Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Westminster Abbey (Also, Preparing Yourself for Crowds)

Firstly, let me offer my sincerest apologies for leaving the blog without love and updates for so long. This is the time of year when Matt and I have to go back to living separate lives together. He's gone back to school and I have returned home to... figure my life out? I think that's what I'm doing... at least I'm applying to grad school, which is something. 

Second, one huge apology to Matt. I know, darling, that my neglect of the blog has made you sad BUT IT'S BACK NOW xxx

Now that we've taken care of that lets get down to business (to defeat the huns). 

I may have mentioned before that this is my absolute favorite landmark in all of London...
This picture was taken by me. Clearly I am bad at this.

This is my darling Big Ben (yes, yes it's the name of the bell and not the tower but "Big Ben's Tower" does not nearly sound as cute). It's attached to the Palace of Westminster. The palace is commonly known as the Houses of Parliament because it contains the two parts of Great Britain's government, the House of Commons and House of Lords.

It is one third of the World Heritage listing for Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church. All three were inscribed for their great historic and symbolic significance. The Palace stands as an example of neo-gothic architecture, (re)built in 1840. Only a short walk away, stands the medieval church, St. Margaret's, and the Abbey that serves as the venue for royal weddings and coronations, as well and serving as the burial place for many great people in British history.

Getting to Westminster from north London is fairly simple, even if it does take a while. You just take the tube. As you've probably noticed, from Matt's we always start on the Piccadily Line. To get to Westminster we changed at the Green Park station to the Jubilee line and took that to the Westminster station. This lets you out right next to the Palace and less than 5 minutes away from the Abbey. Entrance to St. Margaret's is free but you do have to pay £16 for adults and £13 for students for the Abbey.

We started our day with St. Margaret's Church.

You're not allowed to take pictures inside, which is a real shame because when I say that the medieval architecture of this place is gorgeous, I mean it is GORGEOUS. High ceilings with simple gold chandeliers, delicate carvings in the wood, and the walls! The walls are covered with memorials (or headstones... I don't think you can bury that many people in the walls but you never know...) all aged well beyond a hundred years and honoring people long forgotten. There are also graves (or at least markers) in the floor which honestly makes me uncomfortable but I tried to force it from my mind. It's still the active parish for the House of Commons and there is a small display box there showing how Winston Churchill used to frequent the church. 

For all it's beauty, the church is rather small and unless you are attending a service, or would like to stop and sit for a while, it doesn't take much time. I would allow 15 to 20 minutes tops (you should also know that I am known to rush things without realizing so Matt may not agree with me on this...)

But, if I did rush, it was because I wanted to excited to see this beautiful thing...

Capturing the bird was merely luck, but we'll call it artistic genius.
For those of you who are cheesy romantics like me, you've probably known about the Abbey for a while but only really became familiar with it when Prince William married Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge (her official title now). Oh, Wills and Kate... how I love you two...

The Abbey really holds up to all you would hope the venue for royal weddings and coronations would be. It's grand, imposing, meticulously detailed and breathtakingly beautiful.

Again, you're not allowed to take any pictures inside but I so wish you were. 

They were in the middle of renovations to we missed out on the first part of the audio tour ( Yes, we HATE audio tours - you will see later that this is with good reason - but it is the best way to see the Abbey if you miss the guided tour and don't want to spend the extra £3 anyway.) The Abbey is simply filled with amazing history. We actually stood just in front of where the Royal Wedding took place, which is also where Queen Elizabeth was crowned (although I didn't realized this at the time - I was pouting about the audio tour and not listening - DO NOT DO THIS YOU WILL MISS OUT). 

The tour will lead you in an out of little chapels tucked away along the corridor surrounding the nave. They are the burial places of kings and queens and all of the people deemed important to them at the time of their death.

One chapel that kind of tickled us was the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. While Matt and I were in Canterbury we watch the movie Anonymous. It's about the supposed fraud of William Shakespeare and the man who really wrote his plays. I don't know how much truth there is to any of that particular story but we both really enjoyed the film. What does this have to do with the Chapel of St. John the Baptist you ask? Well, one of the main characters is Thomas Cecil. The real Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter is buried in that Chapel with his wife. We didn't made the connection until Matt pointed out that I was standing on a marker with the name Cecil on it. It gave us a bit of a laugh... which we then felt guilty for since we were, you know, surrounded by dead people. 

