London was decked out today for the 89th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II with hundreds of troops, horses, and a very cool flyover. It was great to witness the events, but the day was also full of other wonderful moments in London, a city that seems to easily mix the mythical with the mundane of English history and life.
We started out the morning at what has become my favorite market in the world: the Borough Street Market. Since we arrived early, I had a chance to chat with the various owners as they began to cook for the day. Everyone is wonderfully friendly and happy to explain their craft. The Scottish egg stall explained why Scottish eggs are red and different in appearance and taste. The market just turned 1000 years old this year and has a seemingly endless collection of stands serving truly gourmet dishes from a dozen different countries. It also has cheeses, oils, baked goods, and other English delights. I started the day with a wonderful mushroom pie. I later enjoyed an Indian dish and a Scottish egg dish. We returned at lunch and I had an awesome Ethiopian dish. I intend to return to this market every day (except Sunday when it is closed). It is that incredible. Here are a few pictures from this morning.
After breakfast, something really fantastic happened. I had been observing the large church next to the Borough Market for a couple days and I was resolved to see inside. It turned out to be Southwark Cathedral (which the English inexplicably pronounce like “Suffolk”). Southwark Cathedral or The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie, Southwark, London, is magnificent. It has been a place of worship for 1000 years and constitutes the older Gothic Cathedral in London (though part of the Cathedral was built later). It is often overlooked in a city with such places as Westminster Cathedral but it is a “must” for anyone interested in history or architecture or just beauty. The church was surrendered to Henry VIII who once strolled through its towering structure. In his crackdown and seizures of Church property, Henry VIII dissolved the original priory that was dedicated to the Virgin Mary but later allowed the congregation to buy back the church. Shakespeare attended services at the church and his brother, Edmund, was buried there in 1607. There is a lovely dedication to Shakespeare who called this congregation his own. John Harvard was born and baptized in this church before leaving for America to found his namesake university. (There is a Harvard Chapel). It is a glorious and gorgeous space that is still maintained by an army of helpful, dedicated volunteers. I was able to chat with a couple of these volunteers who gave me wonderful stories and facts about the Cathedral. Here are a few pictures from the Southwark Cathedral:
Stumbling upon Southwark Cathedral would have been enough, but soon musicians began to appear from every corner. There would be a rehearsal for the performance that night of Verdi’s Requiem with a full orchestra and a huge choir. We decided to take a seat and spend two hours in absolute rapture by the performance that seemed at times to lift this massive cathedral from its foundations. Performing were appropriately enough, the London Lawyers’ Choir. While I was told during a break that they are not all lawyers, there is still a large number of lawyers in this incredible choir. Also performing was the Didcot Choral Society and conductor Christopher Oakley. The four solo performers were Laura Mitchell (soprano), Deborah Humble (mezzo-soprano), Richard Bannan (bass) and Ben Thapa who was added just that morning to substitute for a sick Andrew Rees (and met the challenge with great aplomb). It was a deeply moving experience. Many of us remain fixated on the horrors of ISIS, a group dedicated to destroying the greatest works of humanity and confining people to the exclusive study of the Koran. Yet, here was ultimate answer to ISIS. Hundreds of volunteers performing Verdi’s masterpiece in a towering architectural masterpiece. As depressing as the news may be, here was the true capacity and expression of humanity. It was a truly emotional experience to hear those perfect voices in that perfect place. We felt like we floated out of the Cathedral. Here are a few pictures:
After Southwark, we went to the birthday celebration area and then made it over to Westminster Abbey. The audio tour (read by actor Jeremy Irons) is terrific. While there are a lot of details left out (to keep people moving along), it is very well done. It was extraordinary to see the resting place of General Wolf (with battle flags from Quebec where he fell), Captain Cook, Sir Issac Newton, and so many others, including royalty like Edward the Confessor, Edward Longshanks, Elizabeth I, Ann Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots and others. The Ladies Chapel was my favorite but the entire space is overwhelming in its beauty and history. One curious spot marked were Oliver Cromwell was original buried in Westminster (and his daughter later buried near him). However, when Charles II ascended to the thrown he ordered the body on January 30, 1661, (the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I), to be exhumed from Westminster Abbey and hanged in chains at Tyburn, and then thrown into a pit. His head was cut off in the posthumous execution and his severed head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. (Charles II left his daughter alone). The greatest of the English people and their contribution to humanity is etched in the stones of this sacred place. You can stand there in awe at the English culture and legacy. It is difficult to imagine how we would have evolved absent the genius of Great Britain. No photographs are allowed in the Abbey so these photos are of the gardens and areas outside of the chapel:
After leaving the Abbey we decided to have a “proper” tea. There are various locations for such teas but one of the most recommended is the tea room at St. Ermin’s Hotel near Scotland Yard. It was incredible. I had a green aromatic tea while Leslie had one of the recommended black teas served with an assortment of small sandwiches and cakes. Service was impeccable and the afternoon tea gave us a boast of energy to set out again for the last leg of the day’s walk.
We walked to Piccadilly Circus and other neighborhoods before finding a pub built in 1827 that was recommended for good beer and fish and chips. We had both and loved the Clachan pub. Here are a few of the last pictures before we returned to the hotel with sore feet but lasting memories on Londontown.