It Was a Must See, So We Saw It

It Was a Must See, So We Saw It

Warning:  This post is going to be part confession, and part rant.

There are certain things that travelers are expected to visit when they go somewhere. To not do them would be almost inconceivable.  For instance:

  • Paris – Eiffel Tower
  • San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge
  • New York City – Times Square
  • Washington DC – White House
  • Arizona – Grand Canyon
  • St. Louis – Gateway Arch

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.  For London, the top two must-see things are (1) the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower – commonly and erroneously referred  to as “Big Ben,” and (2) the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

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Big Ben is simple – go to Westminster, snap a couple of photos, you’re done.  Easy peasy.

The changing of the guard, not so much.  People stake out a spot to view the changing of the guard as much as an hour in advance.  My travel guidebook said that the Victoria Fountain was the ideal place to watch the ceremony, so we went there and waited.  And waited some more.  As time passed, more people came to wait, and it got crowded.  It got so crowded that my ideal spot didn’t seem so ideal any more.  We left the fountain and walked closer to the gates.  Unsure of exactly where the action would be taking place, though, we didn’t know where would be the best place to stand.

Fortunately, a nice man rode by on his bicycle (because you’d have to be crazy to try and drive near the palace in the midst of all that madness) and told us exactly where to stand. So we relocated, waited, and finally it began.

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Imagine a parade that only has one performer in it.  And that performer goes on for about 45 minutes, while you stand on the hard pavement, wondering where the nearest bathroom is and is it over yet?  Sure, it’s all very exciting at first.  You snap a dozen or three photos, then you’re ready to move on.  But you can’t permit yourself to leave because what if the best part hasn’t happened yet?   It has.  Trust me.

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I still regret spending those 2.5 hours at Buckingham Palace on my first trip to London, and I have to say that in most cases when I visit the must-see attractions in any location, I am disappointed.  There’s something to be said for striking out on your own path and not letting conventional wisdom dictate what you do and see on your vacation.

If you are interested in seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, here’s what you need to know:  it takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. Good luck!

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