15 March, part 1

15 03 2011

This journal includes part of my audio log as well as written entries after returning from the city.  I’ve tried to edit out tenses, I may have overlooked some.

Leaving Westminster, we stood outside and looked back on it.  It’s very odd.  From the outside it really doesn’t look as complex and certainly hides the ornate beauty you find within.  We’ve left on what appears to be the backside and there is an obelisk of sorts here in a circular drive.  The side of the abbey we can see has the modern day martyrs – in order from left to right is Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi and Wang Zhiming.

From this side you can see everything from the Norman period wall to modern day work and everything in between.

Below the martyrs stand four statues of the Daughters of God – Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace.  (Maybe it’s just me, but the faces look like Meryl Streep at varying stages of her career – from Hamlet to Mamma Mia.)

A window is oddly walled up, or perhaps it is more odd that one window isn’t walled up because all the others are.

The Eye I can see from here and it’s almost 1.  I don’t suppose the day will get any clearer than it is now, so we made our way over towards the Eye.  Big Ben stood out very boldly, as did the Houses of Parliament.  Given though that our plans have us returning here to the Westminster Station to go back to the car, we’ll look on this afterwards.

Approaching Westminster Bridge, I was very anxious to see Boudicea.  I found some humour in seeing her with her charging chariot, horses rearing as she faced the Parliament building – the governing body of London.  Sure, they aren’t the Romans, but that she is still charging the powers made me smile.  She’s almost forgotten though, sitting back from the intersection and every tourist trap tent set up in front of her.  But she is grand and not nearly as vindictive as I would have made her.  She looks serene, almost, excepting she stands thrusting her arms up and onward to charge the evils before her.

We made our way across the bridge, avoiding eye contact with the circling sharks, keen on the fresh blood of tourists.  Kayla and I marched onward, taking in sights confidently, shrugging off the calls of the vendors.  But not Glenn.  Oh no.  A woman who had very clearly seen her better days cried out the modern day equivalent of “Alms for the poor”, accepting donations for flowers wrapped in aluminium foil.  (I should clarify – her flowers weren’t even flowers, but rather tissue paper haphazardly folded with a ‘stem’ of aluminium foil.)  But Glenn took pity on her pleas that he give a donation “for the children” and he asked her if a two pound coin would be sufficient?  She readily accepted it in return for the “flower” and I rolled my eyes.  Why was he carrying the money again?

We continued along and happened to see the source of the haunting music that had been playing in the background all along – a piper, in full regalia with kilt and laced booties and ruddy skin.  Kayla threw a pound piece in his open duffel bag.  He played on his haunting tune.  I don’t know why, but it struck me to see a piper on the bridge in London.

The water in the Thames was so much more murky than I expected, it now made sense why people had told me to avoid fish products within 50 miles of London.  It reminded me of the Hudson.  It was just that filthy looking.  It also looked low, judging from the stains on the sea walls.

We continued trudging along towards the London Eye, which is a massive distraction from the otherwise picturesque skyline.  Maybe that’s just me.  But when you look across at these buildings which have stood the tests of time, withstanding even the Luftwaffe, only to be marred by this contraption.  It wasn’t my idea to go here, but I relented and so here we were.  Well almost.  I had pre-paid, which meant we wouldn’t have any queues to wait in and I actually saved about 11 pounds off the cost.  I had printed the receipt, but this morning after digging through paper stack and bag after bag – the receipt was no where to be found.  Page 2/2 was right where page 1/2 should have been, but all it had was the footer and URL.  So now my hope was that in person, with ID and my credit card, all would be fine.

Thankfully, I suppose, it was.  After verifying information with me and chatting it up about how nice it would be to be back home in sunny Florida, the ticket attendant handed me our stubs.  There would be a 4D movie as part of my ticket purchase that we could watch afterwards, trust me, said he, the kids will love it.  It’s only five minutes long.  I nodded and bobbed and he handed me two goody bags for the kids as souvenirs.

The regular line was rather lengthy and I was very glad I had pre-paid after seeing it.  We were stepped immediately onto a platform and I was certain a mishap would occur in boarding as the capsules on this massive ferris wheel never stop moving.  Yet, it moves slowly enough that I think I could have boarded even if my back had been aching and I was using my cane.

(Speaking of my back, I have to say this.  I visited my internship site chiropractor before the trip, the first person I’ve found in almost two years willing to work on someone with a fractured spinal cord.  He was able to adjust my back, then I went to the therapist who managed to reduce the inflammation in two painful spots.  I feel like a million dollars.  I’ve had to pop narcotics on the trip on a few instances, when we went to the scar and then in the moors, but outside of that, I’ve had limited pain.  And I’ve only used my cane a few times.  I don’t even have my limp!)

Okay, so we get on board with an older couple that I believe were German, very thick accents.  They kept to themselves and seated on the far end most of the ride.  Another couple and their baby were Middle Eastern, Turkish even maybe?  They scared me because the woman kept walking out to the very edge, teetering her infant baby on the railing.  Granted, there was no danger to the child, ever.  But oh dizzying heights like this terrify me and to lurch forward, my stomach in my throat each time the baby got near the rail – oh that was nerve-wracking!  Alannah, like me, stayed seated most of the ride.  Safe in the confines of this egg-shaped plexiglass container dangled almost 450 feet in the air above that dirty Thames River.

