Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Day 2: London

I woke up early because of noise outside the window. After I made a couple of phone calls, Cazy was ready join me at breakfast. We went through a maze of corridors that linked to the pub next door (The Anchor - yet another pub declaring that it is one of the oldest in London). I pilfered some croissants for later.

We took the underground to Waterloo where I attempted to use my room key instead of my Oyster card to get out. Whoops!

We walked to The London Eye - a glorified ferris wheel. Our fast track tickets were handy though at 10am the crowds had yet to surface - they came later.

The London Eye

We stepped into one of the cars which kept moving even as we boarded. Once inside, I stripped off my beanie, scarf and jacket because it was quite warm. I had been regretting not wearing something under my jeans (brrr) but luckily the sun decided to peek through the fog. The best photos were taken out the left side (Westminster and Big Ben). Everyone on board seemed willing to take photos for other people. We then smiled at the Eye camera (which turned out to have shit resolution) and then leaped off (again, the car kept moving!).

Looking towards Westminster

The gift shop took some of our money - Cazy purchased the photo of us and I bought a stupid purple medal that said “Eye experienced the Eye”.

We meandered across Westminster Bridge, taking photos all the while. Cazy pointed out the overabundance of German tourists and I suddenly became acutely aware of it also.

Big Ben grew into a huge thing as we approached it on Westminster Bridge. We crossed the road to take more photos and I had to get onto my knee to fit both Big Ben and Cazy into the same frame. The Houses of Parliament were gorgeous - it’s a shame they’re blocked to the public. Cazy recorded Big Ben chiming 11am.

Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside!

Then suddenly we were at Westminster Abbey (we looked at statues in a park nearby first), an imposing gothic structure that is worth every pound required for its entry (18 whole quid!). Photography was banned inside the gothic abbey. We snaffled free audio tours (they were a lot like mobile phones from the 1990s) and began at the unknown soldier which was very touching. I kept trying not to step on graves (as a lover of history, it pained me to step on already worn lettering - some grave markers were nearly worn away completely) but they were everywhere.

The main entrance to Westminster Abbey

The Nave had quite a simple set up (basic chairs) and small candles burning around it. We walked through an ornate passage into the Quire where the boys and men sing, then found the seat for Australia which Julia Gillard last sat in for Kate and Wills’ wedding.

Edward the Confessor’s Shrine was too delicate for us to blunder into but there were numerous chapels to enter, including one that held the son of Mary Boleyn (possible bastard of Henry VIII). In Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, we viewed Henry VII's and his wife's resting places and then ventured into a section of the Lady Chapel that held Elizabeth I and her sister Mary. I fought tears as I read the words that said they were opposed in life but united in death.

Mary Queen of Scots was buried on the opposite side. Her son James VI & II made sure her marker/effigy was just as grand as Elizabeth’s (her rival - Elizabeth imprisoned Mary for a very long time).

After inspecting the graves of Richard II and his son we then progressed to Poet’s Corner. Cazy and I sat in chairs while we listened to the relevant audio tour tracks. Chaucer was first interred there, beginning the tradition which continued with Dickens. Shakespeare was given a memorial and so too were Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Laurence Olivier’s ashes were there too - odd to see an actor in such esteemed literary company. The abbey in general smells of stone and wood and that indescribably churchy scent. I caught the overpowering reek of perfume once near Poet’s Corner, an intruder to antiquity.

We took photos of the cloisters (what a relief to be able to whip out the SLR camera again!) and looked about the Chapter House. Very intricate detail in the tiling but it is fading, especially on the part of the step where it feels natural to place one’s foot. Here there was the oldest door in Britain - built in the 11th century as part of the original abbey. It seemed forgotten and small.

The cloisters

We ducked into the Pyx Chamber (used to store the treasury) and the Abbey Museum (it contained old effigies and clothes, some dating to the 16th century). We ignored that gift shop and walked into the Little Cloister and the College Garden. Both were peaceful.

The College Garden

Thusly satisfied, we sought the Cellarium Café. We waited a few minutes then were seated. Cazy heartily attacked a pie and I had the soup of the day (fennel and something). We both enjoyed the very sugary hot chocolates. Afterwards, we returned to the underground.

At London Bridge station, we got some essentials from the pharmacy and went back to the hotel for a time before I coerced Cazy (not feeling well but much better at not getting lost) into accompanying me to a supermarket at Southwark station. Essentials and not-so-essentials (including a funny birthday card) were bought and we returned to the hotel.

I had green tea and noodles for dinner, thanks to the kettle. Nearly dozed off but I’m now watching Coast live for the first time ever. Neil Oliver’s part was brief and he’s getting old but I love him!

Getting tired. Have taxi at 4:45am in order to make it to the Grosvenor Hotel on time.


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