Over the weekend the Spaldings wanted to show me a bit of the English countryside, so the four of us drove south to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (King Henry VIII’s second wife). The castle had been transformed into a fascinating museum and was surrounded by beautiful gardens, forests, mazes, and moats. My favorite attraction on the grounds was the water maze, a puzzle that challenged visitors to get to the center tower without being sprayed with water that shot up when certain stones were stepped on. After a lively week in London, it was wonderful to get out of the city and spend some time in the quiet English countryside.
After my research the next day at the Natural History Museum, I crossed the street and entered the Victoria & Albert Museum. I had no idea what to expect, but instantly fell in love with the place. Housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects, it is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. Some of my favorites included the Japanese and Middle Eastern rooms, the jewelry exhibit, and the full-scale replica of the archway of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The iconic landmark marks the end of the “Camino de Santiago” (“The Way of St. James”), one of the largest religious pilgrimages in the world. It is believed that after hiking for weeks (or months, or years) and finally passing through the entryway under the figure of Santiago (St. James), all of one’s sins will be absolved. The arch was undergoing restoration efforts when I visited last July, so at the V&A I was finally able to view every beautiful detail of the structure.
On the way home I took a few minutes to wander through Harrods. I could have spent hours gawking at the endless abundance of mouth-watering delicacies and spectacular fashion.
During my last full day in London I took the train to Tate Modern so I could cross the Millennium Bridge to meet up with Margo, a friend of one of my best friends from home, and tour St. Paul’s Cathedral. Dubbed “London’s Cathedral,” St. Paul’s is one of Europe’s largest churches with a dome only exceeded in size by that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cathedral is absolutely stunning and though photography is not allowed inside, we couldn’t help but sneak a picture or two. An enormous orchestra and choir were practicing in the middle of the rotunda, so the sound of over 200 people echoed through the vaulted masterpiece as we wandered around. Once we completed the main floor, we were lucky enough to make it into the very last group departing to tour the three galleries above the rotunda. After 560 steps, we were rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of the city. Later in the afternoon we left the cathedral and headed over near the Tower of London to grab some fish & chips for dinner.
After successful interviews at impressive British museums and jam-packed days of sightseeing, the time had come to depart from London. England was a wonderful place to start of this crazy journey – similar culture, same language, and a wonderful family to live with. Though I’m sad to leave, I can’t wait to visit the other locations on my itinerary!