Churches, Churchill and the Queen

Trip Start May 06, 2008
Trip End Jun 06, 2008

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Friday, May 9, 2008

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." - Henry Miller

Day 2 : 9th May 2008 (Friday) Churches, Churchill and the Queen

Bunga made breakfast this morning and although we meant to head out early, its not easy getting five people ready and out the door at a predetermined time. And we were still recovering from yesterday. Bunga was taking the tube with us and getting off one stop before to go see the doc and we had a direct line to St Paul's.

We entered St Pauls, paid the 10 quid each, walked into the nave and looked up at the awe-inspiring interior of the beautiful cathedral. This is the second largest dome after St Peter's in Rome. I sat on one of the benches, to reflect, just drinking in the atmosphere, the brilliance of the architecture, a thousand and more years of history, thinking Lady Di was married here. I made note of an inscription on the left that said "Through the gates of death we pass to our joyful resurrection ". Somehow that spoke to me. Ashok was shocked I was actually praying but I just like churches, much to Godwin's annoyance:) Once we were done admiring the cathedral floor, it was time to head upstairs. Yep, we thought it would be brilliant to climb the 259 steps up the dome to the Whispering Gallery. Sounded mysterious.

259 steps later we collapsed gratefully on the wooden benches around the Whispering Gallery and caught our breath. It was a while before we decided to explore the quirk in the construction that makes a whisper against the wall audible at the other end. There were so many people whispering I"m not sure whom I heard... Since we were already half way there, we thought why not slog up to the Stone Gallery, only another 119 more steps in the upward direction. And then, since the thighs were screaming in protest anyway, we thought lets punish them some more and climb the 152 remaining steps to the Golden Gallery. We stumbled, breathless, out into the smallest of galleries that runs around the highest point of the dome on the outside. Tired as heck, I was wondering why in God's name (ha ha) did I want to see the city from up here. Once the heart-rate went back to normal, I appreciated the panoramic views from the top better. We had climbed 530 steps to make it to the top, quite an accomplishment considering how out-of-shape I was... Now I can add St Paul's to the list of structures I've ascended on foot, a list that includes the Eiffel Tower and the Campanile in Florence. Definitely worth the climb and effort.

Next was the crypt, very interesting with all the tombs and sculptures and inscriptions. I like the one that said "It matters not how a man dies but how he lives." True. Then we visited the Cathedral shop and bought a few things to take home. We had spent the entire morning here, and it was time for food. The Crypt Cafe did nicely. After lunch we headed outside for more pictures. It was here that we spotted Godwin talking to two girls... Godwin and talking to strangers. And strangers who were girls! Sight to behold. I think they wanted their picture taken or something. We were amused.

Next stop, Westminster Abbey. We got off the tube and we were back in the Westminster area. Its hard not to take a good picture here... London in all her glory:) Then to the abbey. We got to use our 2for1 vouchers here. I love Gothic buildings and the abbey was very different from St Paul's. There is so much history housed within these walls. There were lots of chapels and tombs and memorials, my head was reeling with all the names of famous people like Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, buried directly across from each other. How ironic considering their history.  The chaotic crowds made it feel like a tourist attraction rather than a place of worship. St Paul's comparatively was much more solemn and had a quiet air of tranquility. My favourite areas were Henry VII's Lady Chapel and Poet's corner. Many of the great's of English literature are buried or commemorated here, some I hadn't even heard of. Lord Byron's said : "But there is that within me which shall tire. Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire." Dylan Thomas': "Time held me green and dying. Though I sang in my chains like the sea." It was interesting to note that The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was the only tombstone that was not to be walked upon.

It wasn't in the least bit creepy to walk amongst so many tombs, in fact I felt incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to walk amongst the spirits of such revered historical figures and England's glorious past. Too bad there's no photography inside. From here we decided to try and make it to the Cabinet War Rooms before they closed for the day as it was getting late. We checked the map and decide to walk there, it wasn't too far from where we were. Of course Glynis had to pose for a picture next to a London telephone booth before we started to seriously march in the right direction. Again, our vouchers came in good use here and we took the self guided tour with the headphones. I'm not really a war enthusiast but I had read the rooms were worth visiting as these were the underground headquarters of Churchill and everything was left in place exactly as it was so it was like walking into a 1945 time warp. Everything was as is including where he slept and even his chamber pot... I found it fascinating. Of course at the end of the tour we had to stop at the cafe as Godwin gets cranky if he isn't fed every few hours:)

Since we were so close we thought we'd go visit the PM at 10, Downing, the most famous address in London, I would think. Unfortunately we didn't have a personal invite. There's a huge iron gate that restricts entry down the street. So sad. We did walk by the Cenotaph at Whitehall, the Battle of Britain Memorial. The inscription read "The Glorious Dead". We thought we'd try to make it to Buckingham Palace before it got too dark and decide to stroll through St James Park. Lots of photo ops. Buckingham Palace was, well, Buckingham Palace. How could we not go there. Unfortunately, we didn't have a personal invite inside here as well, so we had to make do with taking pictures of the palace and the famous guards through the railings, surrounded by the other ordinary everyday swarm of tourists. We went to London and we didn't see the Queen. So we thought we'd walk down The Mall to Trafalgar Square. We passed by Clarence House and the guards there kindly indulged our picture taking obsession:)

It was lovely to finally get to Trafalgar Square, kick off my shoes, sit by a fountain, people watch, and of course take more pictures. The great square with Nelson's Column flanked by the four majestic brass lions made a good pit stop. After watching a few tourists (I assume) attempt to climb lions, Ashok thought he wanted a picture up there too. Once he was done,  I thought what could be better than taking a picture sitting astride a mighty lion. Little did I know my futile attempts would provide entertainment to the other people-watchers... Darned columns are higher and trickier to climb than they look, be warned. Godwin finally took pity on me and decided to give me a leg-up, actually it was more like a butt-up... I should have toned up for the trip... But I did get my picture. Glynis, the (fake) queen, wouldn't be caught dead doing anything so unladylike... I'm sure we'd embarrassed her enough with our antics. She was sitting quietly by the fountain pretending she didn't know who we were...

We then walked up past the National Gallery (I was hoping I would have time to visit later) to Covent Garden. I loved the atmosphere here, the air was just electric, a buzzing hive of energy with the people milling about and the streets performers. Everyone just seemed to gravitate towards this area. There were so many bars, restaurants, shops, it was amazing. We were exhausted though, it had been a really long day, so we took the tube back to our home away from home. It was nice to see Bunga and Sanjiv at the end of a long day in a strange city and recap our days activities over a nice dinner.

Steps walked: 17007
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