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TR: Solo in London, Museums, and a Private Tour of Parliament

TR: Solo in London, Museums, and a Private Tour of Parliament

Aug 1st, 2011, 06:05 PM
  #21  
twk
 
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Interesting report. Looking forward to the rest.
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Aug 1st, 2011, 06:43 PM
  #22  
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Thank you, TWK, presently working on my visit to Parliament. I just loved London!
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Aug 1st, 2011, 08:12 PM
  #23  
 
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Great report - Don't let the Savoy intimidate you. It is a lovely place to go for a drink.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 03:28 AM
  #24  
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Thank you, Janisj, I will try the Savoy if I go back again. I appreciate your encouragement - I know you are an expert on British travel and have read your recommendations often.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 04:20 AM
  #25  
 
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Thank you for the information, latedaytraveler, and looking forward to more report.

Cheers!
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 09:11 AM
  #26  
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MONDAY, July 18: Wet and raw, but not yet raining. I packed my bags, stored them at the hotel, and headed down Whitehall towards PARLIAMENT. Although I am retired from the public school, I have been teaching again in a private school in a nearby town for the past three years. One of my students, Lauren, a lovely thirteen year old, and her brother Nate, about eight, are enrolled there. One day I was chatting at dismissal time with Lauren’s Mum, Amy, who is British by birth. I mentioned that I was going to London in the summer and she said that she was also taking the children “home” to visit her family in July. Her brother, an MP, was going to give the children a tour of Parliament on Monday, July 18, before the body recessed the next day, after which the family was all heading back to Wales.


Amy kindly invited me to join the party – I was thrilled. We had exchanged several emails, deciding to meet at 9:40 AM near the entrance to WESTMINSTER ABBEY on the appointed day. Of course, I was early so I dropped into the METHODIST CENTER diagonally across from the Abbey for a coffee. The Center has a very welcoming café and free rest stop if you are ever in the area.


I had time to visit ST. MARGARET’S CHURCH, “parish church to the House of Commons,” which sits on the Abbey grounds. Winston Churchill and his beloved Clementine were married there in 1908. The crowd waiting to enter the Abbey was growing. I began to wonder, “Is this really going to work out?” Not worry – I soon heard Amy calling my name. I was happy to see Lauren and Nate, accompanied by their 13 year old cousin Mauraid, the MP’s daughter, (Welsh sp.?) along with an aunt. So we were a party of three adults and three children.


We went around to St. Stephen’s Gate of Parliament where Amy’s brother, MP Chris Ruane, a member since 1997 from the Vale of Clwyd in North Wales, greeted us warmly. What a great guy! Chris had been a teacher and principal in Wales before entering Parliament. We went through security where we were each given a lanyard with our photo on it. Chris whipped us through the waiting lines and into Westminster Hall with its heavy timbered ceiling, one of the few structures to survive the devastating fire of 1834. Chris’s focus on the tour was to engage the children, especially young Nate, by emphasizing some of the gruesome anecdotes of British history as they had played out in these hallowed halls.


Many public tours were in progress, but Chris took us to several restricted areas including the magnificent Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft which also survived the fire. The Chapel “contains five vaulted bays and clustered columns of polished Purbeck marble. Its ceiling is decorated with fanciful carvings of foliage, dragons, musical angels and the heads of men and beasts, and its floor is paved with tiles mixed with marble.” Gorgeous! The Chapel is now considered a “Royal Peculiar” which means it is not under the jurisdiction of a bishop, but is under the monarch's control. Members may use the Chapel, Chris told us, for family weddings, christenings, and the like. We also visited a private sitting room which is used as a nursery/playroom for MP’s children. With so many young Members, Chris explained, this area come in handy when families visit on particularly long days in session.


Strolling through the halls, I was intrigued by the statues of former prime ministers about whom I had read, particularly Disraeli, Gladstone and, of course, Sir Winston. In passing, Chris also introduced us to several Members who greeted us cordially. One was a very distinguished looking gentleman, Dennis Skinner, a leading Labor member since 1970. When Chris said, “Helen is from Boston,” Mr. Skinner replied, “How about those Red Sox last night?” What a charmer! The next day I saw him on TV tearing into Mr. Murdock in the Parliamentary hearings on the scandal.


We then proceeded through the House of Commons, where the Members’ seats are green leather, and through to the House of Lords, where the upholstery is red. Chris admonished us NOT to sit on or touch benches. He pointed out a plexi-glass bullet/bomb proof screen in the visitors’ gallery of Commons installed after an assault with purple powder (feared to be anthrax) on Tony Blair some years ago.


