London, England

- Trip 3: Part 3

G'day y'all!

I guess this chapter needs no introduction. I spent several days touring London and a few nearby places with a friend from Canada, of all places. Talk about all corners of the Empire! I have to thank Caroline for showing me around and her dad for allowing me to stay at his place.

31st July, 1999: Arrival; London bus tour
Since a trip to London was part of the ticket I'd bought to visit the USA and a friend offered me a place to stay while I was there, I'd be a fool not to make use of the opportunity. Sadly the visit could only be for four full days, which is nowhere near enuf to see even the main sites of London. Still, thanks to a really packed schedule, I managed to see a lot of London and even sneaked in a trip into the country.

The flight over was a bit rough (but nothing serious) and also nearly empty - so there was plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Most of the flight was at night, so there wasn't much to see. Sunrise found the plane over western England, a patchwork land of small fields, greens, yellows, browns and gold's, each field with it's own green border. All the lines were irregular or curved - quite unlike the USA where from the air you can see a network of almost dead straight roads stretching off into the distance. Interspersed between the fields were dark green forests, maybe 1/10th of the area. The Chicago to London leg of the flight took just over 7 hours, tho' the total trip time from when I took off on the first leg to landing at Heathrow (London) was 11.5 hours.

Once I arrived at Heathrow, things took a turn for the worse. The immigrations person I met at the gate must've decided she needed to increase her quota or hassle a token "white" person (US and presumably UK immigrations are regularly criticised for picking on minorities, especially those of "darker" skin colouration). She searched all my bags, took every bit of paper with something on it, my tickets, notes, address book, even my diary! Even took a very blunt, 3/4" pocket-knife that's on my keychain - she said I might hurt myself! She then locked me in a room with several other unfortunates for just over three hours. As I said, I was the token "white", there were people from India, Pakistan, Africa and an Afro-American family (from the US by their accents). Thankfully the "gestapo" immigrations officer eventually said she was giving me the benefit of the doubt and letting me in. I trust she had her fun reading my diary. <frown> Of course, by then the people who were picking me up had left - thinking I'd missed the flight. Called them and they returned to pick me up. I was assured they'd been paged three times but they heard nothing .. they even asked at information who'd have known if I was paged! Just before I left, she gave me *wrong* directions on how to get to my friend's place if they couldn't find me and then gave me a map of London .. in French! Sometimes I wonder .. is there any hope for humanity, or is it doomed by it's own stupidity? I latter found that quite a few Aussies have had trouble with UK immigrations and have been send back home. I guess since they shipped our ancestors down to Australia as convicts or indentured servants, they don't want us coming back. *shrug*

Finally met up with my friend and we took the tube (subway) into London where we took the tourist bus tour of central London, seeing many of the famous sites, palaces, memorials, churches, cathedrals, bridges, castles and much more. Went for almost three hours. Saw several memorial arches including Admiralty Arch and Marble Arch (1851), Baker Street where Sherlock Holmes was s'posed to have lived (as a fictional character anyways), the hotel where Jimmy Hendrix died, the London Planetarium, Mayfair (a property there recently sold for 8 million pounds), Regent Street where the buildings actually curve to follow the curve of the road, The Temple of Mithras, The Monument (tallest structure that survived the 1666 "Great Fire"), Trafalgar Square, St Paul's, the Tower Bridge and London Tower, Cleopatra's Needle, Whitehall and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye which is a giant ferris wheel that's under construction, the largest in the world carrying 900 people, giving a 30 minute ride and so tall the top has aircraft warning lights (it'll be London's 4th tallest structure), there were also heaps of old churches, statues and monuments (and people!) and much more. A breeze-thru' introduction to London City.

Typically enuf, London gave us some its famous weather .. midway thru' the tour it started raining .. and of course, we were on the open upper deck of the bus where we could get a better view. We stuck out the rain for a while, but it eventually got too heavy so we went down. The bus tour guide soon followed us downstairs and before long there was a deluge. The tour over, we caught the tube out to the country where her father lives .. a nice little village called Chalfont St Peter's. Originally settled by some French folk, so I'm told. Jetlag finally caught up with me, so I had an early night.

