Thursday, May 7, 2009

May 7: Westminster Abbey & The National Portrait Gallery

The first stop of the day was Westminster Abbey, situated across the street from the Houses of Parliament and the location of every English and, later, British coronation from 1066 on (excepting the 2 rulers who did not have a coronation).  We were originally going to visit the Abbey on the first day of the trip (April 30), but because of tiredness it was put off until later.  This proved to be a mistake.  The Abbey was now home to the 50th anniversary of some kind of flower show, for which it seems every woman in Britain over the age of 50 decided to attend.  

The entire affair was a wall-to-wall experience with any caution to fire code thrown out the window.  Imagine the headlines: "Two Iowans Trampled to Death by Kindly Old Women Escaping Abbey Fire".  I have no doubt that even the trampling would've been kindly.  

The visit was still interesting, if only because I had not been there before.  The price was also half-off (6 pounds instead of 12), which added to the allure somewhat.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the Abbey (similar to St Paul's policy, but interestingly not Canterbury Cathedral where all manner of photography was allowed excepting inside the Crypt), though on this day would've been nearly impossible anyway.  Now, as difficult as I find it to not take pictures in such places, I do obey the rules.  It seems that some people, no matter where they are, cannot.  I wished our guide from St Paul's, Chris, would've been present to wave a finger at those who were not taking heed.  Perhaps, after a few waves of the finger doing no good, he would've simply resorted smashing the camera on the ground followed by a trademark, "I simply love it!"

After returning to the open air we headed up to the National Portrait Gallery, housed right next to the National Gallery, which contains portraits of famous Britons going back to the 16th century.  When it was started, in 1856, it was the first museum of its kind in the world.  In addition the viewing royal portraits, I was extremely interested in seeing the "Chandos Portrait", which is the only portrait of Shakespeare "known" to be painted from life (there is, as with all things Shakespeare, some doubt as to whether the portrait truly depicts him; I, however, remain convinced).  

We spent about 45 minutes at the Portrait Gallery and then headed back towards the hotel for a late lunch.  Following this, it was back to the British Museum for some additional perusal.

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