The past 3 days have been gloomy and rainy. Guess we’re finally getting the real London weather I’ve always heard about. I stayed in Monday and Tuesday, fully intending to write, but instead ended up spending all of that time organizing little trips. It always surprises me how much time it takes to plan a trip, even the smallest ones! And most of that time is taken up with directions. Getting the right directions. How far is the hotel from the station? Can I walk or will I need a taxi? How far from the hotel to the places I want to see? What are the bus routes, how much fare? Do they take cash or do I need to buy a ticket? Especially if you’re traveling sans car, directions become the holy grail of the journey, and finding the right ones can be just as hard. I spend a lot of time peering at train timetables, plotting my every step through Google maps. But the upside to all this planning is, once I finally arrive at my destination, I can relax and enjoy it, knowing that I’ve covered all my bases. I still end up getting lost sometimes, but then I can always rely on the kindness of a stranger for guidance. It’s a lot like producing a film – it’s all about the PRE-production. The more of that you do, the smoother the production will be.
Anyway, I’ve planned a lovely journey to the tiny village of Haworth, out on the English moors, to see the home of the Bronte sisters
. And a smaller jaunt to Oxford to see the university and the home of Mr. C.S. Lewis, my very favorite author. I just cannot tell you how much joy his writing brings me. Not just his more famous works, like the Narnia tales, but some lesser known stories and especially his writings on Christianity. No one else has ever been able to put into words
so clearly and beautifully, what faith is, who God is, for me. And you should check out his science fiction trilogy
, starting with OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET. So good!
So today, finally, I am able to dedicate to writing. Lovely, isn’t it, to have the blessing of a day doing nothing but putting words to paper – break for a yummy lunch – and then write some more? All day…. Sigh… :)
Since I’m not out and about today, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of my room, the view from my window, and talk a little about the METRO – the subway, the tube, the underground – that wonderful thing that gets so many people all over the world around.
The amazing thing about the New York City subway is that you can pay just $2.50 and ride it all day, all over the city, from the heights of Harlem to the borough of Brooklyn, and all over Manhattan, wherever your heart desires. As long as you never leave the subway system itself, that is. Now I know not many people would want to be stuck on the subway all day, but it’s just the principle of the thing, you know? That you could if you wanted to! Not so in the London underground. You can buy an Oyster card here, just put a bunch of money on it if you know you’re going to be traveling around a lot. Every time you enter the tube, you have to swipe your card over these yellow readers to get in. And THEN - here’s the sly genius of the system - you swipe AGAIN as you’re leaving the tube, and big brother figures out how far you travelled, deducts the amount from your Oyster card accordingly. Oh, ho ho. This I thought was just so mean when I first got here! Now I’m used to it and it seems perfectly reasonable. But I really, really hope New York never gets wind of it.
In Paris Callie and I could never figure out the logic behind their Metro. There you can purchase a batch of tickets, tiny little cards, easily lost if you’re not careful. You insert them into a slot at the gate to the train and they pop back out at you through another slot at the top. Then the gates either open or they don’t. If they don’t open, your ticket is no longer valid and you have to buy another to get in. Callie and I just started keeping every ticket and trying them until they didn’t work anymore! But we never did figure out the logic of it all. There were times when one ticket would get me into the Metro up to 4 times, and others when I only got through once. And it didn’t seem to be based on any kind of a zone system. Sometimes I’d enter the same station twice in the day, within hours, and still have to buy 2 tickets.
But the beauty of the Paris Metro for me was the announcements. Just hearing those lovely Parisian voices announce the stations was like having a seductive Frenchwoman purr in your ear. Oo… And the station names! Wonderful! Rome (pronounced HOM with a purr at the beginning). Chateau Rouge. Cité. Maison Blanche. Ópera. Madeleine. Names that let you know you really are in Paris. In New York the announcements squawk through the train in nervous bursts of static that make you jump and are completely incomprehensible, like the teacher in Charlie Brown. And it’s the same in London! Everyone looks around at each other in complete confusion – “What did they just say?” lol… What’s strange is that the stations in London are air-conditioned, not the cars, whereas in New York it’s just the opposite.
I think if I had to choose, Paris’s Metro would be my favorite. Stations and cars that are still nostalgic, very easy to get around the city, and not once was there a line down. In New York there is always track work going on somewhere, disrupting your journey, which is reasonable to expect, I suppose. In London it’s the same – you have to check before you leave to make sure the line you need is operating on the day. But the London underground wins the prize for cheerfulness - their stations and cars so bright and clean.