1st August, 1999: Windsor and Eton
Went to Windsor for the day. Toured Windsor Castle, the family "home" of the English royal family. "Home" is misleading, the place is *huge*. It's a regular castle, founded by William the Conqueror in 1070, is the largest inhabited castle in the world and has been home to British royalty for over 900 years. There's a tall wall going all the way around and lots of buildings inside, including a "family chapel" (St George's Chapel) that's bigger than many cathedrals. Only part of the castle is open to tours since the family and their servants still live there .. part of the time anyway. Most of the tour is walking around outside the towers and buildings inside the wall as well as around the inner moat which surrounds the inner keep (ie, it's between the inner keep and the outer wall). Saw the changing of the guard - when they left they marched straight into the crowd of sightseers - it was move or be marched over, they were "oblivious" to the crowd. Well, apart from one who stayed behind and every now and then would yell "Keep behind the line!" machine guns and the famous red uniforms and big black hats.

Open to tourists are the chapel, the State Apartments and the doll house collection. The first was closed the day we were there and the last had a queue of over an hour, so we just saw the state apartments. Well, know I can say I know what the saying "fit for a king" means. I thought I'd seen luxury in the mansions I've toured in the US .. but what they contained wouldn't be fit for servants in this place. There was enuf gold to run a small country for years .. and that's just in the gold gilt on the walls, ceilings and furnishings. Words cannot begin to describe the luxury that was there. Many of the rooms were *huge*, some with ceilings over 60ft high - four story's! There was even a closet bigger than many apartments.

The State Apartments tour starts off with a museum display that concentrates on the restoration effort following the 1992 fire which destroyed 115 rooms but only three antiques - the place had thankfully been cleared for renovations. The restoration cost 40 million pounds (that's over $100 million). After the museum there was a room full of china, then the Grand Staircase: two rooms full of suits of armour, swords and the like. There was another room full of weapons and armour, captured in war by the British around the world (and locally). There was the Waterloo Chamber, golden, full of paintings. This was *real* luxury. A gold and crystal reliquary containing an old medieval bible. Chandeliers all thru' the Apartments. The Queen's Chambers, with walls covered with tapestries and the ceiling painted Michaelangelo style (tho' with gold being the predominant colour, rather than Michaelangelo's preferred "neon" palette). A throne made of ivory and solid gold. St George's Hall, with the walls and ceilings covered with coats of arms and suits of armour along the walls. The Lantern Lobby, full of goldware - no "mere" silverware here ... it was here that the 1992 fire began. The Grand Reception Room, full of gold and light. Three story's tall, two story tall mirrors along the walls, tapestries, couches, urns, busts and the like. The Garter Room with its rich blue colours, 20ft high ceilings and of course, more gold. The other end of the Waterloo Chamber with it's 60ft high ceiling full of skylights and a long wooden table where Prince Edward recently had his wedding banquet - it comfortably seats at least 100.

After the inside tour we went on the Moat Garden tour. The "sunken" garden was planted in the moat in the 1800's. It's shady and secluded. Even the sides of the moat have been landscaped. The moat never held water - despite popular impression, many castle moats were just ditches .. the dirt dug out was used to make the central mound upon which the castle or tower was built. Only when the ground was relatively impervious were water-filled moats used. Such was not the case at Windsor.

After the castle we had lunch in an English pub in Windsor and then walked around Windsor and Eton a bit - the two are really the same town, just separated by a narrow river, but joined by several bridges. Lots of old shops; the oldest is the Cock Pit, a Tudor-style inn built in 1420. It's unusual in that it has no straight lines in it's construction. Had a look inside St John the Baptist, the Windsor parish church. The present building was built in 1820, but there's been a church on the site since at least 1184. Despite the huge and ornate chapels in the area, the parish church is relatively plain. Windsor railway station, built in 1851 and originally just for the queen's use .. she entered riding in her carriage and there waiting for the royal train to arrive.

