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When I finally tore my eyes away from Westminster Abbey I was thrilled to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament just across the street! Part of my excitement came from the fact that I was standing in front of the world-famous building, and the second part was that I didn’t have to walk my tired legs too far to get a close look! Did you know that the name ‘Big Ben’ is actually a nickname for the heaviest bell inside the tower? The official name is The Great Bell of Westminster, and the clock is The Great Clock of Westminster. The tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower, but for the sake of convenience I am just going to refer to it as Big Ben.

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At times like this I wish I could sprout wings so I could fly up there for a better look! I don’t have very good eyesight to begin with so it’s not always easy to see all the detail that are a fair distance away.

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I almost jumped up and down with excitement when the bells started ringing at noon! The photo is a minute after because I was taking video to record the sound of the bells. I haven’t figured out how to rotate my video without getting the tops and bottoms chopped off though. I haven’t done much video editing so I had completely overlooked the fact that videos are always in landscape orientation. You would think it would be a simple thing to rotate a video to portrait mode considering how easy it is to rotate photos. I will have to look more into the matter as it seems that it is possible to upload videos in portrait orientation to Vimeo. I just need to find an editor that will rotate it for me! Do you have any suggestions for me?

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I didn’t actually go inside the House of Parliament, but I was happy just seeing it from different angles as I crossed the Westminster Bridge.

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The fun thing about taking several photos of a clock is that you get a time stamp without the ugly yellow letters that the default camera settings will slap on the bottom of the photo. This photo has a bit of an odd angle to it. It was taken about a third of the ways across the bridge.

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On the other side you could see the London Eye. I think it looks much nicer at night when it’s lit up though.

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#inYourFootsteps

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It was nice leaning against the warm wall taking photos and watching boats appear from under the bridge. This area wasn’t quite so busy with tourists as the walkways of Westminster Bridge. Even though I was a tourist myself, I was happy to escape the crowd and find a peaceful moment in the day.

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As I was walking across the cross walk I was delighted to see a Taxi pulling up to a stop in front of me. I  really liked the shape of the car as it was not something I’ve seen elsewhere. Later as I was editing this photo I noticed the zig-zag markings on the street. I am told they alert the driver that they are approaching a cross walk. I found drivers in London to be quite considerate of pedestrians.

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While I was taking photos of iconic things, I also grabbed some snaps of the double-decker bus and the phone box! I was actually rather surprised by the state of most of the phone boxes I saw in London. They were pretty dirty so I never ended up going inside. I was keeping my eyes peeled for a cleaner one to take a photo and was happy to add this to my collection. What other iconic things remind you of London?

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Westminster Abbey is an architect’s dream with its stunning Gothic architecture. The abbey is an important historical building where monarchs were crowned in a coronation ceremony.  It also houses the tombs of Kings and Queens as well as countless memorials of famous figures. If I were to write a top 10 list for things to see in London, Westminster Abbey would be high on the list without question!

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Upon arriving at Westminster Abbey I spent a good amount of time walking around the building and drinking in the architecture. One thing I love about cathedrals in general is how decorative they are! The entire structure was ornamental and I was really impressed to see how it all fit together. You have this sort of harmony between the pointy elements and the curves, along with all the floral patterns in the arches and steeple-thingees.

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This is right above the doorway and you can see the amount of intricate work that has gone into it. You can notice that the top of the arc is pointed which is another characteristic of Gothic architecture. The way some parts of the arc have this carved exterior and seemingly hollow interior reminds me of some of the ivory work I saw at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.

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Then of course you have the iconic flying buttress of Gothic architecture that holds it all together. This is the north side of the building which is also where the entrance is. If I remember correctly there was a security guard that checked my bag before entering and this was rather common practice for many places throughout Europe. There was a separate line for London Pass holders, but there was still a bit of a wait inside. There was a ticketing process where I got a ticket with “GBP 0.00″ printed on it. If you like collecting tickets from your travels it could be considered as a plus, but if you’re short on time it might feel a bit unnecessary. Unfortunately, I don’t have a single photo of the interior of the chapel. Photography was not allowed and it was to my greatest agony that I had to behold such splendors without being able to take a picture of them. The fan vault ceiling of the Lady chapel is one of the most magnificent work of architecture that I have laid eyes on. The splendor, the utter beauty of it is so awe-inspiring that it was pure torture not being able to capture that moment with my camera. It stopped me right in my tracks and I stood there quite amazed at what I saw. It was the first time I had seen a fan vaulted ceiling and since then it has taken place as my favorite type of architecture. Here is a link to a photo of the fan vault ceiling  I found on Flickr by Miguel Segura.

Other memorable parts of the Westminster Abbey include the grave of the unknown warrior, the high altar and the coronation chair, chapels that hold the tombs of Edward I, Henry III, Henry VII, Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward III, and Richard II. For me, the fascinating thing about seeing all these tombs were that they were indoors. The graveyards I saw in passing in the States were all outdoors. Apparently some of the presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have tomb sites, but I have never seen them in person. In Korea, traditional graves are outdoors. Whereas the ground above the graves in the States are flat, the ground above the Korean grave is like a small grassy mound that looks like a miniature hill. There is an ancestral tablet that symbolizes their soul that is then placed in a shrine, but the tomb still remains very much outdoors. So I was surprised to see so many tombs inside the chapels and effigies set upon them.