You also cannot miss the Chapel built for Henry the VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York. She predeceased him by six years and he spent the time between their deaths building an absolutely magnificent chapel where they both still rest today (This was Matt's favorite part).

One either side of this Chapel you'll find two queens. 

The first is Queen Elizabeth the I. She is buried on top of her sister, Queen Mary the I (also known as Bloody Mary). Directly opposite Elizabeth, on the other side of Henry the VII's chapel, is the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was imprisoned and killed by Elizabeth because Elizabeth feared she would try and steal the throne. Mary was originally buried somewhere away from the city. However, because Elizabeth left no heirs, Mary's son James took the throne. After taking power he had his mothers body moved to a tomb he had built very specifically opposite Elizabeth's.

All of this isn't even the half of what you can find in the Abbey. It would take days and much more than an audio tour to learn everything. 

While the experience is magnificent, I must warn you: YOU MUST BE PREPARED FOR CROWDS. 

It's rather common knowledge among my close friends and family that I do not like crowds. I loath them actually. In large droves people become rather mindless and careless (this is psychological fact people not just me being a grump) and I don't like having my personal space invaded. 

For these reasons seeing the Abbey was hard for me. This is the most touristy place in London, 100%, bar none. You will have to push through other tourist staring mindlessly at maps. And with audio tours they literally have no spacial awareness and become rude and pushy and they will step on you (this is our good reason). I had a bit of a breakdown in one of the chapels and we ended up giving up on our audio tours and just seeing what we could see without getting too caught up in the crowd. (Matt, darling, if you are reading this, I am terribly sorry if you missed anything on my account but thank you for helping me calm down <3).

Now, I'm not saying this will happen to you. Very few people have such violent reactions to crowds as mine. However, please be aware that no matter when you go, it's likely to be EXTREMELY crowded. If you do happen to find a time when it's not, for the love of all that is good in this world PLEEEAAASE let me know.

Breakdown aside, we loved the Abbey and I would gladly return (now that I'm more prepared for what I am up against). From the tombs of kings and queens to the tomb of Darwin, ironically placed in an Abbey, it's a beautiful, somewhat magical, place. 

We're the tiny couple just left of center. LOOK AT THE PEOPLE. JUST LOOK.
This one is Matt's fine work. He is clearly better than I am. 
After leaving the Abbey it was clear that it was lunch time. When you're on a budget (and also when you can't walk very far because your beloved traveling companion is crippled) you will find there isn't anywhere to eat on that side of Westminster Bridge. However, there is a Tesco Express (which is a British supermarket) near the bridge that offers an assortment of lunches in the form of pasta salads, salads and sandwiches. It's not as bad as you think and it's much better than trying to brave the crowds on the bridge to try and cross. It also saves time arguing over where to go. It doesn't offer you a place to sit down but luckily, located between Parliament and the Abbey, you have Parliament Square...

Matt's favorite statue is Nelson Mandela... he wants to be just like him I guess.
You know, minus the being bronzed bit.
Parliament Square has steps and plants and statues and big grassy square in the middle. You can find a massive statue of Winston Churchill there and ALSO you can find Lincoln. As in our President. It's true.
The square is relatively removed from the more crowded sidewalks in front of Parliament and the Abbey and offers great people watching while you return your blood sugar to functioning levels.

You can also watch your yummy looking boyfriend walk around. Best to watch from behind because that's a fabulous view...
I like his butt... is what I'm saying...
It's rather unfortunate that we could not complete our trip with a visit to the Palace of Westminster. There are tours available but we were unable to schedule it around everything else we wanted to do. You must book in advance and the tours only run on Saturdays until summer opening which started after I left :(

But at least we got pictures!!! I promise we were happier than we looked...

So, after getting up early to travel and braving crowds all day we decided to call it an early day. I can't say that it was totally stress free but it was still a wonderful day. The Abbey was still completely awesome. It was even better seeing it with someone special.

This is Matt being awesome and taking a picture with ALL three sites in it.  Like a boss.

It's rather dark but we can still say we were there!

Until next time!

T x

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