Went on a bus tour of the Windsor-Eton area. The tour starts below the castle .. under the Curfew Tower actually which was once used as a prison for the nobility. Just along the wall is the Garter Tower, below which is a statue of Queen Victoria in her garter robes. Queen Charlotte Street, the shortest in England and with an unusual shop on one side which leans over the street. Headley House, home to the royal surgeons. Victoria Barracks, rebuilt in 1990. Down a district full of Victorian and Georgian style buildings. Past the Queen Victoria & Prince Albert Mausoleum. The Queen's Terrace - Jacobean style architecture. The Long Walk, a several mile, dead-straight, grassed walkway which ends at the castle's main gate. A drive thru' farmland which was once the royal hunting preserve. The Lord Nelson, a nice looking country pub surrounded by fields. Datchet, a small village but one that was once one of the more sizeable and influential settlements in Norman England. Today it's just a sleepy country hamlet and home to Montagu House, lived in since at least Viking times. Eton College is known as a "public" school, but it's really a private one, pretty much reserved for the gentry. It was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 as a place where the gentry could send their younger sons to gain a comprehensive education so they could join the king's bureaucracy. They were known as "king's scholars" and even today Eton boasts students who enjoy a royal scholarship and are called "king's scholars". For anyone else, it costs some 20,000 pounds a year (that's over $50,000). Conditions are strict and the study punishingly intense. The students wear a uniform that is essentially a Victorian gentleman's morning (mourning?) dress, but they enjoy a teacher:student ratio of just 1:10. Schooling is seven days a week. Eton College was the scene for the movie "Chariots of Fire" and has 220 acres of just playing fields. It also has a huge gothic chapel, bigger than many churches. Still in Eton there was the Waterman's Arms, a "traditional public house", built in 1542, in which bodies were stacked during the Black Plague. The Catholic church, modelled on a basilica, its construction paid for by an Eton alumni. The Porny School - not a school for actors in R-rated movies, but named after it's founder, a gentleman by the name of Porny, who established the school in the 1700's to provide free education for the poor. The Eton College library, housed under a huge dome, reminiscent of St Paul's in London, full of medieval books and manuscripts including an original Gutenburg bible. Agar's Plough, another inn, this one with a traditional thatch roof. Back into Windsor. Home park, a huge expanse of playing fields. The castle again. The Round Tower, site of the first castle, a motte and earth bailey structure (the original).

There was also some historical tidbits from the tour: King John didn't sign the Magna Carta or even read it - he was illiterate. He just put his seal to it. Amusingly enuf, in the plague years, students are Eton were forced to smoke since tobacco was thought to keep the plague away. Students who were caught *not* smoking were whipped - the reverse of things today. The castle flies the Royal Standard when the Queen is in residence and flies the Union Jack at other times.

2nd August, 1999: London: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey
Another day in London. First stop was Buckingham Palace where we saw the Changing of the Guard. The palace itself doesn't look all that much .. in fact it looks like a brick and hasn't got much more charm than one. Built of sandstone, it has a few carvings and simulated columns that are actually part of the walls; there's also a balcony that stretches across the front. It is surrounded by an ornate wrought iron and limestone fence with several gates, the former painted black and gold. In front of the palace (but outside the fenced area which is off-limits) is a large square which is surrounded by another limestone and wrought iron fence. In the centre of the square is a large sandstone and marble memorial to Queen Victoria, with fountains, a moat and numerous statues. The main statue at the top is golden, presumably either gold paint or gold leaf.

