London and Wales, 2009 Home Previous Day Next Day

Day 8: Saturday, Sep. 26
London: Westminster Abbey and British Library

Saturday morning, after taking our time getting up, we went to see Westminster Abbey. We took the Tube to the Westminster Station, and walked a couple of blocks. Before going into the Abbey, however, we went to the nearby Methodist Central Hall and had an early lunch at Wesley's Cafe. The decor and food were as simple as you'd expect from a Methodist cafeteria, but the food was good. The only thing a little unusual was the Cafe Americano, which tasted more like espresso (in a good way).

After touring Westminster (no pictures allowed inside) and the large gift shop, we walked back to the Westminster Station and Jennifer and Winston went back to the hotel. I took a very roundabout route to the British Library and very much enjoyed the rest of the afternoon there. I took a bus back to near the hotel, as I hadn't been on a bus other than the Big Bus tour.

Later we all walked to Blackfriars Pub for a quick pub supper.

Before the touring began, I zipped over to the ATM. This was such an essential part of the trip, I though I should get a picture of it.
This giant piece of sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick can be seen in Bishops Court, an area leading off Paternoster Square. This sculpture is functional as well as decorative, as it protects a cooling vent for electrical transformers, and replaces a plain concrete vent. It has been likened to an angel's wings.
All week, Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street were full of buses, taxis, and other vehicles...but on Saturday and Sunday they were quickly taken over by a repaving crew. Each morning they stripped, ground up, replaced, and smoothed out a block or three of asphalt, and by each nightfall they were finished and ready for the next day.
Still another picture of St. Paul's Cathedral, this one from the southeast side as we walked toward the Mansion House tube station.
Waiting for the next train. The stations here in The City (the Financial district) tended to be very busy on weekdays, but on the weekends the bankers and financial analysts stayed home and things were quieter.
The trains still came quickly and reliably, just with fewer cars and fewer passengers competing for seats.
Close up of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, the third largest free-standing clock tower in the world. Inside is Big Ben, the largest of its bells. Its four-sided clock is 150 years old.
Across the street from Westminister Abbey, a crowd had gathered to protest the continuation of the war in Iraq, and internment camp conditions in Sri Lanka.

The side of Westminister Abbey. It's an old and massive structure.

Approaching the Abbey, and semi-attached tower.

Closer to the bell tower, we see that the blue "clock" on each side is actually a sundial.

That's Big Ben behind it, of course.

After passing by, we decided we needed to eat lunch before going inside. From my guide book (Rick Steves' London) I knew that there was a cafe in the nearby Methodist Central Hall.

Back to Westminster Abbey. It looks rather imposing from the front.

We spent quite a bit of time inside (no photos allowed) and were impressed by the very many famous people who had memorials there, or who were buried there, or both. I was especially impressed by a central location for famous scientists, including Isaac Newton, Sir William Herschel, Ernest Rutherford, J. J. Thomson, James-Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, William Herschel, and Paul Dirac.

I once shared an office next door to Prof. Dirac at FSU, but he never had a need to speak to me. I never had the courage to speak to him.

After leaving Westminster Abbey, we walked through Parliament Square. I did a double-take when I saw a statue of Abraham Lincoln. This is a 1920 replica of a statue in Chicago by the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

We all headed back to the Westminster station. Winston and Jennifer headed east to the Mansion House station and the hotel, and I head west to the Victoria Station, so I could take the Victoria Line north to the British Library. Whoops...the Victoria Line was closed that day for repairs. Not to worry...upstairs was the Victoria train station. The British Library is next door to King's Cross and St Pancras train stations, so I could just take the BritRail train up the the British Library, right?

The Victoria Station is large, but soon enough I located an information booth where I could find out which track had a train to Kings Cross or St Pancras. The answer: go back downstairs and take the Underground two stops west to South Kensington, and change to the Piccadilly Line up to King's Cross. I'd forgotten that the trains don't all go to every station.

So...back down to the Underground station at Victoria. Unlike the tube stations in The City, the stations in the Victoria / Westminster area are more heavily frequented on weekends...tourists, shoppers, and others looking for entertainment.
Finally, I emerged at King's Cross. The Underground station serves both rail stations, King's Cross and St Pancras. St Pancras is next door to the west, and the British Library just to the west of that.
Here is the new British Library building (with many very old things inside). Behind it is the old St Pancras Station with modern-day train service-- including the Eurostar through the Chunnel to France.

This large statue of Isaac Newton dominates the courtyard of the British Library. Sir Eduardo Paolozzi used an engraving of Newton by William Blake as the model for the sculpture.

Inside the Museum were many wonderful things, including three original versions of the Magna Carta, a 1454 Gutenberg Bible, a variety of early star charts from around the world going back to 650 AD, original scores by Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, and Ralph Vaughn Williams. The Beethoven score is accompanied by a tuning fork given to him, and later donated to the Museum by Mrs. Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Original manuscripts by famous writers going back to the 14th Century, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1390), Commonplace Book of John Milton (1640), a notebook by Jane Austen when she was a teenager, the original Alice in Wonderland, and works by Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and others.


One of the items displayed was arguably the first computer program, in a handwritten note from Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron) to Charles Babbage.

Also there: a letter from Charles Darwin to his friend Adam Sedgwick explaining why evolution really wasn't such a bad idea, a manuscript by Sigmund Freud, and the diary of Captain Scott on his way to the South Pole.

And much more.

They had a good gift shop, too. I left the British Library only because they closed for the day.

From the Library I could have taken a train, or the Underground, or a taxi, or even walked back to the hotel. The most convenient option was to take the bus from right outside King's Cross

I took one of these double decker buses back to within a few blocks of the hotel. The view from the front-most seat on the upper level is amazing.

It was another good-weather day, and even late in the afternoon there was still sun on the taller buildings along Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill east of Farringdon Street.

The three of us walked down to Blackfriars Pub, between the hotel and the Thames, for supper. Although it looks much older, the pub was built in 1875. It's near the site of a thirteenth century Dominican Priory (the Black Friars), which inspired its name and decor.

I had steak and kidney pie, Winston had fish and chips, and Jennifer had game pie (with venison, etc.), all washed down with local ale.

It's great to not have to drive home after such a meal.