England 2014: Day 5 – Houses of Parliament & Winchester

London. My beautiful, beautiful London. 

It was so surreal to drive through the London streets and recognize things from six years ago. When we woke up on Thursday, I couldn’t even believe we were there.

Shenanigans. (iPhone 5)
Shenanigans on the bridge. (iPhone 5)

Join me today on this post – briefer than my previous ones – for the first half of Thursday, July 31st, where we venture out of London to Winchester – the formal capital city of England. 

day5-tOur London home for the next ten days was the DoubleTree Hilton London – Westminster. Steps away from the Tate Britain, the hotel is halfway between Pimlico and Westminster tube stations, which was an incredibly central location for us. I was fortunate enough to get an amazing deal on this hotel through Expedia, which gave us access to the Executive Lounge. This in itself made it worth it! The lounge serves breakfast every day – eggs, sausages and bacon, cereal, pastries, charcuterie and cheese, as well as early evening drinks and nibbles (like pakoras and chicken skewers). This was included in our hotel price and saved us a ton of time and money from having to head out and purchase breakfast every day. As well, the DoubleTree hotels are outfitted with iMacs – you use this as your television, but you also have a desktop computer available to use, free printing (for tickets and boarding passes), and free wi-fi too. Though the wi-fi signal was occasionally spotty, it was still wonderful to be able to use it so we could FaceTime/Skype back home! Such a refreshing change from £14.99 a day at our Bath hotel! I was also lucky because we were able to switch out 1 queen bed into 2 twins – it may not seem like it makes much of a difference, but it did to us! It’s nice having your own bed (even if, in our case, they were stuck together).

After a filling breakfast, we were out the door and walked towards the Houses of Parliament. The neighbourhood where the hotel is located is quite quiet – seemed to be a mixture of both offices and residential. There’s a pub a few blocks away, but nothing in the immedite vicinity and thus, it was a really nice, peaceful place to be (no crazy noise when you’re trying to sleep at night)! 

Since Westminster Tube Station is far more connected to several lines as opposed to Pimlico, we chose to walk that way 95% of the time we ever head out. Besides, how can you say no to seeing this every day:

My view for every morning stroll. (Nikon S9700)
My view for every morning stroll. Unbelievable. (Nikon S9700)

We had to go to Waterloo to catch our train out to Winchester, so instead of taking transit, we decided to walk there across Waterloo Bridge, as the day was gorgeous. The Houses of Parliament were a beautiful sight, spires piercing the blue sky. We decided to stay on the bridge as the clock struck 11 – here’s a video of me right then and there!

Look at that sky. (Nikon S9700)
Look at that sky. (Nikon S9700)
London Eye selfie! (Nikon S9700)
London Eye selfie! (Nikon S9700)

From Waterloo, it was just a brief train ride (no transfers required!) to Winchester – again, a breeze with our BritRail passes. Upon our arrival, we were transported back in time and headed straight to the Great Hall. The Great Hall is all that remains of Winchester Castle. The castle had seen much history in its lifetime, like King Stephen besieging Empress Matilda’s forces during The Anarchy, Edward I and his wife caught in an apartment fire, Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter Margaret being born. Its Great Hall was built between 1222 – 1235, and today is a room filled with rich, haunting history.

The Great Hall. (Nikon S9700)
The Great Hall. (Nikon S9700)

Perhaps the most well known event to have taken place here was Sir Walter Raleigh‘s trial in 1603, when he was accused of involvement in the Main Plot and thus, treason against King James (who did not favour him the way Elizabeth I did). From here, he was sent to the Tower of London and remained imprisoned for several years. 

During the English Civil War, Royalists took hold of the castle, but lost control by 1646. Unfortunately, this led to Oliver Cromwell’s orders of its destruction, leaving only the Great Hall behind. (It continues to upset me that so much history has been wrecked by angry rulers!)

The main attraction of the Great Hall today is the Winchester Round Table:

A far shot, so you can see the scale of this piece. (Nikon S9700)
A far shot, so you can see the scale of this piece with the sestra conveniently standing there for comparison. (Nikon S9700)
Detail. (Nikon S9700)
Detail. You can actually see the wood “slices” beneath the paint, which came together to form this tabletop. (Nikon S9700)
I couldn't resist getting in a shot with it, myself. (Nikon S9700)
I couldn’t resist getting in a shot with it, myself. (Nikon S9700)

Dendrochronology dates the table and its construction back to the mid-13th century, during the reign of Edward I. The painting of it, however, we know dates back to 1522. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was scheduled for a state visit, and so Henry VIII, in one of his many shows of strength, wealth, and power, had the near-300 year old table painted and decorated with the name of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Conveniently, however, it depicts Henry VIII seated in Arthur’s spot, and a Tudor Rose at the centre of it all. Not bad for showing off, is it? It’s quite obvious, therefore, that the table does not date back to Arthurian times at all, but rather is an attempt to associate oneself with Arthur’s fame, prowess, and glory. Good job, Henners.

From the Great Hall, we walked through the narrow streets towards our next destination. It was quite interesting, really, to walk through the city because unlike previous places we’d been to, like Bath or Glastonbury or Salisbury, Winchester didn’t exactly have an old feel to it! Sure, once we got to specific buildings, you definitely felt that, but everything around it is modernizing and changing! The juxtaposition was interesting indeed.

