Day 21: Westminster and Tea

Everyone by now should know that rain and clouds are the norm for England, but it seems that someone forgot to inform London of this. We had yet another warm, sunny day in the city of Big-Brotherly love. If you do not understand that reference, then you do not yet know about CCTV. CCTV is a security system that abounds in England, but thrives especially in London. There are video cameras all across the city. These act as a security measure, mostly as a deterrent. I feel that we have been eased into this system by starting out with a small measure of cameras in the countryside and working our way up to London levels. You do get used to the cameras. That should be all for your CCTV lesson for today. We can resume our day now. We started out as we have before, and that is by the London Underground (subways). I was feeling that we were all becoming comfortable and capable with this system when our group was temporarily split. When we met to meet up after getting off of one train, we were one person short (no hints as to who it was). This did not end up being a problem, as the person arrived with the next train. This did, however, instill a sense of importance of the buddy system. Live and learn, as they say. After this minor (very minor) incident, we arrived at Westminster Abbey. If the Americans reading this are thinking that this location sounds familiar, there are a number of reasons for this. One of the recent memorable incidents at Westminster is the royal wedding. This, as you may recall (it was only a few years ago), was a grand event. No surprises there, as grand is a word that seems to dwell with the royal family. While the royal wedding is all well and good, Westminster Abbey has a much stronger connection to the royals. The abbey has been the site of coronation 1308. For those of you without a monarch, a coronation is the crowning of a royal and the assumption of the throne. The Crown Jewels are not held at Westminster, but there is a set of practice Crown Jewels. They work well (I would assume) for rehearsals. These are found in the cozy museum within the abbey. Surprisingly, the use of each of the tools of coronation is explained better in this exhibit than in the Tower of London where the real jewels are. You may be curious as to which of the tools of coronation I find to be the most interesting (ok, probably not, but I will tell you anyway). It is the Sword of Mercy. There are three swords, and the other two represent justices of some sort. The merciful sword, however, is the only one of the three that is blunt. I will let this symbolism speak for itself here. Is it done speaking? Yes. Good. Let us proceed. There are monuments to a number of important people in Westminster Abbey. Some of these are tombs. One of the tombs has a mystery guest. This is the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. He was buried here in 1920 as a memorial to the masses of fallen soldiers of the Great War (WWI). Americans should be familiar with this concept, as we have our Unknown Soldier. Within eyesight of this is the Scientists Corner. Notable names such as Newton and Faraday are honored here. Scientific achievements celebrated in an abbey, yes. Religion, science, and art come together in this monument. This seems like as good a time as any to deliver some bad news to you blog readers. No pictures are allowed in Westminster, so descriptions will have to do. This is a blog for a literary tour that you are following, though, so I assume that reading can be accomplished without pictures (what good is a book without conversations or pictures?). We will leave from the celebration of science to now celebrate literature. There are a number of people honored for literary achievements here at Westminster. Look down and you will see C.S. Lewis. On the wall is Charles Dickens. My favorite author, C.L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is honored as well. I will indulge myself by repeating the quote inscribed by his name: “Is all of life, then, but a dream?”. This monument was eagerly pointed out to my by other members of the group, for I have made it quite clear that the Alice books are one of my fandoms (nerdy interests). Chaucer is also given honors here, unsurprisingly. A writer of a different sort is honored near these writers. This is Handel, a writer of music. Ok, Ok, I know you really are here to hear about the monarchs here. If you are, you will not be disappointed. Elizabeth I and Mary I are honored with a effigy. This looks impressive until you see the monument for Mary Queen of Scotts (a cousin of Mary and Elizabeth). She is literally above the others. She is seen on a slab that is raised above head level, while the other monument makes you look at eye level (or down, if you are taller). The Queen of Scotts also has a more impressive arch above her. This arch is also notable for heavily featuring images of the Scottish Thistle. For all of you Henry VIII fans out there (because he is interesting, not because he is likable), Anne of Cleves dwells here. She was wife number four. She was the second to be divorced, and she was one of two to survive the (probably diabetic) king. Our tour was self guided, and we were lead by the Doctor (one of many names that our professor seems to have acquired on this trip). I was glad to learn why some stations are referred to as crosses. This has to do with funeral processions. When these would stop, a cross would be placed. You have hopefully heard of King’s Cross, as we have been there (and Hogwarts has an entrance there). Moving on from Westminster, we ha such activities as visiting a gift shop and sighting the House of Parliament. This is where Big Ben lives (Parliament, not the gift shop). This kept us diverted until we went to Cellarium Cafe at Westminster. Here, we had high tea.
Our tea was an English Breakfast tea. Our dainties included scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches, and four small deserts. This meal was surprisingly filling, as multiple group members will attest. The service was good, and the food was delicious. Many members of our group have noted that British scones are far better than American scones. Even though this event was on the fancier side, it did not have the posh feeling of the tea store we visited earlier. Everyone seemed to have a good experience with this. After we all had our fill (I had seven cups of tea, myself), we made our way outside for our Mrs. Dalloway walk. To hear about this and the exciting conclusion of our day, Stay tuned for part two of today’s blog…


Day 16: Bath



     Today we said our goodbyes to Stratford Upon Avon. As we went our separate ways with Stratford, we looked forward to a new adventure. That adventure is the city of Bath. We made our journey by train. Three trains, two switches, no issues. Our trip went as smoothly as could be imagined. Yesterday (flashback mode) we were given the choice to take a longer trip but with seat reservations. We said no; we would take our chances to find seats on a faster route with less switches. This turned out to be a wise decision, as everyone was able to find a place to sit. Today marks the first day that we have not stayed in a YHA. Instead, we are in a YMCA. Anyway, back to Bath. Mythically named after the Roman Bladud, Bath has a strong connection to the past. We explored a part of this connection today at the Roman baths. For the uninitiated, the Romans treated bathing as a respected ritual. There were different rooms for different purposes. A room would help you to acclimate to the heat. The next would allow you to swim. In one room, you could get an oil massage. The oil was then scraped off and sold (gladiator oil fetched a heavy price). This was used for facial scrubs, perfumes, and other uses considered odd by the standards of today. We had the opportunity to see the the pools themselves. The pools are overlooked by a series of statues, including one of Julius Caesar. The pools are fed through a natural spring. The water from this was (and by some, still is) considered to have healing properties. To get the full effect, the water should be used for bathing and drinking. Visitors are not allowed to get in the pools, so bathing is out. Everyone in our group did get a chance to drink the water, though. Frabjous day! We all got to feel the healing powers of the springs. Most people in our group thought the water tasted odd. So it goes. For the amount of moisture in contact with the structures (with the springs and the rainy English atmosphere), they are in remarkably good shape. It is also worth noting that a variety of artifacts were discovered at the baths and are currently on display. Notable among these are thousands of coins. There are that many and more modern coins in the pools now, thrown in by tourists. Another interesting sight is a stone gorgon. The gorgon is a standard mythological creature in Roman myth. It has snakes as hair ( think Medusa). This one is unusual, however, as the gorgon is depicted as male. For any that are interested, the baths are dedicated to Minerva. Eventually, we left the baths. For any who have that it rains a lot in England, this is true. Today was no exception. It rain on and off for most of today. It rained a bit harder especially for us when we made our way to our next destination. Continued in part two…