Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Communion, Shakespeare, and soliders with music stands

We started the day off with the ultimate London tourist event, the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. With two milky, sugary teas in hand we staked out a spot on the fountain across from the main palace gates. And then we waited. Dave took a million pictures. Of everything. Of course by the time the guards actually started to change, the batteries had run out. But that was okay because we were too far away to get good pictures anyways.

One thing that was a bit surreal about the whole event was the mix of bobbies with guns, guards with guns, and the beefeaters playing live music. We left before the actual changeover was complete because it was really far away, it was long and boring, and mostly seemed to consist of a complicated series of various people walking back and forth.

We went from there to Westminster Abbey, and happened to get there just in time for the Communion service for the Feast of St. Thomas. Thus, we went for the service a) because it seemed more respectful to go to the church for a service instead of just as tourists and b) you can enter the abbey for free if you go for a service. The bulk of the service was various readings, with congregational responses. And then came communion.

Dave decided to receive a blessing, which was an option for people who did not want to receive communion. He took his booklet up as recommended in the order of service as a sign he was just there for a blessing. However, when the priest came to him, he ignored the booklet, Dave's closed hands -- not to mention closed mouth -- and fed him the wafer anyways! The next priest, coming by with the wine, asked Dave if he had received the blessing, and when Dave said no, held the cup of wine up to Dave's mouth so that he was forced to take a sip, or dribble wine down his front. Dave was pretty surprised by the whole experience, and was not mollified by a subsequent explanation that the priest must not have been paying attention.

In comparison, the rest of our time at Westminster Abbey was not all that exciting. At first, Dave was psyched about seeing the graves of the various famous people buried there (Darwin, Newton, Handel, many kings and queens, etc.), but it turns out that there are a *lot* of other people buried there, as well (over 3,000 in all), and thus finding people he had actually heard of became something of a "Where's Waldo" (Ralph Waldo Emerson, in this case) experience. To top it all off, it turned out that we had taken communion in front of Newton and not even realized it!

After Westminster Abbey, we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Tesco (a major British grocery chain) and then returned to the National Gallery to see "the rest" of the paintings. We spent most of our time looking at artists from the last century or so -- Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, etc. We were glad to have split our time at the gallery into two trips, so that we could appreciate the newer paintings without suffering from too much art gallery fatigue. Neither of us is exactly a connosieur of fine art, so after a few hours the incredibly famous and beautiful paintings all start to run together (metaphorically, that is -- otherwise we would have been booted out of the gallery in a hurry!).

We walked along The Strand and Fleet Street for a while, and through Temple Bar, thus getting a sense of London's commercial and financial districts. It was interesting to see buildings which were many centuries old scattered among modern banking and legal offices.

One of the places we went to was the Twinings tea store which has been on that site, and run by the Twining family, since the 1670s. Natasha was quite excited about visiting one of the great homes of tea and did a good job of stocking up her tea cupboard.

The highlight of the day, for Natasha at least, was supposed to be Love's Labour's Lost seen live at the Globe Theatre. She was quite excited about this until we jumped onto the Tour Bus for a quick trip to Westminster and the guide pointed out a (very exclusive and staggeringly expensive school where Helena Bonham Carter had attended, and then mentioned, "You may be able to catch her tonight in Leicester Square where she will be attending the premiere to the new Harry Potter movie." AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! And we had tickets to Shakespeare. She was quite tempted to skive out on Shakespeare and head to Leicester Square to see if she could catch glimpses (and take bad, likely far away photos) of the movie's stars but she managed to restrain herself. Sorry Vanessa :(

However, we *did* manage to reserve copies of the new book at a store (Waterstone's) on Ludgate Circus, and even found out about a pre-release party involving dessert and wine -- much more civilized than the hours-long sidewalk camp-out experience that Dave had been imagining.

Love's Labour's Lost was the typical London experience. We had standing tickets so we managed to get good spots at the front right corner of the stage. Then we stood for the entire three hours of the play! And sometimes, it rained -- once again, the "emergency" rain ponchos from Tim and Janice saved the day, even though Dave felt like he was wearing a big blue garbage bag and, according to Natasha, looked a little like a smurf. But we were so close to the actors we could touch them, sometimes, one actress's dress got Natasha full in the face when she swirled by, and one of the actors cleared us out of his way as he jumped into the audience to escape from another actor. It was quite a different way of seeing the play, and felt very true to what we imagined the Elizabethan theatre experience to be.

Okay, it's off to bed for us, as we have another busy day ahead of us tomorrow. Good night!

Dave and Natasha

*To read about Day 4, go here.
*To see pictures from Day 3, go here.

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