Friday, December 21, 2012

London: Days 3-4

We started off our Saturday by taking in the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Even though we arrived early, it was SO crowded! Thousands of people turned out for the ceremony and we had trouble finding somewhere to sit; we finally clambered to the top of a huge stone wall, which provided a decent view. It was so cool to see all of the guards marching in with their big furry hats (the technical term, I'm sure), grey military coats, drums, horses, weapons, and musical instruments. It briefly started to rain but, lucky for us, it ceased soon afterward. As the ceremony continued, the Guard band switched from playing traditional music to tunes from "Grease," prompting many tourists to freak out in excitement. I personally preferred the traditional bagpipe music instead. :)

The exterior of Buckingham Palace is HUGE and so magnificent, so elegant and regal. The large iron gates were imposing but had the most beautiful, intricate gold details, including the royal crest. Unfortunately, we were unable to tour the Palace's state rooms, as they are closed in the wintertime. Definitely a bummer. We did, however, make the best of our trip to this part of London by touring the Queen's Gallery and the Royal Mews. There were two amazing pieces in the Gallery. One was a depiction of Herod's Massacre of the Innocents, which interested me since I studied Herod the Great for one of my English courses. The curious thing about this painting, though, is that all of the babies in the piece have been painted over and replaced with animals and parcels of food--seventeenth-century censorship! The other piece was my favorite in the entire collection; it depicted the process of death, Judgement Day, and a soul's ascent to Heaven or descent to Hell. The painting has so many layers and I could have spent all day studying it. As it is, I think I looked at it for 15 minutes or so anyway. Simply amazing. The Royal Mews were our next stop. This is where the royal family's horses are kept, as well as where all of the royal coaches are stored. The best coach by far was the State Coach, which is made partly out of gold and is seriously indescribable. It is so majestic and just so beautiful. Pictures of it simply don't do it justice!

Before we made our way Trafalgar Square for the afternoon, we stopped by a charming little candy store near Victoria Station and indulged our collective sweet tooth with fudge and homemade gummi worms. Delicious!

We spent the rest of the day exploring Trafalgar Square and its surrounding museums. Our first stop was the National Portrait Gallery, where we spent a solid two hours roaming the exhibit halls and taking in an astounding array of famous faces ranging from the thirteenth century through today. Some notable portraits included, but were certainly not limited to: Nell Gwynn (the "orange girl" who I learned all about in my "Histories of Performance" class last year--she might not be very well known by most people, but I totally geeked out when I saw her portrait!); William Shakespeare; Bonnie Prince Charlie; Elizabeth I and the whole Tudor clan (I managed to snap an illegal picture with Elizabeth's portrait before a security guard literally came out of nowhere and yelled at us!); Florence Nightingale; Charles Darwin; Sir Walter Scott; Oliver Cromwell; David Garrick; Thomas Paine; William Wordsworth; Beatrix Potter; Virginia Woolf; James Joyce; Marilyn Monroe; Anna Wintour; David Bowie; Germaine Greer (total Uncommon Women and Others/women's college moment!); and portraits by Mario Testino of the entire royal family. I really loved this museum!

We next strolled through the National Gallery. Though we were really exhausted at this point, we did manage to make time to go see the Van Gogh and Monet collections, including Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" (another complete fangirl moment for me). We ended our day by wandering around Trafalgar Square itself--the darkness outside failed to deter us from exploring the beautiful fountains and climbing the huge lion statues!

On Sunday morning, we made an early morning stop to the British Parliament. Big Ben is HUGE and the Houses of Parliament are so unbelievably beautiful--very intricate ornamentation and gorgeous architecture. Its location on the River Thames is unbeatable! The views from Westminster Bridge are spectacular: we could see Westminster Abbey tucked behind the buildings in the distance and the London Eye directly in front of us, rising up on the riverbank. STUNNING!

We next took the tube to London Bridge and found a cute little patisserie under the railway bridge, where Victoria and I ate a delicious three-layer cake that we totally didn't need...ah well. When on vacation, EAT! (At least, that's my personal motto.) We then explored Borough Market, which, by sheer luck, happened to be uncharacteristically open on a Sunday! Ahlam and Victoria bought hot mulled wine, and I indulged in a huge loaf of foccacia bread that seriously has to have been one of the best things I have ever eaten.

We walked along the banks of the River until we reached our next stop-- the Globe Theatre. CUE HYSTERICS. I was positively giddy with excitement the entire time we were at the Theatre. This was my number one must-see for my trip to London, so I was so ecstatic to have finally made it here. And it was so beautiful! The recreated Globe Theatre was completed over a span of 10 or so years and in its finished state it is just breathtaking to behold--the paintings, the stage, the views from the stalls. I'll admit that I teared up a bit when I first entered the space. I have dreamed of visiting the Globe for years, and I finally made it! I hope one day I can come back and take in an actual performance.

Our final stop of the day was a trip to the Tower of London and a stroll across Tower Bridge. The Tower of London is AMAZING. It is absolutely humongous and so completely full of history. We went through the Medieval Palace, where Edward I and many other kings and queens resided during their reigns; we explored the Regiment Museum; we walked through the Bloody Tower (so named for its history attached to the Princes Edward and Richard, murdered at the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester); we got to see a number of various medieval torture methods (Ahlam's favorite of the whole museum!); AND, most importantly, we saw the CROWN JEWELS, which were single-handedly the best part of the Tower of London! The decadence, the wealth, the sheer sparkle! So many beautiful pieces adorned in gold and silver and diamonds and rubies and sapphires and silk and velvet. I was drooling over the opulence the entire time. The royal maces are HUGE. Did you know that Parliament can't actually operate without two of the royal maces present at all times? The video of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation was so wonderful to watch. She was so absolutely beautiful and she's still a total delight now!

We ended our day by crossing the Tower Bridge on foot. I had no idea how colorfully painted it is! It's lovely when viewed from a distance and is absolutely massive when you're standing on it. The view of the Thames at sunset is breathtaking and it was such a wonderful finish to our very busy day!

If you've gotten this far, I can't thank you enough for reading! For the recap of our final two days in this amazing city, see "London: Days 5-6"!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed London!

    Y&ou simply MUST see a show at the Globe if you can: it's incredible.