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Tuesday, July 31st:
Good morning. It’s 8:30 and we have just finished breakfast at a little café down the block from our hotel. We both had a quick roll and something to give us a caffeine jolt – I had a diet coke and my husband had some coffee. I also bought us some water bottles for the day but noticed no one really refrigerates things or has ice. I realize they’re in the midst of a heat wave, but the lack of refrigeration seemed odd to me.
We’ve decided to do the hop on/hop off guided bus tour for the day and walk to Victoria Station where we can pick it up. We’ll do a once around the city, then after will stop off at individual places.
Now on the tour, we’ve passed Wellington Arch, which is a part of/across the street from Hyde Park. It was built in 1822 to stand at the entrance to Buckingham Palace, but Queen Victoria didn’t like it and had a coach built that was too wide to fit through it, so it was moved to the Park. We also drove by Benedict Arnold’s house, where he lived after being deported from the US until his death in 1801.
We crossed the Thames and saw Lambeth Palace (seen above), which is where the Archbishop of Canterbury or the head of the Church of England lives (and has lived for 800 years). Lambeth Palace is is also where Captain Bligh was buried after he died. He, of course, was the Mutiny on the Bounty captain who was put adrift at sea by Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, and Mel Gibson.<g>
We passed by the Florence Nightingale museum, the hospital where Florence Nightingale was a nurse and where she revolutionized nursing, of course, in the Crimean War. The Florence Nightingale museum is also on the other side of the river past Lambeth Palace.
We are in that part of London called “The City,” which is near St. Paul’s Cathedral. The City is the oldest part of London and was built in Roman times originally. When we drove down Fleet Street we saw through a teeny little alley, a teeny little street, a church designed by Christopher Wren which was the model for tiered wedding cakes. Christopher Wren, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are all buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It took Wren 35 years to build the church. The dome of the church is the second largest in the world. The only one bigger than that is in Rome – the Vatican. St. Paul’s survived, intact, after World War II when many other buildings in the area were destroyed by German bombing attacks.
Certain streets in London were named for the trades. For instance, we are on Candle Street and that’s where candle makers used to live or used to work. It’s now called Canal Street. Passed over London Bridge again to the other side of the Thames and this bridge is on the location of the very first bridge that the Romans built, a wooden bridge, in the first century.
From here we saw the Tower of London and next approached – and crossed over – the Tower Bridge. This is not the original Tower Bridge, of course. An earlier incarnation is where they used to spike the heads of political enemies like the Welsh prince I read about in Morgan Llywelyn’s The Wind from Hastings.
When Cromwell and the Roundheads took over in the Civil War in 1642, they banned theaters, so productions were performed on the sly (think speakeasies of the Prohibition era) in pubs. They had to hide what they were doing. The Roundheads were Puritans – I’m not sure I knew that, even though I did know of the excesses of the Restoration when the Royalists rebounded into power.
London is really two cities; the City of London which is on the right and the City of Westminster when looked at from the other side of the river. Westminster Abbey and all the government buildings are really in Westminster.
We got off the bus in Whitehall, about a block away from Parliament. Whitehall, of course, is where all the government buildings are. We have now reached the intersection of Parliament Square and to the left is Big Ben and the houses of Parliament and to the right is Westminster Abbey.
We’ve decided to walk across Westminster Bridge to take some pictures, then cross back and see St. Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey.
Parliament itself is closed right now; we won’t be able to get inside. And, since it was so much more recently built, I have less interest in it than I do the Abbey, which I’ve always found stunningly beautiful with its huge stained glass windows, gothic arches, statues, and crypts for kings, queens, and politicians like Disraeli.
St Margaret’s Church (Big Ben on left)
The origins of the Abbey are uncertain and the first church on the site might have been built as early as the 7th century by a Saxon king. Edward the Confessor moved his palace to Westminster from Salisbuy when crowned in 1040 and began to build the Abbey. The Abbey was consecrated eight days before Edward’s death in 1065.
Edward’s canonization at 1139 gave a succession of kings added incentive to shower the Abbey with attention and improvements. Henry III, with ideas from his travels in France, pulled it down and started again, which is probably why you the Abbey in its gothic-ness looks a lot like what you’d see at Notre Dame. The Abbey was eventually completed in 1532, although Christopher Wren made some additions and improvements, which were completed in 1745, 22 years after his death.
After walking through the Abbey somewhat hurriedly, we’ve sat in the nave to listen to a service. The nave is a beautiful, smaller chapel which is certainly incredibly magnificent as well. It has beautiful stained glass and the Tomb of the Unknown British Soldier, a WWI memorial, at its front. The crypt for Sir Isaac Newton is located in the nave.
The service complete, we are now back in the main of the Abbey, looking at the names of various famous names from literature and music who are lauded here (most are not buried here), particularly in Poet’s Corner.
There’s Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Samuel Johnson, the three Bronte sisters, Bobby Burns, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Dylan Thomas, Henry James, etc.
It comes as somewhat of a surprise, then, to learn that Chaucer is actually buried here. Anne of Cleves is buried here as well. It’s a pity you can no longer take photographs inside because it’s hard to do justice to the architecture and the stained glass in words.
We saw the Coronation Chair made for King Edward I. It contained the Stone of Scone, captured by Edward from Scotland in 1296. Edward had it built into the chair to signify the union of England and Scotland, according to the English. I doubt that’s what they’d say about it in a Scottish guidebook, though. Every monarch except Edward V and Edward VIII has been crowned in the chair; at a coronation it is placed in front of the high alter. The Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland in 1996.
