I had been to London 4 times and missed Westminster Abbey each time, due to closures or just bad timing. After studying important architectural structures around the world during my high school days, it had been one of my life goals to visit Westminster Abbey, as it was to visit the Notre Dame in Paris (which I saw in 1998). Even today, I get giddy when I see any of Gehry’s masterpieces.
I can only equate this feeling to a high school tennis player finally being able to explore the depths of Wimbledon. It’s a skin-tingling moment.
After 25 years, I was finally going to enter the building I had studied so intensely in high school.
I would see the intricate rose windows and the flying buttresses with my own eyes. All I had learned so many years ago came rushing back to me. I stood in the rain, crying, staring at the architectural wonder before me. It was 8.30am in the morning and I had another hour to wait before it opened. What’s another hour after 25 years?
I was the first to enter. I stood alone in the nave, cherishing the brief moment of having the place to myself, while everyone behind me scrambled to pick up their audio guides. I flashed back to the Royal wedding of William and Kate that I stayed up to watch on television only a year before. And to the wedding of Diana and Charles years before.
I remembered watching those brides, along with the rest of the world, looking so elegant as they walked down the never-ending aisle. It gave me chills, playing those memories in my head, as I listened to the organists practicing their hymns. It was as if they were playing solely for me.
I quickly returned to reality as I reached for my camera, remembering I could not take any photos. I would have to remember every detail.
As a photographer, it was extremely trying for me not to take photos. This is a building I have admired for a very long time, one that I see with amazement and itch to capture on ‘film’. But I was respectful of the Abbey rules and complied. (I bought a few postcards in the gift shop instead).
Without a camera in hand, I was forced to slow down and really look. I studied the intricacies of the building. I read the inscriptions on the monuments and imagined what life must have been like to live in King Henry’s time.
The one area that I was able to photograph were the College Gardens. Here, nestled between the buildings, are secluded gardens showing their bursts of colour and lush green lawns with the trees showering their blossoms in the breeze.
It was peaceful and a welcomed moment amongst the elbowing, audio-guided crowds.
So what did I learn that I can pass on from my visit Westminster Abbey?
Get there early to beat the crowds.
Pay by credit card for your entrance fee (it’s a shorter line).
Be aware that this is an Abbey where the dead are buried in tombs and beneath the floor upon which you walk. If you can get past that, be sure to admire the scriptures engraved by those who lost loved ones. They are meant to be read and remembered.
Be sure to see what you want to see first, as there will be crowds, then wander back and see what you missed. For example, if you want to see where Chaucer is buried, or Sir Isaac Newton, see those first before exploring the rest.
And if you do get one of those annoying audio guide devices (which will undoubtedly provide a plethora of information on your visit), please be aware of other people around you. Just because the audio instructs you to veer left, please make sure to look before you do so. I had bruises from those who did not.
Enjoy all the monuments on display, not just the highlights featured on the tape. And remember to look up as well as down on the floor. The wonder is all around you.