Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ENGLAND: The Top Ten List

Hayley and I got back from our holiday in England on Sunday afternoon. What a trip. We did so much and it’s tough to choose highlights—the whole trip was just amazing! Here are the top things that stand out, in random order:
1. Tower of London—A tourist attraction for over three centuries, it’s almost hard to believe all the history of torture, imprisonment, and execution at the Tower. Those who committed treason or threatened the throne have been imprisoned here for over 900 years, and three queens, including two of Henry VIII’s six wives, were executed here. So much soap opera-type drama with the royals…you couldn’t make this stuff up! We were very excited to meet the first female Beefeater ever, Yeoman Warder Moira Cameron. I remember when she made the news last year. What a terribly fascinating place.

2. Westminster Abbey—the mustiness, mystery, and magic of a medieval Gothic cathedral will always speak to my soul. There’s not much to say except that this is the most magnificent place in all of London and it is not a place to try to capture with photos or a terse description; it’s a place to feel and experience.
3. Windsor Castle—Everything you ever imagined a thousand-year-old fairytale castle to be. This wasn’t originally on our itinerary and was a huge treat to be able to visit. All along the walls of this amazing (and gigantic!) castle, one of the Queen’s official residences, were paintings by Holbein, Rubens, and van Dyke. The Queen has an art collection worth ten billion pounds…can you believe that?! If I were rich, I would collect original art and first edition books...maybe someday?
4. Tea at the Ritz—This was our big splurge but it was totally worth it! Hayley and I got dressed up and headed to the exquisite Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel for high tea last Wednesday night. It was an experience I will remember forever and something I would do every time I visited London. I ordered rose congou tea which was wonderful. The warm scones with clotted cream and jam were marvelous, and the Ritz chocolate cake and other pastries were delightful. And as we were walking in, Bill Clinton was walking out…it was just a really memorable, and quite posh, experience =)

5. Oxford—If Oxford was a person, I would marry it. It swept me off my feet! The college and university buildings are breathtaking, we visited Christ Church were scenes from Harry Potter were filmed and which was stunningly beautiful, went to Blackwell’s Books, had Ben’s Cookies (the original!), and ate a late lunch at the Eagle and Child Pub, where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis shot the breeze regularly. KILL ME NOW…this place was just so fantastic.

6. The British Library—This place was not even on my radar for some reason, but good thing Hayley insisted on a visit. Don’t let the hideous architecture fool you…this place was incredible! They have a Gutenburg Bible, the Magna Carta, the first folio of Shakespeare’s works, Jane Austen’s letters, Captain Cook’s journal, original Beatles lyrics, Handel’s handwritten Messiah, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland sketches and notes, and lots of other original documents. Simply fascinating.

7. Theatre shows—You know what's great about London? People, even young people, actually go to the theater. Billy Elliot was stunning! Music by Elton John. Directed by Stephen Daldry (who directed the film). Just fantastic. And our seats were first row balcony…so great. We also saw Spamalot, front row center (don’t know how that happened!). Seriously the funniest musical I have ever seen in my life! We tried two nights to get tickets to Les Mis (sold out), but these two definitely entertained us.
8. The National Gallery—An art history major’s dream come true. I couldn’t handle myself here. They literally, literally, have works—and not just minor works, but masterpieces—from every major artist. Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, a whole room of Rubens, Van Eyck, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Van Gogh…I could go on and on and on. One of my favorite pieces was a cartoon (full-size prep drawing for a painting, done on paper) done by da Vinci (above). Unfreakingbelievable.

9. Stonehenge—Just a bunch of rocks…no big deal, right? Not exactly. Seeing this iconic site was surreal! We had a lot of fun taking jumping pictures here. It was really exciting, even if it wasn’t created by aliens. It’s a World Heritage site, which made me wonder what else is I've seen on the (very extensive) list. Check it out.

10. The British Museum—I almost had a pleasure-induced seizure here. It’s been a dream of mine to see the Elgin Marbles for a long time (above). They are one of the great treasures of the world. A wonderful portrait of Alexander the Great, one of my favorite people to study, was there too. The mummies and sculptures were just magnificent! And…the museums in London are FREE!!

The man who tires of London tires of life. For there is in London all that life can afford. --Samuel Johnson

1 comment:

Alli Hibb said...

Hooray! I LOVE London! I'm so glad to see pictures of you loving it too!!