Chapter Five: Westminster, Winston and Wallace

P1000748Chapter Five:  Westminster, Winston and Wallace

Day Six – Breakfast On The River, Follow The Hordes, Tombs With A View, A Slight Problem With Churchill, Just Another Magna Carta, Channeling My Inner Gerry Rafferty, The Beverly Hills Of London, The Frick: London Style, Afternoon Pub Stop, Vexed At Vauxhall, Party In The Room And Finally Some Fish & Chips

To paraphrase George Gershwin, “it was a foggy morning in London town,” but there was no rainWestminster Abbey did not open until 9:30, so we all decided to grab breakfast at a little place we had seen previously on our walks that sat at the edge of the Thames.

P1000686The Bean & Olive Riverside Cafe at the Lambeth Pier served us a hearty breakfast, which we needed, because we would utilize a lot of energy today scurrying to all the places we wanted to go on our last “all-London Day.”

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It was a good way to start the day.

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Departing the restaurant, the fog was lifting and Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” was beginning to turn into Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.”

EngDay6M #01The Eye was beckoning, but we had a more important place to visit.

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We walked across the bridge with views of Parliament and Big Ben….

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…from all angles.

P1000693When we arrived at Westminster Abbey at 9:45, there was already a line to enter (only about a 15-minute wait). Kim, Mary and I each received the £15 senior discount, while Tracy had to pay full price (that’ll teach me to marry a youngster). We collected our headsets and it was time to check this place out (no photography allowed).

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Virtually anyone who was anybody from Chaucer (no cups, however) to Olivier to Kings and Queens are buried in Westminster Abbey. The audio guide was informative (a must if you don’t do the Verger tour, which wasn’t convenient to our hectic schedule), but it didn’t really go in numbered order all the time, so you had to keep on your toes. As a matter of fact, there were so many people going in the same direction that they were stepping on my toes.

Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, with its incredible ceiling, was our favorite part of Westminster Abbey.  The unique, pendant style, fan vaulted ceiling, is set along the front walls of the chapel with its high stained glass windows, which depict soldiers who fought in the Great Wars.  Tracy said it was her favorite ceiling she has ever seen, topping her previous winner, St. Chapelle in Paris.

736221.jpg Kim was partial to Henry VII’s tomb (both photos from internet since we are not scofflaws).

Henry VII tomb, Westminster Abbey. Detail east end with cherubs

The abbey has hosted nearly 40 coronations and a ton of royal weddings. Every hour there is a slight pause for a moment of prayer. I prayed the hordes of tourists didn’t trample us, and my prayer was answered.

One of the last areas we visited was Poet’s Corner. Besides Chaucer and Olivier, there’s Dickens, Tennyson, Kipling and a host of other tombs and monuments dedicated to those buried (and not buried) here. Sadly, the Benny Hill Monument was nowhere to be found.

P1000714Although there is no photography inside Westminster Abbey, you can take pictures in the other areas, as we did when we reached the Little Cloister.

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Afterward, we toured St. Catherine’s Chapel Garden and the College Garden.

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We then made a quick stop at the Pyx Chamber…

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…which, as the website states, “was probably made into a treasury in the 13th century and may have been used as a sacristy when Henry III was rebuilding the main Abbey.”

P1050711 In the west cloister of Westminster Abbey are some white marble tablets.  One has the urn in memory of Dr Thomas Sanders Dupuis (left above), a musician.  He came from a Huguenot family and was organist and composer at the Chapel Royal in London.

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There was another Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Celebration exhibition that we stopped in before departing Westminster.

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Next we took a short walk over to the Churchill War Rooms. This is where we would encounter our first 2FOR1 problem thanks to a guy who I’m sure was a hall monitor in high school and who drives the speed limit in the fast lane as an adult.

P1000731Kim and Mary preceded us in line with no questions and problems (they always come across as so innocent). Obviously I must have looked like a scofflaw, because the guy asked me to show my train ticket. I confidently showed him my 7-Day Travelcard. “That’s not good for a discount,” he said with a bit of a sneer.

P1000728Being that this was the Churchill War Rooms, I showed a stiff upper lip and said, “It sure as hell does.” As the line of people mounted behind us, he eventually gave up his quest for full payment, and we received the 2FOR1. Quoting Winston, I said, “The problems of victory are more agreeable than the problems of defeat, but they are no less difficult.” We moved on.

P1000727 The actual War Rooms that you see at the end of the self-guided tour are very interesting, but we were all dissatisfied with the way the actual museum is set up exhibiting mementos and the history of Churchill’s life.

P1000730 - Version 2 There is no coherent order of how to walk through the museum. At one point we were standing looking at stuff he did during World War II, and then we’d be reading about his childhood or looking at a video of his funeral. What we saw was certainly worthwhile, but it could have been presented in a much better manner, in our opinion.

Back outside on a gorgeous (where’s that rain again) day, we stretched our legs a bit, and then we were off to our next destination.

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We took the tube to the Euston Station, and at first couldn’t decide on a place to grab a bite (“Euston, we have a problem”).  Caffé Nero fit the bill. For a fast food joint, this chain is pretty good.

P1000733After lunch, we walked a few blocks to check out the British Library.  Fortunately, the British Library puts all the big-ticket items in one room (the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery).  I don’t how many Gutenberg Bibles there are, but it seems like I see one every trip.