There’s just one wonderful thing that connects each of these cities for me. When I entered Paris and London, and even New York back in the day, I felt like a foreigner – awkward and unsure - an imposter among the many who lived there. But as soon as I stepped down into the subway – the metro, the underground – all my uncertainty melted away and I finally felt like I belonged. Just another someone trying to get somewhere.
Canterbury Hall - my dorm room
Cartwright Gardens - Canterbury Hall is just across the street
The view from my window
My Mom used to say I was born in the wrong time. Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by all things Victorian.
So today I visited the Old Operating Theatre
, the oldest in Europe, built in the garret of St. Thomas Church in 1822. It was built there because the women’s ward of St. Thomas Hospital was built around the church and they used to operate on the women in the ward itself, which as you can imagine would be highly disturbing if you were a patient there - listening to some poor woman scream as she’s having her leg sawn off. So they built this operating theatre in the attic, and next to it they grew various herbs that they used in their medicines for the patients. In the 1860s the hospital was moved to Lambeth to make way for a rail station, and the operating theatre was boarded up and forgotten for nearly 100 years until it was rediscovered in the 1950s.
Florence Nightingale started her nursing school here. Patients were operated on without anesthesia or antiseptic of any kind. This was before physicians discovered that bacteria causes infection, not bad air. Before they learned the importance of operating in a sterile environment. So they’d use and reuse bandages, wear the same bloody frock coat to operate in. Ugh.
One of the curators of the museum gave us a spontaneous lecture on surgery in the 1800s, and I learned a lot of very useful things I never thought I would, such as, when you are unsuccessful at cutting through a bone with a bone saw, use a bone chipper to finish the job. And do you know where the term “mad as a hatter” comes from? Many of the hatters like Christys
had their factories in the Southwark area of London, where St. Thomas Hospital resided. In the 18th century, mercury was used to make the felt for fancy hats. We now know that mercury is a poison, but not back then. Workers handling the mercury day after day would develop tics and twitches because mercury affects the nervous system, among other things. Hence the term “mad as a hatter”!
Speaking of mad, tonight I’m off to see a movie in Henry VIII’s back yard! Hampton Court Palace screens movies in the gardens, and tonight they’re showing SOME LIKE IT HOT. Can’t wait. But I’m glad Henry and Marilyn never met. He’d probably convince her to marry him and then chop her head off.
The Old Operating Theatre
View from the stands
View of the operating table
Did you know Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist and mathematician as well as an architect? He designed St. Paul’s Cathedral to be 365 feet tall, equal to the number of days in a year.
As I walked toward the cathedral the bells were pealing! And there was a wedding going on. The bride and groom were having their picture taken on the steps.
Inside you can attend a service, or light a candle - pray privately. I lit a candle for Mom, said a prayer for all those grieving the loss of a loved one. St. Paul’s is also a working church. They still hold services every day. I really wanted to attend evensong, when the entire service is sung. Maybe I’ll go back before my journey is done.
I walked down the nave toward the altar, stood there and looked up at the soaring dome. No words can describe it. Then I walked up the 257 steps to what’s called the Whispering Gallery that overlooks the cathedral floor. This is about 90 feet above the floor. Then I decided to go ahead and walk up a further 119 steps to the Stone Gallery. The steps are smaller and steeper now. Yikes. And when I come out onto the gallery, I’m outside! Lovely, cool breeze. Beautiful view of London and the Thames. Now I’m 175 feet above the ground! If you look at the picture of St. Paul’s that I posted, the Stone Gallery is just below the dome.
NOW I decide I might as well go ahead and climb the remaining 152 steps to the Golden Gallery. Very narrow steps, very tight and close. I was definitely nervous climbing these stairs. They reminded me of the spiral metal stairs in the Statue of Liberty, up to the crown. The problem is, you can see DOWN. So I concentrated on each step right in front of me, one at a time. Just before you step outside there’s a square of glass cut into the floor and you can look through it, see all the way down to the cathedral floor! I got a picture of my feet standing over this strange looking-glass. Then I stepped outside onto the Golden Gallery, and now I'm 280 feet above the ground! If you look at that picture again, the Golden Gallery is that little band circling the spire just above the dome. From up there I could see the dome below me – very surreal. Had to keep away from the railing. And there’s only room for one person at a time around the Golden Gallery, single file around the railing. Scary, but exhilarating. I’m posting a picture of the view from there.
