Saturday, January 22, 2011

Today Allison, Kali, Hannah and I decided to take a tour of the Houses of Parliament (officially called the Palace of Westminster).
Security for this building is almost like walking through an airport. We had to take off our coats and put them through a scanner. And they took a picture of you when you walked in that you had to wear around you neck as a pass. Unfortunately I don't have my pass as a souvenir because they had us take those off and turn them in when we left, I guess so people can't reproduce or reuse them.

The Hall

The beautiful ceiling
Basically it was amazing. We were only allowed to take pictures in Westminster Hall, which is the only surviving part of the original building (from Medieval times, most had to be rebuilt in the 1800s during Queen Victoria's reign because of a fire and the House of Commons had to be rebuilt once more after WWII because it was bombed). The Hall was used as the meeting place for the start of the tour. It has the largest single span medieval timber roof in Northern Europe, so it is actually a really historic place.
 Monarchs, and sometimes heads of state also lie in state there sometimes. King George the VI and the Queen Mother (aka the people played by Colin Firth and Helana Bonham Carter in the King's Speech which I saw this week and which was brilliant) laid in state there as did Winston Churchill.

The rest of the Houses were absolutely beautiful. The rooms where the queen enters, robes, and the House of Lords were very rich and ornate, in medieval style. The tour guide actually said that when they were rebuilding the buildings in the 1800s they specifically did not want the  "classical" style with the columns and such because that is associated with the American government buildings and France, which they very specifically did not want to be associated with because they are very proud of the monarchy. The House of Commons was much more plain in comparison, which I thought was kind of ironic because the House of Commons is really the more active and important part of the government. 

There are a TON of traditions. The Queen can only be in certain rooms. There is a specific door that the person the Queen sends to fetch the House of Commons knocks on (because they are on the part of the building she cannot enter). There was actually a spot on the door that was worn away because it had been knocked on so much.  We were also very specifically told NOT to sit in the chairs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
All in all, a very cool experience. We were also able to see Big Ben up close and get some really good pics. And, not gonna lie, it made me feel like a VIP walking inside the gate around the Houses of Parliament and watching all the people on the outside of the fence.

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