Winchester Cathedral - a magnificent sight. (Nikon S9700)
Winchester Cathedral – a magnificent sight. (Nikon S9700)

We finally found ourselves at Winchester Cathedral! This Cathedral is one of the largest in Europe; it has the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic Cathedral in Europe. The building itself was consecrated in 1093 and has had augmentations and additions since, and it, like the other cathedrals we’d seen prior, was an absolute beauty. This is the church in which Richard the Lionheart’s (second) coronation took place, and hundreds of years later, it is the church in which Mary I and Philip II of Spain were married. 

Let me take you on a tour inside:

The nave looking east. (Nikon S9700)
The nave looking east. (Nikon S9700)
Standing in the Quire looking west. (Nikon S9700)
Standing in the Quire looking west. (Nikon S9700)
A view overhead, detailing the roof bosses - that is, the elaborate carvings used to cover the connections of the stone ribs in the vaulted ceiling. (Nikon S9700)
A view overhead, detailing the roof bosses – that is, the elaborate carvings used to cover the connections of the stone ribs in the vaulted ceiling. (Nikon S9700)
The High Altar, and its 15th Century stone screen. (Nikon S9700)
The High Altar, and its 15th Century stone screen. (Nikon S9700)
12th Century - yes, 12th CENTURY - paintings! Uncovered in the 1960s, these are contained within the Holy Sepulchre Chapel and are fine, fine, fine survivals from the period. Amazing to see in person.
12th Century – yes, 12th CENTURY – paintings! Uncovered in the 1960s, these are contained within the Holy Sepulchre Chapel and are fine, fine, fine survivals from the period. Amazing to see in person.
At my feet lay buried Jane Austen, one of England's best known writers. Though she had many ties to other places like Bath, it was here in Winchester where she finally passed away and was laid to rest. On her gravestone, the sweetest message is written, and yet there is no mention whatsoever of her occupation and success as a writer. (Nikon S9700)
At my feet lay buried Jane Austen, one of England’s best known writers. Though she had many ties to other places like Bath, it was here in Winchester where she finally passed away and was laid to rest. On her gravestone, the sweetest message is written, and yet there is no mention whatsoever of her occupation and success as a writer. (Nikon S9700)
Medieval tiles, dating back to the 13th Century, in situ. Laid in their original place in the retrochoir, this is the largest surviving spread of decorated tiles still surviving in England. (Nikon S9700)
Medieval tiles, dating back to the 13th Century, in situ. Laid in their original place in the retrochoir, this is the largest surviving spread of decorated tiles still surviving in England. (Nikon S9700)
The tomb of Cardinal Henry Beaufort, a bastard son of John of Gaunt (of the Royal House of Plantagenet) that was later legitimized and rose through the church. It was Henry who presided over the trial of Joan of Arc, which later found her guilty and sentenced her to burn at the stake. (Nikon S9700)
The tomb of Cardinal Henry Beaufort, a bastard son of John of Gaunt (of the Royal House of Plantagenet) that was later legitimized and rose through the church. It was Henry who presided over the trial of Joan of Arc, which later found her guilty and sentenced her to burn at the stake. (Nikon S9700)
Standing in the empty retrochoir and taking everything in, I found myself gazing upon the ghosts of the past. To the left is St. Swithun's memorial shrine. (Nikon S9700)
Standing in the empty retrochoir and taking everything in, I found myself surrounded by the ghosts of the past. To the left is St. Swithun’s memorial shrine. (Nikon S9700)

Winchester Cathedral houses The Morley Library (found upstairs in the South Transept), an extensive, impressive collection of old books (with some of the earliest shelves). Here, too, are some of Jane Austen’s original handwritten notes, and the amazing Winchester Bible – the largest and best surviving 12th Century bible there is. It has beautiful illuminations and no words could ever do it justice. As you can probably appreciate, we weren’t allowed to take photos there, in order to preserve the books as best as possible. Up another flight of stairs is the Triforium Gallery, where many artefacts are on display, including original sculptures from outside as well as the altar screen, many of which were damaged (but thankfully recovered) after the destruction the cathedral endured during its stormy transition from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. 

It was this morning, when we woke, that the sestra and I found out that my grandmother had passed away in the Philippines. Even now, as I write this, I can't believe she's gone. We were fortunate enough to see her last thanksgiving, and it was here, at Winchester Cathedral, that I lit a candle in prayer for her. I love you, lola, always.
For my lola. (iPhone 5)

It was this morning, when we woke, that the sestra and I found out that my grandmother had passed away in the Philippines. Even now, as I write this, I can’t believe she’s gone. We were fortunate enough to see her last thanksgiving, and it was here, at Winchester Cathedral, that I lit a candle in prayer for her. I know she would have wanted my sister and I to have the time of our lives in our travels and so I vowed to live every passing second even fuller than I already had been. I love you, lola, always.

The sestra walking dramatically down the tree-lined path. (iPhone 5)
The sestra walking dramatically down the tree-lined path. (iPhone 5)

After a brief rest in the refectory (where I had a lovely salad and a kipper), my sister and I made our way back to the rail station, as we had to prepare for a special evening ahead. 

My next post will feature the first of three separate posts devoted solely to food. Three months prior to this visit, I had patiently waited at my computer for the perfect time when bookings for Dinner by Heston Blumenthal opened up to the exact date I’d wanted. Fortunately for me, I snagged a reservation, and you’ll see the goings-on therein in my next post! Stay tuned!


Follow Along on my England 2014 Journey!

DAY 1: Travel & Settling In Bath 
DAY 2: Cheddar, Glastonbury, & Wells with Mad Max Tours
DAY 3: Salisbury, Bath, & Razorcat Tours
DAY 4: Touring Oxford with Oxford City Walk
DAY 5: The Houses of Parliament & Winchester (You’re on this page right now!)

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