So I climbed a total of 528 steps, up and down. My legs were a bit wobbly when I got to the floor, and I was glad to be on the ground again. Down to the crypt for lunch. Mozzarella and tomato on a baguette, and chocolate cake. And this really great Victorian lemonade. Had ginger in it. Never would’ve paired those two, but it works! Sat with a lady named Bridget and we had a lovely conversation. She’s from Tipperary in Ireland, but she's lived in London for quite awhile now, since her husband died. She loves London, told me she'd always wanted to come and visit, bring her kids, but her husband worked in London and never wanted to come back in on the weekends. Turns out her favorite place to walk is in Hampton Court gardens, which so far has been my favorite place in England!
Then in the middle of our conversation the fire alarm goes off! Lol… Had to stuff my chocolate cake (always save the cake!) into a napkin and haul it out of St. Paul’s. Everything was okay and they let us back in about 15 minutes later. I finished my visit by walking through the crypt. Saw Florence Nightingale’s tomb and learned more about the history of St. Paul’s. There’s been a church on this site since 604! Can you believe that? The first two cathedrals burned down, the 2nd in the Great Fire of 1666 that decimated London. Then Christopher Wren designed the cathedral we see today. It was struck twice by bombs during the blitz in World War II, and badly damaged, but still standing. There’s a wonderful picture
of the cathedral after the bombing. I can only imagine how it must have made the people of London feel – their city being attacked day after day after day – to look up and see, soaring into the sky, the dome of St. Paul’s – still there. How comforting.
St. Paul's Cathedral
View from the Golden Gallery - that's the cathedral dome sloping down under the railings!
St. Paul's Cathedral
My friend Zell told me to check out The Foundling Museum while I'm in London, and today I took her advice. By the way, Zell has a fantastic website called Anglophiles United
, dedicated to all things British - you should check it out!So this morning I walked to the museum. It's an exhibit of tokens, clothing, and other items from the Foundling Hospital, Britain's first home for abandoned children. The hospital, really a children's home, was founded in 1741 by sea captain Thomas Coram, and Handel was a loyal patron! He performed THE MESSIAH in the hospital's chapel to raise money, and performed there many more times over the years before he died. William Hogarth, the famous painter and satirist, was also a patron. Some of his illustrations are exhibited at the museum, along with a true copy of THE MESSIAH that Handel bequeathed to the hospital!But the most moving items are the tokens that some of the mothers left for their babies. The hospital had limited space, so they instituted a lottery process whereby the mothers would go to the hospital on a certain Saturday to petition to have their children taken in, and they would draw a ball from a box. White meant your child was accepted. Red - maybe, pending further inquiries. And black - your child was refused admittance, either because there was no more space or because your child had some kind of disease. Many mothers left little tokens with their babies before they walked away forever. And these are heartbreaking to look at - buttons, handmade trinkets cut from pieces of cloth, little bracelets. Hard to imagine looking on your child for the last time before you hand them over to strangers. What's more heartbreaking, though, is that the hospital never did give these tokens to the children. They wanted to preserve the parents' anonymity. So they sit now in this little glass case, with only strangers to look on them.You can also sit and listen to the testimonies of people who grew up in the Foundling system. Such varied experiences! You can hear them online too! Just click here.
And there's another wonderful thing the museum does. They randomly pick 10 visitors each day, and at 2:30 those 10 people are given a cup made by artist Clare Twomey. At the bottom of the mug is a good deed that you are requested to fulfill. You can choose not to do the good deed, but you have to give the mug back. If you do the good deed, you keep the mug. I had to leave the museum before 2:30, so I wasn't able to participate, but I think it's an amazing idea! And it turns out you can actually participate online! Anyone from anywhere can do it, and you can also suggest a good deed. They'll put your deed on a little cup and post it online. So check it out
!After the museum I walked to the Curzon Mayfair Theater and saw DIAL M FOR MURDER. In 3-D! Hitchcock was once again ahead of his time and filmed the credits and a few shots of the movie in 3-D. Such fun! To see a classic on the big screen in a beautiful theater. So far I've only been to these Curzon theaters - there's a chain of them here. And they remind me of our Angelika in Manhattan. Big, plush lobbies to sit in, and a snack bar. The only thing that's been different so far is the POPCORN! My friend Andre will appreciate this. He can't live without a big bag when he goes to the movies. :) You can get your popcorn here salty or sweet, or MIXED! Oh - my - gosh. What we're missing in the states. I got the mixed and it is deeeelicious. I always get a small bag because I'm never able to finish my popcorn, but I gobbled this whole thing down. What a treat! And Sunday I'm going to see SOME LIKE IT HOT in Henry VIII's big back yard! :) They have movie screenings in the Hampton Court gardens. I'm quite sure that will be a different experience!No pics today, but tomorrow I'm off to see St. Paul's Cathedral.
