Day 8 (November 18)

This day, our last full day here, became catch-up day.

We decided to make another run at English breakfast, and this time we had more luck. We ate at a pub in Covent Garden. I had the vegetarian breakfast, which was like the regular but with carrot and parsnips sausage instead of meat sausage and ham. The rest? Fried eggs, hash browns, a grilled tomato and baked beans. It was quite good. Carrot and parsnips sausage? Surprisingly tasty.

After breakfast, we hopped on the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral. After seeing so many churches all week I was still really glad we found the time for this one. It was spectacular — so much detail everywhere it was impossible to take it all in: the glittering mosaics on the ceiling, the black-and-white checkered floor, the dark, intricate woodworking, the paintings, the gilding, the enormous dome.

We walked around awhile, and then Eileen and I (Jeff had just seen it last year, so he opted to explore the area around the cathedral) hiked up the long, partly spiral staircase to the whispering gallery in the dome. I enjoyed this as much as the cathedral interior. It felt like a hidden space that you weren't really supposed to be in, even though there were plenty of people walking up with us. We were between the outer walls of the church, with a few small windows providing much of the light. In the straightaways, the space was barely wide enough for one person. In one area, we could see the smaller lower ceiling domes from the straight wings of the church. A sign pointed out damage from the Blitz. It's amazing to me that the church stayed standing throughout World War II.

When we finally got to the top, it was higher up than I had expected, and my fear of heights kicked in. The seats and people below looked so tiny from up there. There wasn't a lot of room in the ledge around the dome, either. There was a metal railing all around, and a wooden row of seats. I felt more comfortable sitting, so I did that for awhile. As I was sitting, I could hear people whispering — some near me and some across the dome. They all said something like "if you can hear me, wave your arms." And then sometimes I'd see someone across the dome waving their hands.

We didn't climb any further up, although the view from the top of the dome is supposed to be spectacular. I could see the balcony rail for it and it was really high up, plus we would have had to climb another 300 or so stairs. Uh, pass on that. We made our way down, walked around the main level a bit more, and then went down into the crypt. Unlike Westminster Abbey and the other churches we visited, most people at St. Paul's a buried in the crypt, including Lord Nelson.

One thing that really struck me at St. Paul's, and I suppose I had started to realize it at the previous churches, was the strong connection between religion, war and art in England. There were a number of war memorials, and some of the tombs featured very elaborate sculptures. One I really remember was a wounded soldier being pulled from his horse by another soldier. Coming from the United States, where though sometimes separation of church and state isn't quite what it should be, it's still pretty commonly recognized as being one of the founding principles of the country, it was kind of hard to wrap my head around.

We walked from St. Paul's to the Millennium Bridge. It was a brisk but sunny day, which made for a great walk. Lots of people out, and a street vendor selling roasted nuts (there were a lot of those throughout the trip). We only walked halfway across since we didn't actually need to go across. I took a lot of pictures.

We left the bridge and walked back past St. Paul's to the Tube. We wanted to catch a 2 p.m. London Walks tour of the British Museum. Like Westminster Abbey, we figured a guide to help us hit the highlights would be much better than wandering aimlessly ourselves.

We got to the Tube station where the walk met early and there was a Sainsburys across the street. We went in and wandered amidst the British food. The saddest thing — the giant spread of instant coffee. I seriously think it was more instant coffee than I have seen in the last 10 years. Maybe more than that. I had some very good espresso while I was in London, so I know there's a crop of people who appreciate good coffee. But then there's all that instant coffee...

The tour took us through Bloomsbury on our way to the museum. This is a big literary area in London (Virginia Woolf and others lived there) and it was absolutely lovely. I wouldn't have minded spending more time there.

The museum itself is in this huge neoclassical building, great big pillars. We went inside to its covered courtyard, which is immense and has this beautiful ceiling. That space used to house the British library, but all that's left of it now is the circular reading room in the center. We got to take a peek inside and it was a totally cool space — all those beautiful old books up on the shelves.

We didn't have much time before it was on to Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. There were a lot of people looking at the stone when we first came in, so we looked at some hieroglyphics and statues. I did get a good full look at it before we moved on, though.

We spent a long time in the Greek area, looking at ruins from the Parthenon, both the carved frieze from the building and statues. The carving was amazing.

Before walking to more Egypt, we saw the ruins from one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. I have to be honest, I don't have them all memorized and I didn't remember this being one of them, but it was pretty impressive. You could tell how massive the thing must have been, from the ruins.

And then it was on to the mummies. They creeped me out a bit — the idea that these people were buried so ceremoniously and now they're on display in front of millions of people.

That's kind of a theme for the whole musuem, the way it was filled. The English show up at some place of antiquity, say, "You lousy slackers, how can you let your priceless ancient ruins fall into such disrepair!?! We will save them for you!!!" And then the ruins get carted off to the British Museum. And then some period of time later the place the ruins came from decides it wants them back, so there's controversy.

The final exhibit we saw had no such controversy — it was a series of artifacts found in a field with a series of burial mounds, much like the ones we'd seen in the fields around Stonehenge. They determined the artifacts belonged to a king during the Dark Ages, and the richness and intricacy of their work meant that historians had to rethink how backwards things were during the Dark Ages.

That exhibit concluded the tour. The museum is definitely expansive and impressive — we probably could have spent a whole week there.

After we left the museum, we made plans to go on another pub walk in Hampstead, after a trip back to the hotel to pack a bit. We never made it there, though, because they suspended Tube service on the line we were on for a person on the tracks. We were in Camden, so we opted to just find a pub there; I enjoyed walking through the area — it was another place I would have liked to spend more time. We ended up at a bar Eileen had read about in her guidebook — Monkey Chews. We had some very tasty drinks and then walked back to the hotel, where we ordered a pizza from the future, which will make me giggle every time I think about it, ever.

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