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First Things First

Usually when I get to London, I end up starting off in Trafalgar Square. I don’t know what the lure is, but I always seem to start out coming out of the Charing Cross Tube Station–which is my favorite because outside stands the last of Edward I’s “Eleanor Crosses” which marked her funeral route. I actually used one in Stealing the Bride. The one there now is a replica, but still, I love it. After I indulge myself with such a beautiful and heartbreaking monument to love, I head over to Trafalgar Square. The place is so wonderful: the monuments, the people meeting or just sitting on the steps eating their lunch, and it is also a crossroads–off to one side is St. James Park, or go straight down from the Square and you are in the heart of Westminster. You have the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery there, as well as St. Martin in the Fields. A perfect place to start.

Trafalgar Square

Of course, nothing says hello than by being greeted by the lions. Happily they were being barricaded off that afternoon for some function at the National Gallery, so they were devoid of children playing on them and I was able to get a clear shot:

Trafalgar Lions

After indulging in a good hour or so of gazing and admiring the Thomas Lawrence exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (have I mentioned I am a Thomas Lawrence groupie?! I LOVE his paintings), I pried myself away from his incredible portraits (it is like a who’s who of the Regency era) and went on a walkabout, just following whatever indulged my wanderlust. Down toward Westminster, I snapped a pic of a Horse Guard:

Horse Guard

I always sort of feel sorry for these guys, trapped out here with mindless tourists clicking away and pointing at them. I’d go mad. So after doing my part to promote their madness, by taking a picture, I walked through the Horse Guards building and into St. James Park. The park was perfect–the leaves turning, the air crisp. When I get to England, I love just walking around. Admiring the views, taking it all in, the sights, the sounds, the smell. I let it sink in. I don’t like to hurry and if something strikes my fancy, I will sit and look at it for as long as it takes to get it all in. I find myself wondering who else has walked this path . . . Jane Austen? Emma Hamilton? Princess Diana?

St. James Park

And as I stroll along, I consider what it must have been like, how one of my heroines would describe the duck pond with peekaboo views of the new Buckingham Palace–at least it would have been new back then:

Buckingham Palace from St. James Park

Wandering past the various houses where the royals congregate, Clarence House, Marlborough House, St. James’s Palace, it is hard to see much of these places as they are surrounded by big walls, lots of security and armed guards. Yes, if you want to put off casual acquaintances and the drop in visitors, men with machine guns will do the trick. But you can manage a few peeks here and there, like this one, peeking through the fence at the backyard of Spencer House:

Spencer House from Green Park

Sadly, I am not above peeking through fences to get a better view, or any view for that matter. Finally, a walk through the parks is incomplete without a glance down infamous Rotten Row, in Hyde Park:

Rotten Row

As I waited here to meet a friend (just as someone might have done 200 years ago) I imagined what it would have been like then, without the sounds of cars and buses and planes overhead, and only the restless hooves of fine horses and the witty banter of Mr. Darcy and his companions. All in a day’s walk.

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