I’m back in the US and finally recovered from jet lag. (They say it takes about a day for each hour off you are, and that’s roughly true. It took four days for me to stop falling into bed at 9pm and waking up at 5…)
The London part of the trip was pretty spectacular. The weather was cool and occasionally damp–perfect English sightseeing weather. (We’re going to draw a veil of the Paris portion of the trip. Let’s just say that boiling heat, heaving crowds, and the inescapable smell of urine combined with FREAKY WHISTLING CLOWNS ON THE STREET are not a winning combination. But I will say go to Versailles. If you have the chance, always go to Versailles.) There are so many, many things I could say about London, all of them loving. I simply adore that city, and every time I go I revisit my favorites and try to find a few new ones to add to the list.
Here are some of the highlights:
*Westminster Abbey. The architecture is stunning, but unlike some other enormous churches, the Abbey feels warm and happy. (I may be projecting here because it was the scene of William and Kate’s wedding…) It is one of London’s must-see attractions, and as such it’s packed with a looooong line to get in. But I’ve learned a few things that might make your visit a little easier. First, buy your ticket online. We couldn’t because we weren’t certain of when we were going, but the difference in wait times was shocking.
Next, after you’ve done the Abbey proper, don’t miss the cloisters and gardens. They are so peaceful and quiet, you will absolutely forget that you are in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. There are plenty of benches so you can sit and rest your feet while you admire the stunningly beautiful architecture. If you need a bite, head to the Cellarium. It’s tucked away through the Dean’s Yard, and a little tricky to find, but there are loads of helpful people to point you in the right direction. The cafe stretches over two levels and serves full English breakfast, lunch, tea, etc. (Limited breakfast menu on Sundays.) It’s a truly lovely place to relax with a glass of wine or a pot of tea.
Now, when we were visiting, the one thing I desperately wanted to see was the tomb of Edward I. The Abbey is loaded with royal tombs, but this one was the most special to me. (As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Edward I was my 21st-great-grandfather, and the idea that I would be visiting my ancestor’s burial place was hugely moving to me.) But here’s the rub–Edward I is buried up in the shrine of Edward the Confessor, the oldest and holiest part of the Abbey, and the part that is not open to the general public. All I could see was the plain black side of his tomb, looming up above my head. It was hugely disappointing, so I found the nearest warden and asked if there are any private tours available. The answer was, “Oh, so sorry, no, BUT…” and then she proceeded to explain to me that twice a day–11am and 3pm–there were prayer services in the shrine.
We had missed the 3pm service, but the next day we followed her instructions and showed up at the side gate to the Abbey and told the warden on duty that we were there for the prayer service in the shrine. Five minutes before the service, he waved us through, and I thought we were on our own, but to my amazement, once we were in the Abbey, another warden made a beeline for us and escorted us to seats next to the high altar. (If you were watching William and Kate’s wedding, we were sitting where the Queen and Prince Philip were.) He told us to sit there for the brief Abbey-wide prayer service and then stay until someone came to fetch us. It took me a minute to realize that the wardens all communicate via earpieces–very Secret Service and quite cool, actually.
The prayer service was only a moment or two, and the minute it was done, a third warden swooped down and grabbed us, guiding us to the tiny winding wooden stair that leads up to the shrine of Edward the Confessor. His tomb is in the center of the shrine, circled by various royal tombs. It has been a site of worship and veneration for a millennium, and I can’t even begin to describe what a thrill it was to be in that sacred space with the bones of my ancestors. (Edward I’s father, Henry III, is also buried there in a considerably more lavish tomb than his son.) There were chairs arranged around Edward the Confessor’s tomb, and I took the one just in front of Edward I. We participated in a short prayer service and were then invited to walk slowly around the Confessor’s tomb in contemplation. It was indescribably moving, and I was surprised I managed not to bawl all over the place. (I admit, I did well up, and the warden who conducted us out asked, “Is everything QUITE alright, madam?” God, I love the British.)
The entire event lasted only about a quarter of an hour, but it was utterly wonderful, and if you are looking for a really meaningful way to enjoy the Abbey, do ask about the prayer services. Alternately, you can pop in for evensong on Wednesday evenings–a magical experience from what I’ve heard.
I intended to write more about the trip, but I seem to have burned an entire blog on the Abbey alone! For the month of August, I’ll be blogging about the trip and goodies for the upcoming release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING as well as finishing up the second Veronica book, due to my editor August 31. Then, September 2 starts the book tour for A CURIOUS BEGINNING! The next newsletter, August 5, is featuring a second excerpt from the book, so be sure you’ve signed up–and don’t forget to keep checking Twitter, FB, and the Tour page for appearances.