Henry III and Henry V are also buried here, as is Edward I.
Below is Henry V’s tomb
Both Elizabeth I and her half-sister, Bloody Mary, are buried here, with an inscription between their tombs referring to the loss of lives in the Reformation: “Near the tomb of Mary and Elizabeth, remember before God all those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience’s sake.”
To the right is the tomb of Elizabeth I.
Across the way, Mary, Queen of Scots is buried, which is sort of surprising given how the Scots seem to be treated here in England. Seeing the tombs for both Mary’s reminded me of how confusing I find this particular period in history and how I sometimes confuse the two in my mind because of the timing and their Catholicism.
Oliver Cromwell was laid to rest here as well as Charles II, who was king after the Restoration. After seeing the main of the Abbey, we walked through the cloisters, which, I’ll admit, I kind of have a “thing” for. I know a cloister is just a hallway, but I love gothic cloisters!
It’s a little after two right now and we’re going to head off for Trafalgar Square.
We’ve just seen Lord Nelson’s statue and were frustrated in many of our attempts to take a picture of one of the lions without someone being in the picture, so we just took pictures with people we don’t know, which goes against the edicts both of us were taught in terms of picture-taking. I was taught that pictures on sight-seeing trips are not to be filled with friends/family standing next to the sight to be seen – the pictures should only be of the sights. My husband, whose father is a photographer, taught him that buildings and monuments should be shot like commercial photography – the thing in and of itself. At places like Trafalgar, we just can’t do it.
We decided not to stay and feed the pigeons but instead continue our walk in search of a place for high tea. There are many hotels in the surrounding streets.
While we walk we come upon St. James Palace. Now the official residence of the Prince of Wales, it was the Royal home from 1660 to 1837, when it was declared “insufficiently intimidating” and Queen Victoria moved to Buckingham Palace. Originally a leper hospital, it was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1538.
We are having trouble navigating where I want us to go, but we got lucky and ended up in front of Fortnum and Mason, which is famous for their fourth floor teas. We are ravenous at this point and order the full high tea, which included:
For me – Welsh rarebit unlike any I’d ever eaten with English bacon that is really like our ham. Not one for fat of any kind on meat in general, I throw caution to the wind and try some of the fat on the ham and it is delicious; Emeril is right when he exclaims, “Ah…pig fat!”
For my husband – Scottish salmon and scrambled egg.
We each ordered different teas and enjoyed them with scones, jam, and clotted cream, and as if that weren’t enough, various pastries and tarts to finish us off. God, it was good!
After tea, we continued to wander, and went into a bookstore, where I saw Patricia Gaffney’s Saving Graces, along with books by Marian Keyes, Georgette Heyer, Kristin Hannah, Morgan Llywelyn, lots of Danielle Steel, and some Sue Margolis.
As we continued to walk around (actually at this point trying to get back to our hotel but going in the wrong direction), we ended up at a church bazaar and did some shopping. I bought some old editions of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens – the edition I bought of his A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1871. My husband found an antique fountain pen to add to his pen collection. Even though I continued to talk about our going the “wrong way,” my husband refused to see it that way; after all, didn’t we find all sorts of great stuff?
Well, yes, but I was getting concerned about making it back to the hotel in time to rest up for our big night. We’re going on a two-hour Jack the Ripper Tour, and between the amount of walking we’d done and the oppressive heat, as well as getting lost and finding our bearings eventually, I was a bit over-done myself. Rather than having at least an hour to dry off and rest up before our big evening, we had about thirty minutes and had to change clothes altogether and set the others out to dry after rinsing them out. When travelling light, as we were, there’s a limit to the amount of clothes to pack. I wish they made more things out of microfibers!
We’re now going to make our way to the Tower Hill Underground Station by subway for the Jack the Ripper tour, which Lori-Anne Cohen assured me was wonderful…she was right, although getting there with only three minutes to spare made me very nervous. It’s still rush hour and one of the trains we should have taken was overfull and we had to wait for the next one. I’m obsessed with never being late, so I’m sweating not only from the heat but with fear we’ll miss our tour and be stuck at the Tower by ourselves at night.
The tour guide obviously knows her history; another Jack the Ripper guide we passed during the evening was reading from a script. Ours talked extemporaneously. We learned a lot of history, including these choice tidbits:
- One in eight women in London in 1888 was a prostitute
- All five of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper within a six week period were prostitutes
- The age of mortality in this time and place was 27 years
The tour focused quite a bit on life in London and the East end in and around the time of the murders, although the guide did tell us vividly how Jack killed his victims – and the last was gruesome indeed, what with body parts found on various pieces of furniture in the only indoor murder of the five.
I would highly recommend London Walks Tours after this fascinating experience. When we come back to England, we’ll take more of these walking tours.
Yes, we were actually hungry after finishing the tour. We found our way to a different tube station and ended up having a 10:30 dinner at Mr. Chows, two doors down from our hotel. I’m sure dinner was good, but it was marred by the close to $20 we spent (unknowingly) on bottled water and the fact that my soup – which is all I wanted to eat – had a bug in it. The replacement bowl was fine, but my luck with restaurant food lately was going seriously downhill. The week before there had been a piece of plastic wrap in my chicken caesar at Chili’s, the day we left for London I had some chicken that came literally swimming in oil, and now this. I’m considering whether or not I’ve got some bad karma going, but am too tired to give it that much thought. Besides, my husband’s food was yummy and tomorrow we’re going to the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels! It’s 11:45 – good night.
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