Day 1 - Buckingham Palace & our Welcome Dinner So, the next morning was a bit of an early one! I'd slightly mis-calculated when I happily agreed to join several others from the ABD in a pre-tour trip to Buckingham Palace to do the "Royal Day Out". It occurred to me later that I was going to have to *check out* of the Park Plaza County Hall, and get me & myself over to the Chancery Court Hotel in plenty of time to join up with the others & get to Buckingham Palace well in advance of our 10am reservations for the Queen's Gallery! Luckily, Karen, one of the folks who was pre-daying at the Chancery Court offered to let me store my luggage in her room until my room was ready. So all I had to do was get up early enough to get ready, pack up everything, and get a taxi to the new Hotel by 8:30am. Easy, right? (OK, you guys know me better than that by now!) So, somehow, I actually managed it all! Believe it or not! I even had time to run for some coffee and porridge from Pret a Manger (kristilew, you're right! Great porridge!) When I arrived at the hotel, folks were already congregating in the lobby, and there was Landon (and I'm pretty sure Adam, also!) our Adventure Guides! My luggage was whisked away, to be sent to my room when it was ready. However, when I went to Registration to give them my Passport & other info, it turns out my room was already ready! I ran upstairs to dump some stuff out of my purse, snapped a photo, then ran back downstairs to join the group. I knew everything else would be magically taken care of while I was gone! Just to get warmed up for the actual ABD (which officially started with the Welcome Dinner that night) the Guides took a photo of our intrepid group, just before we started loading into cabs for the ride to Buckingham Palace. (They had us practicing our Royal waves!) When we got to the Palace, we joined a pretty long line of folks waiting for the doors to open. As I went looking for somewhere to dispose of my coffee cup, apparently one of the group found out that we were in the wrong line! This line was for entrance for the State Rooms Palace tour, whereas we were starting with our timed entrance to the Queen's Galleries at 10am. That entrance was further down the block. When we got there, we were informed that we could not get in line until our appointed time. So we hung around until 10am. The current exhibit at the Queen's Galleries was "Dutch Landscapes." and "Treasures from the Royal Collection." There was a great mix of paintings and statues and pottery and furniture. I really liked this one by Rembrandt. It was a portrait of a man and his wife, but was unusual in that it showed them in a natural sort of moment rather than stiffly posing. Some people seemed to be a bit underwhelmed by the exhibit, but I enjoyed it! Next we headed down to the Royal Mews. The Royal Mews is touted as "One of the world's finest working stables". There weren't many horses around, but there were *tons* of carriages being displayed in the stalls. I believe Kevin dubbed it "the Royal Garage". There were carriages for all sorts of different events, including a very fancy, antique carriage for coronations. They even had some small children's carriages (I imagine this was the Royal equivalent of those toy cars you can buy at FAO Schwartz for a bazillion dollars!) After a while, we all re-grouped, and *EVENTUALLY* made our way to the Exit (the signs indicating "Exit ===>" were apparently general directional suggestions, and not actually an indication of where the Exit was). We attempted to find a spot for lunch before heading to the State Rooms at the Palace for that part of the tour, but there weren't many choices nearby, and we were a large group. It was finally decided that we'd just go ahead and do the tour, as there was a cafe' at the end of the tour that served lunch. Unfortunately, yet again, no photography was allowed. The Palace is only open for a few months in the summer, when the Queen is not in residence. We went through several very lushly decorated rooms, which included formal throne rooms and sitting rooms and a whole lot of opulence, as you'd expect. They also had an exhibit set up of the Royal Faberge collection. I guess I was expecting more (I'd seen an exhibition of Faberge items up in Cleveland a few years ago, and it far outshone this collection). The items were nice, but there weren't very many of them, and only a couple of smaller eggs. But it was still neat to see some of the custom items that had actually been made for the Royals. One of the highlights of this part of the tour was the fact that Princess