Thursday, March 24, 2011

Glorious Britain! Part III

The next two days in London were similar to the day before, but with each day a different section of London. Tuesday was east and the Tower of London. This was by far the most highly anticipated venue given its high profile status in The Tudors series. We spent close to 5 hours touring all the different towers (there are several) and getting a personal tour and hearing the various stories from when it was a palace to the most notorious jail. Interesting and spooky fact: Upon Anne Bolelyn's execution, when the ax man held up her severed head, instead of cheering and chanting "Long Live the King!, as the crowd was supposed to do, they all gasped in unison. It is said that her eyes and mouth were still moving as if praying and looking about the crowd! OOOOOOHHHH. We went into towers where they have preserved graffiti etched in by former prisoners, and to the chapel where ex-Queens Anne Bolelyn and Catherine Howard were buried, We saw the AMAZING crown jewels (some of us went around the conveyor more than once).
From the Tower, we walked on to St. Paul's Cathedral (incredible, with the most sophisticated ipod audio tour). From there we crossed the Millennium Bridge and spent the afternoon at the Tate Modern. Of all the museums I have seen, this was quite an interesting one. I thoroughly enjoyed the Picasso exhibit, and seeing Pollack, Miro, Matisse and Warhol. I did not enjoy as much, the exhibits of "bulls-eye made with pebbles", "White Splotch on the Wall" and "Mirror". I actually missed the mirror entirely to which SHM said, "That's because it was a mirror". Right.
Although we were exceptionally tired, we made our way down the Victoria Embankment, mainly on the hunt for a cute pub for some snacks or dinner. We began walking in, away from the river, at the Temple Bar stop and wandered to Rouge Cafe, a very cute little bistro that made us feel like we had jumped the channel and were eating in Paris.
On Wednesday our now bruised feet took us north. We tried again to see Westminster Abbey, and success! Thank goodness because we stayed here about 3 hours. We saw the tombs of half of the British Monarchy: Elizabeth I, Mary I (entombed together, although they were rivals in life). Mary Queen of Scots, Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York, among others. We also toured through "Poet's Corner" to see the tombs and monuments of Lewis Carrol, Henry James, Jane Austen, Chaucer, Handel, and many many others.

From here, we walked north passed the National Gallery, and into the area of Covent Garden. Here we again were transported to Boston. Although this time we are standing in a pedestrian market place: there is a main center where a street performer is doing contortions and magic to the delight of school children on tour. Behind the performer is a large columned building that housed the food stations. The only thing missing were the words "Quincy Market". After a little shopping and a bite for lunch we continued north to the British Museum. Not originally on our itinerary, we added it once we read that it was the oldest museum in the world and home to the Rosetta Stone. How could we not go? Luckily for us, and our feet, the Rosetta Stone was in the "Ancients" exhibit, right on the ground floor, as you enter. We stayed to see the massive Egyptian exhibit as well as bits from the Parthenon. It was all very incredible, very amazing and very old. But on our fourth day of seeing old, incredible, amazing things, we were at our maximum saturation of old, incredible, amazing things. We exited the British Museum and met Briggie for dinner at a bustling restaurant in the theater district called Brown's. Very good, although SUPER busy and our waiter was greatly flustered all the time (we had to ask him three separate times for flatware). Although he did give us complimentary champagne:)
Finally, our great tour ends with Hampton Court. Another highly anticipated stop! We were there for 5 hours and toward the end felt rushed and could have used another hour. Hampton Court was a palace originally built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Henry VIII's chief advisor), but when he fell out of favor with the King (mainly because he could not get the pope to approve Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon), he "gave" his palace to the King and went to the Tower (although he suspiciously died along the way). The staff was incredibly welcoming and friendly (they held our bags for us, since we were heading straight to the airport). The palace was "interactive" with "Henry VIII" and his courtiers roaming the grounds and doing little presentations in the different halls. We, of course, were most interested in the Tudor section (there is also a section built by William and Mary as well as a "Georgian" section).
We saw the Great Hall of Henry VIII as well as the Royal Chapel. It was just amazing to be standing and walking in the same rooms as all of these historic people! We saw doorways engraved with roses and pomegranates (the symbols of Henry and Katherine). Then, in the Great Hall, that was originally built for Anne Bolelyn, our attention was turned to a wood carving of an H and A intertwined. The hall had been full of these carvings to commemorate the marriage of Henry and Anne, but when she was executed all signs of her were destroyed... except this one carving... ooooohhhhh. In the next grand hall with saw the coat of arms of Jane Seymour decorating the ceiling. So neat.
It was a fantastic way to end our trip. We saw everything we were hoping to see (minus some royals) and more! We can't wait to come back and see more of the countryside!

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