P1000734Oh, and what about that darned Magna Carta?  Although there are supposedly only four original copies, the four of us have seen so many Magna Cartas (often times at museums where one of them is on loan) that we all feel like we’re now close, personal friends with King John. Maybe we should vacation next at Runnymede.

6a00d8341c464853ef019b03452d54970d-500wi Speaking of John, the best part of the British Library (to us) had nothing to do with bibles, ancient legal documents, Shakespeare’s first folio, Da Vinci’s notebooks, Handel’s Messiah or the journals of Captain Cook (no photos…picture above from British Library website).  It was the display of stuff from four lads from Liverpool. Damn, I wish I had kept my Beatles Fan Club Membership Card.

P1000735After looking at the beautifully restored hotel across the street from the British Library (which the four of us originally thought WAS the British Library), we hopped back on the tube to a very old station in London. Baker Street is one of the original underground railway stations.  It opened in 1863.

P1000736Since we were at the Baker Street Station, I asked Kim and Mary if they liked that Gerry Rafferty song, Baker Street. I had momentarily forgotten that (except for the music from Les Misérables), Kim’s musical memories pretty much died when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin kicked the bucket.

baker_street“I don’t know the song Baker Street,” Kim said.

Sadly, both for our group and anyone within close proximity of as we walked toward the Wallace Collection, I tried singing Baker Street (rather poorly I must admit).  Finally, he said, “Oh, I think I know that song after all,” although I’m convinced he said that just to shut me up.

P1000758The Wallace Collection, which is housed inside an historic London townhouse, had been recommended by so many people, so it was a natural, albeit out of the way, stop for us.

P1000741Lady Wallace stated that the paintings and other belongings had to stay put after her death, and the collection of masters is very impressive.

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Even with Rembrandts and Titians on display, I liked “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals the best.

P1000748There are numerous rooms filled with antique furniture and decorative art.

P1000747It’s definitely a place I would recommend. The café at the Wallace Museum looked cute, too.

P1000755 By now, we were pooped (yes, the dreaded late afternoon poop-out), and what do pooped people do?  Well, these pooped people found a pub.  Very near St. Christopher’s Place (a courtyard filled with numerous restaurants) off of James Street (and only about a five to ten minute walk from the Wallace Collection), we popped into the nearby Lamb & Flag pub.

P1000761Kim and Mary tried some Czech pivo, while I had another cold Guinness. Tracy (not a beer drinker) continued to order wine, and today’s choice was actually better than most she had tried.

P1000762The Marylebone neighborhood where the Wallace Collection and St. Christopher’s Place are located caught our eye immediately. “It reminds me of Beverly Hills,” Tracy said.  Cute restaurants and shops abound here, although I’m not sure the entire area is Marylebone.
Although Beverly Hills might not be the correct description (it reminded me more of Pasadena), I think the reason we were enamored of this part of London was that it was one of the few spots in the city with no construction and dust.

After our beer break, we popped over to the nearby Bond Street station and headed back to Vauxhall.  When we got to Vauxhall station, we stopped to inquire with the ticket agent about purchasing train tickets for the next morning when we were going to travel to Hampton Court. This wasn’t the first person we had asked during the course of the week, and nobody could give us a straight answer where we could purchase the tickets. Finally we said, “To hell with it; we’ll figure it out tomorrow morning.”

We all found a little time to relax and put out feet up in the late afternoon, and then, about 6:30, Kim and Mary arrived at our door bearing cheese, bread and a bottle (might have been two) of wine. There’s nothing like eating before heading out to dinner.

We had not gone to a Fish & Chips joint since we had been in London, so we decided on a restaurant that had been recommended by some locals on our Buckingham Palace tour. Off we went in search of the Sea Shell Of Lisson Grove in Marylebone.

Mary had a fish pie that consisted of cod, salmon, prawns, mushrooms and veggies topped with a “Cheesy Mash.” She was unimpressed. The fish & chips, on the other hand were quite good (Kim said they were the best fish and chips he has ever eaten).

P1000765Although charming on the outside (photo below is from website), the restaurant itself could definitely use an ambiance makeover. The lighting was so bright that it felt like we were dining at a Denny’s.  Even though it was monkeys outside (well, I guess it wasn’t that cold, so let’s say it was chimpanzees outside), we were sweating buckets in the area where we first were seated (by the fish tanks) and needed to change to a table by the window for some fresh air.

London The Seashell fish and chip restaurantObviously I had not eaten enough at dinner, so tonight Tracy and I stopped at The Rose for a nightcap and a slice of Orange Cake. The Orange Cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel was delicious. The Espresso martinis weren’t too shabby either.

The following morning we would wake up early to catch a train…if we could find someone to sell us a ticket.  We would be heading out to Henry VIII’s residence where we would spend the morning before returning for our last few hours in London.  We would not be disappointed…Hampton Court Palace certainly lived up to the hype, but as good as the inside is to tour, it would be the outside that would forever be etched in our collective memories.

Next: Day Seven – Coming Out Of The Closet, That’s The Ticket, I’m Henry VIII I Am, Garden Splendour, A Return To St. Christopher’s Place, A Lesser Palace, Missing The Squirrels, Party In The Room: Part Deux and “You’re Back!”

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