the London Eye, etc.

I have a feeling I might need to speed these entries up or I won’t be finished until Christmas, so let’s just lump a few things together. After Portobello Road, I said farewell to Kris and Cristen and I headed for the London Eye. Neither of us had been on it, and it seemed like such a delightful thing to do as a tourist. I have to admit that I do love getting an aerial view of a city. We had bought our tickets the night before, but opted for the cheapest standard one. You can pay extra for flexible or fast track passes. At first, when I saw the line…

I regretted not getting the fast track, but the line actually moved quite quickly. We were told to get there a half hour before our entrance time and we probably stood in line for that half hour, but no more. We were soon loaded into our own little bubble/pod with about 10 or so other people.

I am not particularly fond of heights and Claire can tell you that it takes some coaxing to get me to ride a normal ferris wheel, but I didn’t really have an issue with the London Eye, even though it is over 400 feet tall, because it’s completely enclosed and, most importantly, it doesn’t rock at all. Once inside, I felt perfectly safe. And we did see some spectacular views as the city got smaller and smaller.

Although I had walked past the Parliament buildings on my way to Westminster Abbey that morning (yes, this was the same day), Cristen had yet to visit them, so we decided to walk across the bridge. As we were headed in that direction, I pulled out my S100 to snap a photo and got the dreaded Lens Error message. I just about died. My heart sank. I couldn’t get the lens to retract. I had read about this error when I was researching cameras and it was the number one hesitation I had in purchasing it. I hoped it was just a fluke and that it wouldn’t happen to me, but there I was on the banks of the Thames, three days into my vacation, and my camera was broken.

Cristen and I sat down on a bench, and I’m not ashamed to say that I wiped away a few tears. We talked over my options and decided that there probably wasn’t much I could do on a Saturday night. Cristen said we should make a wish as we walked across the bridge and then we’d see how things looked in an hour. And there must have been some residual magic in the air or maybe Cristen is just magic because when I skeptically tried my camera on the other side of the bridge, the lens retracted and it worked perfectly from that point on. As my sister always says, “The blessings never stop!”

Have you ever taken the same picture twice? I didn’t realize this until just now, but I believe this picture…

is the same as the first picture in this post from earlier that morning. I guess I liked that view. The Parliament buildings are so pretty. I think on my next visit, I’ll try and take a tour of them.

And one more picture of Westminster Abbey. I might like it best from the outside.

We stopped by Cristen’s old stomping grounds on our way to St. Paul’s. We also stopped for dinner, so by the time we got there, it was dark. St. Paul’s might be best in the dark.

Then we walked across the bridge to the Tate Modern.

Not only is the Tate Modern open late, but it remains the most disappointing museum I have ever been to.

It took a while for my feet to adjust to the demands of being a tourist. I normally sit at a desk for about 8 hours every day, so they weren’t used to walking quite so much. I was exhausted by the end of the day, and I told Cristen that I would basically pay any amount to take a cab home instead of walk back to the nearest tube stop. I only mention this because it was one of those moments that I realized that I’m an adult with a disposable income. I didn’t have to walk if I didn’t want to. I had choices. We decided to at least walk back across the bridge, and then we found a bus route that went near our hotel, so we ended up waiting for a bus instead of taking a cab, but the really important part is that I could have taken a cab.

So that was London.

Anything and everything a chap can unload

Next on my list of visiting things in London that I didn’t get to visit last time – Portobello Road! I just loved Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I was little, and I loved the scene in Portobello Road. I was so excited when I found out it was a real place. I wondered if it would live up to magic of the movie.

Well, there wasn’t an extended dance scene (thank goodness!), but it was pretty magical.

And crowded! (story of the trip… if you haven’t noticed that already.)

I met up with Kristy and Cristen – half an hour late because two tube lines were out of service and I had to make three transfers – and we walked to the Portobello Road entrance. There are tons of shops and vendors on the road selling all sorts of vintage wares.

We stopped in lots of different shops and spent quite a bit of time keeping track of each other in the midst of so many people. I was just happy to spend a few hours with my dear friend, Kris. It’s seemed so strange that it had been over a year since we last saw each other, and I still have a hard time believing that we can’t just get together for dinner or a movie (I wish!). It just felt so natural to be out shopping together again. Kris was one of my roommates at Utah State. I liked her immediately and have never stopped.

