Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amazing weekend!

  My brain is reeling from all the incredible sights I've taken in since Saturday morning!

  I first walked up the road to see if that amazing candy/bread/wine/cheese/deliciousness market was set up again (see last blog). This time, I was armed with cash and a healthy appetite. Unfortunately, the market was nowhere to be found. In its place was a group of Native American dancers, randomly enough, who were not nearly as mouth-watering.
  Disappointed, I set out on the rest of my planned day, which started with the Natural History Museum. My experience at the British Museum a few months ago had been jaw-dropping, so I had high expectations.

(click pictures to biggify)

  I was not at ALL disappointed. When I stepped out of the Underground and saw the museum's impressive exterior, I knew I was in for a good time, and it just got better from there.
  The main hall is a huge, open structure that looks like some kind of Italian Renaissance art. It's all columns and arches and grand staircases. Sunlight streams in through vast skylights and stained-glass windows. Honestly, as amazing as the exhibits were, I think I was more impressed with the building itself.
  I breezed through it at a fairly good pace, and it still took three hours to take it all in. I saw massive rooms packed with geological wonders, whale skeletons, fossils, animals, art, history, and of course, dinosaur skeletons. It seemed like every few feet, my jaw was dropping open and I was whispering "wow" to myself. If I went into even a minimal amount of detail about what I saw, you'd get tired of reading. Watch for many more pictures of this amazing place soon.

  Next, I walked north to Hyde Park. I basically just wanted to see what this 625 acre green looked like.
  I walked right through the middle of the park, crossing the Serpentine lake, and soon found myself in the middle of a large crowd. Last time that happened, I had stumbled upon the gates of Buckingham Palace and caught a glimpse of the Queen. This time, I had unwittingly trod into the Pope's prayer vigil. I didn't get to see the Pontiff himself- he arrived a short while after I left. He's not my favorite, and so I didn't feel bad about not waiting around to see him.
  On the walk back, I visited Princess Diana's memorial. I didn't really know it was in Hyde Park until I saw a small sign pointing the way, so it was a pleasant surprise.
  The memorial itself was very fitting, I thought. It consists of a large granite oval-shaped streambed where water flows down both sides. Etched in the granite at various points are shapes that cause the water to ripple or surge. Visitors are allowed to wade in it, and I saw a lot of children taking advantage of that.

  So, that brings me to today. I only had one stop on my travels, but it took a lot longer to get there. Two fairly lenghty train rides and a long walk brought me to the entrance of High Gate Cemetery, one of London's most famous memorial gardens.

  Of course, anybody who knows me at all knows that I love to visit cemeteries. The older and more weathered, the better. I love to see interesting markers, ornaments, statues, crypts. From what I read about the history of this place, I was about to be treated to more jaw-dropping.
  And indeed I was. I have never seen a more beautiful and fascinating cemetery anywhere in the world. Not even close. I won't go into a history lesson about the place- you can look that up if you're interested to know more- but it far exceeded my expectations.
  The entire grounds were very heavily wooded and grown over with ivy. An absolutely endless array of monuments and stones went off in every direction of the dark, lush greenery. You could really see the age in the stone. The colors, the textures. Absolutely incredible. I wanted to get off the path and explore, but there are very strict rules there. In fact, there's even a dress code. The guided tour, which is the only way you're allowed in, lasted about an hour and was very interesting. Photography is allowed, but not with professional gear. I used a small, fixed-length lens on my camera, which is the only way I was able to get around this. Many of my pictures are too close because of that, but I got quite a few good ones. Even then, I had to be a little sneaky.
  Again, watch for more pictures of this place soon. I wish I could have shot more. At the top of the hill where High Gate is located, there is an area recessed into the ground where a circular array of crypts surround a massive tree in the center. It was unbelievable. We were even allowed inside one of the massive vaults, where some of the crypt doors had crumbled away, revealing the coffins inside. We weren't permitted to take ANY pictures of that, understandably, out of respect.

  The pictures I took of the things I saw both days this weekend will NEVER do any of it justice. Much of it was so fantastic, that it seems like something you could only imagine in a dream. I have a feeling I've barely scratched the surface for seeing these sorts of things here in the UK. That thought is very, very exciting.

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