Monday, October 20, 2014

London Day 4 - Cathedrals

Somehow in Jenny’s previous trips to London, she hadn’t visited Westminster Abbey so that was our plan for the day. The line into the Abbey wasn’t too long and almost as soon as we stepped inside the transept, a priest asked for a minute of silence as he led a prayer. What neat timing. Then we turned the corner into the Quire and Sanctuary, and I was blown away. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Abbey but that was just as well. My camera never could have captured it. (I had to settle for a post card from the gift shop.) Just as amazing as the 100-foot high vaulted ceilings was the realization that every coronation since 1066 had taken place on this site - almost 1000 years of history.

postcard of Westminster Abbey
postcard of Westminster Abbey

Sunday, October 19, 2014

London Day 3 - Stonehenge and Bath

The next morning we had to get up a little earlier to meet for our Stonehenge and Bath tour with Evan Evans. The drive to Stonehenge was two hours long but our tour guide, Rohan, kept us entertained. She was one of the best tours guides I’ve ever had, presenting lots of information in a funny and easy to remember way.

When we got to Stonehenge, we had a little over an hour to explore, which sounded like plenty of time but wasn’t nearly enough. For one thing, the new Visitor Center was a mile away and we had to take a slow tram ride to the site. We had the option of staying on the tram the whole way or getting off at the half way point and walking. We decided to walk, which in retrospect was probably a mistake since that ate up even more of our limited time. But it was kind of neat, walking down into the valley the same way that ancient people would have approached the mystical stones almost 5000 years ago.

I’d read that if you don’t learn about the history of Stonehenge before you go, it just looks like a big pile of rocks. :-)  So I was glad that I had done at least a little research, but the truth is that there is a lot we don’t know about Stonehenge. The Sarsen stones, the largest stones weighing 20-30 tons each, came from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away.  How did these supposedly primitive people move them to the Salisbury Plain? And why? We can only guess. It made me wonder what theories people would have about our society 5000 years from now.

walking to Stonehenge

Saturday, October 18, 2014

London Day 2 - From the Tower to Sherlock

I slept like a rock and woke up refreshed and excited to start the day. Clouds and drizzly rain had rolled in overnight but I didn’t mind the weather since we’d be touring the Tower of London, which was kind of a gloomy place. At the tower, we explored on our own starting with the White Tower, the oldest section of the castle built in 1079. We walked through the Line of Kings exhibit, a collection of armor that had been on display for over 300 years, the world’s longest running tourist attraction. The three suits of armor belonging to King Henry VIII showed the progression of his waistline over the years. The last suit, worn when Henry was in his late 40’s, was very round. It also had a disturbingly prominent codpiece. To quote Shrek, “Do you think he’s maybe compensating for something?”

My favorite part of the Tower of London was the Crown Jewels. The display of crowns, scepters and swords was mind-boggling, both for their monetary and their historic value. These were not fake, replacement jewels. They were the real things, worn for centuries by kings and queens. There was also a large collection of golden plates and a gigantic, ornately decorated punch bowl, humorously described in Mary’s guidebook as “what punch bowls would look like if punch bowls went insane.” :-)

Tower of London
the Tower of London

Friday, October 17, 2014

London Day 1 - A Walking Tour

It was foggy when my plane landed at Gatwick Airport so I got my first view of the countryside on the train into London – rows of white houses with brown roofs and chimneys, church spires popping up from town squares. It was mostly green but the first signs of fall were starting to show in the trees.

I’d been really nervous about traveling on my own for the first time, but I didn’t have any problems navigating the airport and train. It wasn’t until I got to Victoria Station that I got a little lost. Which direction was the hotel? I ended up circling the whole block before someone pointed me towards Buckingham Palace Road. Then it was just a short walk to the Rubens, where Mama met me at the front door. The Rubens was a beautiful boutique hotel with doormen wearing actual top hats! I was able to grab some breakfast from the breakfast buffet before it closed, got a shower and then we were ready to roll.

Rubens at the Palace
Rubens at the Palace