Well, we’ve now been back home for a week, and I think I’m mostly recovered from jet lag! Coming back is always much harder on me than going over. But now Lindsay has had time to sort through her pictures and share them, so I’m ready to post again!
We got up early Friday, determined to squeeze in our Dickens Walk before heading to Westminster to meet my friend Sarah and Erinn (a young Australian who is staying with Sarah’s family at present). We boarded a bus for Chancery Lane, thrilled just at the thought of being on the stomping grounds of Bleak House and other Dickens novels! After jumping off the bus, I realized I’d forgotten my camera back at the house. SIGH. Thankfully, Lindsay had hers and snapped lots of pictures! We passed the front of Staple Inn and proceeded through a small arched gate into its quiet courtyard, mentioned in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This spot looks almost exactly as it did in Dickens’s day, and a sign still hangs there that hasn’t been moved for nearly two centuries: “The Porter Has Orders to Prevent Old Clothes Men and Others From Calling ‘Articles For Sale.’ Also Rude Children Playing and No Horses Allowed Within This Inn.”
Passing through the archway at the far end of the yard, we came into a delightful little garden and paused to look at an inscription over a doorway to our left: “PJT 1747.” In The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this door leads into the home of the kindly lawyer, Hiram Grewgious. Dickens wrote that Mr. Grewgious never “troubled his head” about what the inscription stood for, “unless to bethink…that haply it might mean Perhaps John Thomas, or Perhaps Joe Tyler.” LOL! We wound our way around the garden, Lindsay pausing to get this lovely photo of the fountain in the center and “Hiram’s” house beyond. After coming back out onto the street next to Staple Inn, we picked back up in our walking tour directions and headed for the haunts of Bleak House.
Proceeding past this formidable edifice, we came into a lovely greensward called “Miss Flite’s Garden” in Bleak House. The darling gardener’s “shed” is still there (behind it are the columns of yet another imposing building in Lincoln’s Inn):
After scoping out the nearby church (also mentioned in Bleak House), we tried to find our way out of Lincoln’s Inn to the square beyond. It took some doing, since our directions were a bit muddled, but we finally emerged in a very quiet, somber park surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. This part of London is almost smotheringly silent! It was amazing after the bustle of the other streets we’d been through. Following our walking guide, we made our way down a side street to find a house that Dickens had once dwelt in, Number 15, to be exact (hmm… no photo from Lindsay–I’ll have to see if I can turn one up!). After checking the time, I realized we’d have to scoot to make it to Westminster in time to meet Sarah and Erinn for our tour, so we turned around to search for a bus stop. Easier said than done! All the twisty little streets we’d come down looked bewilderingly alike on the way back! We finally managed to find a stop and headed to Westminster, arriving only ten minutes late to find a smiling Sarah with baby Anna in her carriage and Erinn standing by.
Photos aren’t allowed inside Westminster, so I don’t have any to share, but we spent a good hour and a half poking around corners and reading epitaphs. The girls were enthralled with the thousand years of history at their feet, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing again the monuments to Henry V, Queen Elizabeth I, and so many other historical notables. My friend Sarah and I talked about the Church of England, and she noted that Westminster is really more a national monument or museum than a church. Though services are held there, more people come to gape at monuments than actually come for worship. After emerging into the sunlight, we took a quick detour through the gift shop, then headed over to St. James’s Park for a lovely picnic on the grass (complete with cheeky geese and pigeons!). Sarah had brought a wonderful repast of ham, cheese, baguettes, plums, and yummy cake. Hit the spot after our morning’s walk! We sat and visited for an hour before Sarah and her crew had to head home, and the girls and I hopped a bus for the British Museum!
There’s no bones about it: The British Museum is VAST. Just looking at the map is daunting, as you see floor after floor and gallery after gallery crammed with goodies! Tired from our morning’s perambulations, we headed to the cafe’ to get some tea and peruse the museum guide. We had only this one afternoon, so we “picked our poison” and decided to see the Big Highlights: The Rosetta Stone, ancient sculpture (Egyptian, Babylonian, Greco-Roman), the mummies, the British gallery (Roman times to present), and the Hebrew room. Unfortunately, the latter was closed the day we were there, so we contented ourselves with the “early gallery” that contains most of the finds the museum held when it first opened in the 1770s. Navigating all the stories and half-stories is quite confusing, and it is very easy to get turned around in the museum, but we managed to find the Rosetta Stone and admired it with a crushing crowd of fellow gawkers:
Behind this display were gargantuan Babylonian and Egyptian sculptures that cannot be done justice in photographs. All those pictures of smiling stone pharaohs in books cannot prepare you for the breathtakingly immense size of the things in person. One disembodied granite arm stretched out over fifteen feet, and one detached head smiled down from its lofty perch. But my favorite sculptures were the little ones, including the funny fellow seen here. This is Amenhotep, his legs drawn up under his tunic and his elbows folded over his knees. I chuckled when I saw this pose, because my children all do this nightly when they curl up on the couch in their jammies for bedtime reading! I guess this is a habit with an ancient heritage! We continued upstairs from this gallery, entering the mummy exhibit, which contains a staggering number of mummified remains, including cats, birds, and crocodiles! I made sure Lindsay took pictures of lots of mummies for my sons, who had begged me to see them. Many of the late mummies (first century A.D.) had elaborate shrouds painted with their portraits on top. Others were placed in ornate coffins within coffins, each painted more splendidly than the last.
