Part One Part Two
As I write this post, my family and I are actually just finishing up day ten, so I've got a lot to write to keep up with this series. I plan on doing that and making some observations as well about the culture and spiritual condition of the UK, as I have seen it.
Our family stayed in a flat with a London address in the Western portion of London not called West London, because there is one of those too. It was between two areas, Shepherd's Bush and Acton. It has been very secure with a locked front door and another locked door on our second floor with two more locks on our personal door. We had two bedrooms, a living-dining room, bathroom, and a kitchen with a washer (no dryer) that was clean and very suitable. We lived in worse in California. I've seen exponentially worse in the area where we live. I'm traveling with a wife and two daughters and they all liked it.
Our neighborhood is urban enough to have three mom and pop grocery stores within the three blocks only to one side of us. Four blocks over is then a very city small grocery store. It is not friendly to cars and most people around here don't have them. You are not rewarded for owning one. It's easier to use public transportation. It's easy to see the region intends for it to be that way. Part of that is that there was no available parking on the street or public parking close to the flat and no garage. We kept our car until Thursday morning, but did drive it on Wednesday night to a strict Baptist church.
Strict Baptist probably sounds like a church with a lot of rules or scruples. In the range of the strict Baptists are those that are called "gospel standard," usually an even more strict, strict Baptist church. Church categories are different in England, so you can't read into what you might think a church is. Strict refers to how a church limits participation in the Lord's Supper, that is, only members participate. It was a very small group with a solid message from a psalm. We stayed and talked to the pastor and his wife for an hour or so afterwards before returning to our flat. He considers himself of a belief, such as John Gill, except with a local only ecclesiology. One might think of A. W. Pink.
The first day we took the underground to the Tower of London, which is in fact the original London. London was a sort of fortress that went back to the time of the Romans along the Thames River. The Tower however was built by and for William the Conqueror in 1078 after he came and conquered England. The Thames has always been very important to London and, therefore, England. The ocean tides come in and go out and the current changes when it does. This also allows for a more moderate climate at such a high latitude. The Thames flowed in a moat around the Tower of London and was its early waste system with garbage, sewage, even dead bodies and carcasses thrown in and taken out with the tide. As time went on, it created a major stench, but the moat was a deterrent with an entrance across a bridge into the tower.
On Tower Hill just up from the Tower of London many both famous and infamous people were beheaded. Crowds gathered even as a form of entertainment. Inside the Tower, royal or noble characters were executed, including Anne Boleyn, unsuccessful wife of Henry VIII. All of them were thrown into an unmarked grave under Chapel Royal of St. Peter. These include Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Lady Jane Grey. A memorial marks the spot of the chopping block.
Also in the Tower, the name of the entire castle, is the White Tower, essentially the keep of the tower and the oft residence of the King of England. In the Tower are stored the crown jewels, including the largest cut diamond in the world, which is at the top of the scepter of the Queen. Many other important historical components make up the Tower of London, including the bell tower, the queen's house, where England kept the Nazi, Rudolf Hess, imprisoned through much of World Two.
From the Tower we walked across the Tower Bridge, which came centuries after the Tower of London, but was designed with compatibility with it. We walked off the bridge to Borough Market, where we ate the delicious street food, including my first cold pork pie. I ate it and finished it. It's a fairly solid piece of cold meet; however, also with the congealed lumps of fat. I bought an exquisite one, which doesn't change those facts. I don't think I would be exaggerating to say there were over 100 vendors next to the South side of the Thames at the Borough Market.
From the Market, we walked to the London Bridge underground and rode to Westminster, where we then visited Westminster Abbey. The gigantic Gothic styled structures in Westminster, West of ancient London, at the opposite end of the Strand, rising majestically on the Northern shore of the Thames, remind you of the mixture of religion and politics in England. The queen is still the head of the church of England.
