Without anything scheduled until the evening, I allowed myself to sleep in a little longer than usual, crawling down from my bunk slightly after 9. I dressed myself casually, in just a pair of jeans and a black shirt, and headed out into town, with only my leather jacket and scarf as protection against the cold.
I knew the changing of the guard would take place at 11, but I couldn’t remember where it was. Westminster Abby? The Tower of London? Somewhere else? Without any true guidance, I hopped on the metro, and headed to Westminster. If I saw the ceremony, I would. If not, I had seen enough on the trip so far that I wouldn’t be too terribly disappointed.
Seeing the price of admission, I chose not to walk in, and instead walked around the grounds. I had first seen Big Ben two nights earlier but, now in the daylight, took my first photos of it. I crossed over Westminster Bridge, imagining a shot with the famed lion heads in the foreground and the clock tower in the background, but construction barricades kept me from getting the composition I wanted.
Instead, I took the Queen’s Walk along the Millennium Mile, a section of sidewalks that followed along the Thames River from Westminster to London Bridge, showcasing many of the city’s top attractions. Along the walk, I became fascinated by the city’s architecture, noticing how some of its newest structures had been built around some of its oldest.
As I reached Tower Bridge, I suddenly remembered the changing of the guard ceremony was at Buckingham Palace. I looked at my watch and realized it was too far away to make. Instead, I decided to take a tour of the Tower of London. I paid my admission and waited a few moments for our Yeoman Warden “Beefeater” guide to show. He turned out to be a lively fellow and knowledgeable, having spent 22 years in Her Majesty’s Service.
Time seemed to fly as he gave his animated tour and before long he left us to explore on our own. I walked to the Jewel House and stood in awe at the collection of crowns, orbs, sceptres, and maces from the monarchy’s history. Afterwards, I made my way into the armaments museum and found myself looking at display after display and reading placard after placard from the various showcases of weapons and armor used over the past millennia.
I looked at my watch, and realized I had time to see only one more thing before the play later in the evening. Leaving the tower with things still unseen, I headed back along the Thames towards Trafalgar Square.
I had walked near the Square on a previous night, and had glimpsed some of the beauty then, so I was excited to return and see the fountains once more. Now, with the sun setting, the overcast skies cast a soft light over the scene, giving everything a painterly look.
I headed back to the hostel, showered and changed, and left once more to arrive at the Apollo Victoria several minutes before they started seating. <em>Wicked</em> was a play I had heard of 3 years prior, and after reading the book and talking with friends who had seen the Broadway version of it, I now waited in the lobby wondering if the play would live up to the hype I had built up for it.
Moments after 7:30, the lights dimmed and the overture began to play. Sitting only 2 rows from the stage, every note was heard with clarity and, as the actors took the stage, their voices chimed in.
Three hours later, the curtain closed and I sat there, mesmerized. The play had more than lived up to my expectations, and the crowd’s too, the audience honoring the actors with a standing ovation. After a few minutes the crowd began to thin, and I left to return to my hostel, unable to think of a better way to end my trip.