Free Tour? I’m down


Hyde Park map - start of tour in bottom left corner
Hyde Park map - start of tour in bottom left corner

Random Observation/Comment #152: I am usually a tour-guide’s (and worried parents’) worse nightmare when it comes to sight-seeing.  When I was younger, I would have unstoppable urges to walk around at my own accord during tours.  Like a dog determined to sniff that particular hydrant or corner of the building, I would wander and find the next interesting thing that caught my ADHD-brain.  My Mom has plenty of stories about this and would probably be more than happy to embarrass me.  Unfortunately, this habit was not broken through my years as an adolescent.  Instead, it mutated into a degree of independence from the increased confidence in my navigation skills.  Sometimes the camera speaks for itself and there are things that I must capture.  The tour guide could be telling an interesting story about the history of the area, but I was most probably taking my time walking at my own pace and taking pictures every 5 steps.  The death stares and impatient foot-tapping I get from these tour guides really makes it an obligation for me to tip them.  I’m glad they wait for me to tell the stories because they’re usually quite entertaining.

The Free “Royal” tour of London was thoroughly informative and entertaining.  It starts at 11AM on the corner of Hyde Park.  If you’re staying at St. Christopher’s Village Hostel, a tour guide will lead a group at 10:15AM to get to the park.  This tour is probably the most advertised at hostels, so I’m sure you’ll find someone attending, since it meets every day.    Although I didn’t hear all of the stories because I was too busy taking pictures of everything in existence, the majority of what I did hear was fascinating.  Sometimes it’s much more than just seeing the beautiful scenery and snapping the next shot.  Especially in a place as rich in history as London, the city becomes more meaningful when you include a bit of background story.  Stonehenge would be nothing but a collection of large rocks if it didn’t include some type of explanation.  I have a similar opinion about museums and their artifacts.  Each piece really comes alive when you follow its timeline.  Portraits in the Nationally Gallery are simply just drawings of old, dead people in funny clothing without those nuggets of interesting facts.

As I mentioned earlier, I only heard bits and pieces of the tour, but the section that I did hear has been engrained in my mind.  If I were to walk the area again, I’m sure I could tell some of the interesting stories, granted with less gusto and enthusiasm, but all of the facts would be there.  I, of course, recommend seeking a professional.  The tour guides are all knowledgeable and they have a great sense of humor.

Yes, the 2.5 hour tour is free, but the guide does a bit of a guilt-trip about tipping.  He/She will word it in such a way that you feel like you would be directly offending him/her (and their entire life’s work) if you didn’t offer at least something.  Tipping, in this case, is quite a delicate social art-form.  You don’t want to give anything, which is why you attended a free tour, but you want to thank the person for the time they put in (and their understanding of your picture obsessions).  I would suggest to just give the amount that you feel your, and the guide’s, time was worth.  I gave him a 2 EUR per hour rate to pay for the water he drank to maintain the voice and stamina.

I’ll write this review as a general overview to the tour, for those who plan to follow it to know what to expect.  I’ll leave the funny punch-lines for the tour itself, but hopefully this will help you gauge your time.

The tour starts near the British version of the Arc de Triumph.  Basically, the British and the French don’t really like each other because the British stopped Napoleon’s attack at the Battle of Waterloo.  Ever since this victory, statues have been erected in London to remind the French tourists of British-superiority.  This Arc is an example of that big middle finger because the chunnel train connecting France and London used to have their final stop in Waterloo station.  The first thing French tourists would see, would also be the last before they leave the city.  Perhaps, someone in the transportation department had a grudge with the French.

 

British version of Arc de Triumph
British version of Arc de Triumph

 

 

From here, the tour walks East through St James’ Park to Buckingham Palace.  Usually it is timed so that you can see end of the “change of guards” ceremony.  It is quite crowded and the bobby’s (British police officers) take their traffic laws very seriously.  Europeans don’t approve of jay-walking, to which I say, “f*ck that, I jay-walk like it’s my job.”  This is, of course, not what I would really say because jay-walking in Hamburg will lead to a 15 EUR fine, along with some dismissive head-shakes and extreme verbal reprimanding.  I expect to be in one of these situations at least once in my 4-month stay here.

Crowded changing of guards. Dayum.
Crowded changing of guards. Dayum.

 

Anyway, it’s a Royal tour because the focus is on the three Royal houses, which you will pass by through the walk.  Along with stories about someone breaking into Buckingham Palace and a few random facts about the bachelor princes, the tour continues with a very hilarious note.  The stories really add an extra touch of hue and contrast to the city.  Our tour guide likes writing Wikipedia articles, so I’m sure he’s written something about the free tour there.

After visiting the 3 houses, you’ll walk through an old part of the city near Piccadilly Circus to reach Trafalgar Square.  Stories about killing pigeons, wars, and death will ensue.  From Trafalgar square and the National Gallery, the tour walks you past the Winston Churchill museum and some other squares that are not on the map.  Along the way, you will pass Wellington Arch and Whitehall, but I was too busy taking pictures to pay attention to anything he said.

From here, the tour will walk from the north of the Houses of Parliament and first stop at Westminster Abbey before ending at the monument across from the Houses of Parliament.  I personally enjoyed the ending story about Guy Fox trying to murder everyone by renting out a basement and, over the course of months, moving barrels of gunpowder for a huge murder plot.  Like all interesting historical events, he fails for a stupid reason and then gets trialed for high treason.

The hung, drawn, and quartered technique was demonstrated on me, as seen in the picture below.  I wasn’t too happy about the part where my testicles and intestines are cut out and burned in a fire before my eyes.  That’s just mean.

hung, drawn, and quartered is not nice
hung, drawn, and quartered is not nice

As with all walking tours, you will not stop at each of the free areas to take a look.  It is merely a great way to get an overview of the different museums that are available with that extra dash of entertainment.  Since the tour lasts from 11 to 2ish, there is plenty of time to backtrack and revisit the attractions.  If I wasn’t starving and in good company, I would have went to the National gallery for the afternoon and joined the Pub Crawl for 12 GBP, which will also be advertised during the tour.

After the tour, I went with some new friends to Brick Lane for some famous Indian food.  The curry wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was definitely better than most places.  I prefer the chain of Indian restaurants on Lexington Ave near 28th Street.  Some other options would be to walk south and follow the Thames River for some great photograph opportunities.  The Waterloo Bridge is perfectly on the turn, so its left and right sides have a great view of the East (all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge) and South, including the London Eye and Houses of Parliament.

~See Lemons See Free Tours

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