Monday, July 27, 2015

Go West! (Minster) Part II

June 29th, Continued...

     So, this turned out to be our busiest day in London...

     Having spent a wonderful morning at Westminster Abbey, we proceeded to find somewhere for lunch,all the while taking in the sites of Big Ben and the House of Parliament.  I'll skip the sordid details, but the conclusion was that Dan and I will never go on The Amazing Race together, or if we did, we'd be the most entertaining couple on there, and not in a good way. Suffice to say that after much walking and getting lost, we finally found a recommended pub on our list to eat lunch at (thank you Rick Steves for producing amazing travel books with superb recommendations!).  We ate at the Red Lion Tavern where Matt enjoyed fish and chips, and Dan and I had ham sandwiches...he liked his better than I did. But, the tavern was adorable, and we loved how the locals were sipping summer shandies at lunchtime.

   After lunch, and refreshed, happy and rejuvenated, we walked the road along St. James Park to Buckingham Palace, which is much more glamorous in real life than photographs. Where the edging along the building looks dark and black in pictures, it's truly gold and stunning. The Queen was in residence during the week we were in London and therefore BP is not open for tours, but it was still fun to actually stand at the gates and admire.

  After BP, we walked back on the other side of St. James Park, leading us to Trafalgar Square in all it's magnificence, and then we completed our walk back to the Tube and passed The Horse Guards Arch and Parades where the royal horses are readied for events. We also passed the Churchill War Rooms (which we did not go in, but I would have liked to.) For some reason, and this was the source of our frustration earlier in the day, we could not find Downing St, and therefore could not find the Prime Minister's digs, but we'll just put it on the list for next time.

Big Ben

House of Parliament

Pub we had lunch at.

Downstairs in the pub.

That beer was not as big as it appears.

St. James Park

Buckingham Palace

Ditto (where it appears black on the building, it's actually gold!)

Another view.

Seriously, can we get a photo without other tourists running into it?

BP Gardens

St. James Park and Big Ben

Statue outside BP

A shot from the road
Archways to Trafalgar Square Area

Trafalgar Square and more tourists!

View of street from Traf. Sqaure

Statue in Trafalgar Square
Matt at statue in T. Square

More from T. Square

Read and see below

Beautiful monument in memory of those lost in Bali Terrorist Attack

Horse Guard Palace


Next Blog: Kensington Palace and Diana's Memorial Wading Pool

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Go West! (Minster)

June 29th, 2015 - Westminster Abbey, Lunch at the Red Lion Inn, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square!

     Today was a very full day with lots of walking and lots of sight-seeing. To begin with, we went to Westminster Abbey, which ties with the Tower of London as my favorite place to see in London.

     Westminster Abbey is stunningly beautiful in architecture and style. Although most famously known as the church for royal weddings (i.e. William and Kate) and funerals (i.e. Diana, Princess of Wales), and a shrine for the tombs of many famous kings, queens, writer's poets, and the Unknown Soldier, etc., it is also still a working church, offering masses daily and executing a prayer overhead every hour, on the hour. Yet, it houses scores of tourists every day, and although I could have spent a lot more time in the Abbey, I had to "go with the flow" of the tourist lines and felt a bit hurried past things of great interest to me. That said, however, we did the audio tour, followed our map, and I, for one, had an amazing visit.

   Although a huge tourist draw, I still found Westminster to be serene, mournful and celestial. I was most moved at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the tombs of Elizabeth I, Mary I and Mary Queen of Scots, having read biography after biography about these women for many years. But, before I delve into my thoughts about their resting places, allow m to backtrack.

   As you probably know, I write novels for hobby and very little profit (LOL!). In my novel, "A Lonely Sky" the hero, Sam, takes the heroine, Julia on a tour of Westminster Abbey. It's in the folding chair area near the cloisters where they nearly kiss (they don't.) Sam was based on the actor Jeremy Irons (in his younger years of course). Imagine my surprise to put on my headphones for the walking audio tour, and the narroator is none other than Jeremy Irons! Cosmic, eeirie, karma, whatever. Then to actually see the place my characters once sat..okay, maybe only a writer understands this part, but it gave me the chills. Anyhow if you want to read it for yourself, my novel is on sale at  (This is the first edition and I want to go back and do some editing on it, but it's still a lovely, sad love story...shameless plug, I know!)

