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During a whirlwind first day in London, we walked by all of the city's landmark sites. Starting at our hotel on Bedford Place (in the Bloomsbury borough), we took in Covent Garden, Leicester (pronounced "Lester"--don't ask me why) Square, Piccadilly Square, and Carnaby Street (fashion hub of the 1960s). Just off Carnaby, we ran into the first of many red telephone booths that we would see over the next five days--this being the first, we had to snap a photo.

After browsing the ritzy shops on Regent Street, we ran into this beautiful shopping arcade (the Royal Arcade), which Tara and I recognized from a scene in the recent Disney remake of The Parent Trap.

After taking this photo of Big Ben (pictures hardly do it justice), we walked into the House of Commons and listened to a spirited debate from the Stranger's Gallery. We then watched a very tame debate in the House of Lords ("my lord" at the end of every other sentence!). The chamber was a beautiful room complete with a gilded throne from which Queen Elizabeth opens Parliament every year.

We also walked by the architecturally stunning Westminster Abbey, which we toured later in the trip. The verger who led our tour was a wealth of knowledge and managed to make ancient English history more fascinating than I would have imagined possible. From both a historical and an architectural viewpoint, the Abbey is an unparalleled treasure.

And, of course, our first-day walking tour wouldn't have been complete without a stop at Buckingham Palace! Although we weren't able to see the interior, we enjoyed some beautiful views of the outside, including the famous palace guards. (It's true--they don't laugh.) At the time, construction was going on all around the palace, in preparation for the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

On our second day in London Town, we started out at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at (where else?) 221B Baker Street. Here are Tara and I sitting in the quaintly furnished study/sitting room--it was almost exactly like the room in the Jeremy Brett TV series, only smaller.

The rest of our day included shopping along Oxford Street (London's equivalent to Chicago's Michigan Avenue). The Liberty, Selfridge's, and Marks & Spencer were a few of the massive, but elegant department stores that we saw. Later in the day, we took the tube to Piccadilly to shop at Fortnum & Mason, whose red-carpeted main floor was full of delectable groceries (including their famous teas). Then it was time to cap off the day with an elegant afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel. We were treated like royalty, and the Earl Grey tea and pastries/scones were among the most delicious I've ever tasted. Here I am sitting at our tea table.

Our third day in London began with a walk through Queen Mary's Gardens in Regent's Park, where we found the most beautiful roses I've ever seen. The whole garden was vibrantly lush, and the light drizzle only added to the atmosphere. Here I am in front of a beautiful backdrop of purple; although we don't know what flower/tree it was, I had to have my picture taken in front of it!

After taking a guided Beatles walk around London (including a stroll across the famous Abbey Road crosswalk, shown above), we gave ourselves a short tour of St. John's Wood (the most exclusive residential area in London--nice, but too cramped for my tastes). We then walked to Trafalgar Square and ended the evening with a candlelight concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields...atmosphere can't get any better than that!

Sunday, May 19 was another busy and fun-filled day. After attending church services on Ossulton St. (in the King's Cross area), we hurried over to the London Eye, from which we enjoyed a spectacular view of the city. This picture of the Parliament buildings was taken just after we got off the Eye, which is situated across the Thames.

While crossing back over Westminster Bridge, we turned around to take this photo of the Eye. Although it certainly doesn't fit into the city's historical fabric, the ferris wheel is a beautiful addition to the skyline--especially when its lights sparkle among the waves of the Thames at night.

From Westminster, we took the tube to Queensway and walked by Marble Arch and Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. On the grounds of Kensington Palace, we saw this charming, quintessentially English sunken garden--one of the most beautiful gardens I saw during the whole trip.

Here's the front entrance to Kensington Palace, located in a peaceful, but very public corner of Hyde Park. Since this is the house where Princess Diana lived while she was married to Charles, one of the walks in the surrounding gardens is dedicated to her.

To begin our first full week in the UK, we took a morning train on Monday from London King's Cross to Hexham (just west of Newcastle in Northumberland, near Hadrian's Wall). On the train ride, we enjoyed views of the famous English countryside (many sheep and brilliant fields of bright yellow rapeseed--a soy crop that blooms in the spring). Our destination was this beautiful medieval fortress, Langley Castle (built in 1350), which has been converted into a luxurious hotel. The magical evening that we spent here was definitely the highlight of our trip.

Here are Tara and I lying in our bed, set into a 7-foot stone window recess on the castle's third floor.
An absolutely fairytale setting!

We ordered our dinner in this lovely room (the Drawing Room) and were called into the Dining Room when it was ready--it was as if our private butler had come in to announce, "Dinner is served." The dinner was possibly the best I've ever had: cream of broccoli soup, black olive bread, salmon croquettes, and the most delicious creme brulee I've ever experienced (not to mention the "palate cleanser" between appetizer and main course!). After dinner, we "adjourned to the Drawing Room" for cappuccino and petit fours. Heavenly!

On to More of the Glorious UK