Dinner update from last night: OMG I love Wasabi. Not the green stuff; the restaurant. Not only were they open at the dinner hour (which most of the eating establishments in the vicinity aren’t), but they gave me a giant container of yakisoba and a Coke for four pounds forty, which is the cheapest actual meal I’ve had here, barring the complimentary breakfast from the hostel.
Anyway, Friday. An excellent day that ended with an excellent demonstration of my stupidity.
Barring my short-range jaunt for Wasabi last night, this is the first time I’ve gone west from the City. Now, instead of aiming for the river path, I’m avoiding it; it’s the Victoria Embankment, whose name betrays its date of origin. The road I want is Fleet Street — famous to most people for a certain demon barber; famous to me for the buried river — followed by the Strand. In the sixteenth century, the land between the Strand and the river was occupied by mansions belonging to the rich and powerful, with their gardens facing the water, and their own private stairs.
Walking west. The Royal Courts of Justice have a truly impressive facade, but the places I would look for, had I the time, would be the Inns of Court. But I’m on a timetable, and it takes me twenty minutes to get from Fetter Lane to Charing Cross, followed by some detours and a minor bout of getting lost, so I press on.
The Cross, alas, is a Victorian replica of the original, and not in the right place anyway. But it’s close enough for measurement purposes. My road bends south; I go through with barely a glance at Trafalgar Square, get a couple of pictures of Big Ben for tourism’s sake, and head into Westminster Abbey the moment it opens.
This is a targeted pilgrimage, not a tour; I literally ignore most of the place. A pity, but I’ve been here before, and need to be at Waterloo Station soon to catch a train. So I make a beeline to the shared tomb of Elizabeth and Mary, and wonder how Mary feels about having to snuggle up to her Protestant sister in death, with an effigy of Elizabeth to stand for them both.
The effigy shows Elizabeth with high cheekbones and an aquiline nose. It shows more age, and more character, than most of her portraits.
Off to the other side of the apse, where I apologize to Mary, Queen of Scots, for the fictional games I’m playing with her death, and also for her botched execution — not that that one’s my fault. (Margaret Lennox is also here, which I didn’t expect. I have a moment of Lymond geekery.)
Then Poet’s Corner. I say hi to Shakespeare, because one can’t not do it, but I also make a nod to the others: Ben Johnson (spelled there with the H), Lewis Carroll, Milton, and the people I co-opted for Memento: Chaucer, Coleridge, and to a lesser extent the rest of the Romantic Rat Pack (Keats, Shelley, and Byron, off in the floor away from his friends). But the best one is the window panel, recently installed (so I’m told) in honor of Christopher Marlowe. Why is it the best? Because of the dates given for his life:
That question mark made my day.
Still giggling, I head out for Waterloo, finding Boadicea (or rather her statue) along the way. What I nearly don’t find is the train station; it’s a good thing I left Westminster in plenty of time, because I wander around Waterloo Station very ineptly before finding the door. But I get there in time, board my train, and head off to Hampton Court Palace, one of Elizabeth’s favorite residences.
My curator-turned-tour-guide today is a nice young man, who gives me a fantastic tour around the palace. Architectural history is his subject, and so he points out in exacting detail what’s a Tudor original, what’s a restoration of a Tudor original, and what I can ignore because it was built by Sir Christopher Wren. The info is so great, I don’t even begrudge the complete lack of balconies, which will necessitate some rewriting of an existing scene. My guide supplies me with a packet of info he compiled (including a ground plan, chapters from the definitive book on the palace, and color reproductions of Wyngaerde’s period sketches), and — as an extra bonus — talks security into letting him take me up onto the roof. It’s a veritable maze of interlocking slopes where one bit of the structure abuts the other, all decorated with fantastical brick chimneys, and dude — how often does one get the chance to scramble around on the roof of a royal palace? I may have to put in some rooftop scene at Hampton Court, just in honor of this.
After that, it turns out there is no 3 p.m. boat back to Westminster, so instead of scarfing down another ghetto excuse for a meal like I did for lunch and then sprinting off, I have a leisurely sit-down, then settle onto the grass outside the palace to rest my feet, which need it. There are swans on the river, and I am obligated to photograph them.
This is where the stupidity comes in. The weather takes a turn for the worse around 4 p.m., growing noticeably cooler. The boat leaves at 5 p.m., but the sun comes out as we board, and it’s nice and warm again, so instead of going into the enclosed cabin, I (like many of the passengers) park myself in one of the chairs in the open bow.
Unlike most of the passengers, I stay there when it clouds over again.
There is only one way I can explain this, and I expect only a few of you will understand. Having chosen to sit outside, so I can get a better view and therefore better imagine what it would have been like on the royal barge Elizabeth used for travel along the Thames, I want to stay out there. In fact, it becomes a point of pride to stay out there (nevermind that Elizabeth’s barge would have a cabin she would sit in when the weather became foul). I decide to stick it out as long as I can, and then eventually — like one does — I decide that having stayed out for so long, we’re close enough to the end that I might as well stay the rest of the way.
Unfortunately, never having done this before, I don’t quite realize that “the rest of the way” is going to be more than another hour.
So after three hours in the boat, approximately two and a half of which were spent getting progressively more hypothermic, I arrive in Westminster. The one bit of good news is, my feet don’t hurt anymore! Possibly because they’re numb. I stagger off for chicken-and-corn chowder and some hot chocolate, which fortifies me for the remainder of my journey back to the hostel.
In case you were wondering, no, spotting the probable location of Barn Elms (an estate given to Walsingham, if memory serves) was not sufficient compensation for three hours of cold river breeze. Nor were the swans, though I saw quite a few, including five in flight that I wish I could have photographed. Alas, my hands were cold, and therefore stuffed up my sleeves, with my camera in my backpack, when they flew by.
The other note for the evening is that I really need a tripod. I don’t recall having so much trouble with my old camera, but I have a damn hard time taking non-blurry low-light photos with this digital. Breathing tricks learned from reading some novel or another with a sniper in it have only saved about half of those pictures; I gave up on St. Paul’s tonight after the fourth blurry piece of crap.
On the bright side (heh), at least I can delete the crap, without paying for development.
. . . . okaybedtimenow.