Poet’s Corner was the most amusing part of the abbey. Apparently it all started with Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of Canterbury  Tales. He was buried at Westminster Abbey because he was a clerk at Westminster Palace but when a poet called Edmund Spenser was buried next to Geoffrey Chaucer, other poets followed suit. Some of the names I recognized were William Shakespeare,Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, T.S. Eliot, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, John Milton, Percy Shelley (but not Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), and C.S. Lewis. Not that I have read all of their original works, but perhaps I’ll get around to that eventually! Some non-writers that were also buried in Westminster Abbey are George Handel, the Baroque composer, Isaac Newton, and ironically, Charles Darwin.

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After returning the audio guide I found myself in the cloisters. The ceiling of the abbey was similar to the ceiling of the the cloisters only much higher and beautifully decorated.

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The cloisters had a peaceful atmosphere with the light flooding in through the windows of sorts. From here you could sit and look out into the cloister garth and see the backs of the west towers. It was nice to sit and rest for a while as I’d been walking all morning. During the two weeks I was in Europe, I taped my feet every morning and didn’t get a single blister. Still my legs and feet ached from being unaccustomed from walking all day long.

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To the side there was the Chapter House where photography appeared to be allowed. It wasn’t much of a comfort though, as it paled in comparison to the interior of the abbey.

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The Chapter House ceiling was different from the main part of the abbey and it reminded of a great big lily pad.

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This is part of the paintings on the wall inside the Chapter House. Apparently they depict scenes from the book of Revelations in the Bible. The colors are faded and I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been some restoration work on it.

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Upon leaving the Westminster Abbey I was delighted to find another post box! This one was a bit bigger than the round pillar one I found at Earl’s Court. I think it was more exciting to find a post box in London than it was to find a phone box.

I wasn’t able to find a comprehensive video tour for Westminster Abbey like the one I had mentioned on my Westminster Cathedral post, but I found an interesting documentary and an incredible virtual tour where you can see the beautiful interior of Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, you can’t see the Lady Chapel in the virtual tour but it’s still worth taking a peep!

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When planning my adventure in London, Westminster Cathedral hadn’t exactly been on my must-see list. It wasn’t even mentioned in most of the travel books I had. By chance, a book I bought at the last-minute had a two sentence description of the Westminster Cathedral next to the twelve sentence description of Westminster Abbey. The book also marked its location on a map alongside Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Seeing as it was conveniently located near Buckingham Palace, I added it to my if-there-is-time list. I was glad that I did as my visit to Buckingham Palace was short-lived and it was nice to have a place to go nearby without having to change my entire route. Even if you don’t plan to go inside the Westminster Cathedral, at least take a good look at the outer neo-Byzantine architecture before hopping on the bus to Westminster Abbey. The exterior of Westminster Cathedral has a striking appearance unlike any other cathedral in London. With its orange and white stripes, it sort of reminded me of an orange tabby cat with its tower straight up like a tail.

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According to the Westminster Cathedral website, the words above the entrance DOMINE · JESU · REX · ET · REDEMPTOR PER · SANGUINEM · TUUM · SALVA · NOS means Lord Jesus, King and Redeemer, save us by your blood. There’s also a nice video tour of Westminster Cathedral on Youtube that I find to be much more interesting, humorous, and informative than the audio tour.

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That feeling of walking into the cathedral and standing under the expansive high domes is beyond expression. The peculiar thing about the domes of Westminster Cathedral is that when you look up, it’s like looking into a dark abysmal pit. I had expected a bright beautiful dome such as the one I had seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but instead was greeted by a blackened one. I wondered if there had been a fire, but apparently it’s just discoloration. It’s supposed to be covered in mosaic but the cathedral is not yet finished.

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The cathedral was fairly empty so I was able to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the cathedral without being pushed along in a current of other tourists.

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In accordance to the neo-Byzantine architectural style, the Westminster Cathedral is known for its marble and mosaics. It was interesting to see the collection of different colored marbles brought from around the world. The intricate detail of the pillar capitals were lovely but I wonder why they were made from a different material rather than using the marble.

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The two elements of the Westminster Cathedral that stood out to me are the mosaics and the use of patterns. The mosaics were so elaborate in detail that I wished I could go up closer to take a good look.

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I loved the interwoven pattern of the ceiling here, but found the symbolic bird figure a little simple in style compared to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus who are depicted in detail below. I also thought that Joseph’s hand looked much too large, but maybe that’s just me.

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The Lady Chapel was the highlight of my visit to Westminster Cathedral. The glittering golden mosaic utterly took my breath away. Just think about the work that must have gone into this! I don’t even think I have the patience to make a mosaic on a single sheet of paper let alone the ceiling of a chapel. I love the archways to the right and how the natural light illuminates the mosaic detail on the inner surface. I wonder how anyone can actually concentrate on praying here. I think I would be forever lost gazing up at the mosaic; mesmerized by its beauty.

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Two other elements that I found to be part of all of the cathedrals I visited this past summer were candles and choral music. I hadn’t really connected candles with prayer before, but it seems like a nice sort of ritual to do for prayer or meditation. I keep hearing good things about meditation and how it can increase your happiness. Perhaps I’ll see if I can get the Westminster Cathedral’s choir cd and spend some time in meditation and prayer. I could use a happiness boost or two!

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