Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday

We were all awakened by a fire alarm shortly after 7, and were asked, "Please leave the building." Somebody had broken the rule and put a croissant in the toaster, which is for "bread only." It seems there's a good reason for the rule!

Packing was an intimidating task, but I accomplished it in just over an hour, paranoid about making sure I leave nothing behind. The conference center staff cheerfully called me a taxi, and I was soon on my way to the Canterbury West rail station. I inquired of the gate agent when the next "fast train" to London would arrive and he pointed to the one currently at the platform. I boarded gratefully, thinking I was on the high speed service. I was not. No harm. I resigned myself to a more leisurely ride, and a longer taxi ride once in London (Charing Cross being further from my hotel than St Pancras). Then, about 30 minutes later, we pulled into Ashford International, and I heard the announcement, "Change here for high speed service to St Pancras." Here's where the advantage of traveling on an open pass becomes evident. I just got off, changed platforms, and caught a high speed train about 15 minutes later.

Basically, I don't like taxis. I become a ball of anxiety as I watch the fare on the meter click upward. So I braved the Underground with my large and heavy suitcase. Happily, my room at the Delmere Hotel (part of a long block of row houses converted into hotels; this one wears the Best Western label) near Paddington Station (from which my train to the airport tomorrow departs) was ready when I arrived. The whole place is ... compact. But my room is quite comfortable.

After stowing my luggage and grabbing some lunch at an Indian place, I made a longish Underground journey (two transfers) to Southwark, the section of London that lies south of the Thames. I wanted to see Southwark Cathedral. It sits virtually at the foot of London Bridge, not the one that "fell down" and now lives in comfortable Arizona retirement, but its wider and stronger replacement. The site was originally a convent in Saxon times, became a priory during Norman times (when most of the present church was constructed), a parish church after the Reformation (St Saviour & St Mary Overie), and a cathedral in 1905 when the Diocese of Southwark was erected. It's rather smaller in scale than most cathedrals, including the seat of the London Diocese, St Paul's, the dome of which is easily visible across the river from Southwark. When I arrived, a violin and piano recital had just begun in the nave, so I sat down and listened. It was wonderful. I looked around a good bit, surprised to encounter the tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of the formative fathers of the Anglican theological method in the early seventeenth century. After ducking out for a bit to find some tea, I returned for Evensong at 5:30. The choir is about a third smaller than Canterbury's, but they are superb. What a treat it has been to attend choral Evensong nine times in four locations on this trip.

The trip back to the hotel gave me an opportunity to experience London rush hour. Enough said. Found a nice dinner in the neighborhood. Happy to be traveling tomorrow to a place where I can count the change in my pocket without examining evey coin.

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