We woke Wednesday to another sunny day, though a bit cooler. Joe had his first experience with the "full English breakfast" of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, toast, and cereal, while Lisa went for the toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. Whatever people say about English food, both meals were quite satisfactory. We both partook of tea as well. At home, we usually drink plain herbal tea, but here we went for the English breakfast tea with cream and sugar—an interesting change of pace, and the caffeine probably didn't hurt in perking us up, either.
We spent the day exploring London via the Tube and on foot. We stopped in the British Museum (which is free, like many of London's museums) and took a look at the Rosetta Stone and other Ancient Egyptian artifacts, the contentious Elgin marbles from the Parthenon, and some more contemporary works from the Bay of Bengal. Joe hadn't previously realized why the Rosetta Stone was such a big deal, until he saw how the passage of text on it was repeated in hieroglyphics, Demotic script, and classical Greek, allowing modern scholars to decipher the hieroglyphics on all that old stuff they were digging up. It's a very modest slab of rock, for how important it's been.
Next, we walked to the British Library. Right up front, they have a four-story glassed-in display of King George III's library. They also have a gallery of rare manuscripts, which includes an original Gutenberg Bible and one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta. (The Library owns two, and the one currently on display is too badly burned to read, unfortunately, but it does include the original seal of King John.) Also in the collection are original, handwritten manuscripts by such greats as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Oscar Wilde. It was awing to see these works written out longhand, with neat lines crossed through lines that needed to be rewritten—and in such beautiful handwriting! Another display case includes original Beatles lyrics sheets, including "A Hard Day's Night" scrawled on the back of Paul McCartney's son's birthday card.
We took the Tube from King's Cross (making a quick pause at Platform 9 3/4, of Harry Potter fame) down to the Buckingham Palace area. The Palace is not particularly picturesque; apparently its architect, Edward Blore, was nicknamed "Edward Bore." We weren't there for the changing of the guard, though we did see a few of them marching around, doing their thing. The most impressive thing about the Palace is probably the towering, black and gold-painted iron bars fencing it in.
Walking toward the Thames, we saw the iconic Big Ben Clock Tower (technically, only the bell is named Big Ben; the tower is just the Clock Tower). It was much more beautiful in person than you can see in the movies or photographs; it's covered with glittery detailing. We learned the hard way that Westminster Abbey closes early on Wednesdays, but we did take in a view of the outside. (Main impression: it's large.)
This part of London was definitely dominated by government buildings. We saw the Houses of Parliament and a great many other giant, stone edifices. On one block, we passed the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. If Joe's dad were an Englishman, that's where he'd spend all his time.
Friends had recommended we visit St. Paul's Cathedral, so we went there next. The Cathedral is absolutely massive. We were late enough that they charged us a reduced admission, the downside being that we couldn't climb into the huge dome over the nave. It's a spectacular piece of architecture, with beautiful mosaics, statues, you name it. We stayed for Evensong, and were surprised that the sound of the choir does not, in fact, fill the nave. Instead, the sound is trapped in the boxy Quire, making the psalms resonate and bleed together in an eerie but beautiful way. There is certainly no other music we know with that particular aesthetic.
Before returning to the B&B, we headed to Leicester Square, picking up some food on the way. We'd seen it at ten in the morning, and the park, which is in the heart of the theatre district, was pretty much dead. Now, at seven PM, the place was packed with people lounging on the grass, eating and talking. The area seemed to us like a cross between Times Square and Washington Square Park in New York. We felt a part of the scene as we ate our food, even though we'd decided not to take in a show that night.