Like the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary, or the adventurous for that matter. The three of us started our morning at six and were downstairs for breakfast at seven. We sat in a beautiful dining room that had a sunroom overlooking the garden outside. Breakfast was made fresh for us, and the owner served us the best English coffee from a press. We had locally made jam on our toast; I tried the plum jam, it was delicious. We had eggs and sausage, as well as a lovely cup of tea before heading out.
We came into London rather the same way we did the day before, except we took a cab to Stansted instead of waiting for the arbitrary bus times. At Stansted, we realized it is more expensive to purchase a rail and tube pass during peak hours (6am-9:30am). Since we had reservations in London to make, we could not to purchase our day pass after the peak times ended. Traveling through multiple zones is also a bit pricier, but accommodations in zone 1 are typically more expensive (zone 1 being the center of London, and I believe we were out in zone 6). We bought daily passes every morning because we were using the underground quite a bit.
Our first stop in London was at Kings Cross Station. It was unplanned, but we saw the station on the map and had to go. Finding platform 9 ¾ was easy. Julianna was absolutely delighted as we approached the entrance for the Hogwarts Express. The three of us stood in line waiting to take a picture with the disappearing luggage cart. It is a free attraction; you can choose the scarf of your House and a couple people dressed in Wizard robes help you to pose just right as someone is standing by to take your picture (that is a paid service, but it is not mandatory); we used my camera to take our own. After, we headed into the Harry Potter gift shop just around the corner. The shop was packed full of people, and each wall from floor to ceiling was packed with Harry Potter collectibles and merchandise. My sister selected a mug to add to her collection. Kings Cross Station in itself is quite neat and it’s no wonder J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from this place.
It was about here that we got a handle on the tube (Admittedly, we got on and off on wrong platforms a couple times. The Circle and District line being particularly confusing: you have to watch the times posted as they take turns showing up to the same platform, sometimes having to wait 5 minutes for the train you want). We hurried to Westminster underground station and got out and were immediately thrilled by what we saw. Big Ben towered above us, and Westminster Abbey was across the street. Parliament Square was before us, featuring statues of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln. There were London police standing near the gates of Parliament (Also called the Palace of Westminster). The outside is absolutely splendid on the banks of the River Thames, its gothic splendor surrounded by a wrought iron fence.
We entered Westminster Abbey through the visitors’ entrance where we received audio guides, a tour book, and the souvenir guide we purchased when booking online. These are great for pictures since you are not allowed to take your own inside the Abbey. Listening to the audio guide, it took us about an hour and a half to walk through the Abbey. The history is astounding; hundreds of tombs line the walls and the floor. There are so many nooks and crannies to discover. The feeling you get standing in the main hall and thinking of all the great people who have stood there is incredible.
The Grave of the Unknown Warrior is a tomb worthy of pilgrimage for many, in which a soldier from WWI was placed here among kings on November 11, 1920. The grave is surrounded by poppies in remembrance of those who fought in Flanders field.
To look up and see the amazingly high ceilings and chandeliers is worth the admission. We walked through the extremely ornate and medieval looking screen with golden icons between the nave and quire. The beautiful and enormous pipe organ sits on top. We approached the sanctuary and the high alter and my breath was taken away, the floor is tiled so marvelously, and my eyes were drawn to the depiction of the Last Supper on the wall.
The different textures and colors (or lack thereof) are what amazed me the most about the Abbey: the stone, the marble, and the wood, the ornately painted, and the bare. Many Kings and Queens of old are layed to rest, side by side, and even on top of each other. There are little chapels off to the side that now display monuments and statues. To the right is Edward the Confessors Chapel, containing his shrine and the tomb of Henry V. It has a very delicate Italian made floor, so it is kept preserved and is not open to the public.
We continued on to the Eastern end of the church, where sturdy steps led up to the Lady Chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Off that, we entered a room that is dominated by the elaborate tomb of Elizabeth I and her sister Mary I as well. There is a Latin inscription that reads: “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one Resurrection. Dived in Life, but together in death.” This was amazing to see, as I have always loved the history of the British monarchy, particularly the rule of Elizabeth I. Built for use by monks, the Lady Chapel is a remarkable and detailed area of Westminster Abbey, lined with oak seats and colorful flags on either side, beautiful stained glass windows at the end, and an ornate alter. Beyond is the Royal Air Force Memorial Chapel. Opposite the sisters’ tombs, you can find the most extravagant tomb of Mary Queen of Scots, built to outdo the tomb of Elizabeth I.
In the South Transept you can find the Poets’ Corner, where Chaucer, Dickens, Tennyson, and Kipling can be found. The commemorated greats include Shakespeare and Austen, as well as Carroll and the Bronte sisters. Sir Laurence Olivier, an actor, is buried here as well.
Following along yet another corridor, we found the octagonal Chapter House (pictures are allowed here). There is a beautiful central column, with the most captivating vaulted ceiling and downward rain of stained glass. The original medieval floor is hidden. You can still see some of the medieval paintings on the walls. On our way back through the entrance, we spotted Britain’s oldest door, a solid wood door that has been around since 1000AD.
In this wing, you can also check out the Pyx Chamber and the Abbey Museum. We wandered out to the College Garden, which is the oldest garden in England at 900 years old. It has a little herb garden and rose garden, and like other places in London, an immaculate lawn. As we came to our exit at the West Door, we passed the Coronation Chair, which has been used in every coronation since the fourteenth century. Unfortunately, the chair has been defaced by the general public, and is not as beautifully decorated as it once was, and is now behind glass.
Westminster Abbey is a place that I would love to go back to, and is not to be missed when in London. If you only want to see one church, this is the one to see.