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...


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