they agreed.

We reluctantly left the Palace grounds and had a walk down Pall Mall, ending up at Trafalgar Square where we started to look for somewhere to eat. We found a lovely Italian restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely meal, talking and laughing until it was quite dark. We then walked down to the Embankment where everything was lit up, looking quite different from the daytime.

We strolled along, stopping every so often to take photos, and eventually caught our train home, at Waterlo Station.

Not long after we got home, Sam arrived and we all went to bed. Yesterday was a fitting end to a quite remarkable holiday, one in which we have never had a moment's boredom and one in which we have seen and done all the things we wanted to do, and spent time with all the people we wanted to see.

Tonight we say goodbye to our trusty Rover and Tom Tom, which have served us so well and to Sam, Jean and Chris plus (mentally) to all the people who have helped make our holiday so very special. We have been blessed by their kindness, love and hospitality and look forward to welcoming some of them to Australia if ever they are able to pay us a visit.

One more journal entry to go - when we have returned to Sydney.

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