Kate's wedding dress was on display! Most of us had already purchased our tickets before this was announced. They had the dress set up in the middle of a red ballroom, and people were able to walk around it 360 degrees, and get a good look at the whole thing. It is so much more detailed and beautiful in Real Life than it was on TV and in pictures! Exquisite! They also had her veil, the tiara she borrowed from the Queen, the earrings her parents gave her, a re-creation of her bouquet, and the actual wedding cake from the reception. You could see where they sliced into the bottom layer. It was really cool to have been able to see that, without actually having planned it! Once we made it through all the State Rooms, we exited the Palace onto a very large patio overlooking the Palace Gardens. They had a large tented area set up with a small cafe that served sandwiches and drinks. Several people in our group left at this point, and a few of us stayed to have some lunch. I ended up heading to the Tube to catch it back to the Hotel with Michael and Cynthia. I'd actually already met Michael and Cynthia before the trip, as they live relatively near to me. It was a little funny (and a little embarrassing) that when I walked into the lobby of the Chancery Court that morning, I recognized Laurie & Brian, another couple I'd met before, who also live near me. And I recognized Michael. But there was this very dark-haired woman I didn't recognize sitting with him. I looked for Cynthia, and then realized the dark-haired woman was her! (Cut me a break! I'd only met her once, and her hair was significantly lighter then! She said "Oh! I got rid of the highlights!") It was amazing how much different the hair color made her look at first! Anyways, we headed out, but realized we had to hike all the way through the Palace Gardens to get out! It was a very nice walk (including being routed through the Gift Shop), but it was really unexpected to have to walk *that* far! And once we finally got to the Exit, we exited out to the very back of the Palace grounds! All there was was a huge brick wall with VERY serious barbed wire & spikes on top of it! We just started walking in a likely direction, and eventually made it to a more familiar area, and caught the Tube back to our Hotel. It was now time to unpack, clean up, and get ready for our Welcome Dinner. I took a few more pictures around the room. The Chancery Court is a beautiful hotel. The entrance way to the hotel is through an arch into a courtyard. There's a formally dressed doorman at the beautiful wooden door, and a spacious lobby. My room was much larger than I was expecting in Europe, with a courtyard view. I was pretty sure I was going to be *very* comfortable here! While I was unpacking, room service showed up with a very special treat -- We had a little reception first, before dinner. We did all the introductions and Pete spoke briefly. (For those of you reading this who don't know, this ABD was specially organized by Dreams Unlimited Travel, and Pete & Walter and John & Kevin were on the trip with us.) Our Adventure Guides Landon & Adam introduced themselves, along with Fred, who is fairly high up on the ABD ladder, and was going to be coming along on this ABD (as well as helping the Adventure Guides). Our trip consisted of several couples: John & Micki, Frank & Cathy, Jim & Linda, Mike & Christy, Michael & Cynthia, Brian & Laurie, Mike & De Anna (yes, there were a lot of Mikes!), James & Denise, Pete & Walter and John & Kevin. There was also Karen & her mother, Kaye. And then there was also several solo travelers: Me, Christy (yes, 2 Christy's!), Lori, Jason, Heather and Matt. There were 28 of us, which seemed like a really good number. After all this, we went into another room for our Dinner, which was a wonderful tribute to British food. There was a station with little paper cones with some excellent fish & chips, Sheperd's pie, Bangers & Mash, etc. There was also some really excellent bread-and-butter pudding with custard. OMG, yummy! I was so going to be in trouble if they kept serving bread pudding!!! The tables all had different centerpieces, made of various London-themed items such as a double-decker bus, a bear in a Beefeater costume, and Big Ben. After Landon (with one of the Michaels' help) passed out our first day pins, we socialized for a bit longer. We then adjourned to the hotel bar to talk some more before heading on to our rooms to try & get some sleep before our activity-filled day in London! Continued in Part 4. -- Day 2 - Around London (Westminster, Buckingham and Harrods).