There was a huge crowd, so one could only see a part of the "Changing of the Guard". As at Windsor Castle, the crowd was from all over the world and one could hear languages and accents from every continent. 'Tis a small world ... right next to where I was standing was a couple who were also from Sydney, Australia. The "changing" went on for over 30 minutes. From the spot that we managed to get, we could see the replacement guards and the bands march up to the gate of the palace fence and some time latter see the earlier guard march out. The "guard" were dressed in the well known old fashioned red uniforms with tall black hats, tho' it was a bit anachronistic to see them carrying modern automatic guns - the only firearms one sees in public in England actually, even the police don't carry guns. The officers did carry sabres instead. The mounted guards even wore armour on their chest and backs.

Walked thru' St James Park, very green and leafy with a lake and fountain in the centre, past St James Palace, which is closed to the public .. can't even see it since it's hidden by a high fence .. and then passed under Admiralty Arch, built in 1810, and then onto Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square is home to two big fountains surrounded by pools (and full of kids cooling down in the unusually hot weather), lots of statues and busts, Nelson's Column with it's lions and more pigeons per square foot than people on a Tokyo commuter train in peak hour! Had lunch there. Looking south from Nelson's Column, one can see Big Ben in the distance. Surrounding Trafalgar Square are embassies of the Commonwealth nations, the National gallery and St Martin's church (1726).

Headed south thru' the government district, past Downing Street which is sealed by a high gate and armed security guards, and then onto Big Ben and Parliament House. Huge, ornate and gothic - actually looks more like a cathedral. Big Ben is part of Parliament House has gold-painted highlights on its tower. Actually Big Ben isn't the tower or even the clock .. it's the bell inside. St Margaret's is across the road. The present building, the third on the site, was built in 1523 and until recently it served as the parish church for the House of Commons.

Adjacent to St Margaret's is Westminster Abbey, with separate entry for tourists and pilgrims. Parts of the building date to at least 1065, tho' there had been an abbey on the site at least 100 years prior to then. It's huge and gothic - original gothic that is, not gothic revival, complete with flying buttresses and covered with carvings, gargoyles and the like, and is the tallest gothic building in the British Isles. The entrance has two huge wooden doors, blackened with age, over 12ft tall and 3" thick. Between the doors is a large statue of Mary and a crowned infant Jesus and above there's a very elaborate set of stone carvings, with rings of angels and church figures surrounding a central hemisphere with kings, popes, bishops and more all paying homage to Jesus. Inside it's relatively cool, dim and huge: the cross shaped abbey has 32,000 sq feet of floor space, 530ft long and a ceiling ranging from 100-225 ft high (lower in the chapels). Once past the entrance, one is surrounded by statues and memorials to famous Englishmen. Despite the crowds, it still feels like a sacred place, which is no surprise since people have been worshipping there for almost 1000 years, if not longer.

The building is made of sandstone, limestone, portland stone and marble and inside you can literally see the limestone in the oldest parts crumbling away, the oldest inscriptions and monuments almost unreadable, such as that of Abbot Richard Harounden, who died in 1440. Some of them are over 900 years old, after all. Centuries of pilgrims and visitors have worn the steps down. There are two worship areas in the abbey, the remainder of the space is filled with the tombs of many of the monarchs of England since Edward the Confessor (1002-1066), who had the oldest part of the abbey built - Edward lost England to the Norman's and was latter derided as a king, but less than 100 years latter he was sainted and for centuries afterwards, pilgrims prayed at his coffin and today his are the only "saintly" relics that remain in the abbey, the rest were lost in 1540 when the abbey's were dissolved. Most of the kings are buried in the "House of Kings". But they are but a fraction of the graves .. there are many more, dukes, knights, ladies, poets, scholars, bishops, theologians and more - some 3000 are buried in the abbey. Charles Darwin is there, so too is Isaac Newton. Buried in the walls, in the floors, entombed in stone coffins resting in alcoves and along the walls. One striking memorial depicts a chap protecting a woman who is being threatened by a gory looking death, a skeleton in a threadbare robe

Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary are buried on opposite sides of the Lady Chapel, built by Henry VII on the east side of the abbey in the 1510's. One a protestant monarch, the other catholic. There's a memorial there devoted to the many faithful who lost their lives in the feud between those two branches of the church, tho' in the end they are one and the same, the same God, the same commission. The chapel is bright, with walls covered with carved wooden shapes crowned with metal helms and swords in front, apparently depicting knights, below are seats along the walls, marked with coats of arms of knights of the Order of Bath. In the centre of the chapel is the tomb of Henry VII, surrounded by an ornate, c.10ft high metal barricade. In Queen Mary's side of the chapel there's an altar and a tapestry.

