Sunday, July 31, 2011

LONDON DAY 8, July 7th

Thursday morning and it's time for our London Pass to kick in. We'll start with a visit to Shakespeare's Globe. It's on the other side of the Thames River, so we take the tube to London Bridge station and walk the Southbank area, barely ahead of the rain. We take a short cut through the Borough market area, where signs still left from the second World War give us inspiration.
The Globe Theatre is a replica of Shakespeare's original theatre, which stood just a few hundred yards from here, and the circular shape of the pale building studded with wood below a thatched roof is a pleasure to see.

We opt for the behind-the-scenes tour and walk through the displays while waiting for the next tour to begin. I pick up an audio guide for a few extra pounds and enjoy hearing about bawdy London at this time period. I had no idea Londoners once lived in huts atop the frozen river. I peer at the glassed-in artifacts such as bowling balls, bottles and ticket boxes found during excavation of the original site to determine what shape and size to build the replica.I stay to watch a quick film about costuming and makeup and how the young actors who depicted women in Shakespeare's plays were literally poisoning themselves to death by applying lead paint to their faces for every performance.

The guides at the Globe are what you might expect from Shakespearean folk-- snooty and easily perturbed; barely tolerating us colloquial speakers of modern English. But they do (only just barely), because tourists help keep the theatre going. Despite the attitude, however, the Globe is certainly a worthwhile visit and I like to think that the Bard himself wasn't at all stuffy. In fact, his plays were considered for the common man and quite bawdy for their time, too. It says so on the displays.
We catch a rehearsal of Anne Boleyn, which is very exciting and we decide to stay on, until we're ushered out by the skittish tour guide.

Make sure to visit the gift shop, too. I'm told it's one of the best in London, filled with great T-shirts, mugs and quirky gifts imprinted with Shakespearean sayings.

When we're ready to leave, it's still pouring out. Luckily, the restaurant I have earmarked for lunch is across the street from the Globe. It's a Turkish restaurant I'd read about, called TAS PIDE and one of several Tas restaurants sprinkled over south London. We're welcomed into the white stucco building and ushered past a wood-fired oven where a man hauls out a loaf of bread with sear marks across it.
Next to us, a group of men are sipping peppermint tea and munching on cookies.

Since we've never had Turkish food before, we decide to go for the fixed menu-- a three course meal for under 10 pounds each. Right off, we're served a hummus dip and a yogurt dip called cacik with cucumber and mint and that delicious warm bread the man hauled out from the oven. Both are really tasty-- I love all the fresh herbs sprinkled on top. For our mains, we order the tavuklu without the cheddar cheese. It's a dish with chicken,red peppers and basil along with a tomato puree, all wrapped in dough then baked in that wood-fired oven.I'm not a big bread person, but the dough has so much flavor and the chicken must have been marinated and simmered in with the red peppers, because it's really moist. I would describe the food as clean, simple and so flavorful because of all the fresh herbs and spices used.
But the best turns out to be the dessert-- an apricot stuffed with homemade cream and an almond, all rolled in pistachios and honey. I love every bite and can't wait to have Turkish food at home.

It's time to go to St. Paul's, which Rich isn't too excited about, but I figure if it's incredibly boring, we'll slip out of the tour early.
We walk over the Millennium Bridge, trying hard not to slip from the rain as the surface is a kind of stainless steel. It's quite a juxtaposition being on this modern bridge with wiring for railings and seeing the dome of St. Paul's looming on the other side of the Thames. But we need to hurry in order to make it to the Cathedral for the super-tour. We arrive a few minutes before it starts and are told it's full, but the guide, Chris, looks at us and smiles, saying he'll take two more.

The tour is an hour and a half and Chris turns out to be an amazing guide. Think of the most inspirational teacher you could possibly have and that would be Chris. He leads us into places not usually explored by visitors like the Bell Tower-- down a cluster of stone steps and tells us not to look up until we get to the bottom, upon which we should close our eyes until he tells us to open them. When we do, we're gazing up to the Dean's staircase-- a spiraling wonder of stone steps jutting out of the walls on one side, suspended in the air on the other.
Chris calls for silence and stabs a finger in the air, then another and the bells start ringing. Hearing them echo is quite magical. Chris tells us that the staircase was filmed for the Harry Potter movies. "When the bells were wrung with human hands by the sweat of one man's brow there was never an issue," Chris says, "but now that its automated, we do get slip ups."

