London has always been one of my favorite cities. It has such a unique energy, and it always strikes my imagination in a special way when I am here. It is so culturally rich, so diverse, and always exciting. The city, built over and again on the remains of its previous self across two millennia, teems with history. I get the sense that Roman London, Medieval London, Victorian London, and Wartime London were all alive with this same vibrancy.
The history of this city is especially visible within the hallowed stone walls of Westminster Abbey. This large gothic building is where British monarchs are crowned, married, and often buried. Originally built in 960, it has been rebuilt and expanded upon over the years. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Almost every square inch of wall and floor space within this huge building holds plaque or memorial or bust or tomb dedicated to some person or other. And as you walk through, the names jump out: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, David Livingstone, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell. Buried within this church are hundreds of years of the greatest British scientists, explorers, soldiers, artists, and kings. More than just a church, it is a shrine to all the United Kingdom’s cultural and political heritage.
In another part of the city, I found a small garden that revealed a different side of London. Situated between office buildings in a busy part of downtown London is the little Postman’s Park. On the far end of the park stands a narrow Victorian pavilion, built by the artist G. F. Watts in 1900. Underneath the pavilion is a wall of tile plaques, each commemorating an ordinary person who lost their life trying to save another.
The stories on the plaques are heartbreaking and reaffirming at the same time. The tiles with the names of these ordinary people stood in stark contrast to the bronze and marbles tributes to national icons in Westminster. If not for little Postman’s Park, these “everyday heroes” would have likely been forgotten to history, but now they have their own peaceful memorial amid the hustle and bustle of the City.
I finished off the day at the Queen’s Theatre watching a performance of Les Miserables, the longest running musical in the world. It was a wonderful performance. Watching jean Valjean and the young French revolutionaries fight and love and die had me again thinking about heroism and self-sacrifice.
And, thanks to a cousin-of- a-friend-of friends who happens to be the conductor, we were treated to a peek backstage and a close-up view of the set from behind the scenes. It was a very cool experience to see how so much atmosphere is created on such a little stage.
What else should I explore in while in London?