The tour book told me to stake out a good spot for the changing of the guard. The book also said that they don't change the guard every day, but every other day, during the winter. Still, I stood and waited, and eventually saw some people with funny hats on horses go by with a bugle chorus that reminded me more of Spamalot than anything else. A policeman confirmed it - tomorrow would be the day for me! Oh well.
Freezing at Buckingham Palace. All I kept on thinking about here were Buckminster Fullerenes. I am a nerd.
The day was FREEZING, so I stopped off an bought some gloves, and then made my way to Westminster Abbey, where I marveled at a beautiful clock tower, before I even REALIZED it was Big Ben (love my brother Ben, just wanted to say it here), and then found the Abbey. I realized that their minchah-equivalent (where minchah is the afternoon Jewish prayer service), Evensong was at 5PM, so I decided to check out Leicester Square (pronounced Lester) and Trafalgar Square, before going into the Abbey. I took pictures with the Lions at Trafalgar, and ate some food, before I walked back to the Abbey.
A fellow tourist who shared none of my languages exchanged cameras with me for this rare full-SBB shot in front of Westminster Abbey. I am SO cold here!
Arch that leads to a park, where you can walk to Buckingham Palace. I was too cold to walk, but here I am at the other end, by Trafalgar Square.
The Abbey was fascinating. A few days earlier, my cousin Chava explained to me that Jews aren't supposed to enter churches and other places of non-Jewish worship so that we don't worship other gods. While I can see where she (and our very best friend the Torah) is coming from, I armed myself with a determination to be rebellious, as always, entering the Abbey remembering not to pray, but also remembering to learn and discover.
Learn and discover, I did! Up until this point, my visits to churches were confined to a childhood concert or play (something non-religious) at the local Catholic church (which I recall vaguely my mother didn't want me to share with people, oops), Hadar egal minyan, housed in a church basement in NYC, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Like the Jerusalem church, I found fabulous artwork, in the forms of carvings, statues and paintings. But this was the first time I realized that church also means crypt, as many famous British bones rested beneath the stones of this church. Like the Hollywood walk of fame, any stone under your foot could read the name of some luminary. My favorite, naturally, was Poets' Corner, with both graves and memorial plaques dedicated to literary Brits. Jane Austen, the Bard, Chaucer and Dickens were some of the names that caught my interest. I even walked out into the gardens, where my favorite flower, daffodil, speckled the carefully-kept lawns. (There is no photography inside the Abbey, so check out the Wikipedia stuff.)
The aforementioned daffodils, my favorite flower. No photography means I can take pictures outside, right? Hmm....
After my wanderings, I hung around for Evensong. Flexing my heathen-muscle, I sat through service, with sung psalms, recited bits of Old and New Testament, and general prayers. To timestamp my day, there was a prayer for all "on this, saint Valentine's day, so that all people can find love of man, as they find love of God" or something along those lines. Suddenly, epiphany (in a church)! It was Valentine's Day! Brits aren't abnormally affectionate or prone to buy single red roses wrapped in cellophane and tied in a pretty bow, they were just celebrating V-Day as we tend to in the States.
After Evensong, I visited Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the outside, as their lighting is really pretty at night. I then rushed myself to a bus, as I was really cold outside, and went to the Apple store on Regent Street. Now, my iPod has served me faithfully since Summer 2005, and until that week had been the first iPod in history (speculation) to have its case break before the pod. So, when my iPod seemed to punk out beyond repair just before I went to London, I was optimistic. After all, I can borrow Rafi's iPod for the week, and a Genius will fix my own! Am I the first backpacker to travel with not one, but two iPods? Possibly!
My Genius was sweet, and came equipped with a pleasant British accent (God, how I miss my mother tongue). She laughed at my rigged-with-an-orange-hair-tie case, and then marvelled at my iPod inside the rubber and plastic: "It's in such GOOD condition!" Then the fun ended, as she told me that my hard drive had passed on. I will always remember the good times we had together, at camp and on various trips to and from school and work and on my rollerblades. My Genius offered me a discount on a new iPod, but seeing as how a single day in London can cost roughly $15000000, I decided to opt out for the time being. My beloved Meredith is sending me her former iPod (she has moved on to newer technology and no doubt has some fabulously tiny and delighfully memoryfull Crackberry), a belated birthday present that brings tears to my eyes at the mere thought of it traveling the Atlantic, protected from the elements in a box padded with peanut M&M's (#1 BEST CANDY EVER) as I type these words. I miss Meredith severely.
That fun part of my day completed, and my psyche surprisingly intact (I was surprised at how un-devastated I was at my iPod's demise. I was sure one day it would happen and I would be decimated. Literally, reduced by 10% of who I am and what I want to be. This, however, did not happen. I just smiled and moved on.), I got a large dinner at Subway before trotting off to Notting Hill (not so eventful, but I did buy Cadbury Creme Eggs), and then, a conveniently-located Borders. I bought a few books, and went back to the hostel.
There was morning. There was evening.
The second day.