Passing through the baronial chamber that joins both Houses, I noticed a small sign: “Members, please do not leave coats on the benches” or words to that effect. Chris then took us by the Members’ coatroom and told his favorite story. When he was a newly elected, he asked the butler/major domo, “What are those red hooks for on all of the coat hangers?” Reply: “Sir, one hangs one’s sword on those.” Chris immediately went out and bought a red plastic child’s sword which dangles on his hanger to this day.


Time for refreshment. We passed by the very elegant, formal dining room (Amy assured me that dining there is a great treat) through to the Commons cafeteria where we selected our snacks to be eaten on the lovely porch of Parliament which commands a great view of the Thames. The sun peeked out at that moment. What a treat! Shortly we said our “good-byes,” after taking a few pics under Big Ben. I thanked Chris and parted with my friends from home who were heading off to ride the London Eye.


Back again up Whitehall to the Strand Palace. A computer was available in the lobby so I grabbed it and emailed home about my visit to Parliament. I then picked up my luggage, hailed a cab, and went to the Park Plaza County Hall on the Southbank from which my tour would begin the next morning. This is an ultra-modern hotel, near to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye, but with no view because the structure is surrounded by other hotels and Waterloo Station. The suite was huge with a TV in the sleeping area and one in the sitting area. Also included was a frig and microwave – more than I needed. Raining heavily by now and raw. By then I was toured-out so I crawled into bed with my Churchill bio, watched to news on Sky, and had a nap.


Later I freshened up, checked the dismal weather outside, and decided to have dinner at the Park Plaza. My Trafalgar tour “The Best of Devon and Cornwall” would start the next day.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 10:07 AM
  #27  
 
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Terrific report - thank you. I'm glad you loved the Wallace Museum; it's a very special place and your reporting does it great justice. Looking forward to more.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 11:14 AM
  #28  
 
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Wonderful you were able to have a private tour by a member. Funny you mention Dennis Skinner. He has been in Parliament for two generations and it seems every time I'm in that area, I see him. Last time I was walking from in front of the Abbey to the sculpture garden next to Westminster I saw him twice -- once crossing the street w/ me and then about 30 minutes later as I walked back.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 12:05 PM
  #29  
twk
 
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Very jealous that you got a private tour of Parliament. Since I was there in June, and am not a UK resident, all I could do was go watch a debate. Now I'm going to pout for the rest of the afternoon.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 12:07 PM
  #30  
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Thank you, Mvor. Indeed, the Wallace Collection is a special place. I was just re-reading my Guidebook today. Did you eat there? I wonder if anyone has dined at the PORTRAIT RESTAURANT at the Portrait Gallery - looked elegant.


Janisj, you are very observant. Mr. Skinner is quite a character. Caught him on You Tube lately also. I must say that as a history lover, I was thrilled with the tour of Parliament by Chris who was generous to give his time.
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 12:13 PM
  #31  
 
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...What a charmer! ...

He's also one of Parliament's great characters, sometimes called the Beast of Bolsover.
Here he is in action nearly being chucked out of the chamber
https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=68254695737
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 12:14 PM
  #32  
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Twk, where did you watch the debate from? The gallery? We did not go up there. I never expected to have such an opportunity but who knows?
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 01:10 PM
  #33  
 
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It's years since i went to the Houses of Parliament [I think we went on a trip organised by our local MP] but it's so long ago i don't really remember much about it.

AND meeting the legendary Denis Skinner - what a thrill!
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 01:23 PM
  #34  
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Miss Prism & Annhig, I had no idea that Mr. Skinner was such a celebrity - and to think that he was following the Boston Red Sox baseball team in my home state too!

Miss Prism, thank for the link....
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Aug 2nd, 2011, 06:28 PM
  #35  
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Just revisited the Wallace Collection site - the only daily tour is at 11:30 AM. The docent we had was excellent and really described the artifacts and the legacy of Richard Wallace very well. The tour lasted about an hour.
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 01:22 AM
  #36  
 
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I had no idea that Mr. Skinner was such a celebrity>>

I don't think you'll find him on Celebrity big Brother! a "character" or "personality" might be closer to it and some of his parliamentary opponents [and colleagues come to that] might have other names for him!
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 01:48 AM
  #37  
 
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He is famous for making Republic quips at the State Opening of Parliament

Somebody once suggested that in the future there should be an official Skinner to act as a court jester.
http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/th...er-queen-beast
or http://tinyurl.com/3y82ybe
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 03:01 AM
  #38  
 
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He is the Official Patronised Radical Pet. Live long enough, and even the fieriest firebrand gets to be smiled at indulgently.
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 04:02 AM
  #39  
 
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Thanks for continuing. What a great tour of Parliament! Will we get to hear about Devon and Cornwall as well?
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Aug 3rd, 2011, 05:12 AM
  #40  
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Folks, thanks for the info about Mr. Skinner - I will continue to follow him.

Irishface, working on Devon and Cornwall- a beautiful area
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