Day 3, Wed, 9/24
Sleeping, and waking were rough. Willpowers and circadian rhythms battled; everyone lost.
We all walked to breakfast at Frank’s Cafe’. Inside, the place was maybe ten feet wide and thirty feet long (about 3.75 meters by 2.921 deciliters). Benches and tables packed the left side. On the right was the bar and then the kitchen towards the back. Vintage Chelsea F.C. gear decked the walls. It was hot, sticky, and packed with hungry working class people. The service was fast, and the food was cheap.
At the bar, if you could squeeze by the crowd, there was a big glass cabinet filled with huge bowls of lunch fixings. The top of this cabinet doubled as the bar for orders. One employee was taking the orders, dressed in a stereotypical black and white striped apron. He told us to, “Order up ‘ere,” and then grab a seat if we wanted. Clearly he recognized this was our first time.
Mom snatched a table, a tiny booth of sorts, nearby a gaggle of construction workers. Meanwhile, the rest of us ordered massive breakfasts from a menu that included: “Toast and Beans,” “Toast and Eggs,” “Eggs and Sausage,” “Eggs and Bacon,” “Eggs and Tomatoes,” “Toast, Eggs and Tomatoes,” “Eggs, Beans and Toast,” “Bacon and Toast,” etc. We marveled at a giant bowl below this creatively simplistic menu which contained a literal mountain of butter. Toast flew out of the toaster nearby, and someone would slather it with butter from the butter mountain. Only an ogre sized spatula was up to the task, no measly butter knife would do.
We all got tea or coffee. The caffeinated drinks shot out from different trunks of a towering steampunk machine. Surprisingly, and yet not, the tea was indistinguishable from the coffee–it was that strong and black. The total for the whole breakfast was like eighteen Pounds. Needless to say, we all loved it. Sarah especially ogled and gobbled the stewed tomatoes with thick cut bacon. Seriously, she kept talking later about those tomatoes in particular.
Gorged, we crossed over Westminster Bridge. The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben gleamed their golden color in the temperamental sunlight. Next time, we’ll try and get a tour of those, we decided.
Our real destination was Westminster Abbey. The line was huge. The fee was ridiculously expensive. They refused our student ID’s. All of this was ultimately worth it. I knew it would be; it was not my first time. However, this time around I was far more impressed at the graves I, and a thousand other tourists, were stomping on. That interest stems mainly from a growing encyclopedic understanding of British literature and history–something lacking when I last visited Westminster at the age of around ten.
The audio guide was “free” with the mandatory admission fee. It was great, so long as you didn’t want to know anything intersting. Several times the guide said something like: “The tomb you are now standing in front of was erected in 1610, and is the tallest in the Abbey.”
“Oh that’s quite interesting,” I responded to the giant lice infested audio “guide.” “I traveled thousands of miles by modern technology purely to catalog the height of your wondrous country’s cultural monuments. Now you have satiated my burning thirst with your informativeness. Thank you kindly.”
The “guide” says nothing about who built a particular amazing altar or why it has statues of demons tormenting a frightened girl trying to pray. There was a chapel that had beautiful stained glass with an angel and a priest depicted, but the guide figured you really wanted to know about the history of the Boys Choir of Westminster instead.
WARNING: RANT DETECTION DEVICE MAY BE IN NEED OF SERVICE. UNSERVICED DEVICES MAY FAIL TO REGISTER RANT THREATS.
I thought it would go without saying but:
Dear Westminster Abbey.
I came for the demons and skeletons, not for your Boys Choir. Please tell me more about the demons, the skeletons, and all the terrible things you’re evil Dark Age monarchs did whose bodies you have interned within your hellacious walls.
I did my best to fill in the history where I could for Sarah. For instance, we saw the tomb of Edward I, aka Edward Longshanks. The guide was sure not to include his conquests of Wales and Scotland, or his edict banishing the Jews from England. I suppose I should have flipped him the bird, but there were a lot of vicars around.
One particularly old vicar just sat down in one of the fancy chairs in the Lady’s chapel. I mean, the ones with the full on Coat of Arms and name placard screwed into the seatback for a specific, very rich “knight” to use. Ok, tell a lie, technically he sat in the Knight’s squire’s chair, which doesn’t have a velvet rope across it. Ask that guy questions when you’re there, because he has fantastic stories about those Lords. According to him, there’s an official Heraldry expert who helps the newbie knights figure out a Coat of Arms in case they’re family doesn’t already have one.
As with much of Europe, random out of place stuff is actually historic. A hole in the wall of the Lady’s Chapel is where a German bomb smashed into the place during the Blitz. By the Chapter House there’s a random sign that says: “Oldest door in Britain.” Looking at it, I believe it. Sarah was totally in love with that door; the first of many cool doors on our trip.
You could actually take pictures in the Chapter House. I guess the old shit in there was too unimportant to worry that much about. I mean, they had already converted it into a modern art exhibit (“who cares about that ancient filth that’s already painted on the walls. It only dates to the 14th century”). I made sure to snap one of the old mural depicting Satan as a multi-headed beast, and much of the Book of Revelation. No way I was gonna pass that up.
One more quick story from Westminster. It’s the last one I swear. Inside the gift shop there’s a stone casket just all by its lonesome (Picture here). You can touch it, kick it, probably lick it if you wanted. That casket, or technically sarcophagus, dates back to an unknown Roman who lived in what was then called “Londinium.” Though he was pagan, his stone corpse box has a big ass cross carved into it. The reason for it is because his sarcophagus was dug up around a century after he was buried in it. Christians chucked out that old pagan corpse, and chucked in a fresh Christian one: “No reason to let those corpse boxes go to waste!”
Oh, we also saw the Coronation chair as we left. Man, that thing is severely beat up. A magnificent exemplar of monarchical majesty it is not. Partly that’s because it is old, but mostly, it’s because someone had the bright idea a while back to let schoolboys decorate it. That explains the plethora of names stupidly etched deep into the woodwork. Nice touch England. Of course, if I was related to one of those schoolboys, I would totally brag about it.
Outside Westminster was a giant taxi demonstration. There were hoards of cabbies just sitting in streets around the square. Ingeniously, the lords of Parliament were sure to not be in session that day.
We were starved, so went to a coffee shop where I couldn’t use the wifi again. Sarah asked for someone to fill her water bottle, and they did so with boiling water. I don’t know if you’ve tried to hold a metal, non-insulated bottle just filled with boiling water, but go ahead and try it. It turned out, that there was a cold water cooler by the front door. We craftily poured out the scalding water using napkins and nigh jet pilot reflexes.
We wandered for a while around St. Paul’s cathedral and then headed for a Whole Foods. That may sound like a waste of travel time, but this Whole Foods has a climate controlled cheese room, and the largest selection of eggs we’ve ever seen. But most importantly, right next to that egg collection are cans of baked beans–stacked exactly where they should be.
 “The series of 14th century paintings of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement in the Chapter House are the most extensive.” http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/art/wall-paintings.
 ‘Plate 57: Stone Coffin and Sarcophagi,’ An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Vol. 3, Roman London (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1928), 57, accessed January 20, 2015, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/london/vol3/plate-57.