The Houses of Parliament, home of modern democracy. The reason that Westminster Bridge is painted green & Lambeth Bridge is painted red. Home to four dedicated bars (but used to have many more) and Big Ben. Full of politicians, lobbyists and essential Civil Servants. Situated in the Palace of Westminster (in Westminster, London in case you live under a rock, or in a hippy commune) is the place where they decide the laws not only for the UK, but influence many commonwealth countries.
Over the years of travelling we've seen many seats of political importance - including Norman Foster's Reichstag in Berlin, the Scottish Parliament and of course New Zealand's Beehive.
All of them carry a flavour of the country they represent - the fusing of old and new Germany, a Scottish country looking to rebel against their controlling English overlords and the heavily influential British settlers of my home, New Zealand.
None of them come even close to the grand, opulent and ostentatious Houses of Parliament, unsurprisingly the former home of Royalty. Each room in the Southern aspect in which nestles the Houses of Lords section of Parliament is full of priceless art, vibrant maroon upholstery, gorgeous ancient tiling and many chambers containing priceless antique wooden panelling that would make any interior designer swoon.
Situated mostly the to the northern aspect, the House of Commons areas are more subdued, chiming with forest green, bookshelves of heavy tomes and features the infamous debating chamber where politicians discuss weighty issues of the day.
When on the tour one recent windy Saturday afternoon, as the lovely Jaklien, Jacintha and I found ourselves, guided by a blue badge, erm, guide who takes you through the most important rooms, on a whirlwind tour - featuring history, art, bloody battles, plethora of traditions (such as the 'no' voting chambers) and the beautiful, beautiful Pugin designed interiors.
There are rumours of audio guides taking the place of the real life humans - and I for one are sad to see is this happens. Nothing can replaces the knowledge and passion of someone who has walked the halls for many many years. I digress, as ever.
Us Kiwis on the tour even get a rather famous mention - those boxes that the front bench MPs stand in front of...?
"There are two despatch boxes in each House situated on either side of the Table which separates the Government from the Opposition on the floor of the House. Ministers and shadow ministers stand at the despatch boxes when they speak in the Chamber. The despatch boxes in the House of Commons were presented to the Commons by New Zealand after the post-war rebuilding of the Chamber. Despite their name, the despatch boxes are not used to contain documents or despatches but hold bibles and other items used when Members take the oath."
I, in all the years of living and exploring in London never knew that you can take the tours on a Saturday (once passing their usual airport style security of course) and that on occasions you can schedule in an afternoon tea. Talk about doing it in style. I hear their scones are pretty good too...
This is something that I would call a 'must do' whilst in London - certainly in the top 10. If you write to your MP with plenty of notice, as a UK resident (NB You don't have to be a citizen, just resident in the UK with proof of address) you can qualify to take the tour for free AND separately have the opportunity to climb and actually see Big Ben.
Bloggers, you'll have to behave yourselves and not take photos on the tour - but you can take an online virtual tour to refresh your memory.
Ironically, the morning we went, I also received a letter in the post from my MP. Democracy in action.
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