I immediately thought of St. Paul’s admonition in I Timothy 2 that women dress themselves “with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” Those first-century women had some outlandish hairstyles! There were other, similar statues in the museum, all with elaborate (uncomfortable-looking) hairstyles wound with pearls and other ornaments. Whoa! Can’t you just see someone coming into church with a hairstyle like this and sitting in front of some poor short person, completely blocking the view? Well, it amused us to think about it, anyway! We continued down the gallery, taking in amazing finds from the peat bogs (many perfectly preserved), including piles of gold coins, Roman silver basins, women’s jewelry, and even the famous “peat bog man”–a grisly reminder of Britain’s pagan past. This unfortunate man was the apparent victim of a Druidic rite, forced to drink mistletoe brew before having his throat slashed. Ugh. Christianity changed many things for the Britons and the Picts!
We rounded up our tour of the museum and headed out the front gate to catch a bus towards Bankside, Southwark. I’d gotten tickets to see “The Merchant of Venice” at Shakespeare’s Globe, and we wanted plenty of time to arrive and catch a bite to eat before standing in line. Unfortunately, the outgoing bus line at the Museum had closed for repairs, so we had to walk through Soho in search of another bus. No go. We went blocks and blocks without seeing a stop! Finally, we found one near Trafalgar Square, and my poor swollen ankles thanked me for sitting down at last! After crossing the Thames and hopping off the bus, we walked down the embankment toward the Globe, passing the Tate Modern and several other tourist meccas on the way. We congratulated ourselves on reaching the Globe well before we needed to enter and glanced around for a place to grab a bite to eat. That’s when panic gripped me. I realized with a sinking heart that I had forgotten our tickets back at Suzi’s house in our rush to leave early in the morning! Argh! Nothing to do but hop a bus and try to make it there and back before 7:30 (it was now 6:20). I called Suzi to ask her where we’d find the closest bus stop, but it was still a good 15-minute hike. We started off, grimly determined not to miss our play–even if we had to miss supper.
We arrived at Suzi’s in time to grab the tickets and some protein bars, freshen up a bit, then head right back out to catch another bus. Unfortunately, no buses go straight to the Globe. The closest we could get was the St. Paul’s side of the Thames, which meant a walk down a few blocks, then across the Millennium Bridge to Bankside and the Globe. By now, my poor feet were declaring themselves dead and unable to move any further. I was ready to break down and hail a cabbie, but the only one we could find who took debit cards was on his supper break! So we pressed on, down to the bridge and across the Thames. We arrived, breathless, at the Globe at 7:33 pm! The guard at the back gate hurried us into the Groundlings area (great cheap tickets at 5 pounds each!), and we were thrilled to see we’d only missed a few lines of the play! The Globe is every bit as amazing as it looks in pictures–a faithful recreation of the theatre Shake
speare designed. And we truly found that the standing area makes the best “seat” in the house, since you are on eye-level with the stage and up close to all the players. Several characters actually elbowed their way through the groundlings to make entrances at key moments. It was pure fun! We thoroughly enjoyed every moment and, tired as our legs were, we were sorry when it ended. We recognized several actors from BBC and A&E dramas, including the man who played “Shylock” and one who played the priest. It was fun to spot familiar faces!
At 10:30, we made our way back up to London Bridge to catch a bus home. After walking without sighting a stop that had the right bus number for Camberwell Road, Lindsay spotted a bus with “Elephant & Castle” emblazoned on it. Instead of wisely checking the bus map to make sure this bus number did, indeed, take us where we wanted to go, we all ran to catch the bus. Ahem. Another lesson learned, this time late at night. Just because a bus has your destination written on it does not mean it is going there! Elephant & Castle is a borough–not just a rail/bus station! We went all over the place and freaked out when the driver skimmed past our stop and kept going. We entertained the rash hope that he would loop back around to the station and stop, but the bus ended up in Clapham Junction, stranding us far from Suzi’s. I sheepishly called Suzi to let her know our predicament, and she told us where to find a rail station that would bring us back to Waterloo, from whence we could take the tube to Elephant & Castle and the bus to her place. Suffice it to say, we arrived home two HOURS after we’d left the Globe, footsore and slightly grumpy. Bed never looked so good! I made the executive decision for all of us to sleep in on Saturday rather than rising at the crack of dawn to head to Dover. And next time I’ll tell you what we ended up doing with our Saturday!
In the meantime, here are some more fun shots from our first full day in London: