I am writing this at 11:00 German Time on 23/07/2008 (note that I am using the European system for dating!). So this is a little behind and won’t be posted until later since I don’t have wireless internet. Sorry for the delay, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
This morning (Monday; 21/07/200) began with a blast. We travelled via the tubes to Parliament and Big Ben. Before I go further, I have to compliment London on having and maintaining an excellent public transportation system, both trains and busses. My sister got us “Oyster” cards which automatically deduct money from your card for your use. The best thing is that the “oyster” card can only be billed a certain amount of money per day regardless of how much you actually use the tubes or the busses. I think it comes to 7 pounds a day. So even if you ride the bus 10 times a day which would be 90 pence, the most you could be charged is 7 pounds. Not bad, although if you were aware of the rate of exchange between currencies 7 pounds is roughly equivalent to $14! Anyway, we saw Parliament and Big Ben along the Thames River. I got several good pictures in and then proceeded to Westminster Abbey which is right across from Parliament.
What a sight to behold! I have to say that Westminster Abbey was far more impressive than Notre Dame in Paris, way more impressive. First of all, the place was not dark and depressed like Notre Dame. Though you could not take pictures inside, it was well worth the admission price. I also got a recorded tour hosted by actor, Jeremy Irons, of all people which explained a number of the features of the abbey. The best thing, for me, at least, was how much I could discern from the inscriptions which were written in Latin. Go figure! I had a field day just going through all the side chapels and deciphering who was buried where, with whom, when the lived and what they did. And people think Latin is useless! Well, they are mostly right! But, at least in Westminster Abbey, I got to have the last laugh. I went around translating everything I could in sight. Unfortunately, Westminster does not allow photographs so I was not able to get any pictures of the inscriptions nor the tombs which bore them.
I saw coffins of great kings, queens and lords, some reputable, some not so. The abbey was actually begun as a monastery for Benedictines and was converted into a church for use by the crown by St. Edward the Confessor, whose tomb lies behind the main altar (more on this later). Following his death in 1066, a power struggle broke out for the throne of England which brought in William and his Normans to the throne. William was the first sovereign crowned in Westminster and every king and queen since then followed his lead. William’s descendant, Henry III lavishly paid for the expenses which made the church what it is today. And it is a magnificent achievement. The lattice work and the spandrel arches and buttresses are easily the rival of any on the continent. I also got to see some restoration work of the floor in front of the high altar called Coratic. This type of flooring is found nowhere else except south of the Alps! In fact, Henry III sent one of his abbots to Rome to find artisans to create this flooring. Over the past 100 years, various conservationists, not knowing any better, used cement to help preserve the floor, which, unfortunately, only hastened its demise. Now they are trying to restore it and should have it done in two years.
There are kings, queens and nobles buried in Westminster, but also great musicians, artists and other purveyors of culture. I was humbled and moved to see the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer, the great poet entombed there, though he was entombed there in the first place for his role in the government. Especially of note was the monument to Sir Georg Friderich Handel, the great English composer. Although corpulent and rather ugly, I cannot think of greater tribute than his likeness with a copy of “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from his Messiah by his side. I bowed down and kissed the floor where his bones now reside. I was, however, upset that his predecessor, Henry Purcell, was not given as lavish a monument and that Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were not given stations of honour either. I saw tributes to Sir Laurence Olivier, W.H. Auden, William Pitt “the Elder” and even Charles Darwin. I even got up close and personal with Sir Isaac Newton himself.
I really wanted to go behind the altar where St. Edward the Confessor’s relics are kept (mainly for you, Maggie!). I was able to go on a special tour which cost only 3 pounds more. It was such a privilege to behind the altar, a place reserved usually for only kings and queens to see Edward’s final resting place, having fought the good fight on earth. I asked St. Edward for his intercessions and glorified God through him. It is a pity that more cannot see his final resting place.
I saw Elizabeth and “Bloody” Mary buried together. Mary has no likeness of her, but the inscription bears testimony that though they were different in their religious allegiances, they like together as consorts to the throne in the hope of resurrection (in spe resurrecionis). Very powerful! In the same chapel is buried the Holy Innocents, Edward V and his brother, Richard of York, who were both ahead of the later ‘Richard III, who had them murdered. This is the same Richard III who said, according to Shakespeare, “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York!” Richard III was the last of the Plantegenet dynasty (the ones who came after William the Conqueror in 1066) and thus ensured that the Tudors, which produced Henry VIII and Elizabeth would come to power. Also of note is the fact that Mary, Queen of Scots is buried exactly opposite of her cousin, Elizabeth I. Her tomb is quite magnificent and the Latin quite glorious.
Westminster Abbey, thus, was a treat for me. I wish I could have seen and studied more, but alas, such was not to be had. My parents, sister and I proceeded to Westminster pier where I bought us tickets to Greenwich. This is where the Prime Meridian is (hence, Greenwich mean time!). We got in the boat and travelled down the River Thames and saw a number of great sites including St. Paul’s in the distance, the new Globe theatre, the new performing arts theatre (rightly regarded as one of the most ugly buildings in London; even judged so by Prince Charles himself who knows a great deal about ugly!), the H.M.S. Belfast, a WWII ship anchored there for display and much more. We arrived at Greenwich at around 2:00. We then proceeded, via cab, to Trafalgar Tavern which is famous for its “fish and chips” which all of us ordered. This particular tavern was made famous by Dickens in his last novel and was actually a political club meeting place during the late 1800s and 1900s. I got to have my picture taken with Lord Nelson, easily one of the greatest military geniuses of his day. My parents and sister headed up to Greenwich park while there was a church I wanted to check out first so we went our separate ways. The church, St. Alfelges’, was closed to my disappointment so I walked up to Greenwich park where the prime meridian is. The park is great and gives you a nice panorama of the area, including the old Maritime University (now Greenwich University) designed by Sir Christopher Wren. In fact, the park will be used to host equestrian events during the 2012 Olympics when London hosts them. I got my picture taken on both sides of the meridian thus proving I was both in Eastern and Western Hemispheres for a time.
We then tried to leave. My father, as I have indicated before, is having some trouble walking. We tried hailing a cab to no avail; they just kept driving past us. By the time we got down from Greenwich Park, which took awhile, the ferry had already left back for London so we got us a cab (finally!) to take us to the tubes at Tower Bridge and took that back to our hotel. It didn’t cost nearly as much as we thought it would and then we rode the tube back to our hotel. My sister and I had to go back to Hendon to pick up a few things before we headed over to Germany the next day so we did that.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. We had scheduled a trip to the British Museum that day and that would have been a great treat for me with all of the material from Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquity that are housed there (like the famous Rosetta Stone). I would have rather gone to that by far than Greenwich but I know it would have been difficult, especially for my dad, who needed my help had I not gone. I know I didn’t conduct myself in a manner very befitting or very nice, but hopefully I’ll be back again to see the British Museum, the National Gallery and all of the other wonders which I missed.
I didn’t get much sleep that night since I was up at 5:00 the next meeting to get ready to depart for Germany. That will be Chapter 4. More later. Good night.