i've already ruled out trying chronology. it makes me nut up and my brain starts to fritz. so i'll just pick random aspects of visiting england to focus on and see where it takes me.
i'll start with people. yeah, that works. to lead into that, i'll state for the record that i'm crazy in love with Knights. all of 'em. wendy's been in my heart and head for years, her kids and mine are inextricably intertwined, i've always adored will, and now matt has joined the group Knights About Whom The Thackstons Can't Squee Loudly Enough.
if you're new to a country, getting met by a calm person who first thing takes you to a coffee stand and lets gentle amusing banter wash over you, then getting tucked into a car and whisked through the bewildering foreign streets to a lovely quiet welcoming home and nestling you in, just can't be beat.
we elected to fortify ourselves with coffee and set out to have adventures rather than nap, and try to acclimate to the new time as quickly as possible, which turned out to be a good strategy (although it would never have worked if we'd been on our own.) the caffeine and the exhilaration of being in friggin' LONDON kicked in, and matt shepherded us expertly onto buses and tubes (eek!!!) and on to the wonder that was downtown.
i find cities uncomfortably crowded, and england's cities (and towns and villages for that matter) are even more than ours, as the british sensibly keep their countryside pastoral and their humans in human communities. i didn't see one single solitary trophy house neighborhood with vast empty acres of Chemlawn. i'm sure they exist, but they're not the norm.
but for someone who lives in the sticks, the crowded streets (and the pickpockets who infest them) could be dismaying if not in the company of someone who so coolly and cheerfully negotiates them as matt did. in the first hour he saved my life at least a couple of times. you do NOT stumble off a curb into a london street. ever. british motorists are far more courteous than american ones, but london is a traffic madhouse. exceptions for klutzy american tourists don't exist. don't take it lightly.
but once i figured out that the two-feet rule does not and cannot exist, the beauty and variety and splendor and OLDNESS of the city swept me away. we wandered, jaws dropped, past classical statues, monuments of historical figures, gorgeous edifices built hundreds of years ago and still functioning briskly, brilliant gardens, fountains, palaces, arches, towers, and churches.
oh yes. churches.
i would never have guessed how admiring i could be of christian monuments until i went to england.
and until i met westminster abbey.
i was so busy gawping at the OUTSIDE that i didn't even really pick up on matt's insistence on going in before us so he could see our reaction to the inside. oh my gads.
there's something almost obscene about that amount of opulence. every single inch of that place is a masterpiece, some master craftsman poured his entire life's toil into creating some little piece of stone carving on a pillar or flying buttress hundreds of feet in the air, utterly exquisite but impossible to grok in the immensity and splendor of the whole. and westminster abbey is not about restrained elegance. it smacks you right between the eyes, over and over and over. your neck aches with staring upwards (as the design intends, constantly re-drawing one's gaze to heaven) and yet the eye-level stuff is equally compelling.
i'd walk several miles just to stand at the tomb of elizabeth 1 and bloody mary (and i had no idea they were interred together!) but that was just one out of hundreds of shrines. mary queen of scots. shakespeare. chaucer! i stood at CHAUCER'S tomb! (that one made me snorfle up a little in sheer awe.) lewis carroll's rabbit hole spiral. shelley. mad bad and dangerous to know byron. so many. so many i came to see and send kleos, so many i recognized with awe, so many i'd never heard of before but boggled at their resplendent resting places.
not only did it knock my socks off as a tourist and delight me as a student, it gave me much food for thought as a priestess of the kthonic theoi. on one level i get the need to make a mark, to leave something behind. but on another i'm totally dismayed at this degree of 'worship my dusty remains.' and yet as passionate lover of history, i'm so grateful that so many DO create these foolish, hopeless, gorgeous testaments to Life, so that i can stand there centuries later and say 'omg. some tiny essence of their physical DNA is here, right here before me. damn!'
i was particularly fascinated by the variety of ways the artists depicted the deceased. some had eyes peacefully closed, many were disturbing open but white and dead, others painted with a startling semblance to a living gaze. many were on their backs with folded hands, but some were up on elbows, heads on hands in poses creating a feel of utter ennui with the whole situation. which of course is totally fitting. (matt says 'um, that would be piety, suz.' but it didn't look pious to me.) i was intrigued by the choices of footers, the animals upon whom the tomb figures' feet were propped, and delightedly horrified to learn that small carved children kneeling under the tomb meant their children, and if they were kneeling on skulls it meant the kids pre-deceased the entombed.
and that's just the dead people. i don't even have words for the architecture, windows, altars, pews, chapels, lecterns, nooks, crannies, crypts, doorways, organs, pillars, beams, ceilings (oh, the ceilings!!!)
it was an insanely perfect First Big Thing To See.
i wish so much i could have taken pictures. but they wouldn't convey it. maybe it's best that it couldn't be.
by 5pm we were so tired we couldn't see straight. matt tenderly led us home again, tucked us into his incredibly comfy four-poster (complete with purring kitties) while he slept on the couch. and we slept like lambies. and woke up to fresh bread, a vast array of jams and honeys, fresh french-pressed coffee, golden sunshine, and our host offering us a glittering choice of prospects for our first full day in england.