The view was not as spectacular as one might think, either.  In part because of the heavy fog that seems to live over the city.  It was one in the afternoon and yet the sun was only a hazy bright spot on the otherwise grey sky.  The sign said you could see for twenty miles on a clear day, but I have to wonder how often those occur.  We could only see about as far as St. Paul’s to the east and Westminster Abbey to the west.  And to give you an idea of how little a distance that is:

We watched a group of people on the open field below spell out words with their bodies, and visually followed a trash barge disappear into the doom of the distance.  I looked around for the tower of London, which I was sure was south of St. Paul’s (only later found it was more east than south of it).

My hit list of places to go in this part of London was extensive.  And rationally speaking, I knew I wouldn’t see it all.  So I had segmented the trip for the day into what parts near to Westminster were top of my list.  Boudicea, Burghers of Calais, Vauxhall Bridge, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, and King’s College Gardens.  As we descended, I tried to mentally map out the day.  The closest from here was probably Trafalgar Square.

I studied my Fodor’s tube map like I was attempting calculus and determined our stops.  (My efforts would later prove fruitless because nothing is as simple as it looks on laminated paper.)

We disembarked and decided to give the 4-D movie a go.  That was until we saw the line.  There would be no advance to go options in this line and for a five minute long movie, the line was easily 100 people deep and moving at a snail’s pace.  We took a quick democratic vote and decided in unison that no movie could be worth that wait and we set out back across the bridge again.  Kayla found a trampled bundle of flowers, these instead were real and completely free  from donations to the save the unknown children campaign.  (In hindsight, I wished hers were tissue paper as well because man did they stink.  As I write this, the leather train case she stored them in for the trip still stinks of those flowers.)

Intent on fulfilling one of Glenn’s requests, I asked a street vendor how much a ride on the double decker bus would cost me.  He asked how many of us there were.  Four.  How long are you in London for?  One day.  Where are you from?  The United States (isn’t it obvious?).  For you, sixty-five pounds.

I wasn’t sure if it was a price cut or hike, but I wasn’t about to pay 65 pounds to ride a bus so we took a hike.

Back into the tunnel we went and I studied the wall maps some more.  (If you’ve ever wondered what total and utter confusion looks like – it’s trying to navigate the tube in London, as shown below.)

So we finally settled on Embankment to Charing Cross, thereby killing two stones in one fell swoop.  We minded the gap and I repeated the locations about half a dozen – okay a dozen – times, so that should we somehow get separated, everyone would know to make it to Charing Cross somehow, someway.

We made it together though and took off to the cross, which isn’t really much of a cross.  The story behind the crosses is very romantic.  King Edward I, also known as Longshanks (think McGoohan and his curly grey locks in Braveheart), was married to Eleanor.  She followed him on most of his battles, he had a lot with the Scots, and on one journey she got ill and died while en route.  To bring her body back to London took twelve days and for every place they stopped to rest for the night, a cross was erected.  The one we were looking at was not the original, but a replacement.  (But it was still every bit as noteworthy!)  The Eleanor Cross, as they are called, seemed to suffer the same fate as many ornamental statues we’d seen thus far in London – half of the angel figures had been beheaded.  At least here there was a pattern – every other angel was headless.  There were figures of Eleanor, eight total, showing various images of her – holding a castle or perhaps the Abbey, a scepter, a bible, an orb and so on.

We crossed The Strand, which the relevance escapes me but this roadway stuck out to me as having some importance.

Our stomachs growled and we peeked in at Halfway To Heaven, a cutesie little diner with green and gold emblazoned on its sign, but nothing said Eat Me, so we continued on.  In relatively no time we were on the pavement of Trafalgar Square and wow.  It just opens up out of nowhere, and it really is impressive.

I explained about the dirt under George Washington’s statue (he vowed to never again step foot on British soil, so Virginian soil was imported to use as the foundation of his statue – how true this is is up to the listener, but it was on the internet so it must be true!).  Then Kayla commented that the statue we were approaching looked a lot like Abraham Lincoln – for good reason.  Oddly, Lincoln and Washington were the only two statues that didn’t have a pigeon or the excrements thereof covering their head.

Another oddity, to me at least, was the number of women wearing shorts or skirts with their bare legs exposed to this rather chilly weather, 46 degrees was the high today.  Coupled with the wind, dear lord I don’t get that.

To the south is the Admiralty Arch, which I found a bit surprising to see windows with curtains.  I had thought it only an arch, not a functioning building of sorts.  The arch reads Anno Decimo Edwardi Septimi Regis Victoriae Reginae Cives Gratissimi MDCCCCX.  Something about Edward the seventh and Queen Victoria being grateful or showing gratitude and the year would be 1910.  Another surprise, because I thought this was after the war as some nod to the French and their Napoleonic Arc de Triomphe.  But unless I have the year wrong (Glenn assures me I do not) then this would be before the war entirely.

The girls spotted the fearsome lions and the obligatory snapshot was deemed mandatory.  Of course we had quite a wait for people who were lounging about on them to realize the need to share the wealth, so to speak.

Modern British military history is pretty fuzzy for me, so knowing much about Nelson or Pellicoe or their worth in being honoured here was hard to take in or appreciate.

Below is our convoluted path, black for walking, blue for bus, red for rail.  I’ll write more later.




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