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Published: April 22nd 2018
The weather in London continues to be unseasonably warm, with no rainfall, but we're not complaining; no need for sweaters or heavy jackets. In order to save wear and tear on us oldsters, we arranged for a taxi at 9:30 AM for a ride to visit Westminster Abbey, where we purchased tickets to the tune of £22 per person (about $30). Since photography is prohibited, most of today's pictures are taken from the Abbey's website, or other internet sources.
Westminster Abbey is such a huge draw that it's almost always crowded with tourists, and today was no exception. The monumental structure is a mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). It is one of the United Kingdom's most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and British monarchs.
The origins of the Abbey date to the 960s or early 970s, when a community of Benedictine monks occupied the site. Between 1042 and 1052, King Edward the Confessor began rebuilding the Abbey to provide himself with a royal burial church. The building was consecrated in 1065, only a week
before Edward's death in 1066, and the first documented coronation is that of William the Conqueror later the same year.
The abbey became the coronation site of Norman kings, although none were buried here until Henry III, who rebuilt the abbey in Anglo-French Gothic style as a shrine to venerate King Edward the Confessor, and as a royal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. Henry VII added a perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1503, now known as the Henry VII Chapel or the "Lady Chapel".
Larry and Danielle opted for a guided tour, while Dee and I made our way among the throngs of visitors with a guide book. The cavernous interior of the Abbey is magnificent, with a vaulted ceiling that rises 10 stories high, and ornate chandeliers that are 10 feet tall. The view down the nave, toward the High Altar, from the spot where the Grave of the Unknown Soldier rests in the floor (at the west end of the Abbey), is truly stunning.
According to various sources, between 3,000 and 3,500 bodies are buried within the Abbey’s walls, including such notables as Henry
V and Elizabeth I, Edward the Confessor, Charles Dickens and Sir Isaac Newton. I confess to being rather skeptical about this statistic, but after completing a 90-minute-walkaround of the Abbey, I'm now a believer. Indeed, there are so many tombs and grave markers, stuffed into every nook and cranny of this edifice, that it could well qualify as a mausoleum!
As we inched our way through the crowds, after viewing the nave and the amazing ceiling, we found the choir (aka "quire") and the so-called "Lady Chapel" to be very impressive. The Poet's Corner, with its elaborate memorial to William Shakespeare (who is actually interred at Stratford-upon-Avon); the tomb of Elizabeth I (in which her half-sister, Mary, is also interred); and the tomb of Isaac Newton were other poignant reminders of Britain's past that are enshrined in the Abbey.
Shortly after we exited the Abbey, and reconnected with Larry and Danielle, we set course for Birdcage Walk, a street that borders St. James's Park on its southern side. St. James's, a 57-acre park in the City of Westminster, is the most easterly of a near-continuous chain of parks that comprises (moving westward) Green Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington
Gardens. The park is bounded by Buckingham Palace to the west, the Mall to the north, Horse Guards to the east, and Birdcage Walk to the south. It meets Green Park at Queen's Gardens, with the Victoria Memorial at its center, opposite the entrance to Buckingham Palace.
As you'd expect on a Saturday afternoon, the park was filled with Londoners reveling in the sunshine and warm temperatures. Many varieties of water fowl inhabit the park's elongated lake, and the blooming flowers and trees made for a very pleasant stroll, as we made our way toward Buckingham Palace. When we reached Queen Victoria's Memorial, which sits in front of the palace, we wanted to walk along The Mall, the broad avenue that runs 6/10 of a mile between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, thru the Admiralty Arch, to the east. However, because of preparations for the annual London Marathon race tomorrow, The Mall was closed to all traffic.
So we walked along a footpath on the northern boundary of St. James's Park until we reached the Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square, where we found a lunch spot at Garfunkel's. Like most of the eateries we passed, it too was
jammed, but we managed to get a table for the four of us without waiting. Surprisingly, the service was very fast, and we were in and out within an hour. Larry had a great looking burger with fries, while the rest of us shared a small pizza and a mixed platter of wings, nachos, and onion rings.
From Trafalgar Square we walked along the Strand, past Charing Cross station, in the direction of Covent Garden, a district of Westminster, on the eastern fringes of the West End, between Charing Cross Road and Drury Lane.
As far back as 1654, Covent Garden was a small open-air, fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square. Over the years, both the market and the surrounding area fell into disrepute, as taverns, theatres, coffee-houses and brothels opened up. By the 18th-century it had become a well-known red-light district. It took an Act of Parliament to control the area, and a neo-classical style building was erected in 1830 to cover and help organize the market. The market grew, and further buildings were added, until traffic congestion forced its relocation in 1974. The central building re-opened as a shopping center in 1980.
The Covent Garden
area has long been associated with entertainment and shopping, with 13 theatres, and over 60 pubs and bars in the immediate area. Today, it's a popular tourist venue, with street performers adding to the bustle. The central hall has shops, cafes, bars and stalls selling antiques, jewelry, clothing and gifts.
We caught part of a wannabe Houdini's act, as he miraculously extricated himself from a straightjacket, wrapped in chains; then walked around the various stalls and shops. Dee found a nice tea towel in the Transport Museum's gift shop, while I gobbled down some fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream from one of the vendors. After about 30 minutes, we rejoined Larry and Danielle, then flagged a taxi for the ride back to the flat.
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