January 8th, 2010, 22:42:00
Day 7: London, England, UK
London, the culminating point of all our travel here. Because of all the snow and the Britons inability to deal with said snow, we weren't sure how it would all come together. There was a possibility we would not be able to go or a possibility that we would be significantly delayed going, leaving us less time to tour. I woke up early and had a hearty breakfast in the Carriage-house, prepared for anything. Those who were traveling to London met in the lobby of the Abbey after breakfast. Altogether, our group was comprised of: Helen, Rachel, Hilary, Raquel, Pam, Marquita, Kara, Kandy, Lynette and I.
Trevor (our English host) was kind enough to take us all to Banbury in the school's van, despite the horrible road conditions, at around 9:30. From Banbury, we were able to buy group discounted rail passes, which included a departing train to London, returning trip to Banbury and unlimited use of "the Tube" - London's railway system (similar to our subway system here). Helen, who had previously lived in London for a number of years, was great about knowing where all the sights were and how to get to them which was a great time-saver. When we first arrived, we took the Tube to view Parliament, The London Eye and Big Ben (all within walking distance of each other). My camera, unfortunately chose this moment to die and the spare battery I had packed was not charged either...leaving me no camera for...the entire day. I took it in stride and bought two throwaway cameras, but cursed myself most of the day for not having the foresight to think of charging my batteries the night before. London was still beautiful, with or without my camera.
We then went to Westminster Abbey, the burial place of Kings and Queens, Statesmen and soldiers, poets and priests and a modern-day place of worship. Only a handful of us wanted to pay the 12 pounds to go inside, but in my eyes, it was well worth it. The inside was simply breath-taking - with high, arched ceilings, marble statues of men and Angels, a towering organ, burial shrouds and tombs...all with startling attention to detail. My favorite was Henry VII's 'Lady Chapel'. Along both walls, it held seated stalls with banners above them for the Knights of the Order of Bath. The back boasted burial places for Kings and Queens and ornately carved funerary statues. Beautiful stain-glassed floor to ceiling windows bathed everything in multicolored swathes of light. It hit you right in the chest - that's how devastating it was. At the end of the tour, we were given the opportunity to light a candle in prayer, so I made a small donation to do so (one of my favorite parts of the day).
From Westminster Abbey, we went to Harrod's, one of England's largest retailers (akin to the Western Macy's). After a brief walk through some of their departments - lingering longer at some departments (hello, chocolate department!) than others, we went across the street to eat at a quaint French restaurant. For lunch, I had Mozzarella and Tomato on a Baguette and a Diet coke. Once refueled, we resumed our touring. Our next stop was Buckingham Palace. They were doing the changing of the guard when we arrived, but it was behind the gates and not in front like the movies, so we didn't get to view it in much detail. The nearby fountain was beautiful, although the Palace architecture paled in the face of some London's other buildings.
After Buckingham Palace, we stopped at the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. We walked partway over the bridge, but the Tower was closed after five, so we made do with a few pictures. At this point, it was sufficiently dark and cold and we were all looking forward to resting our feet. We took the Tube over to Covent Gardens to do some last-minute shopping and get dinner before calling it a day. Covent Gardens was one of my favorite places in London. It had more of the quaint, old-worldish charm and less tourist attractions and more closely resembled Oxford than anything else we'd been to. We didn't make it to Knotting Hill, but I imagine I would have like that as much, if not more than Covent Gardens. After shopping, we ate dinner at a family-style seating, modern Italian restaurant, where I had a mouth-watering Pumpkin Gnocci and a Citrus iced tea. Several of us picked up dessert or candy at Marks and Spencers, an English grocery.
After dinner, around eight-thirty, we made our way back to Marylebone station, where we got our train back to Banbury. All in all, it was a very successful trip and we were able to see quite a lot despite the time constraints. It killed me not to have my camera, but I enjoyed London just the same and hopefully I can go back one day (and remember to charge my battery).
Things to do in the future:
Visit the Tate Museum, see the Royal Treasure exhibition at the Tower of London, go to the London Aquarium & ride the London Eye.