 Besides writing for hobby, I am an avid reader, mostly of anything to do with English History, the Tudor era, being my favorite. So, I am quite knowledgeable regarding the lifetimes of Henry VIII, all his wives, lovers, relatives and his children, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Edward (and his bastard children as well) and their cousin Mary Queen of Scots. So,  to walk through Westminster and stand beside the tombs of EI, MI and MQS was awe-inspiring. They finally felt like real figures in history and not just people I'd only read about in books.

   Now, if you'll forgive me, I have another aside for you. When you enter the small room off one of the larger chapels, you find the tombs of Elizabeth I and Mary I who were sisters. Mary reigned first, for five years, and then her successor was her younger sister, Elizabeth. During the course of their lives (and Mary was many years older than Elizabeth) they were at odds with each other for various reasons, in fact, Mary had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower for a spell!  Elizabeth was the child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the woman who caused Henry VIII to divorce Mary's mother, Katherine of Aragon, and declare Mary a bastard (Henry would later do the same to Elizabeth when he wanted to marry Jane Seymour, but in the end, he reinstated both his daughters back into his will.) Mary and Elizabeth were different religions as well, and it was with great reluctance that, upon her death, Mary acknowledged Elizabeth as her true successor. (The pics below were computer picture. No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the Abbey).

Mary I gets a head effigy in the Abbey Museum

Mary Queen of Scots Effigy

  So, knowing this background, imagine my surprise and curiosity when I entered their chapel and discover only an effigy to Elizabeth, but Mary is also buried with her in the tomb.  I need to do further reading as to how this all came about, because I'm sure neither sister would have wished to be buried with the other, and Mary would have had a FIT that she has no effigy of her own, yet is buried under Elizabeth's!  I felt a bit indignant for her myself!

   But the blog is getting long, so let's move on. Suffice to say Mary, Queen of Scots had her own tomb and didn't have to share, and I felt equally in awe to stand beside it.

  Other places of note at Westminster are:

The Grave of the Unknown Soldier
The High Alter where Diana's coffin rested during her funeral service.
St. Margaret's Chapel, which is built alongside the Abbey. Sir Walter Raleigh is buried there, and you'll also find a beautiful stained glass window that Henry VIII had built for his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, who he then later divored in favor of Anne Boleyn who he later had behead in favor of Jane Seymour.

I'll end this blog here, but the day continued and that will be in the next blog. Enjoy the pictures!

St.Margaret's Church

St. Margaret's Church (Abbey is on the right)
Next up:  Touring the city, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Queen and The Stones Really Rock, Part II

     Stonehenge and Oxford!

     Continuing on with our bus tour, we left Windsor and the Queen's grounds and headed to Stonehenge. On the way, we ate a boxed lunch, provided for extra cost by Golden Tours, but it was tasty and plentiful with a huge cucumber sandwich, apple, crisps (chips), granola bar, and two drinks.

    The weather had turned cold and rainy while we toured Windsor Castle, so by the time we arrived at Stonehenge, and not having brought our rain gear, we found ourselves quite chilly. A shuttle bus drives you out to the rocks (you can walk it, but it's far and we were short on time) where you can do a guided audio tour of the circle of stones. I found myself more interested in the ancient stones than I thought I would be, however, as I was very cold, I kind of just hurried around the circle and shuttled it back to the warmth of the gift shop. The boys were right with me on that, and I felt kind of bad about it because it was the main attraction Dan had wanted to see. But, he felt he got enough out of it from his time there. (We did by a jacket for me at the gift shop. The boys were okay without one.)  Stonehenge also has an indoor display and the boys quickly perused that and then we headed back to the bus. On the ride away from Stonehenge, (and these are visible on the way there too) we saw many ancient burial mounds built into the landscape, which was fascinating that they survived all this time.

   Onto Oxford!

   By the time we arrived at Oxford, the weather had returned to a warmer, partly sunny day (probably because I bought a jacket, right?) and stayed that way during our brief tour. Oxford is a university town with very old buildings (universities and student housing, shops, restaurants, etc.) with ornate architecture. We saw the colleges where the likes of Richard Burton, Lewis Carroll, Mr. Bean, Hugh Grant and other famous people attended. Also, parts of Harry Potter were filmed here. Then, it was back on the bus and we headed home.

  A wonderful tour indeed!  Pictures below:


Matthew, (pictured above in the neon--green striped shorts, loved Oxford. He felt it was a town he'd like to live in some day!

       Tomorrow's blog: Westminster Abbey!!!!!