Friday, May 25, 2012

London Times - Day 2

Day Two went exactly like this (Sleep makes a HUGE difference!):

We woke at 9 AM (Yes, we slept over 14 hours!) and breakfasted at CafĂ© Rouge in Euston Station.  We had excellent ham and cheese croissants, smoked salmon and cucumber baguette, cappuccinos and juice.  Anabel enjoyed a full pot of English Breakfast tea all by herself, and consequently, talked a mile a minute the whole tube ride to the Tower of London. 

We began our tour of the Tower with a very witty Yeoman Warder (the keepers of the Tower also known as Beefeaters.)  He regaled the crowd with tales of blood and gore, thrilling the kids and making us laugh.  Who wouldn’t laugh at the thought of what must have been floating in the moat with the polar bears that ate the refuse and died of cholera?  Or at a detailed description of what it exactly means to be hanged, drawn and quartered? Those peace-loving English knew how to get the job done!  While hearing of Scottish hero Sir William Wallace’s fate after he was brought to the Tower via the River Thames through the Traitor’s Gate, one person actually fainted, temporarily ending our guided tour, and making the saying "not for the faint of heart" apply to the Tower tour.

Ever calm, the Beefeater just said, “It appears someone has fainted.  I’m afraid you’ll have to carry on without me.”  We thought this was part of the act and stood around smiling in disbelief until another Beefeater appeared with a stretcher.

Before we left Fripp Island, we had viewed as a final Social Studies assignment, “The Tower,” a BBC documentary series full of insight and historical recreations of the major events of the fortress and prison.  We learned there used to be a small village with workers, tradesmen, and families living within the Tower walls.  Everything needed for the King and Court was available.  The documentary helped the walls talk and made our self-guided tour more interesting.   

In the White Tower, we learned about armory of the Monarchy, specifically focusing on medieval weaponry.  The hands-on part of this exhibit included stations for kids to try pulling the string on a long bow, feeling how heavy swords and maces are, and seeing what it looks like through the eye slit of a knight’s helmet.  As usual, our kids could have spent hours trying each of these experiences.  But we had to push on…

In the Crown Jewels Tower, we saw the splendor of the Royal Family in just the few items on display. (Many items had been moved to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee exhibit at Buckingham Palace.)  There were many coronation paraphernalia from crowns from Charles I to Elizabeth II to the solid gold spoon for anointing the head of the newly crowned monarch.  Emma’s favorite was the golden coronation punch bowl that was large enough for her to swim in.  Wyatt liked the royal scepters ; imagining how he would look sitting on a throne with two large golden sticks, I’m sure.
Execution Site

We jumped back in a guided tour just in time to hear more gory details at the execution site on the Tower Green.  Here, two queens (Anne Boylen and Catherine Howard- the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII) lost their heads in the name of love, or lack thereof.  While Queen Anne died with one swift slice of a sword, one unfortunate gentleman was hacked five times in the shoulder before his neck was hit and survived three more blows before going silent, as the very detailed record books show.  He refused to pay his executioner believing his sentence would be reversed.  What he saved in gold, he paid for in pain.  (Did I mention the Yeoman Warders really love their jobs?  With no prisoners to torture these days, they have a whack at giving nightmares to tourists.  Being a little masochistic, we loved it!)

We ended our tour in the Chapel where those executed lie without stones or markings.  Somewhere near the Altar, lies the body of Queen Anne Boylen, mother of Queen Elizabeth I.  I was surprised that she did not move her body to greater stature like King James I did with his mother.  I guess being an unwed female sovereign made her unwilling to take such political risks for the dead.

Seeing an unintended part of the Thames
From the Tower, we climbed aboard a clipper boat heading north up the River Thames for Westminster.  As the boat turned south, we realized our mistake and quickly prepared to get off and switch boats at the next pier.  We can’t blame sleeplessness for misdirection this time.

The boat ride to Embankment was gorgeous!  We caught glimpses of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern, sailed under the Millennium Bridge without a Deatheater in sight and arrived at our destination with another view of the London Eye and Big Ben.  The boat journey was worth the extra £14.

In Westminster, we picnicked in St. James Park and sauntered up the Mall to Buckingham Palace.  Surrounded by workers assembling grandstands for the Jubilee celebration, the palace literally glistened on this beautiful day.  Though the Queen was not in residence, we enjoyed watching the guards march to and fro using our imaginations to pretend the Royal Family were waving to us from the balcony…. At least, that’s what I was pretending.  Greg was listening to a band in the park play “Mustang Sally” and the kids were imagining what ice cream they could get. 

Finally back at the room, the kids were exhausted.  They dined on take-out pasty and noodles from nearby shops while Greg and I headed to cross off one of my bucket list items: Seeing Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in London’s St. Martin’s Theatre. 
Eating a Cornish pasty like playing the harmonica...
The play is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee along with the Queen as it is in its 60th year run and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running play in history.  Did I mention it has only ever played in London?  Agatha Christie gave the rights to one Theatre Company only so if you want to see the play, you must go to London.  Being a HUGE Christie fan, this has been on my bucket list for ages.  At the end of the performance, the audience must swear not to reveal the solution to the crime.  I’m not about to break a 60 year tradition; Let me just say, I solved it just after the intermission (Greg can verify that...), but enjoyed every minute of it.

Greg and I ended our London date night with an Indian meal in the hopping West End.  These two days in London have been “bloody brilliant,” but we can’t wait for some Scottish relaxation.

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