Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pomp and circumstance (and some lobster noodles!)

Day 14 (Sun, 15 June 2014)

After an intensive 2 weeks, we've come to our last day in London. Usually, we feel like our holidays speed by but I think because we've seen so much on this trip, it does feel like we had a very fruitful fortnight.

It was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning, a cool 21 degrees celcius. I think we'll miss the weather most when we get back. We had a leisurely breakfast in the apartment and took the Tube to Green Park to catch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. In Summer, this official handover from one set of Queen's guards to another is a daily ritual, popular with tourists. For those of you who are interested to know the route and where best to stand, check out this site.

This is The Mall, which leads all the way down to Buckingham Palace and is one of the routes the guards take when marching from St James' Palace.

The marching of the guards to Buckingham Palace begins as early as 11.15am but first, the police on horses arrive to make sure the path is clear. They don't hesitate to yell at people who step over the fence, so it's best to keep in line.

Selfie time!

The guards march down The Mall, with huge crowds running alongside them behind the barricade, trying to get the perfect shot. We were among the trigger-happy ones. Incidentally, the guards look stern and solemn but in actual fact, I was close enough to a couple of them to hear that they were chatting. Maybe they were complaining how England lost to Italy 1-2 in last night's World Cup match.

The actual changing of the guard ceremony takes place within the gates of Buckingham Palace, so if you want to see what's happening, you need to find a spot right outside the gates early. We didn't know about this so we just waited outside for the guards to emerge again.

Buckingham Palace is right next to St James Park, which is the oldest of the eight Royal Parks in London. It's not as pretty as Regent's Park but still very lush. Partly cos of the cool weather, being in a park in London is one of my favourite past-times. The abundance of nature (nice bits like flowers, trees and ducks, not bugs and reptiles) overfloweth.

The squirrels here are so used to people that they're very tame. We even saw one run up a man's leg!

Exiting from St James Park, we arrived at the Westminster area and went to take a look at the famous Westminster Abbey. This is the traditional site of coronations, weddings and burials of British monarchs. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were married here, so were Prince William and Kate Middleton. Apart from royalty, notable figures were also laid to rest here, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

From certain angles, it bears an uncanny resemblance to Notre Dame in Paris. That's because it was built in the same Gothic style.

From Westminster Abbey, we could see the London monument that Andre was most enamoured with - Big Ben! Since Big Ben features prominently in many British books and movies, eg. Peter Pan, it's almost synonymous with London for him (besides fish and chips!)

In case you're not aware, Big Ben is part of the Palace of Westminster for the two Houses of Parliament. It's a long building, with Big Ben on the north end. Trivia: Big Ben isn't the name of the tower and if one is being pedantic, not even the name of the clock! It actually refers to the large bell in the clock that chimes every quarter of the hour.

Thus ended our sight-seeing for this trip. That evening, we headed out to the Paddington area for a very special farewell dinner.

The Paddington rail station was made famous by Michael Bond's classic children's books which featured the lovable Paddington Bear. In the books, Paddington was found at Paddington Railway Station sitting on a suitcase which said "Wanted on Voyage". He also had a tag around his neck which read "Please look after this bear. Thank you."

Whadya know, they erected a statue of Paddington Bear with the tag and suitcase right there at the station! How very sweet.

Paddington is a very pretty area. On our way to our dinner destination, we passed a canal with some houseboats.

There's even a floating bookstore!

Our farewell dinner was at Pearl Liang, a Chinese restaurant again recommended by my London food guru, Lilian. We had discovered that we qualified for a 15% discount if we book online for dinner (Sundays to Tuesdays), so we did.

Pearl Liang's specialty is the lobster noodles. We ordered that, beef sirloin in fruity mandarin sauce, king prawns in salted egg yolk and egg fried rice.

I can't find enough descriptors to explain how amazing the lobster noodles were. The lobster meat was large and chunky and the noodles dripping with flavour. If you order this, add a portion of noodles cos I guarantee you won't get enough of it. Drool. Market rate - we paid £38 for it.

The beef was tender and came in substantial slices.

I've never had salted egg prawns done this way - it tastes deep fried, with a light and very tasty batter but it's actually sauteed.

Since it was also Father's Day, this was a great celebratory dinner for the very happy dad who found the meal completely to his satisfaction.

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