Traipsing Around the City

I’m not really sure if I actually believe it—that I am indeed in London, or in England, for that matter. It’s not as if I haven’t had enough proof—more than amply, I’d say! Perhaps it’s just that the past few days have seemed like a whirlwind of activity, and having been so caught up in it I have struggled to pause.

I don’t think I have ever taken so many pictures in such a concentrated time, but it’s my homage to England. England is beautiful. It is real, it is foreign, and it is beautiful. But London (in particular) is also dirty and crowded, and maybe rude. People don’t forgive your mistakes. But that’s all right. Part of being in a culture is accepting the good along with the bad with one’s chin out heroically—and I’m trying my best to do it heroically!

Yesterday we visited the British Museum, which has over eight million objects inside. I had quite a bit of fun touching things with “Do Not Touch” signs (one of those irresistible temptations) and seeing snatches of the rich, rich history of our world. Even though the Greeks want all of their “stuff” back, I have to admit the statues and pieces of the Parthenon (?) looked quite comfortable where they were.

After a brief sightseeing and picture-taking tour (and by sightseeing, I mean getting temporarily lost twice until we consulted our maps,) a quick rest at the hotel sufficed before setting off to Covent Garden for dinner. Covent Garden was very busy. And really, the British must be economical. It’s the only way to explain how they cram shops and half-store fronts into so little space. After purchasing a Chicken and Mushroom Pie from “The Pie Shop” (appropriate) and perching ourselves on a miscellaneous step (in England, it’s cheaper to take out than eat in), I had to disagree with the general assessment of British food. It may not be French, it may not be exciting—but that pie was delicious!

Another experience—queuing up later to buy a cookie and hot chocolate at “Ben’s Cookies.” The line was interminable, and we waited—quiet, patient, Americans, astonishing thing!—while all the Europeans around us were making quite a lot of impatient noise and getting angry. I was proud of how un-stereotypical we were being, and felt rewarded with the Double Chocolate Chip Nut Cookie! The hot chocolate was good as well, although I believe it contributed to the somewhat late night I had with my heart racing frantically and screeching at me. I may not repeat that experience.

Today we went to church at St. Paul’s Cathedral, built after the great fire of London in 1666. Its beauty was indescribable. I walked in and gasped. The domes—the coiffured ceiling—the beautiful mosaics everywhere—the exquisite detail… it really brought me to tears. The cathedral is still a place of worship, and I could see, as I had never quite understood before with such immediacy, why it had to be made. This was a place meant for a Holy King—The King of Kings. This was the reverence, the awe, the wonder, at Almighty God. And we had the privilege of worshipping there.

Our last stop as a group before the Museum of London was an unobtrusive gateway, through which there was a fountain and, beyond that, a memorial dedicated to “heroic self-sacrifice,” with the names and descriptions of people who had given their lives in attempts to save others. A hush fell over us as we stood and read the stories and imagined the scenes. I felt irreverent for taking pictures—but I didn’t want to forget. They wouldn’t let me forget, for, as the inscription of the memorial itself reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). I felt this was not truer than when I stood there silently, tears pricking at the backs of my eyelids. Most of the plaques were for schoolboys of ten or eleven who had died for their friends or siblings.

A short perusal through the Museum of London, describing London’s history (with an amusing comment—and the only comment, as far as I could tell—being that although King George III had lost the American colonies, England still prospered) and an interesting battle with a horse later, we returned to the hotel for much needed rest and reflection. No nap (sadly)—but my heart patters a little slower now, and tomorrow we’re off to the Tower of London. Cheers!

P.S. English breakfasts are perilously good. Grilled bacon (a sort of half-breed between our bacon and the Canadians’ version), hashbrowns, jam and toast, tea, apricots… the very thing to start of a day filled with lots and lots of walking and lots and lots of people!

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