Today I was very aware of having to marry a lifetime of imagination, and television footage, with reality. The truth is it’s impossible for videos, and photos, to replace experiencing a place in person.

I thought back to moments through my life where I  wished to be present in these places – Diana’s funeral, Kate and Will’s wedding, the announcement of George’s birth – and it made the experience of being there even more surreal.

Nothing looked like it did on TV but for the most part I was not disappointed.

Westminster Abbey

I’m lucky enough to have visited St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and while Westminster is not comparable, it comes pretty damn close. The abbey is basically a giant cemetery, like most cathedral’s across England, but a very special cemetery. It holds the graves of royals going all the way back to 11th century.

I was especially excited to visit the graves of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. (I’ve already written about my weird obsession with the Scottish Queen.) You’re not allowed to take photos in the rooms but I still tried to take some sneaky ones.

Westminster is also the place where every coronation since 1066. The place is steeped in history, but it’s very difficult to immerse yourself in the atmosphere when there’s hundreds of tourists talking, and shoving past you.

The most visited tourist sites are the ones everybody wants to see, obviously, but after visiting I almost always leave with a sense of disappointment. If it’s possible to get a private tour at the popular sites – do it.  Next time I take a trip like this, I will spend extra money on enjoying sites the way they were built.

I’m not religious at all, but even I was sad for the people who attend services in the abbey, because its purpose has been completely lost. It’s still magnanamous but it’s not a sacred place for worship.

Buckingham Palace

The distance between Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace, looked quite a bit shorter on the map than it felt when we walked between the two iconic sites. The royal mile is long, but a little bit boring, unless you’re interested in the park. I guess I’ve always seen this part of the city from the bird’s eye view of a television camera with crowds of thousands lining the streets.

My first impression of Buckingham Palace was that it was smaller than I thought it would be. That’s probably a common thought given you have to peek through the golden gates and can’t go inside. (Unless you’re visiting in July.)

When I was standing there I thought of my Dad who visited London for business way back in the 90s. He had been able to see Buckingham. I pictured him standing there, looking at the place, and I wondered whether he had thought it looked small too.

We arrived too late for the changing of the guard, and couldn’t see any of the traditional red suits, just some guards in black uniforms. A few cars went in, and out, of the gates; Addam, and I speculated over who might be visiting the Queen. After some joking about the Queen we decided to move along to our final destination.

Kensington Palace

Of all the places we visited today I was most looking forward to Kensington Palace. This place is special because it’s home to Kate Middleton – the only celebrity I like to follow in the news. It’s also the former home of Queen Victoria, and Princess Diana.

The public are allowed to visit about half of the residence, which has been transformed into a museum, and the other half is privately used by Prince William and his family.

While we were there they had a special fashion exhibition featuring gowns from Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, the Queen Mother, and Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret.

Seeing some of Diana’s gowns in real life was a strange feeling. I guess if you never met someone in person it’s rather like they’re a fictional character, but somehow the dresses made her real.

My favorite part of Kensington Palace is the beautiful fountain outside, with Queen Victoria in the middle. She’s looks so regal, and powerful, it reminded me of how modern England has been shaped by iconic women.

We took the tube back to Crystal Palace after Kensington Palace. That was a nightmare. I had never seen so many people in my life – it put the peak hour trains in Melbourne to shame. You literally couldn’t even shove your way onto the train if you tried. We had to skip several of our trains to finally get a place. I guess we made the mistake of trying to leave during peak hour.

I had mixed feelings about leaving London city. It reminded me quite a bit of Rome; a city so steeped in history that you’d need to live several lifetimes over just to see every important site. London is hands down the busiest city I have ever visited, and I cannot imagine how people work there every day – the traffic is nuts.

But, I hope one day I can come back and see some of the places I missed – and enjoy the city a bit more.