He ushers us into a private chapel and we sit in the ornately carved stalls where knights once worshiped and get drawn into the world of Christopher Wren-- who built this current church-- the fourth church on this property-- after the great fire. Started in 1675, it took 33 years to complete and the project was considered extremely daring-- a dome as grand as the Roman Catholic churches for a Presbyterian church?
It was difficult to raise money for such a project, no matter how much of a favorite Wren was of the King's, but through a coal tax, Londoners raised 750,000 pounds to build it, which is why it is considered England's church.

All the stained glass windows were destroyed during the blitz of the second World War,(there's a wonderful chapel called the U.S Memorial chapel dedicated to America as a thank-you for liberating Britain), but Chris points out that while the stained glass was never replaced, we are seeing the church exactly as Wren built it, also thanks to a decades-long renovation removing much grit, grime and painting restoration. The project was completed this spring.

"Just in time for the Royal Wedding" Chris smiles. "We would have given them a wonderful day, but of course, the Abbey is the church of the monarchy. We are the church of all of England."

We descend below the cathedral to the Crypt, and stop to hear about who is buried on this floor, or beneath it. Rich gasps when he looks down and realizes where he's standing. "There's your guy!" I tell him when I read the inscription:

Born May 13 1842
Died Nov 22 1900

So Rich has gotten as close as he possibly could to Gilbert & Sullivan, just a foot away from Arthur himself. If we do nothing else on this trip, it will have been worthwhile.

Being in the Crypt is quite a surreal experience. The ceilings are high, the walkways arched, the walls are stone and the whole thing gives off a pale yellow light. Weirdly enough, it's kind of like being in an ancient wine cellar. Walking around the massive-sized stone replicas of famous Brits lying above their tombs or looking down at the ground at the stones where the bones of so many famous people lay, is humbling. You really do see how important it is to enjoy every moment, how in the end, you might just end up next to a church restaurant where they serve scones--but how horrible would that be?(Especially is you love scones the way I do.)

Along the corridor to Wellington's tomb are the ceremonial flags used during his burial in 1858.They're tattered and frayed at the ends, but it's incredible that they are left as they were, for us to witness. The mosaics on the floor were layed-out by women prisoners and you can see how over time, the work gets more intricate and beautiful.
Lord Nelson's tomb is right under the Dome. His tomb was meant for Henry the 8ths Chancellor who died on the way to the gallows at the Tower of London. So Nelson is in the granite block instead, inside three coffins as his body was pickled in a barrel of brandy on the sea voyage home for his funeral.

We end our tour at the most fitting of epitaphs; Christopher Wren's. It says:

"Reader if you seek a monument-look around you." Christopher Wren,who died at age 91, came to worship at St. Paul's weekly, and saw it as his true home.

"Are you ready to venture back into the outside world?" Chris asks us. We all pause, not wanting to. Then he tells us, "Evensong is at 5 o'clock and you can sit in the stalls along with the choir if you're there a few minutes before five."

"Let's do it" Rich whispers to me. We're a bit early. There's just enough time to get scones and tea at the restaurant outside the crypt.

So here we are, amongst the choir of cherubic faces and angelic voices at St. Paul's cathedral, just beyond the dome, under Creation, the ornate fresco depicting the Earth. To the left of it is the Sea and then the Heavens, where light is streaming through the newly refurbished windows. "Give us peace in our time, O God," we all recite along with the choir, "for you are the only one looking over us."

The woman beside me is crying as she recites the lines. "So sorry," she whispers,"but it's good to be back in St. Paul's. It's a long way from Istanbul."

Then Evensong is over, but we linger. We're not in much of hurry to join the outside world. "Another place I'd love to get locked into," I whisper to Rich. After I'd climb the hundreds of steps up to the Dome past the whispering gallery, I'd head for the Dean's staircase, up to his library with a gorgeous cup of tea, and sniff all the books from the past centuries as the light streams through the window, onto the stone floor.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story-telling and descriptions, Sandra! I feel like I've been there.