Pomp and Horse-cumstance

The changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace might be the highlight of a London Tourist, but you can get close to the Queen’s black horses at the Household Calvary Stable.

Like the guards at Buckingham Palace, the household stable guards are in full uniform and stand at attention without flinching or interacting with people around them.  Obviously not allowed to move their hands, one amused us as he made funny faces trying to adjust his creeping chin strap without touching it.

After getting their photos taken with the black horses, Mark and Ace wandered through the gate into the empty courtyard.  Seeing the guard did not stop them, the crowd followed them in.

Inside one lone guard marched back and forth.  As he paused standing at full attention before turning around, Ace, Mark and Susan surrounded him and we snapped a photo.

Mama-razzi moment finished, Ace walked to the bench under the roof and sat down.  He got a front row seat as the guard marched towards him, spun on his heel, then marched back.

On the return the soldier stopped in front of the large wooden gate.

“Joe,” he whispered.  Joe didn’t hear him, but Ace did.  “Joe,” he hissed louder.

A brown uniformed man came to the gate.

“That boy is sitting,” the guard whispered.  The man nodded and the guard marched on.

The gate swung open and a soldier came out.  He told Ace to move away then followed him as he returned to our circle.

“That your boy?” the soldier asked.

“Yes.”

“Keep him in the courtyard, please.  He is not allowed to sit on the bench or disturb the guard.”

“Ok.”

The man went back to the gate and came out with a long stick.  He herded the tourist backwards towards the far side of the courtyard.  Uncertain what would happen next, we stepped back until we saw a line in the gravel.

After everyone was behind the line, the changing of the Household Calvary Guards began.  There was a lot of pomp as the guards’ swords were checked for sharpness and boots were lifted to make sure there was no horse poop on the bottom.  After a lengthy review, the horses were ridden behind the gate, the guards filed through and the gate was closed.

Lot’s of pomp for the Queen.

Pick Pockets in Paris

Becoming a Tourist in Paris for a few days requires changing our island mindset.  In Bahrain designer purses get their own chair at the restaurant table.  In Paris, the centuries-old city of pickpockets, purses are a liability.

Around Notre Dame where 16-year old Esmeralda and her goat danced and performed tricks, Tourists are prime targets.

This was my first European trip using my iphone as my primary camera.  Lifting my arms to take Susan’s photo outside Notre Dame, I decided it was not a good idea.  It was too easy to have my phone snatched from my hand like the Paris police chief.  A stolen iphone would be a bigger loss than a stolen camera.

Entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral is free but often there is a long line.  As the unsuspecting Tourist waits, people try to “sell” you tickets.  Inside the cathedral as Tourists maneuver around the darkened shrines among a throng of jostling people, the church fathers posted more signs warning about pickpockets than signs asking for Silence.

Convincing children to keep quiet in church is easier if ice cream becomes a goal.  However, even an ice cream expedition can become a Tourist trap.

As our five children shouted their double-scoop orders, the young man suggested sitting down at a table where the waiter would serve us.  After three hours of walking, it sounded like a good idea.  The nine of us began crowding around tables and pulling up chairs.  Upon reading the menu we realized of course ice cream served “inside” was not 3.95 euros but 9 euros each.

We jumped up and went back to the young man for the ice cream cones.  He unapologetically took our orders.  The trouble being a Tourist is your money is your most important aspect.

Lagging the others, I was walking up the steps to the Musee d’Orsay when a woman holding a child’s hand bent over in front of me.  As I side-stepped her, she lifted up a gold wedding band.  “Madame,” she said.  I glanced at the ring.

“It’s not mine,” I said and continued on.

“Madame!” she called again.

I turned around and said “Lucky you.”  I heard a French couple following me click their tongues.  Then I realized she was pulling the well-practiced Gold Ring trick on me.  Once engaged the Trickster tries to get the Tourist to open their wallet.

The Gare du Nord train station’s edifice is magnificent but when we went inside to catch the morning Eurostar to London I felt uneasy.

The elevator to the second floor was broken.  Mojo in the lead, we wandered around like a family of ducks trying to find a way upstairs.  Laden with suitcases, we were spotted by a band of pickpockets.  Going up the escalator Mojo and I both noticed a couple of young men standing at the bottom watching me.

Outside immigration, we had to fill out UK landing cards.  Although I tried traveling light, I still had to carry my wallet, passports, phone and ipad in my purse.  Opening my bag, I got a pen and set it down on the table.  As I reached in to get our passport information, a young man on my right grabbed the pen.

“Hey, that’s my pen,” and I snatched it out of his hand, still holding my purse.

As I filled out the forms another young man came up on my left and asked to borrow my pen.  I glanced at him.  He looked nice enough with his curly hair and sweat shirt jacket.  My mind flashed forward to my own boys traveling through Europe with backpacks and no pen.

“Sorry, I am using it,” I said politely but firmly.  As I wrote he hovered over me and repeatedly asked for my pen.

“You’ll have to wait until I am done,” I said using my annoyed mother voice.   I knew giving him my pen meant losing it.  By the time I finished, he walked away.

We went through immigration and customs and waited in the lobby for our friends.  They told us the police had hand-cuffed two young men with curly hair who had been following them.

“Those were the same guys who kept trying to distract me,” I said realizing how lucky I was.

The reality is when consulting a map while taking photos you cannot help but look like a Tourist.

I took precautions like placing our passports, extra credit cards and health insurance cards in the hotel safe.  Outside, I carried my hotel room key without the room number, one credit card and big bills in different pockets.  In my leather purse which wrapped around my body was an old wallet filled with a few euros as bait for the pickpockets.  But when I was busy trying to navigate while watching children, I became the easily distracted Tourist.

After a sight-seeing vacation, I really appreciate being at home.  Despite standing out, I am not a Tourist.

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