Overwhelming. Scrumptuous. Awe-inspiring. Exhausting. Fascinating. Thrilling.
Those are just a few of the words I could choose for the past couple of days. Yesterday we made a large square encompassing some of London’s most famous landmarks on both sides of the Thames. Shakespeare’s Globe was an eye-opening romp through a bygone era. While it wasn’t shocking to hear again that only men could act in the plays, it was disconcerting to learn that none of the clothes could be washed. True to form, none of them can be washed today. Shall we say, “ew?” Our guide was extremely enthusiastic about her subject, and that helped us to get involved in her story. It was interesting to me to know that if I were a “groundling” (someone who views the plays standing in the yard) I would actually be part of the action. The actors would ask me questions and require my involvement.
I could absolutely picture myself in Elizebethan dress, coming out of the Globe in praise of Master Shakespeare’s latest. The crowd from the rival Rose would be pouring out at the same time. A fight would break out between opposing patrons. The smells. The sights.
On to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Though not as imposing as Westminster Abbey, it was every bit as beautiful. Here we saw golden-flecked mosaics, marble floors, high lecturnes. We had the option of going up into the dome gallery, but…I’d rather not, thanks. It was enough to just be able to wander around. We were introduced to the peculiar art of placing a luncheon cafe in the church crypt. I may be able to walk on graves, but I can’t sit and enjoy a snack among them. It was, however, neat to see the tombs of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, heroes of the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the tomb of Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s.
I can barely describe our next stop. The Tower of London. Actually composed of three separate layers built over hundreds of years, the Tower still houses several hundred soldiers – Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters. (Nobody knows why they’re called Beefeaters, and they don’t like being called that.) Anyway, the weight of history was all around me, particularly seeing the Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate and Tower Hill. Elizabeth I came through the gate, as her mother Anne Boleyn before her, and feared she may be awaiting the same fate.
Chris really enjoyed the exhibition of Henry VII’s armor in the White Tower, the oldest part of the complex. It was interesting to see how the armor changed throughout the years to properly fit the monarch’s expanding girth. I positively LOVED looking at the Crown Jewels; so much so, I went through twice. That…oh, just all the sparkle and all the color. Queen Victoria’s special crown was so ridiculously small, I could hardly believe it was real. The Imperial State Crown, created for the ill-fated Edward in 1937, has graced the head of the current sovereign. Again, the history. Breathtaking.
We fit in the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a whim, and I actually think that that was my favorite part of the day. I’ve been reading about Mr. Holmes since I was a little girl, and so to be in his lodgings was a dream come true. The creators of the museum actually have bullet holes in the drawing room wall in the shape of a VR: Victoria Regina. Holmes was nothing if not loyal! To see all the Victorian clutter – including Watson’s desk and medical bag, and Holmes’ violin – left me reeling.
Today was no less intense. We were unable to go into all the rooms of the British Library because we don’t have “reading passes,” but we were able to walk around the King’s Library (a tube running through the center of the massive building, containing all the volumes collected by King George III) and we were able to go into the gallery contained several hundred years of illuminated manuscripts (including the Lindsfarne Gospels,) Shakespeare’s First Folio, and the Magna Carta. I was glad to see so many people milling about, stopping into the different rooms to peruse books; makes me think that my own library could do some things differently and really turn the place into a community center.
Next up was the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. THAT was intense. Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Copely, Klmit, van Gogh, da Vinci, Fra Angelico, Holbein, Monet…. I am partial to Carivaggio and Monet, and so immediately gravitated toward those works. Chris was, to his surprise, drawn to the Dutch school painters – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Claude – and liked landscapes the best. We walked through all the rooms available to us, and left with jaws to the ground. There was just no way to process everything.
Lunch. Blessed lunch.
We popped into the National Portrait Gallery after lunch, and that was my absolute favorite of the day. Beginning with the earliest Tudor paintings, we were taken on a historical tour of Britain. Chris and I both loved the Regency era portraits the best. George IV was such a fop, and it showed in all of his portraits. I felt sorry for his poor wife – er, second wife – Caroline. She was a pleasant figure in her portrait, and there was no reason for him to hate her so. Then again, he was already married to Mrs. Fitzhurbert, though illegally, and was already balancing a few mistresses….
I got to see an original (but unfinished) portrait of William Wilberforce, whose grave I saw on Friday. He had such an amazingly kind face. Even now, close to two hundred years after his death, the light of Christ shines through his eyes. Somehow, the artist captured that. I was nearly brought to tears.
The London Eye. I never want to do that again, so it really will be a once in a lifetime experience! I will admit that we got some really cool pictures, but I probably would have been okay without them. At least the little carriages we were in didn’t rock like regular Ferris wheels do. Chris had a ball, running around, chatting with people. He convinced me to get up a few times, but I mostly just stayed in my seat. At least I got ice cream later for doing it.
Now we’re relaxing, watching British soap operas (I swear that’s all that’s ever on.) Tomorrow’s our last day here in the city, and it’s totally devoted to the British Museum (and whatever else we might like to do!) On Thursday we’re headed out to Bath for the day and then up to Edinburgh for the last leg of our trip. It’s gone a lot faster than I imagined it would.
For all posts in this series, go here.