Back into the House of Kings, one comes to an old and rough looking chair, the Coronation Chair on which all but two of the English monarchs have been crowned since 1296. The chair sits in front of the shrine of St Edward. The south wing of the abbey contains the tombs and memorials to poets, musicians, artists and the like. The Quire (choir) is one of the two public worship areas in the abbey and faces the sanctuary with the abbey's main altar, behind which is a gold screen (behind that is the tomb of St Edward). The other worship area is in the west wing, the "nave". Here there are more tombs, mostly in the floor, and memorials - including one in Hebrew. Stained glass windows, a gothic ceiling over 100ft high, an ornate gold-gilt covered altar and organ music, which fills the abbey. Near the altar lie the tombs of Darwin and Newton. Near the entrance is the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (who died in WWI), which is the only tomb on the floor which is not walked on, even in coronations. In the nave there's 16 Waterford Crystal chandeliers, each 2 metres tall and containing some 500 pieces of crystal - a donation from the Guinness family of Ireland, of brewing fame.

Attached to the abbey is Westminster Monastery .. considerably plainer than the abbey and showing its age. It was here that the monks who once worshipped in the abbey lived and worked - for at least 600 years the site had been a Benedictine house. The walls here are rough, without the smooth finish found in the abbey. There's the cloister, where they lived and worked, and two courtyards, one grassed, the other with fountains and garden (the Little Cloister Garden), the latter quite secluded and hidden from all but the most curious visitors. One can almost feel the spirits of those long dead monks meditating still in the garden. Certainly they are not far away - the monks were buried somewhere in the monastery area. The cloister itself contains more tombs and memorials, tho' none date back to when the abbey was home to monks.

Finished the day off by having a look at Cleopatra's Needle, actually an obelisk built by Thothmes III in 1500BC, complete with two metal sphinxes (made in the late 1800's). One of the sphinxes has numerous holes in it and the pedestal upon which the "needle" stands is also damaged - the legacy of a bomb during WWII. In addition to Thothmes' inscriptions, the obelisk also contains inscriptions added by Ramses the Great. It was moved to Alexandria in 12BC by Augustus Caesar and given to the British in 1819 by the Egyptian viceroy. It was transported to England, but lost in a storm in the Bay of Biscay in 1877. A year latter it was recovered and erected on it's present site.

3rd August, 1999: London: Tower of London, Temple of Mithras, St Paul's Cathedral
The final day of sightseeing was again spent in London. After a spot of bother with the Underground (there was a fire at some station), eventually got to the first stop for the day - The Tower of London. Despite the name, it isn't a tower but in fact a medieval castle, built to guard the city. Different parts of it were built at various times .. the oldest part is that of Edward the Confessor, built before 1066. He was the same guy who built the oldest existing part of Westminster Abbey. You can really see the age in the oldest section, the walls, floors and steps are so worn. Various parts of the castle show differing states of repair. Some parts are literally ruins .. the Wardrobe Tower is just a pile of rubble, but there also other parts that are no better. You can even see the foundations of the original Roman wall which once ringed the Roman city. Some parts of the castle are in perfect condition, having been recently restored or built - the Tower is one of the official residences of the Queen.

