Last year, for my 60th birthday party, Karen and I wanted to do something special so decided to take a trip to London, England.
For those that don’t know, my aunt is a historian and has traced the Walpole roots back to England. Specifically, back to Horace Walpole, a very famous writer and politician, and Sir Robert Walpole who was the first Prime Minister of England. So for obvious reasons, the top of my bucket list is to visit England. I wanted to see Walpole Castle, once the home of Horace Walpole, now called Strawberry Hill. So with only about two months for planning, Karen set out to build an itinerary, schedule flights, sightseeing, housing, and figure out how to pay for it… She works best under pressure.
We have some amazing friends in the London area, Rich and Emma, that we met on a resort in Mexico (that in itself is a funny story). If you want to experience the sites of a new area, get a friend to show you around. They were so gracious opening their home to us, taking time off from work and their daily routine to show us whatever we wanted. They all came up with a surprise for my birthday, but I'll get to that in a minute. We told them we wanted to see some of the touristy stuff like Westminster Abby and Parliament, but also wanted to do some local stuff; “whatever you do when you go out.” I’m not sure who enjoys planning more, Karen or Emma, but between the two of them we had a full week of fun. Here is an example of how my wife’s mind works, I couldn’t find the finished one but you get the idea.
Rich and Emma picked us up at the airport and we were immediately whisked away to see Strawberry Hill. It was amazing! I joked with Rich saying that I was going to reclaim my castle. He replied with a smirk, “I wouldn’t. They probably owe a lot of taxes.” We went on the public tour and saw so many artifacts from Horace’s time in the castle. During the tour, Rich told the curator that I was a descendant. She said she saw the resemblance and told me to stick around after the tour and she would pull out some letters and documents that I could take pictures of.
I won’t go into everything we saw in London. It would take way too long and way too much reading. But between Emma and Karen there was a full week of sightseeing. We went to Westminster Abbey, which was so moving. There we saw St. Edwards Chair, The Coronation Chair that has been used since 1308 for every king and queen's coronation, except one. Can you guess who (Check the end of the article for the answer)? You'd think they could afford new furniture by now... LOL. Karen stood in awe and commented, “that furniture is older than our country.” Also there was a monument to Lady Catherine Shorter, the wife of Sir Robert Walpole, in Henry VII’s Chapel.
Another great spot that we were treated to was the Winston Churchill War Rooms, a series of bunkers and now a museum under the streets of Westminster that were used during WWII. Did I mention tha
t Rich works for Her Majesty's Treasury? Best I can tell, that's the equivalent to our IRS. Anyway, apparently important and the guy knows everybody! So when we went to the War Room, we didn’t have to wait in line with the mere peasants. We were able to get in an hour before they opened and see everything obscured. Later in the week, we were allowed to go out on the balcony where Winston Churchill stood when he gave his VEDay speech on May 8, 1945. Rich pointed out that the balcony was never resurfaced, so we literally stood in the footsteps of Winston Churchill.
We didn’t quite draw
the crowd Churchill did,
Then came my surprise. I had no idea, but Rich and Karen had spent weeks planning, verifying my position as police chief, and getting security clearance for me to go inside New Scotland Yard (or as it is referred to by locals, the New New Scotland Yard) to tour the infamous Black Museum. The room is currently only available to employees as a training tool. I was the only one of us allowed to go inside. Poor Rich. He looked so dejected. I was able to see items from historic crimes in England. You can imagine what they were, from ropes used in hangings in the 1800’s to modern bomb devices. I’d tell you more, but I’d have to kill ya. This was something very special I will never forget.
Later in the week, we went on a private, after hours tour of Parliament. I got to take pictures next to Sir Robert’s statue and stood in spots where kings and queens have stood for centuries. We learned about the origin of terms like “it’s in the bag” and “don’t cross the line.” ‘It’s in the bag’, originated in that the bills were placed in a bag attached to the back of The Speakers Chair prior to being presented. The House of Commons, created to give commoners a vote, sits on one side of the aisle while the House of Lords sits on the other. There are lines on the floor that they were not allowed to cross. The lines are intentionally designed to be at a distance where swords couldn’t reach across the aisle, hence ‘Don’t cross the line’. On our way out, a security guard asked our host, “Have they seen the church?” He tossed our host the keys to the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, which was built by King Edward II in 1297, and is located underneath Parliament. What an amazing, ornate church that was used by members of Parliament and their peers for centuries and survived the bombings of WWII. This chapel truly has a rich history which can be explored online at length. That we were fortunate enough to see it was a major highlight to our trip.
One interesting tour we went on was a food tour. I wasn’t so excited about that one at first, but Karen really wanted to do it so we went. Once again I was amazed! It was a walking tour in the old market under London Bridge. We were treated to a history lesson and a variety of food and drinks. Way more fun that I thought it would be. I highly recommend it.
One night, after deciding to take it easy and start fresh the next morning, we all walked down to the neighborhood pub (we visited several in London). The walk was made all the better by the charm of the area and the pub was very quaint. It was kind of like “Cheers,” where everyone knew each other. We met a wonderful man named Ashley who talked to us for a while. After several cocktails, while we sat in our booth and Ashley stood with his friends at the bar, Karen (a few drinks in) yells, “Ashley! Ashley!” He looks back to her politely and she tells him, “I need another drink.” Ashley looked confused and I told Karen, “He’s not our waiter.” That cost me a round of beer for Ashley and the boys. After we closed them down, let’s just say we stayed long enough that the short walk home was challenging.
Other things we saw was the performance of Wicked at the Apollo Theatre and took a trip up in the Shard where again we were given a royal welcome, thanks to Rich’s contacts. We even saw a member of a certain well known royal family coming out the revolving door as we went in (no, not THAT royal family but close). I swear as we passed he proclaimed, “F’ing tourists.” Rich said, “You just walked past royalty.” To which I replied, “No, he did.”
By the end of the week, I was exhausted. Emma asked, “What do you want to see on your last day. We don’t want to waste it.” I said, “Can we just stay at your place and grill? I’m tired.” So that evening we sat in the garden, grilled some food, listening to Rich’s son sing and play Guitar (he is very talented by the way), had some drinks and smoked some cigars. It was a fitting end to the best vacation ever, so many amazing memories topped off with an evening with friends, warmth, and laughter!
There are so many things to see in London and surrounding areas, we are planning to go back after retiring and stay for a couple months to leisurely explore more of the country and see our friends again. So if you want to turn a good vacation into an amazing one, find someone local who knows where to go. Anybody can find the normal touristy stuff (we saw plenty of that), but someone who knows some off the beaten path, local things that other people don’t get to do when they visit a far-away place. That’s how you check off an item on your bucket list in style. Ancestral travel? Done!
ANSWER -Since 1308, all crowned English and British monarchs have been seated in this chair at the moment of coronation, with the exception of Queen Mary II, who was crowned on a copy of the chair.