We woke up around 8am and began to clean/pack up for our last day of adventures in London. We pieced together that the random table in the middle of our hostel room was the "free for all" table, so we snagged some new pants, a random book, and some sort of hat. I think. We rounded up all of our rank clothing and did a massive load of laundry while we cleaned. It was a long time coming. We were certainly cutting it close at this point in the trip.
After we stored our stuff in the communal baggage room, we made our way to Buckingham Palace. We had some difficulty getting there because it was some sort of bank holiday, but thankfully us Simkins' are known for our resourcefulness. We live for the challenge.
As we walked through the beautiful park surrounding the beautiful palace, we say teams of families also enjoying the holiday with an ice cream cone or family picnic near the palace. It was quite a lovely scene to watch.
Once we were done gazing at the enormous palace, we made our way down the long and majestic entrance, only to find that we had been at the mouth at that very entrance the day before and didn't know it. Everything in London is so very connected, and yet elegantly separated. It's an enthralling layout of a city.
We then made our way once again to the National Gallery were we finally were able to enter. Unfortunately photography was strictly prohibited, but simply being able to spend some time looking at an incredible collection of art was fantastic. Artists from every era, from all around the world hung on the regal walls of this fine building, as tourist and residents alike stood close and far, hoping to glean some new wisdom or insight from these magnificent works of art. I enjoyed watching the people almost as much as I did the painting they were gazing upon.
Our next stop was the strikingly enormous Westminster Abbey. Through some research we were able to find out that the weekly evensong service was open to the public and decided to participate. As we walked through the dark corridors into the overwhelming stunning center room, I couldn't help but stare at the beauty around me like a kid in a candy shop. The incredible architecture and beautiful stained glass made this room both daunting and serene all at once. We were walked to our seats which happened to be in the very front row next to the altar, in full view of the rest of the participants. I suppose that meant that we best be on our good behavior...
I can honestly say that this experience was among my very favorites from this entire trip. The moment the 18 person choir open their mouths, I was immediately filled with a sense of bone-chilling awe that I haven't been able to forget since. A wave of emotions washed over me with a shaking sense of total reverence, and I almost didn't know what to do with myself. As the deep and harmonious voices filled every chamber of this ancient building, I couldn't help but think of the days before Power Point, electric drums, sign-in sheets, and trendy curriculum. Simply the voices of those dear saints, gathering in communal humility, to worship God and edify one another. Nothing more. How I long to catch a glimpse of the beautiful simplicity.
As some people left halfway, I couldn't help but wonder why. Why would anyone ever want to cut short their experience of deeply historic and wonderfully liturgical worship in such a magnificent space like the Westminster Abbey? And it dawned it me. The space, the amenities, the luxuries, and equipment really don't carry that much importance. Without a deeply profound interaction with the Creator of the universe, our pragmatic arrangements and concise musicianship really is for nil. Without a heart postured in humble surrender, washed in grace, challenged in victory, even our most fervent (or costly) attempts will in deed, fall short. What a simple reminder.
After we left Westminster, we decided it was high time we encounter some authentic English tea. We found a delightful pub a couple miles away, and sat ourselves at the only remaining table. As it turns out, there was a reason this particular table was open as we quickly realized it was placed right next to the building's bathrooms. We took strength from Destiny's Child and survived. Once we finished our tea, we created our trademark "SN10" on the tables with the flowers provided, and were on our way.
I had suspected earlier in the trip that we may be able to use our "Underground" cards to ride on one of the transit boats and so we decided to give that a try. As ti turns out, there was a bit of an extra charge, but it was minimal, so we decided to scrounge together all the coins we had left, and begin our aquatic adventure. The boat took us right under the gorgeous London Tower Bridge where we snapped dozens of photos like the unashamed tourists we were. Unsure of the actual route this fine ferry went, we decided to stay on for a bit to see where it would take us. This turned out not to be the wisest choice we had ever made, once we realized that we were going to be dropped off in a neighborhood far outside of where we had been staying and/or were familiar with. But then again, we are suckers for a challenge.
We decided to make "Fish and Chips" our final obstacle to conquer, and began our search in the newly discovered neighborhood we had been dropped off in. When we finally found a place, we realized that we did not have the funds to pay for it. After a number of attempts to find the elusive ATM that everyone had been directing us to, we at last discovered our esoteric friend.
After our delicious meal, we made the long journey back to our beloved hostel, said goodbye to our dear friend "Saucy Aussie", and called a cab.
When we called to arrange for our ride however, they must have interpreted the word "cab" as "rotting corpse testing lab." We all agreed that this cab was arguably the worst smelling vehicle we had ever set foot in, and knowing the vehicles we have each been in over the years, that's quite an accomplishment. Trying to choke back the tears and impending vomit, we quickly realized that this sly cabby was taking all sorts of unnecessary turns and detours in order to ramp up our price. The driver end up ripping us off by at least 20 Euros, but by the time we reached the airport at 2:30am, we were just too tired to fight with the guy.
When we arrived at the ghost town of an airport, we made our way to the food court on the second floor and found some comfy chairs that we could rest in. Apparently a dozen other people had the same idea, and soon we looked like a traveling band of homeless carnies. Some sprawled all across the small carpeted area, others cuddled closely in their sleeping bags on carefully arranged ottomans. One ambitious gentlemen had even taken his socks of, got up every 3 minutes or so to try and rearrange the pieces of furniture he was sleeping" on. It was both sad, and kind of hilarious.
I let the rest of the group sleep while I quietly worked on writing down the notes from our day's adventures...