Spring Break, day 2 continued (I don't know why the photos didn't work...)

London Travel Blog

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Sometimes my tangents turn into page long rants about the entire history of construction that leave me exhausted and cause me to pass out and not write again for almost a week. Whoops.

Now where was I? Oh yes, Westminster Abbey.

As I was trying to explain, there were too many things to see and not nearly enough time in which to see them. I walked past queens and kings, famous poets, famous structures. I walked in a real, live medieval cloister for the first time. I also got to say hi to Edmund (as in Spencer) for Natalie, as they're currently navigating an impetuous long distance relationship.

I also saw the oldest door in Britain, or so the sign told me. Unfortunately, no, it was not attached to a wardrobe and did not lead to a lamppost, nor an ice queen, nor Jesus in the shape of an eloquent lion, nor any turkish delight... or maybe it did. Yum.

Finally, the audio guide, before it decided to die on me, even included a song sung by the famous Westminster Abbey Choir, and though it was far from the real thing I'm sure, listening on my little walkie, standing among the empty choir stalls, with my vivid imagination, well it was almost heaven.

We left too soon, and after a quick lunch...

Bread and Cheese, the starving student's lunch.

...the plan was to head to the Tower of London, but that didn't exactly happen. The tube line, like all the lines in town, was closed. There was a nice man in a uniform who pointed us to a bus we could take a few blocks down... but when we got outside we were met with a force stronger than a natural disaster: the Tamil protests. Thousands and thousands of angry men and women all marching and shouting and carrying posters and flags as far as the eye could see:

(photo courtesy of worldbulletin.net)

We fought through the masses for a while, and I think Jenn almost had a heart attack, but eventually we ducked out of the way into a park to rethink our plans. Having no idea where to find this bus, and doubting very much that a bus could ever make it into this part of town at present, we decided to readjust our plans and head north instead, on a line we knew was open, to go to the British Library. Too much excitement for one day already.

I spent most of the metro trip trying to get psyched up about one very important thing: the Beowulf Manuscript. I had intended to make a pilgrimage to see it at the British Library for some time now, and here I was at last. By the time I got off the train I was breathing shallow breaths and making Jenn feel nervous... but of course when we got to the library it was closed too.


I was done coming up with plans. I mean, if 15 closed metro lines and a closed library ain't enough to convince you that this isn't your day, maybe 10,000 screaming tamils is. Instead we decided to stop at a Starbucks (ever faithful) and relax a bit, which I did indeed as Starbucks across Europe have started playing a Talking Heads mix recently as sort of a "we feel your pain Rachael" phenomenon. And yes I did rock out.

Feeling better, Jenn and I decided to only do things we knew would be open for the rest of the afternoon. First stop? Brace yourself... Platform 9 & 3/4. It was Jenn's idea really, and a fabulous one at that. Imagine this: a normal, working train station of great size, full of business men and women, vendors, workers, backpackers, and people rolling those pansy-ass carry-ons about. But if you look carefully, you'll see another class of traveler. One that stands out. You can tell them by the way they try too hard to fit in... as though they had something to hide. But if you follow them you'll soon learn what their secret is, for they all congregate at the same mysterious location, at the end of a platform at the back of the station, past all security guards and checkpoints. It is there you discover that they're all crazy Harry Potter fans, most of them adults, trying to find the Platform 9 & 3/4 sign and to take many dorky pictures! I just couldn't get over it, all those respectible looking adults meandering through King's Cross station trying to look like they had a train to catch and weren't just there to take pictures with a shopping cart:

Be jealous.

It took me a while to stop giggling, but once I did we headed to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, two things we knew for certain would not be closed, because you can't go into the palace anyway, and I'd like to see the cops keep me out of a park, especially after so many failures already that day. (Cut to me running through the grass waving my arms in the air, screaming, and being chased by 10 British police officers.)

In reality all we did is, quite literally, tiptoe through the tulips, of which there were many all over London. We also, as promised, saw the palace, which was large and lovely, though I don't think the Queen was in residence (see, no flag).

