October 22, 2016
God Save the Queen
It was already our last full day in London before crossing the Channel over to Paris (don’t worry, we’d be back for a couple more days at the end of our trip), and we got up nice and early to make the most of our time. It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that we decided to be repeat customers at one of the breakfast joints we had already thoroughly enjoyed.
This time at Cafe Bella Maria, I decided to try the Full English (I’m allergic to baked beans, so I left them off the platter). It’s one of those traditional foodstuffs that makes you wonder how it came to be… everything on there was tasty, but who on earth decided however-many centuries ago to pair all these different foods on one platter?
I opted for a cappuccino this morning, which was also a lovely way to start the day. We knew we would probably find a time to come back to this quaint eatery at least once more before returning stateside.
We headed back to the hotel briefly after breakfast and then took the short walk toward Buckingham Palace. It was time to witness the “Changing of the Guard” firsthand.
The ceremony, which takes place five days a week during the off-season (every day during the summer) sees a new regiment taking over from the one currently on duty to protect the front of the palace — and the queen, if she’s home. Apparently, the ceremony actually starts in a couple different locations across Westminster before converging on Buckingham Palace. Approximately a five-minute walk away at Wellington Barracks, the New Guard assembles to march over. Meanwhile, the troops stationed at St. James’ Palace disembark from there and head toward Buckingham Palace.
Since the Union Jack was flying instead of the Queen’s coat of arms, we knew that she wasn’t even home — so the ceremony wasn’t really doing much to ensure her protection this particular morning.
People assemble up to an hour before the ceremony begins (some probably even earlier), so we didn’t exactly expect prime viewing when we arrived around 10:30am. Rather than joining the throngs along the palace gate, we opted to stand on the steps of the Victoria Memorial, where we could get a little height above the ground-level crowds and still (hopefully) see most of the ceremony. I also brought out my 55-200mm zoom lens to try to “feel” a little closer to the action. The memorial in the center of this roundabout is surrounded by other statues — this one represents Agriculture.
Something about the Windsor crest just makes me happy whenever I see it. I think it’s got to do with the fact that it combines the real (the lion) and the fanciful (the unicorn) together so unapologetically…
There were several bobbies (complete with their iconic hats) directing the flow of foot traffic.
Also lots of mounted police.
The ceremony itself sort of fizzled into fruition as various regiments began marching around the palace courtyard. We felt pretty separated from what was going on in there because of the distance and the fence.
This seagull had a pretty awesome view of the proceedings, and you could tell that his cohorts had no problem leaving their mark on the statues.
Here again, we could see lots of guards marching around inside the gates — many of them were wearing the massive bearskin hats, while others had a much more boring uniform.
It was exciting when the gates opened! We sort of hoped they would stay open for a while, but alas.
The fun part was that the gates were open to admit the marching band.
There were also lots of guards following behind the band folk.
This guard is legit holding a saber.
A bunch of guards on horseback also rode by. Apparently the Horse Guards Parade happens on Whitehall Street (in the courtyard we had seen on the HOHO bus the previous day) at the same time as the guard change here, and they also swap out regiments at this time by riding over to the palace.
After lots of marching around the courtyard, several guards from the old regiment came back out through the gates.
And then the gates closed yet again…
As the ceremony got close to its end, the band played a few tunes.
I’m a big fan of this photo because the band just looks so casual as they ready their music amidst so much fanfare.
There were so many cops on horseback — how pleasant.
Here’s the band in action.
As they started to file out, it seemed to indicate that the ceremony was coming to an end.
I kind of think it’s impossible to look dignified while marching with a big old euphonium, but this fella comes close.
The band was followed out by this regiment.
And after the full band was a fife and drum corps.
Once the action in front of the palace was done, the last part of the ceremony saw these final folks marching down The Mall toward St. James’ Palace.
The ceremony lasted about 45 minutes from start to finish (though a lot of it was sort of difficult to see from a distance). I almost wished that there could have been an audio guide or something to let us know what what going on as it happened. Without context, the whole event was cool to witness but also a little tough to understand. Even though our view was occasionally obscured, I think that our spot on the steps of the Victoria Memorial was a good choice. Having a little height above the people in front of us gave us a clearer picture of the overall proceedings that I think would have been blocked if we were on ground level.
Here are a couple pictures of the beautiful memorial itself.
After the guard change was finished, it was funny how quickly the folks in front of the palace seemed to go back to business as usual.
We lucked out with how perfect the weather was today because we got to see the guards in their traditional red coats and black hats. If it’s raining, they have much more muted uniforms.
One of the best parts about our Eurotrip was seeing so many traditions in action, and changing the guard was no exception. The ceremony is absolutely old-fashioned, but it’s totally unique and iconic, which is why we couldn’t have considered our first trip here a success without witnessing it.
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