I was expecting lots of colorful wares, but I didn’t expect so many colorful buildings. Was this London or the Caribbean? It was delightful.

We looked at lots more stuff. The sterling silver booth caught my eye and I was just about to check out the goods when someone (not me) knocked over one of the big trays of silverware.

We stopped to eat about half way through and then decided we’d seen enough. It was actually quite difficult for me to stay focused on Portobello Road. There was just so much to take in that it was hard to concentrate on shopping. Plus, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that whatever I purchased there, I would have to carry with me for another 3 weeks. I wish that I hadn’t let that hold me back, though, because there were some great finds. I’d like to return another time… maybe when it isn’t so crowded. Does that ever happen?

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.

Highgate Cemetery, London

Ever since my friend Alene told me about Highgate Cemetery, I’ve been wanting to visit it. She actually told me about it right before my last trip to England in 2008, but we never made it there. It’s a little out of the way and when you read the instructions on their website, it seems somewhat complicated to get to. It doesn’t help that it also holds kind of odd hours. But since I love cemeteries and this one seemed so incredible, it was one of my top priorities for this visit to London and we went there on the first day.

Turns out, it wasn’t that hard to get to, really. You just have to make sure to catch the right buses and then it really is a pleasant walk through Waterlow Park. There are two sides to the cemetery – the East and the West. The West Cemetery, I believe, is the older part of the cemetery and it is accessible by guided tour only and the tours are only once a day on the weekday. Plus, the website explains that you aren’t free to take photos except as part of the tour. We opted to visit the East Cemetery so we could wander freely and take as many photos as our hearts desired.

One of the things that I love so much about cemeteries is the sculpture you find there. Highgate had some exceptional examples of sculptures depicting grief. I find them so sad and beautiful.

There are actually a few famous people buried in Highgate, although the gatekeeper told us we probably wouldn’t know most of them because we were American. And you know, he was right. We hadn’t heard of most of the people on the list. But this guy needs no introduction:

How great is this huge head of Karl Marx? I think it might be one of the coolest memorials ever. I would like a huge head of myself when I die. Just so you know. (Maybe… I haven’t quite made up my mind, but it would be pretty rad.)

This lady is also buried there:

Hi George Eliot… I still haven’t finished any of your books even though I’ve started three of them.

I also found a few really beautiful gravestones. I especially love this book one. Maybe that’s what I want when I die.

But this one is also pretty cool. I like how straight-forward it is.

Incidentally, it is the burial place of the artist, Patrick Caulfield.

But mostly, you can get lost wandering the little mossy paths and looking over the ivy-covered gravestones. It was very peaceful and lovely.

Next time I would love to visit the other cemetery. I’m dying to know what I would find.

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.*

So where do two bookish girls go on their first full day in London? The British Library, of course! Well, and it helps that it was just around the corner from our hotel. No, we didn’t stay here…

but only because I didn’t realize how amazing the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel is. And, also, it’s maybe a bit out of our price range. But we weren’t far from there so we started hunting around for the library. It took us a while to find it and we first walked into a local branch before coming across the real thing. The problem is that it didn’t look on the outside like what I expected. I was expecting the Library of Congress. What we found was quite different.

I almost wanted to skip it (because I’m shallow like that) and move on to the next thing on our list (the Highgate Cemetery, which I was super excited to visit), but we figured we might as well take a peek inside. I’m so glad we did! Inside was suitably impressive.

In fact, I liked it better than some musty old place. In the very center is the King’s Library.

And off the side is a room that displays some treasures of the library. Nothing much – just an original Gutenberg Bible, some handwritten pages by William Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Jane Austen, and several amazing illuminated manuscripts. No big deal. Except that it totally was. It sounds silly, I know, but I felt so emotional viewing these treasures. I have always loved the written word, of course, but I also realized the importance of the illustrations in the illuminated manuscripts and how they passed on our most sacred stories through centuries.

We couldn’t take photos inside (a very disheartening trend throughout all of London, as you’ll see), but while I was refreshing my memory for this entry, I found out there is a Treasures of the British Library app, so you can carry all of that in your pocket.

As for the guessing game…

There were some good guesses, but I think my sister must know me too well. She guessed 4770 photos. The actual number (altogether) was 4601. (Phew… that’s a lot of photos.) So congrats, Mamers! You finally won something on my blog. I can’t wait to give it to you this weekend.

*quote in the title is from Lemony Snicket. And it’s true, you know.