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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

FreeMason's Hall London

I've passed the building on 60 Great Queen Street in Covent Garden many times but had no idea it was the FreeMason's Hall. It's incredibly impressive 1933 Art Deco building that is highly decorated inside  and out, and has been used a a movie set many times; apparently it has appeared in a variety of incarnations in several James Bond films, including as the Russian Embassy!

My grandfather belonged to a Masonic Lodge and I think of it as a secretive organization that operate rate a wide range of charities often benefitting their own, thus you have Freemason's schools and elderly care homes. However, times have certainly changed and while the Mason's charitable remit remains, they've opened up to the public.  Currently they offer free  entrance to the museum and library as well as free tours of the Grand Temple and ceremonial area. Monday through Friday (when the Grand Temple is not in use) tours leave at 11am, 12noon, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. 
The tour focused on the building, the decoration and the nature of the Masons as a fraternal organization. It's a combination of architectural tour and public relations led by well meaning and friendly volunteers. The history of the Masons is fascinating and many famous figures were of course members of a Masonic order.The museum traces a number of famous Masons and includes Winston Churchill's Masonic  regalia or apron! I found this quite amusing as I'd just seen his false teeth at the Hunterian Museum.
There's a beautiful and highly decorated art deco style shrine dedicated to those lost in the 1914-1918 war. As you can see the craftsmanship is extraordinary.  
The stained glass, lighting and the marble floor outside the Grand Temple chamber are incredibly impressive. I think this must be one of the most interesting art deco interiors in London.Clearly no expenses were  spared as you can see from the stained glass, the painted and carved wooden ceiling, the the cast bronze lighting and the mosaic work throughout.
Quite a number of those on our tour were Mason's from overseas lodges and many of them took pictures in front of the commemorative altar and in the Grand Temple chamber.
The Grand Temple chamber is reached through some extraordinary bronze doors decorated with incredible bas-reliefs. The themes are taken from the Bible but the tour guide stated that the Masonic orders are not Christian or religious and that Masons can be from any religious background.I understood his point but it was a little hard to grasp when the building itself was so clearly saturated with Judeo-Christian imagery, which you can see below.
As you can see the quality of the craftsmanship was extraordinary and this was true throughout the building. The interiors we saw were beautifully maintained and designed, however the best was yet to come in the Grand Temple.
Behind the bronze doors the  Grand Temple opened up with a raised stage and an organ at one end. The coved mosaic ceiling was incredibly impressive and the room was designed for large assemblies. It feels like a religious space, impressive, formal and grandiose.I couldn't keep my eyes from drifting up to the ceiling and the mosaic details which are filled with Masonic symbolism; good and evil, knowledge, wisdom and truth.Apparently the mosaic work took  Italian craftsmen several years to complete.
The Grand Temple remains at the heart of British Freemasonry today and is still in regular use, indeed the Queen Street building houses a number of rooms where lodges meet daily.
I think the photos give you a sense for the pomp, circumstance and regalia of the Masonic space. As you can see it's all very grand and quite hierarchical, which is partly why it reminds one of the architecture of a church.
As you can see the Grand Temple is far grander than the regular lodge room you can see below, though both contain the same checkerboard floor and certain symbolic element including a raised chair for the leading member.
In addition to the tour you're welcome to visit the onsite Library and Museum which includes a variety of Masonic memorabilia including regalia, aprons, photographs, medals, lustreware jugs and a number of Wedgwood pieces. 
The displays also included this John Paul Gaultier shirt complete with Masonic imagery including the eye on the left and pyramid on the right.
Overall I very much enjoyed the tour and I think it's wonderful that the Masons'  have opened up such an interesting and beautiful building to the public. The tour was engaging and very much worth the time spent. This may not be your first stop in London, but it's a quirky  engaging destination, and well worth seeking out for anyone interested in British history, Art Deco design or architecture. 

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