So this was one of the many humble abodes of King Henry VIII, and this is my favorite of all the places I've visited in England so far. There are only a few places I've been to that have a definite aura - a presence all their own - where you can feel the history oozing through the bricks. New Orleans is one. Coney Island. And Hampton Court. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of THE TUDORS, but I just couldn't get enough of wandering through the rooms and the grounds. I went through King Henry's apartments twice. This whole place was built by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's most trusted adviser, until he fell out of favor and was arrested. What went down in history was that Wolsey gave Hampton Court to Henry as a gift, but it's awfully convenient that Wolsey gave this "gift" after his arrest. I found it very surreal to be standing in the very rooms where King Henry and Wolsey schemed the Crown's separation from the Catholic Church, changing history forever. The very rooms where they plotted Henry's divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and then ordered her execution 3 years later. Wow.When I woke up this morning I was feeling "off." Didn't really want to go out. The sky was looking gray. But I forced myself to venture out. Took me 45 minutes to figure out how to get to Hampton Court because the directions say to take the "overground." There's an actual train line called the London Overground
, but it didn't look like it went anywhere near Hampton Court. Then I figured out that the Brits must call anything that isn't the underground an "overground" - a train that runs above ground. Turns out I had to catch the Southwest National Rail Service to Hampton. Lovely ride. And as we rode along the skies cleared and my mood brightened. I started getting excited. And I wasn't disappointed.
You get a free audio guide when you enter Hampton Court Palace, and it's beautifully-organized. You don't even need a map because they tell you step by step where to go. Got to explore the massive kitchens and learned a bit of food history. For instance, did you know the British pie was really just a cooking vessel? Most people didn't even eat the crust. They cut into the pie and ate the meat and veg inside. And the reason the King's court moved around from estate to estate so much was that they were a huge drain on the local resources! So they'd eat up all the meat and produce from the area and then move off to another place once it was gone. Nice.I spent the morning going through the palace, and the rest of the day wandering the gardens. Had a bit of lunch in the kitchen where Elizabeth I had her meals prepared! A BLT and a delicious scone with clotted cream and jam. In one of the gardens I met two lovely ladies who it turns out live in an apartment building on grounds that once belonged to Sir Thomas More - another of Henry's friends who was executed when he refused to support Henry's divorce.
On the grounds they also have the world's largest vine
. It was planted in 1769! They harvest the grapes once a year in September and sell them, but when the court was at Hampton, the grapes were eaten only by the King and his guests.I wanted to go through the maze before I left, but it was already closed, so I said goodbye to Hampton Court. Decided to take a bus back to London instead of the train. I remember Callie saying that it's better to ride the bus because you can see more, so I took her advice. Sitting in front of me was a lady who looked so much like Mom from behind - the same short salt and pepper hair, same ears. It made me miss her so intensely, just in that moment. I've been mourning her a lot lately. Not sure why, except I think saying goodbye to my niece and nephew might have something to do with it. Knowing that I won't get to see them everyday anymore. But I feel like I'm mourning two different people when I think of Mom - the person she became - fragile and helpless, and the mother I remember from before the Alzheimer's - strong and independent. After Grandma died, Mom used to always say she wished she could have her back for just one day. Lately I've been wanting Mom back so much, and at the same time I don't. Because I'd never want to see her so helpless again. And I know that when I do see her again, she will be as God made her to begin with.Got off the bus in Richmond to catch the underground the rest of the way home, and it just so happened that I was standing in a historic spot of another kind! Right behind me was a cafe called One Kew Road that used to be a nightclub. Turns out the Rolling Stones had their very first performance here! And the Beatles traveled out to hear them! Later Led Zep, Elton John, and Rod Stewart played here too! Unbelievable. Of course I took some pics, but it's just a building, after all.What wonderful things happen when you decide to jump on a bus. :)
Hampton Court Palace Entry
The Great Hall
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace gardens
There are over 60 acres of grounds, stretching back farther than the eye can see!
One of the many gorgeous gardens
Hampton Court Gardens
Standing in Cardinal Wolsey's meeting chamber - I really felt the history in this place!
Just caught that butterfly, but hard to see him