Note to self: Before setting out on a weekend jaunt, check the London transit closures. Just as in Toronto, subway (tube) maintenance takes place on Saturdays and Sundays, causing transit chaos among the gazillions of visitors to the British capital, not to mention the residents.
Of course, it was partially a disaster of my own making. I stopped at the local library and left my jacket behind, a disaster I didn’t realize until I had jumped off the bus at the underground station. Instead of heading toward the train, I retraced my steps to the library and did the route to the station again – only to discover that it was closed for the weekend! So, I could have remained on the first bus, but, instead, it was on to another bus that took me to a working tube station. Oh, did I mention that it was raining?
My initial frustration evaporated, however, when I ended up sitting next to a young man from Austria on the bus. We exchanged the “why are you in London?” stories and had a lovely ride. Chatting with random people is part of the pleasure of being a newcomer.
I eventually arrived at my destination, Westminster Station, close to the Houses of Parliament and my destination, Westminster Abbey. Masses of tourists were on the streets, taking photos and absorbing the scenery. All of that power – church and state — in such a small area is daunting.
Since I had purchased my ticket for the Abbey online, once I wended my way through the crowds, I was home free. Ticketholders have a separate, short queue, so I was in the door fairly fast. I decided to pay a bit extra for a tour with one of the vergers and set off to see the marvels of the Abbey.
Unfortunately, I can’t share photos with you, because photography inside the Abbey is forbidden. You’ll have to take my word that the scale is staggering and the ornamentation is ornate and intricate in places, colourful in others. In addition to being the setting for Royal coronations, it is the final resting place for numerous monarchs, politicians, artists and scientists. Queen Elizabeth I and her sister, Queen Mary, share a chapel and a tomb, while their cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, lies across the hall. Henry VII and his queen, parents to the notorious Henry VIII, are buried there, as are Edward the Confessor, William and Mary and a number of other kings and queens.
It is always disconcerting to walk across the tombstones etched into the floor, especially when they are people one recognizes: Georg Friedrich Handel, Lord Byron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton are only a few of the luminaries buried here. The modern tombstones are smaller, denoting the burial of a cremation urn, rather than a body. Times change.
A highlight of my visit was the chance to stay for choral Evensong and to sit in the Quire (choir), carved hundreds of years ago. It offered a view that only select guests at William and Kate’s wedding were able to enjoy, so I just pretended it was their service instead! The Abbey is known for its boys’ choir, but they are on holiday during the summer, so a lovely coed choir performed in its place. It was my first Church of England service, so I guess it’s all downhill from here!