Westminster Abbey is an abbey, a cathedral, a burial place, and a museum to the history of England. The church of England is the church of England and so all over the inside of Westminster Abbey are memorials to major figures in English history, mainly Anglican ones. You can visit a dilapidated non-conformist cemetery to see the graves or tombs of non-Anglicans. You also have Windsor castle, where other royals are buried in its chapel, including Henry VIII.
The formerly Roman Catholic turned Church of England cathedrals all look similar and they are all over England, soaring above even small towns, like Thirsk in Yorkshire, where James Herriott was married. In the neighboring town of Ripon is another of these, immense and tracing back to the 12th century. They are sad in that they are empty shells, dedicated to a lie, which is why the Church of England is sinking into oblivion, replaced by a secular state, it's new state religion.
The Westminster Abbey is cavernous and ethereal in its airiness. The stonework and design and detail are dumbfounding. Queen Elizabeth I and her sister Mary, the murderous Roman Catholic, are buried in the same room, which does seem fitting. King James I is buried here, but hidden from view. Such varied figures as David Livingstone, Geoffery Chaucer, and William Gladstone are interred here and memorialized, almost too many to count. You walk along literally stepping over their graves.
Next we went to Harrod's, the mammoth and historic department store, still in London and West of Westminster Abbey. There's nothing like it that I've ever seen. Everything is top of the line, including its coffee cafe among all the other cafes, where everything is perfect. You don't order coffee in most places in England. You order a type of coffee. For instance, they look at you with questioning eyes if you say, I want a large coffee. No, you want an Americano, and not with cream, but with milk.
We took the underground back to The Shard, and rode to the top of the tallest building in London, which is the best vantage point for the entire surroundings of London and a beautiful view of everything around the Thames River. It is a high speed elevator, two actually back to back, and then down, and back home for us.
On Friday, we took the train out to Windsor Castle, which is West of London and Heathrow airport in the country town of Windsor, which seems like a Disney village to the queen. The last train is the queen's train, to the queen's station, to her little royal shopping area, and then the castle. We arrived shortly before the changing of the guard, which also seems like the Disney on parade, the queen's band, the queen's guard, with great pomp and pageantry.
Windsor Castle receives many visitors, but it is immense and swallows them up easily. It is the most castley looking castle you might see. It is the weekend residence of the queen and she is there when her flag is flying. It was. Windsor is a defensive fortress for English royalty on a hill with giant walls and gates and a keep if all else fails. The queen has her own chapel there, St. George's. And then there are chapels within the chapel, many. Henry VIII is buried there. Queen Victoria is also buried at Windsor. The recent royal wedding was held there, and we stood right where it occurred. It's not a large area, the place where the ceremony itself took place especially.
We stayed most of the day at Windsor, but we didn't go back to the flat. We left the two daughters at Westfield shopping center, where we pick up our underground at Shepherd's Bush, and my wife and I went on to the British library, expecting perhaps to visit the British museum at some future time. We went to the library to see original documents. We saw the Gutenberg Bible, original Wycliffe, original Tyndale, original King James Version, original Magna Carta, the Sinaiticus for what it's worth, but there is also a lot of other originals. You've got an original score of the Messiah by Handel to see, an original Bach, original Mozart, and even Leonardo Da Vinci, original drawings by him.
We had taken a cab from the underground to the library. That's an experience in itself in London, as its cab drivers are unique, but I'm not going to move into that, except to say he was a Trump fan, who lived in Kent....the county in England. Not everyone hates Trump everywhere like many or most might think. We ate a traditional English breakfast with black (blood) pudding, which isn't really pudding as we know it, and tomatoes and beans and a plump banger, which actually tastes like bologna. The eggs were fried to flat disks like frisbees (sorry English people, and I will try a breakfast this morning after I write this). We drank English tea. Then everyone made it back home that night.
On a side note, we had to take the cab because we overshot our underground stop by one station. We got on the return train and it could not move because a crazy knife man was at the station we were supposed to stop at. We were busy writing postcards to people back home and lost track of our station, but it meant that we did not stop where the crazy knife yielding man was. The mayor of London thanked the police on twitter for its role in apprehending him.