On our third day in London, we decided to take the river ferry down the Thames from the London Bridge Pier to Westminster Pier, where we planned on seeing the Abbey and the Churchill War Rooms.
The river cruise was MUCH more relaxing and MUCH easier than The Tube. It was about five times as much, and took a bit longer, but at least we weren’t sweating to death and I wasn’t having a panic attack. We also got to see lots of the city from the water, including several bridges, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the London Eye.
Westminster Pier was right smack dab next to Parliament and Big Ben, the latter of which was covered in an impressive amount of scaffolding. Still, I was thrilled to be surrounded by some of the most recognizable icons of the city, and as we made our way towards the Abbey entrance, I finally felt the hustle, bustle, and awe of London I had been waiting for. The vibe in this area was much better than it had been the day before.
We paused for a few moments in Parliament Square Garden to take pictures of the Churchill statue, as well as that of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
When we were standing in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, I was in a state of disbelief. I had dreamed about visiting this place for years. Not only am I a huge fan of Tudor history, but I remember watching Princess Diana’s funeral and William and Kate’s wedding ceremony on TV and thinking about how these events were just adding to the impressive history of the church. Prior to our visit, I spent hours on the Abbey’s website exclaiming over how many famous royals, musicians, writers, and scientists were entombed within its walls.
I took as many pictures of the outside as I could, considering no photos are allowed indoors. The architecture is stunning, and I cannot imagine what it took to construct the massive building a thousand years ago. As we got closer to the entrance, a hush fell over the crowd and the smell of incense greeted visitors at the door. Almost immediately, I was overwhelmed at the sheer amount of . . . STUFF to look at. The arches, chandeliers, and stained glass were only the beginning — nearly every foot of the floor had an engraving paying homage to the person buried beneath, and the walls were absolutely covered in marble statues ranging from angels and crosses to royal standards and busts of the deceased person’s likeness.
We meandered slowly through the Abbey, pointing and gasping at every famous name we spotted — Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, George Frideric Handel — I could go on and on. Any time I spotted a royal name I recognized from Tudor history, I paused and marveled in awe at the age of the tomb and tried to imagine what it must have been like for that person living and ruling in such chaotic times.
When we reached the Abbey’s Lady Chapel, my heart began to flutter. This is what I had been waiting for. I stared in disbelief as I passed by the tomb of Henry the VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York, thinking about how their unlikely union ended the War of the Roses. I stared at the incredible ceiling until my neck ached, knowing that no photo would ever do it justice. (even this photo from the Abbey’s website doesn’t compare to seeing it in real life).
I was a bit shocked to realize that the tomb I had come to see, the woman I wanted to pay my respects to, Elizabeth the I, wasn’t in the main part of the chapel. Instead, she is housed for eternity in a small alcove off to the side. As I passed through the narrow corridor, I tried peeking around the corner to catch a glimpse of the effigy I had viewed so many times online. And as the line of visitors drew us closer and closer to this incredibly strong, independent woman who commanded a nation, I could see that a fresh bouquet of flowers had been laid at the base of her final resting place. The fact that people were still bringing her gifts more than four hundred years after her death did me in — tears clouded my vision as I finally laid eyes on the stunning gold and marble effigy. I only wish the crowd hadn’t been moving so quickly so I could spend a bit more time with her. Still, my wish had finally been fulfilled, and I felt deeply honored to finally get a chance to see her in person.
I left the Abbey feeling extremely humbled and completely fulfilled. As J and I paused at nearby cafe for coffees, he inquired about my affinity for Elizabeth the I, and I happily obliged, probably giving more detail than he ever cared to know.
Next we visited the Churchill War Rooms, a museum housed in the underground rooms where parliament operated during the darkest days of WWII. Here we ate lunch, where I was served a piping hot Shepard’s pie that was absolutely delicious. No standard “museum food” here!
We found St. James Park directly across the street from the museum, and strolled through snapping photos of the picturesque trees, lake, and wildlife. At one point I found a marker in the ground denoting the area as the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. And before we knew it, we stumbled upon a sign telling us that Buckingham Palace was a 5 minute walk from where we currently stood, so we made our way towards the Queen’s residence.
The palace looked stunning in the midday sun, as did the sprawling Queen Victoria Memorial fountain right outside. We went up to the gates to snap a few pictures of the guards, and I circled the fountain at least twice trying to get pictures from every angle.
By this point, our feet were aching once again and our phone batteries were dying, so we made our way back to the ferry, feeling as if we’d had our best day in London yet.