Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard has always been on my to-do list. Even if it is is very touristy and cliched thing to do. But, when you are from the other side of the world, it really is something special to see. Buckingham Palance is an iconic building and as New Zealand is part of the Commonwealth we have the Queen on our money, celebrate her birthday and watch the Queen's speech on Christmas Day she is a familiar day to day sight.
A little Buckingham Palace history lesson
Buckingham Palace is the main residence of the Queen in London, however, during August and September she pops over to Scotland so us mere mortals can be nosey and roam around. Probably a good thing she buggers off, who wants to be lazing around their house while strangers are wandering in and out of rooms. You can book to be a Buckingham Palace explorer here.
Some more fun facts (because we all know fun facts are, well, fun):
- Queen Victoria was the first Monarch to decide Buckingham Palace was the place to be so she took up residence there.
- There are a crap load of rooms in the Palace. Close to 800. I've never been invited to stay in any even though I can't imagine they'd all be full. Some might be storage rooms where the Royals just throw their old stuff that they can't be bothered with anymore and shut the door. We all have one of those rooms. Let's be honest.
- 78 of these rooms are bathrooms. Maybe they need that many when they host their Garden Parties?
- Queen Elizabeth II drinks four alcoholic beverages a day and two cups of tea
A little Changing of the Guard lesson
The Queens Guards have been watching over the Royal Palaces since 1660, so a really really long time. The ceremony takes place on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. Behind the bars. It's like they're in jail. But a fun jail where they march and play drums. It pays to check online the times for the changing of the guard as they don't do it every day. You can find the times and days here as well as lots of other information about the changing of the guards.
The ceremony at Buckingham Palace is where the Old Guard wipes their hands clean of responsibility of protecting everything and passes it over to the New Guard. It starts at 11 sharp. Not one minute sooner or one minute later. You can't be a guard if you can't tell the time or tend to run late. They usually wear their bearskin caps and scarlet tunics, unless it's winter and they wear grey coats over the top like we saw. England does tend to get a bit nippy after all.
The actual changing of the guard ceremony is free to watch which is great if you are on a budget. Or just tight with money like myself. To read more about the ceremony go here, it'll probably be more informative than the faff I have been rambling about.
Finding Buckingham Palace
As we sped down the walkway down Green Park we could see the Palace in the distance. The Palace was massively imposing and important looking with its regal gates and large railings surrounding it. We got to the Palace with plenty of time to spare so we took a few snaps then realised we both needed the loo.
I suggested knocking on the Palace door but Rob didn't think the Queen would be too hospitable. So we zoomed back to the tube station instead. We got back just in time to squeeze into a gap in the railing and settled in to wait for the guard. That could have been a bit of an oversight since we got up so early to get there in time.
That could have been a bit of an oversight since we got up so early to get there in time. It's a good idea to make sure you get to the Palace no later than 10:15 to get a good spot. You'll just be looking at the back of someone's head otherwise and let's face it, you can do that pretty much anywhere.
As we settled in for our wait I kept making up stories in my head about the Queen. We knew she was home as the flag was flying. That's quite a good idea really, if everyone had a flag on their house you'd know if they were home or not. You'd just keep driving on if the flag was down and if it was up you can stop and pop in. Good system. Unless they were feeling unsociable and were at home but took the flag down to avoid people. This is probably something I would do.
Passing the time waiting for the Changing of the Guard
The royal mail got delivered while we were there and I half-expected her to open the door with wild hair, dressing gown askew and a cuppa in her hand. She didn't though. At one point I saw a curtain move. I imagined her sitting there with a fag in one hand, a sherry in the other thinking, "look at all those nosey bastards. Watching. Waiting. I wish they'd just bugger off and leave me in peace". I don't think she is allowed to think those kinds of thoughts but I bet she does every now and then.
The Palace Guard
The guards have the most boring job. I suppose they do fill the time every now and then by marching five steps to the right then back again, occasionally they change hands holding the gun too. I guess it breaks up the monotony of the day, "only 7 more minutes before I can march!"
They look rather silly really though in their hats and long jackets. They reminded me of little kids playing dress ups in their parents' clothes. And I couldn't help but think their jackets would be highly impractical for chasing someone down. The policewoman toting the machine gun would be more successful in that situation.
The Changing of the Guard
Eventually, we heard the notes of the band marching down the road float closer and closer before entering the palace gates. The guards look a little less silly when there are loads of them all marching in unison with the band playing and flags flying. They are rather impressive looking really, I have to admit after just taking the piss out of them.
The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and is very traditional and beautifully choreographed. The Old Guard did their marching thing for a while with flags and occasionally getting told off before the New Guard marched in. The New Guard was accompanied by a military band which even played the James Bond theme. It was quite an experience standing outside the palace, listening to the band and watching the guards. Very absorbing.
After the band finished they all marched off again. As they disappeared into the distance and the last strands of the band drifted away, the crowd dispersed, all was calm again.
Before we left to explore a bit more I had to get my photo taken with a police officer. Just coz he looked like the ones off the telly I'd seen growing up. Off we set for Big Ben to continue or day of explorations.
So why see changing of the guard?
The changing of the guard is a British tradition steeped in history and yes, for some, it is "too touristy". However, for me personally, it was a fabulous experience. I'm not the type of person who turns their nose up at something because 100,00,00's of other people have seen it already. I hadn't seen it before and it's something I have always wanted to experience.
The guards looked magnificent in their traditional wear and the whole thing was wonderfully choreographed. It really makes you feel like you are watching something special.
Lookin' for a little more London?
What is a very touristy thing that you've done that you're not ashamed you thoroughly enjoyed?