October 31, 2013

London Travelogue: Day 2

15. Oct, 2013:
Tuesday!  My first full day in London, and where to start?  We chose Westminster Abbey, Parliament and the Tate Gallery.  Plus a walk through St James Park to Buckingham Palace.

Walking up to Westminster, what do I spy around the corner?  Hello Big Ben!  I hadn't realized, but Big Ben is gilded.  All sorts of London buildings are gilded, which makes them lovely but sometimes too ostentatious for my Colonial tastes, haha.

Westminster Abbey's exterior is impressive, but inside it's just jaw-droppingly amazing.  Even to modern eyes the verticality is incredible.  The level of detail is astounding--even now I look at photos and can't quite believe it.  Excellent architectural use is made of daylight, so the interior is much brighter than you'd think.  I was jet lagged so didn't take any exterior photos, and photography is not allowed inside.  It's honestly difficult to get far enough away to take exterior photos.  It would have involved crossing streets, and I was still working on not being run over.  Extra crossing of streets was not on my agenda just yet.
West entrance, where you enter for tours

Westminster Abbey from the London Eye
I loved Poet's Corner!  Many of my favorite authors have memorial stones here.  The Brontë sisters' memorial reads "With Courage to Endure."  I'd hope for something more upbeat, myself.  Shakespeare has a life-sized statue.  It was really amazing to see remembrances of so many talented writers.  I enjoyed merit winning out in that way, unlike the aristocrats and royals who fill most of the cathedral.  You can look up your favorite author here.

The memorial for Elizabeth I is very elaborate.  Mary Tudor is buried under Elizabeth, with the inscription "Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of the Resurrection."  That seemed a nice sentiment to me, considering how militant they were in life.  James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, built his mother as nice a tomb as Elizabeth's.  Guess he showed her!

I also wandered around the cloisters, which felt on a human scale after the cathedral.  There are offices still in use around the Abbey, and people still attend services there.  On one side is a garden, and I enjoyed seeing the old walls and more personal aspects of this incredible site.

Westminster Hall
Next up were the Houses of Parliament, which includes Big Ben.  Parliament is also very impressive, and actually started out life as a palace.  The central Westminster Hall was a dining hall originally, and you could host quite the banquet!  The whole complex is a fascinating mesh of buildings, sometimes with original walls embedded in modern ones.

I was able to sit in on the House of Commons!  It's pretty incredible to sit in a place I'd read about for years, and had imagined, but never expected to see.  Sitting in the observation balcony, you can imagine yourself as a bystander to history.  Throughout Parliament, there is information about the history of the building, including an alarming map of the WWII bomb damage.

I can't adequately put my impressions of Parliament and the Abbey into words.  Westminster is an incredible area, and I highly recommend a visit if you're able.

Then I visited the Tate Gallery.  It's a 1km walk south along the Thames, past Thames House (home of MI5).  We walked through Victoria Tower Gardens, which is a royal garden and very strict.  I don't think you're actually allowed to have fun in royal gardens.

Tate Britain contains 500 years of artwork, arranged by era.  There are many famous paintings, but my favorite pieces were new.  I especially enjoyed the genre paintings and portraits of everyday women.  After all the men represented in Westminster Abbey and Parliament, it was nice to see some female faces again.

I really loved this painting: she's over 2m tall and has a wonderful expression.

Woman Smiling
I ended the day with a walk through St James Park, past Buckingham Palace as the sun began to set.  The sky glows pink on the stone buildings, it was my favorite time of day in London.  The setting sun also lit up the gilded Victoria memorial, and was something to behold.

Angels atop the Victoria Memorial

My take away thought from Westminster Abbey: They've got a lot of people socked away under the floor.  And various monarchs in boxes around the place.  It's just not a typical thing in my life that you bury people inside.  I'm curious now to look up how exactly they bury folks.  Do the stones come up?  They don't appear to.  Is there subterranean access?  Enquiring minds want to know...

October 30, 2013

London Travelogue: Day 1

14. Oct, 2013:
After flying overnight I arrived in Heathrow at noon.  All architecture in London seems designed to impress, and much of it to overwhelm, the viewer.  In a visceral sense you understand this was the capital city of an Empire.  My first impression, however, was bewilderment.  And stunned disbelief: I couldn't believe I was actually in London!  After dropping off bags at the hotel, and gratefully stretching my body out flat, we were off.

First it's the V&A!  The Victoria and Albert Museum houses decorative arts, so there's something for everyone.  I really enjoyed the historical fashions, the statuary, and the Victorian gallery with items from the Great Exhibition.  There are fun interactive exhibits, too, and I tried on a corset and farthingale.  I still prefer jeans and tees ;)

This baby dress was hand knitted from sewing thread, using 1.5 million stitches.  It won Sarah Ann Cunliffe a Bronze medal.  I wonder who won Gold!

Handknit baby dress, V&A

The statues are amazing.  There's a cast of Trajan's column so large that it has to be displayed in two parts.  I saw it from the upper walkway, which was a great perspective.  I love Rodin's work, and he's amply represented.  There are also many, many marble busts of dead white guys. 

Trajan's column
After closing time at the V&A, it was off to Harrods.  The walk was interesting, along busy streets and through a Lebanese area of Knightsbridge.  The Food Hall was like the UN meets Whole Foods.    At this point I was overwhelmed, and tired, so we stopped for dinner at one of the cafes.  Then headed back to the hotel to rest and sleep.  It was a long day--up Sunday morning, traveling through the night, and to bed on Monday night!

(part of) Harrods Food Hall
*The following days I did bring my camera, so stay tuned for non-internet photos.

October 26, 2013

No Woman, No Drive

To honor the 60-plus Saudi women who protested by driving today, I give you this awesome video:

October 24, 2013

Oct 5 in Pictures

I've returned from London, and it was a fantastic trip!  Sadly, I came down with a cold the last morning and am now laid low with a nasty sinus infection.  So photos and breathless observations will have to wait until the antibiotics really kick in.

Instead I give you a photo journal of Oct. 5.  A friend was visiting, and it was a ridiculously gorgeous day, so we rode the ferry to Bainbridge Island and back.  The skies were bluest blue, with barely a cloud, and so sunny and warm that I got a bit sunburnt!  Shame on me for neglecting sunscreen, even in Oct.

A few blocks from home I saw Cyclamen blooming under an old maple tree, lit by patches of sun.

From the ferry, Mt. Rainier was in unparalleled form!  I can't remember when I've seen it this clearly.

On the walk home these tessellated lizards crept along a sidewalk.  Time has worn their embossed lizard backs and moss smooths their borders, but onward they crawl.

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