There's a medieval exhibit in Edward I's part of the castle, called the "Medieval Palace" - Edward reigned from 1272 to 1307 ... he is known as Edward I even tho' the last Saxon king was also an Edward. Edward's "Great Chamber" is only partially restored and has displays on the archaeological studies of the castle, conservation efforts and modifications that have been made thru' the centuries. The next room, the "King's Hall", is set out much as it may have been in Edward's time with a table set out for a meal, a suit of armour ready to be donned in case of attack and relatively simple wooden furniture. There were also two ladies in medieval dress who were there explaining things. It was here that the king ate and performed his royal duties. Then passed thru' a narrow and dark corridor to Edward's "Throne Room", lit by large candelabra and a large metal ring, maybe 6-8ft wide, hanging by chains from the ceiling and containing many candles. There was a small chapel in an alcove to the side, behind a carved wooden screen and with a simple stained glass window, where the king heard mass. There's also Edward's throne ... well a reproduction, the original is in Westminster Abbey and is now known as the Coronation Chair. The tour then went up a dimly lit, narrow spiral stairwell into the Lanthorn Tower, built in the 13th century and restored in 1883. It contains depiction's of life in Edward I's time as well as relics from his reign: seals, jewellery, jugs, arrowheads and the like.

The Tower is home to pet ravens. The birds have a long association with the tower - those executed were hung out for the ravens to dine on. One king liked the symbolism so much he installed a Ravenmaster who'se task it was to keep and breed ravens in the Tower. Today there's still a Ravenmaster and ravens roam the grassed areas inside the Tower walls. According to legend should the ravens ever leave the Tower, it would collapse and disaster would befall England - which no doubt explains why the ravens traditionally have their wings clipped to keep them from flying away. By the end of WWII only one of the Tower's ravens survived ... was a Nazi victory that close? Another even more macabre sight is a souvenir on sale inside the shop, a cardboard model kit, complete with electric motor, depicting a poor soul being beheaded!

In the centre of the castle is the White Tower. The present structure dates to the late 1200's, however it was here that William the Conqueror built a castle. There was a forebuilding attached to the tower which fell into ruin and was demolished in 1674, only to reveal the skeletons of two small children - perhaps the two child princes who were banished to the Tower, never to be seen again. The White Tower has, for most of its life, served as an armoury and today it contains several armouries, each from a different time period in the White Tower's history. Travel up and down the tower was via yet another narrow, spiral stairwell. In addition to the armouries there's St John's Chapel, built around 1120 in Roman style with thick columns and small windows and latter incorporated into the White Tower when it was built. The tower was originally built as a palace and a fortress. Originally there was just the one floor, the others were added in 1490. One of the rooms contains displays on the tower's history and it's various stages of construction. There's even two original Norman toilets, "gardenrobes", which were literally holes in the outside wall, covered by a stone seat and a slipway below.

The first of the armoury displays was full of medieval weapons and suits of armour. King Henry VIII's armour is there, which covered both man and steed and was covered with gold and silver gilt. Another of his suits of armour was on display, one which provided very ample protection for the family jewels .. either that or it was intended to give any other knight a severe inferiority complex! There were lances, swords, a wooden cannon, spears and even some primitive guns. Upstairs to the next level and slightly more modern weapons from the 18th century: guns, gunpowder barrels and more swords, both functional and ceremonial. There was a room full of paintings and drawings of the tower and the people who've been associated with it. Back downstairs to a collection of blunderbusses and another of artillery pieces, canons, cannonballs and the like.

Facing the White Tower is the Waterloo Barracks, home to the crown jewels since the 14th century. I would have loved to have seen them, but alas there was a very long queue waiting to get in and only so much time.

Beauchamp Tower was built in 1281 originally as part of the defensive wall around the castle. Downstairs there's a display on the crossbow, representing the tower's early use. In the 1300's the tower became a prison for nobles, usually those awaiting execution, tho' some did eventually gain their freedom. The tower was named after Thomas Beauchamp who was imprisoned there in the 1390's. The walls of the second level are covered in graffiti and carvings left by those imprisoned there.

