October 12, 2013

London, Part 2

“People who try to pretend they’re superior make it so much harder for those of us who really are.”  Hyacinth Bucket, British comedienne

Carol writes:  Our London tour continues…

The path to the Tower of London leads straight over the River Thames by means of the iconic Tower Bridge, one of London’s most identifiable landmarks. 

The Jubilee Walkway along the shore of the River Thames was a wonderful showcase of the new and the old.  The modern buildings of London appeared impressive and very creatively designed, especially the one affectionately called ‘The Shard.’

The Tower of London has become famous, in addition to being infamous, for a number of reasons.  Like Windsor Castle, the Tower was also built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.  Throughout 1000 years of history, it has served as a defensive castle, a royal palace, and a prison complete with execution grounds. 

In today’s more civilized times, it also serves as the keeper of the ‘Crown Jewels’, and that is the huge draw for many of its visitors.  We had read that the snaking line to see the Crown Jewels can be very long at times, so we headed there first thing to see those precious and sparkling treasures.  They were pretty awesome!

Some of the largest and most famous gems in history were incorporated into numerous crowns, royal maces and swords.  Several pieces of supersized dinnerware in gold and silver were also on display.  There was no chance of taking pictures in such a controlled, guarded and fortified setting like the Tower, so here are two that I have pulled from the Internet.  No one in line with us seemed willing to chance what the punishment would be for a secret forbidden photograph…

Some of the Tower’s more unsavory history has included executions, torture, and cruel and arbitrary imprisonment.  Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were just two of many who lost their lives/heads on the infamous Tower Green.

One of the more quirky Tower legends asserts that the kingdom will fall if the Tower’s resident ravens fly away.  On our walking  tour with one of the Tower’s famous Beefeaters, we were told that today’s residents of the Tower take this legend very seriously and feed the ravens so much that they are too ‘fat’ to fly away.  Those birds really were chubby…

On to tackle the immense British Museum...Hands down, the British Museum contains some of the world’s finest collections that document world history.  A minimum of one full day was required to appreciate its magnificent exhibits, and even then we found we had to be selective.  We spent much of our time in the Assyrian, Greek, and Egyptian sections.  Many of these specimens were ‘acquired’ when British power was at its zenith in these areas of the world.  The size and scope of these collections was grander than any we had ever seen—anywhere, in any museum.  We were awed by Assyrian lions,

Greek Parthenon sculptures (one of the more controversial acquisitions that Greece is demanding be given back) and other temple structures,

always fascinating Egyptian mummies,

and one of the most valuable ‘rocks’ in all of human history—the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone was such a fortuitous discovery because for the first time it provided scholars the key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics.  The same passage was carved into the stone in 3 different scripts, two of which were understood, thus providing the dictionary for translating the third unknown one that was written in hieroglyphics.

By the end of a long day marveling at displays, our feet and backs were complaining, but our heads were happy and spinning at the wonders we had explored in the British Museum.   

We woke up the next morning in the campground to a brilliant blue sky, so we decided that was the day to go for one of our long London walks.  Our first stop was at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a treasured historic symbol so dear to Londoners that incredible heroic measures were undertaken in WW II to preserve it from the bombardment of German planes.  St. Paul’s has been called the heart and soul of London.  It is where London celebrates, as it did at the wedding of Charles and Diana.  It is also where Londoners grieve, as they did so dramatically by the thousands in kinship and sympathy with America on 9/11.  St. Paul’s was a veritable Who’s Who of the nation’s famous and included actual graves or memorial plaques of some of the world’s most well-known political and artistic legends, such as Lord Nelson, Christopher Wren, and John Donne.

From St. Paul’s Cathedral it was a short stroll across the Millennium Bridge

to the Tate Modern Museum—one of our rare misfires.   We took one brief look, decided it wasn’t our cup of tea, and headed to the nearest Tube station.  Instead, we enjoyed lunch at the always entertaining Covent Gardens market scene where we listened to an accomplished tenor singing an aria from Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’, followed by a group of five musicians playing the likes of ‘Pachelbel’s Canon in D’.  Both of these selections have extraordinary personal meaning for me, what I have come to recognize as a “God Wink.” 

Kensington Palace was the other royal residence we wanted to see.  A private wing of the palace has been renovated for Prince William, wife Kate, and their son (and future king), George.  Princess Diana lived at Kensington Palace from the time of her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 until her death in 1997.  A pleasant statue of Queen Victoria graced the entrance, interesting because it was sculpted by none other than one of the queen’s more artistically talented daughters—Princess Louise—as a celebration of 50 years of her mother’s reign. 

It was fitting that a statue of the Queen Victoria graced the entrance of Kensington Palace because that is where she was born and raised.  As a part of the palace tour, we were fascinated, as always, to get a peek at the very interesting ‘Victoria Revealed’ exhibit.

The most touching room in Kensington Palace was the little room with 17 rocking chairs, each decorated with a golden memento design to commemorate Queen Anne’s 17 children, none of whom lived to adulthood. 
Although the exterior of Kensington Palace seemed somber and surprisingly plain, the neighboring grounds of Hyde Park were some of London’s finest.  We walked by a lovely circular fountain that has been dedicated to the memory of Princess Diana.

At the end of our long walking day in London, we had come to the end of our London wish-list agenda.  As Americans, our nationality was always ‘out of the bag’ with only a few spoken words; yet, we always felt welcomed in casual conversations.  It was fun on the train so sit back and relax and listen to the conversations around us.  More than once we heard discussions about our present United States government shutdown, and the general theme always seemed to be: “what are they thinking?”  In a discussion with an older woman one day, she asked us, “Why on earth are some Americans against health care for everyone?”  She told us she has been very pleased with her cradle-to-grave National Health Service care.  We gave her our best unbiased reply.  She was polite in reply and let it be known that to her way of thinking our explanation went against common human decency.  She called lack of health care an "abomination," and added, "We take care of our own." 

In short, we had found London a captivating city with wonderful royal pageantry, splendid palaces, fine museums, soulful cathedrals, delightful citizenry, and an engrossing history.  Cheerio! 

“Amazing what the British do with language; the nuances of politeness.  The World’s great diplomats, surely."  Anne Rice

No comments:

Post a Comment