Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Houses of Parliament Tour in London

Actual date of this event: 1 February

Way back, like nine months ago, I was interested in taking a tour of the Palace of Westminster (the official name of the Parliament building). The building is spectacular, so my thought was the inside must be pretty cool, too. At that time, we would have needed to book really far in advance because all decent times were booked. Luke and I had just moved to London and were way too overwhelmed with London in general to think that far ahead. So, fast forward to just a few weeks ago, when Selena at Oh, the places we will go! posted her experience of touring the Houses of Parliament, which planted that nine month old idea back into my head. (Thanks, Selena!!)
My title picture is a little bit deceiving... If you are a UK Resident, a tour of the Elizabeth Tower (the one with Big Ben) and the Victoria Tower (the other tower, the prettier one, in my opinion of course) is available to you, but you must arrange it with your MP. All other visitors, can take a guided tour of parliament and see some of the busiest rooms in the building, but no towers. Luke and I are not UK residents (at five years we can apply for residency, but I doubt we will make it that far), so we were unable to view the towers, but we really enjoyed what we were able to tour.
The parliament-webs told us to arrive 20 minutes early because all guests must go through security. Plus, the time slots are strict, so you do not want to miss your time. Luke and I arrived much earlier because the sun was shining and we wanted to take pictures of the building. You know, because we don't already have enough pictures of it. Sure enough, when we got out of the tube, the clouds had rolled in and took away our beautiful backdrop, but we snapped our photos anyway.

After going through security, we entered Westminster Hall which happened to be the only area we were allowed to take pictures. The Hall is the oldest part of the Palace, and the location of many important events such as speeches and trials. Due to a fire in 1834, the original Parliament building (excluding the Hall) was demolished and construction on the new building was completed in 1870. Reconstruction was done again in 1940 after several WWII bombs hit a few rooms of Parliament.

The tour lasted 75 minutes, and we stood the whole time (just an FYI if you are interested in doing this tour). We saw several rooms including The Queen's Robing Room, the Lords Chamber and the Commons Chamber. If you have watched live debates on TV, these occur in the Commons Chamber. Note: If you have never watched any of these debates before, you should DEFINITELY do it. It is crazy how the Members of Parliament debate (more like yell) at the Prime Minister - very entertaining! (click here for an example from 2007 - just imagine people arguing with our President like this, hah!) 

Luke and I both found the tour very interesting as it went through some details of how the government came to be as it is today, and of course, what the rooms are used for. Although, we really enjoyed it, I am not quite sure that a visitor to the UK would enjoy it as much. This is just my opinion, but I liked learning about where I live, and I am not sure a tourist would feel the same. I could totally be wrong about that though! (Click here to take an Online Tour of the Houses of Parliament)
The sun was bright and shining again when we left our tour! It was nice that as we exited we had a perfect view of Big Ben, so we could get some new pictures. We didn't stick around for long because Luke and I had already made plans for the rest of the day, so we took off soon after to go explore Brixton Market. Stay tuned for that!
Information: Houses of Parliament Non-UK Resident Tour

During the construction of the Jubilee underground tunnels (which run underneath Big Ben), the Elizabeth Tower leaned approximately 35mm. It apparently has shifted 0.9mm each year since 2003 and is now visible to the naked eye.

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