Richmond's Own (but unowned) Website

Wow, what a busy day today! We started up early – we had to eat breakfast around 7 – they had the chocolate croissants again today! As well as the frozen (and rather tart) berries and yogurt. But the chocolate croissants got everybody excited. We picked up bag lunches for the day, and proceeded to make our way to the main gate to meet with Dave at the main gate for our trip into London.

The 72 bus came, but it was too full, leaving Nicole, Brendan, and myself stranded at the bus stop! The next bus passed by full, and we ended up taking a different line down a few stops before switching to the 72 line again – thank you to the rest of the group who waited for us at the bus stop at Barnes!

We got onto the train, and Dave had us get off at Vauxhall, before Waterloo. We got off there and waited for a bus to take us toward Parliament – it was a double decker bus, and quite crowded, but at least we all got on this time! I should note that trains here have a real gap between the door and the platform. They play the message a lot on US trains, but usually it’s pretty close – like stepping over the gap in an elevator. However, here, sometimes the step up to the train door (and bottom of the carriage) is a foot or more (over 30 cm I guess), which is an interesting difference. But it’s pretty easy to get used to. We also got to see the MI-5 building (from a distance!)

Westminster Hall
Parliament is huge! Amazing gothic architecture – but built in the 19th century, as part of a revival of medieval British architecture. We met up with Stephen outside Parliament, and proceeded inside, after going through an airport like security. 

We entered Westminster Hall, the main part and oldest surviving part of the building, built in the 11th century – almost 1000 years old! We were shown the “new” roof – only built in the 14th century! It has an amazing roof – when it was built, the Americas haven’t even been discovered! It’s amazing, because the floor has plaques showing the exact place where many Kings and Queens have stood. 

The local MP for the area around Roehampton (member of Parliament), Justine Greening, kindly took the time to give us a tour of Parliament. We went through the Central Lobby, where MPs meet their constituents, and gives rise to the word “lobbying.”  Also interesting was to see the symbolism of a united kingdom for the UK, for each of the 4 entry ways had a portrait corresponding with England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  We got to go through the chamber for the House of Lords (which is designated in red), seeing the throne, and learning about them, and then the chamber for the House of Commons (designated in green). We also got to see the voting lobby. When the House of Commons vote, members physically have to go into one of two rooms – the yes or no lobbies, and then file past a clerk who manually checks off their mark as either yes or no. No electronic buttons! What also struck me in both chambers were the dangling microphones for the cameras for television (of course they had to have them, but it never occurred to me that they would dangle from the ceiling). But it was amazing to actually walk on the floor of the House of Commons – I’ve seen it on tv or on the computer many times, and I actually was able to stand there! There were many historical aspects that we learned about the workings of Parliament – such as how the Queen is not allowed into the House of Commons, and how when summoned to the House of Lords the House of Commons shuts the door before going there, to symbolize the power of the common people.

After our tour, Stephen took over for the day – we had a moment to get some coffee and buy some gifts, before heading out on our political tour.

Many of the government buildings are built in a neoclassical style (like Washington DC), since they were built during the height of the British empire – when there was a sense that London was like the new Rome, and they had created a new Roman Empire.  Stephen talked about the lack of a constitution like our constitution, as well as how the political system in the UK has really evolved over time – such as the power of the monarch, and how much of that power has gone to the prime minister, but still having remaining questions like the function and purpose of the House of Lords, amongst others.

We passed number 10 Downing Street, and Stephen talked about the dynamics between the Prime Minister, and the powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer (like the head of the treasury department in the US, but with more power), and some of the dynamics with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. 
St. James's Park
We passed through the Cavalry Museum, where we actually saw horses this time, into the beauitul St. James’s Park.  There were lots of birds and even a giant pelican! We sat down under some trees to eat lunch, and it began to rain. Besides that, it would have been a wonderful picnic! Even got to see a marching band go by (as Stephen said, London putting on a show for the tourists!) However, we had a good discussion about California politics, it began raining quite hard as we headed toward Buckingham Palace.  After the heavy rain, we briskly walked through Trafalgar Square, and into the national gallery for an hour to warm up and dry off a little! I enjoyed it (except maybe the 1 pound for a map – but I suppose it’s alright since the museum is free). I loved looking the the Van Gogh paintings – especially the Sunflowers! As well as A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, which they have the plant wall outside which looks similar. But there is so much 3D texture on the actual paintings that you can never see in photos. It was amazing!
Covent Garden
We made our way through Covent Garden, seeing the shopping area, again inspired by Italy, and where My Fair Lady took place! Stephen showed us a bank, but it was beautiful, built in the Victorian times, and was very ornate! We then went through a door, onto a cobblestone alley, finding out that it was the law area – (before we had gone by the Royal Courts of Justice) where all the lawyers work. It was very interesting, for lawyers work in these society places, which seem to be like a college institutions – I thought the buildings quite looked like an American college(s)! We made our way back down to the Thames, and walked along the Thames which was a nice walk – seemed like something out of a movie!

We wanted to stay in the city a little longer, so Stephen left us back at Covent Garden, where we went around, listened to an opera singer, and shopped in some of the little stores.  The group split, some of us coming back, and a few stayed behind. We went through Waterloo station (it’s all familiar now!), came back to Barnes, and came back.

Dinner tonight was another hamburger, chips, string beans and brussel sprouts, and some others. We also came back to some large packets of reading to complete! But today was a great day – learned a lot of history, political science, and had a lot of fun!

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