Perhaps the most famous - or infamous - part of London Tower is the Bloody Tower. It was originally built in the 1220's as a watergate or entrance to the castle. By 1280 another gate had been built and the tower was then used to house VIP prisoners. It was then known as the Garden Tower. It wasn't known as the Bloody Tower until the 16th century. Walking inside you can see the top of the portcullis from the days when the tower was used as a gatetower. There's also several rooms done out to reflect the tower's use as a gaol for nobility. Prisoners here were kept in relative luxury - at least while they lived. Sir Walter Raleigh was one such prisoner who stayed there, from 1603 to 1616. The rooms are furnished with period pieces, much as they would have been during his stay. A study with a desk, chairs etc made from carved wood. A narrow spiral stairwell, less than 3ft across, leading to the bed chamber, furnished with chests, a tapestry and a 4-poster bed.

Behind the Bloody Tower is, appropriately enuf, the Traitor's Gate, which exits into the moat - most of which is now grassed, tho' at this point it remains flooded. There's also the Queen's Residence, which is closed to the public and guarded by guards with automatic weapons & stern looks.

Had a quick peek at the Tower Bridge. Quite an interesting colour scheme on the bridge .. yellowish-brown stone and blue and white paint.

Next stop was St Paul's Cathedral. It's, well, unique. It's not gothic, it's, well, St Paul's. The cathedral was built between 1675 and 1712 by Sir Christopher Wren, tho' the site has been used for Christian worship since 604AD when the first church was built on the site, tho' there's been a cathedral in London since 314AD. There's nothing else like it really. Well maybe in Rome, but nowhere else. It is truly *GRAND*. The church itself reflects both its roots in catholic tradition as well as protestant. Inside there's the traditional t-shaped floor plan, with a huge dome over the centre of the "t". The ceiling under the dome is over 350ft high in the centre and the entire ceiling is covered with paintings, mostly of gold paint. There are fluted square columns, statues, lots of stone carvings on the walls, side chapels, memorials and the like. Side doors that are around 30ft high. In one chapel is the "Light of the World", a large green and blue hued painting which sits in a huge gold frame. The overall impression inside is one of "hugeness". It may be no larger than Westminster Abbey, but the latter is filled with tombs and memorials so one is unable to grasp the whole of the inside at once. That's not the case with St Paul's. There's lots of gold gilt, big glass windows, the choir singing in the background with organ music. Services being held every few hours. A side chapel full of old flags. Marble floors.

The quire (choir) and sanctuary areas are in one of the four arms that form the church. These areas are separated from the stone walls by high, lattice-style barricades, at least 12ft high ... near the front the barricade is of wood, towards the back it's black and gold painted wrought iron. At the back of the church is the Martyr's Chapel, which commemorates those who've died for their faith since the 1850's. Behind this chapel is yet another, in memory to those who died in WWII in defense of Britain and which was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II and Richard Nixon. The sanctuary contains two huge crystal chandeliers, with a ceiling rich with gold and colourful paintings; gold's, dark blues, browns, dark greens and similar shades.

The church is built mostly of limestone and marble and has wonderful acoustics - sounds can be clearly heard all thru' the church. Thankfully the choir and organ music were loud enuf to cover the sounds of the tourists - the pilgrims, and there were quite a few, were much quieter, naturally enuf. The atmosphere is quite holy, like that of Westminster, tho' in a different way. The latter is a place of death, a place of remembering those who have gone before ... St Paul's is a place of life. Any but the spiritually dead could not but help feel something: the essence of many centuries of prayers in what in many ways is the heart of the English speaking world - it's London's cathedral .. the spirits of those who spent their lives creating and decorating the cathedral (it took almost 50 years to build). Every hour they have prayers inside the cathedral and they ask the tourists to pause where they are, to join in if that's their way or at least stand still and be quiet and respect those who wish to join in the prayer. Most tourists heed this request, tho' right in front of me there were two rather rude individuals who couldn't wait .. they even jumped over some chairs creating something of a disturbing noise. I guess there are spiritually dead people after all.