All of it made me feel kind of foolish for claiming to be the King of England all these years. I saw for myself that the British monarchy does, in fact, exist, and for a minute there I was like oh, oh my, I'm so sorry, were you.. were you here's first? You say you're the Queen of England? Well gosh, I never meant to, I mean I never...

Then I snapped out of it. I'M THE KING OF ENGLAND!

(Please ignore the last few paragraphs unless you're privy to our Henry VIII jokes and/or have seen those ridiculous Tudors commercials with Jonathan Rhys Meyers giving himself an aneurysm shouting and whining about his absolute power.)

A stroll in Hyde Park following my abdication was rather lovely. Here is one of the entrances, with the pimpest coat of arms:

Any country with a unicorn in its national symbol is alright by me.

Once inside the park, the sheer oxygen content in the air was dizzying, and the wet grass and flowers smelled marvelous. I also fully appreciated this "English" garden, which in the States would look familiar, kind of like Central Park, full of long grassy lawns and trees and flowers. It even had a number of nooks and crannies, of which I'm sure we only found a few, which is something American gardens rather lack. But what it wasn't, thank the lord, was a French garden--made for the genteel to ride about in their carriages in and composed largely of gravel and a few patches of untouchable grass. Call them beautiful, call them famous, but I will never think French gardens like Les Tuileries or even the gardens at Versailles equal to the rolling hills of grass and flowers here in central London. Just check these out:

Refreshed and soothed and no longer tasting the bitterness of metropolitan London failure, we decided to don our bravery once more and head back into civilization to find some food. Led by visions of last time I was in New York, walking around at night solo and lookin' for some pizza, we headed to Piccadilly Circus, London's version of Times Square.

After tiptoeing through the crowds, which were nothing compared to Manhattan, we began our favorite pastime, the Great Restaurant Hunt. In truth, I hate the Great Restaurant Hunt with all my soul and much prefer to just bop around a grab something here and there when I get hungry, but when one is in London with a hungry travel companion, one has to make sacrifices. One has to find a place where both can be happy. And after walking forever, passing every other place for one reason or another, one finally comes to an okay pub, where one eats some bad fish and chips and is happy:

Bad English food. We is happy.

France, culinary heaven, le paradis gourmand, damn you we are through! Seriously, as I've stated before, all our American palates were screaming for after so many months trapped in dietary heaven was some bad take out food. Positively sinful takeout food, please. For the love of God just some greasy, salty, spicy takeout food. And that is just what we ate all across the UK. Fish and chips please. Fish and chips please. Fish and chips please...

Oh, I also had... get ready for this... a beer! Yes ladies and gentlemen, I've been jealous of the "beer kids" for some time now, watching them be all cool with their imported this and that while I shamefully sip gin and tonics like an aging starlet. I wanted to be cool and badass and participate in Spaten nights or "beer and the news" nights at the apartment. And for years I had been prevented due to the fact that I thought beer was friggin gross, but in an English pub, well I just couldn't allow myself to order anything but a beer. And you know what, in London, beer wasn't half bad. In fact... I almost liked it...

"Rachael Parker and the Quest for the Most Perfect Beer" to be continued...
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After a large and satisfactorily non-French breakfast where I made a fool of myself talking to a handsome stranger by confusing Belfast, Budapest, and Bucharest, we began the first of a number toilsome days trying to work around the many Tube closings. Honestly, why they decided to do all their construction at once, and on Easter weekend, is beyond me. Paris would never pull such a...

Anyway, eventually we made it downtown, and began the morning with a brief stroll along the foggy banks of the Thames. Like you do. Here's some proof:

The London Eye. It's watching.


Things to know about London tourism: the lines, excuse me, the ques are longer. The French certainly have the filter-the-tourists-through-the-joint process down to a refined science in comparison, not that I'm a tourist (ahem), but after about 40 minutes of patiently waiting to get into Westminster Abbey, what ho:

That's Westminster there on the right. Isn't she lovely?

