time present and time past

This was my third trip to London. I first went back in 2004 when I was studying abroad in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the tail end of a 10-day trip to Vienna, Dublin, and London, and I had zero money. I survived on bread and chocolate and loved that all of the museums were free. Right before my second trip in 2008, I was let go from my job two days before I left. As you can imagine, that put quite the damper on things. So 16 pounds to visit Westminster Abbey seemed like quite the splurge and I wasn’t willing to do it on my first two trips. But I’m currently gainfully employed, so I thought it was time to make a pilgrimage.

Cristen had already visited Westminster Abbey during her own study abroad in London, and she wanted to visit the Camden market, so we split up for the morning. I wanted to get to the abbey right as it opened, so I left relatively early. The plus side was that I got to see the parliament buildings in the morning light.

Even though I got there early, there was till quite a crowd lined up to enter the cathedral.

Photography isn’t allowed inside (why is England so anti-photography?!), so of course I was slightly disappointed with that. There were so many beautiful memorials to photograph. In fact, perhaps there were too many. To be honest, Westminster Abbey reminded me a little bit of a storage unit for old sculptures. I expected half of them to be covered in white sheets. They seemed to fill every spare corner.

Most visitors picked up an audio guide at the beginning of the tour and then you basically walk around the cathedral on a proscribed path. I neglected to pick up an audio guide (for some reason, I’m anti-audio guides. I don’t know where this prejudice came from), so I just got in line. I literally was pushed along with the crowd and felt more and more frustrated with each step. I actually felt a little claustrophobic. For most cathedrals, the first impression is a sense of huge space. By design, you’re meant to look upward. At Westminster Abbey, I honestly can’t recall what the entire abbey looked like inside. I can only think of bits and pieces of it.

I wondered if it was worth it – visiting Westminster Abbey. I mean, 16 pounds is roughly $25. That’s quite a chunk of change. And what did I get for it? I got jostled about by crowds of people and rushed through the cathedral. Here’s how I wished it had happened. I wished it was a stark winter morning, maybe. There wouldn’t be any crowds but just a few people milling about. I could have actually read the memorials and pondered the sculptures. I would have listened to some music (maybe Cocteau Twins?) and I would have been allowed to take photos. I would have actually experienced the cathedral, not the crowds at the cathedral. (Sorry to rant about the crowds, but they were just ridiculous.) That experience would have been worth $25.

I did have a moment, though, in Poet’s Corner at the end of the tour where I felt overwhelmed by the many brilliant people who were memorialized there. I read the names of TS Eliot, Jane Austen, WH Auden, the Brontes, Henry James, Ted Hughes, DH Lawrence, and Dylan Thomas and thrilled at all of the words they wrote that have influenced me over my life. Just as in the British Library, I remembered the power of words (In the beginning was the Word…) and maybe just that moment was worth the entrance fee and the crowds. Because at that moment the crowds didn’t matter.

After the Poet’s Corner, you walk through some cloisters before exiting. I liked this part of the cathedral much better. It was far less crowded and photography was allowed.

I didn’t have much time to take pictures outside of the Abbey because I had to meet Cristen and Kristy at the Notting Hill tube stop so we could go shopping on Portobello Road. But more of that tomorrow.



  1. Brynn · October 17, 2012

    I love reading about your trip and living vicariously! This is my favorite post. Glad you had fun and hope you are well!

    • katie · October 18, 2012

      Aww. Thanks Brynn!

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