After the church went downstairs to tour the crypt, which is full of the tombs of famous British people as well as memorials. There are tombs in the floor and along the walls. Also a number of chapels. Tombs of those who served at the Cathedral, clergy and organists. Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin is there. There are noted theologians. The tomb of the Duke of Wellington marks one end of a large expanse of floor covered with Roman-style tile mosaics. Florence Nightingale. Horatio Nelson. Lawrence of Arabia.

Then something even more historic .. the Temple of Mithras, from the days of the Roman Empire. The remains of the ancient Roman Mithraic temple were found in 1954 while workers were digging the foundations for a new skyscraper. Archaeologists studied the site and then the ruins were carefully disassembled and moved to the present site - the original site was 18ft below ground level. Mithraism was the popular religion of the Roman army.

Finished off the day with tea (dinner for USA readers) at a nice little pub in Earl's Court, London. The pub was called "The Blackbird" and I picked "Blackbird Pie" from the menu ... never fear, no blackbirds in that pie, it was lamb and sliced potato in some kind of sauce. Quite tasty. One down side ... smokers rule in the UK ... while in Australia and even in the USA there are strong controls on smoking in eating establishments, there are no such laws in the UK. On the other hand, the UK, like Australia, has civilised gun-laws - unlike the USA. Just goes to prove, I guess, that Australia is the best of all possible worlds. *grin*

4th August, 1999: Postscript, impressions
Back to the US. Smooth flight. Despite the prediction of hassles by the UK immigrations "person", I had the easiest entry into a country I've ever had ...
Immigrations guy: "What's your purpose for visiting the US?"
Me: "A bit of sightseeing, mostly waiting for my connection to fly to Canada in 2 weeks."
Immigrations guy: Makes a joke about preferring Canada over the USA and stamps my passport.

Impressions. England, at least the part I saw, is a land of a long history and a land that's constantly being recycled. The history is obvious. It's the land that gave rise to the English language, an empire upon which the sun never set (the only such to have existed) and which founded both the USA and Australia. It's a land with a visible and continuous history stretching back to prehistoric times. But recycled? It's a small country, yet very populous. There's no truly wild land left and the land is constantly being used and reused. Land and resources do not remain abandoned and neglected for long - there's too much of a demand. What's no longer wanted is soon demolished to make way for something that is. Yet despite this constant recycling, the country and it's people still manage to preserve both their history and their heritage - and not just by letting it moulder away in some forgotten corner as seems all too often the case elsewhere.

England is also a very expensive place. Even tho' the Aussie $ is worth less than half the UK pound, most things cost about the same figure in the UK as they do back in Oz (or the USA or Canada, which have comparable prices to Oz). An item costing $2 in Australia would cost 2 pounds in the UK. It's also a country which has decided to sacrifice privacy for security. There are video camera's literally all over the place. The streets are lined with them. The train stations and subways have every inch covered. Even in the trains themselves you cannot escape surveillance. One presumes the public toilet's are private ... but then again... And the security at most of the tourist sites I visited put airport security to shame .. apart from London airport, that is! Of course, most of my time in England was spent in London ... rural England may be less fanatical about security. The London train and Tube system ... is as unreliable as tales would have it. Then again, it does carry a very high volume of traffic.

David Powell,
10th, September, 1999; Frankfort, Kentucky, USA.

Ó David Powell, 2000. Reproduction for financial gain is strictly prohibited. I also do not guarantee any of the historical or geographical information given above.

Some web links of interest: The following is a list of web pages that have some connection with the above sites and activities. I've not checked most of them, so I can't guarantee that they'll all work or be current. For the most part they have been taken from tourist brochures etc connected with the above sites I've visited. Links are listed in the order that the attractions appear above.

There're 1000's or more that could go in here. A quick surf of the web would come up with heaps of hits. These're just some of the ones I came across while in London.

Guide Friday - Provides guided bus tours of Windsor and many other areas in the UK.
Westminster Abbey
Tower of London
The Royal Website - Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London etc.
London walking tours
Big Bus Tours - tours of London.

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