Fab Portal

See? The detail makes me giddy.
Look at the guy with the cloak fourth from the right
on the bottom row. Amazing.

Another drastic difference between England and France? They don't let you take pictures inside of anything in England, whereas in France you can take photos during mass if you want to. (And if you want me to elbow you in the lip.) But I guess I got to enjoy the place with my own eyes instead of through a cheap digital camera lens. I had that going for me.

The first time I heard about Westminster abbey was in Mrs. Judd's Brit Lit class in the 11th grade. Any of you out there fortunate enough to have taken a class with the Judinator know that this in itself makes the place noteworthy. Pretty much every English monarch was buried there, which was unfortunately overwhelming as with the crowds and lack of time at our disposal, I was forced to shuffle by Henry III, Edward I, Edward III, Elizabeth I, etc without proper veneration. Again, it never ceases to bother me that I have to run past and tag places and monuments I've lived and breathed at heart for some time now--like a mere tourist--and get picked on for my accent by the guy handing out audio guides in the process. I really just want to shout at the crowd all the time. "Dude! Du-ude! Edward I! Don't you guys understand just how truly badass he was? Blimey, slow down!"

Okay, yeah, maybe I should be a history teacher. Plus I would get to shout "blimey" at the youth of America.

Other high points included the Lady Chapel of Henry VII, another total badass. I stole this picture from online because you just have to see it:

It's the ceiling that does it. It's not just that it's beautiful, though that's certainly true. It's that mankind started by living in caves, trees, holes in the ground, etc. Then he had a fit of inspiration, and egad, he starts building structures. First a million years of hovels and shacks that topple in the wind. Until one day aliens land and teach him advanced technology so he can build the Parthenon. Thanks guys, now we're in business, don't forget to write.

But of course then someone crashes Hominem_Servire, the supercomputer, so man forgets everything and is forced to rebuild the hovels, then the shacks, and finally some wooden structures that catch fire every other tuesday. And then finally, tentatively, because this time he has only his divinely inspired self, no extraterrestrial aid, he takes a risk and starts stacking stones. Then he is crushed underneath them. The day after the funeral his neighbor, who thinks he knows what went wrong, gives it a shot. He, too, is crushed in the debris. Finally the neighbor's wife, fearing for the wellbeing of the rest of the men in town, shows them how it's done. Rocks are a hit. First barrel vaults, because mankind remembers vaguely the fine curved arches of his ancestors. Then one day an apprentice gets cheeky and Voila, pointed arches.

Now mankind is in business. Encouraged by favorable laws of physics, each builder struggles to build the tallest structure with the thinnest walls without having it fall over, kind of like Jenga. Stretching himself higher and higher, l'homme occidental becomes obsessed with making the walls paper thin. And to keep his stone structures standing, the vaulting follows him. First 4, then 6, then more in the aisles, the ambulatory, the nave. More and more the arches delicately balance and support by this point not walls, but glass, and are themselves supported from the outside by elegant flying buttresses. It's a beautiful geometric puzzle, way better than the ratty old Parthenon.

But now there's no more need to duplicate the vaulting, there are no more ways to push the strengths of the pointed arch it seems, but the elegant lines on the ceiling have grown on us. So one day a Romantic mason decides to enhance the ceiling with some delicate tracery. First an arch develops a tuft of decoration, like a well-fertilized climbing tomato vine. Fifty years later another building turns the tomatoes into ivy, which continues to climb. But in England, the place that hasn't forgotten the elegant tracing patters of both its Celtic and it's Germanic ancestors, it comes natural. They take the hanging gardens to the next level, until Henry VII has his chapel built in the 1503, by which time the ceiling has grown like a scene in Jumanji until it resembles Fangorn Forest.

From rocks piled on top of one another, to this. And when I see "this", I see it still moving, still climbing. Methinks. Even so, what else could mankind hope to build? Stucco? I guess the point of the story is that I have ceiling envy. Come on guys, we have the technology: every single ceiling should look like this.

Ug... that rant was exhausting. Will continue tomorrow...
photo by: ulysses