Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Europe 2017: Tower of London, St. Paul's, and The Globe

My feet are sore! More on that later.

I slept like a log last night, and woke up really excited to get out there and get started - never mind that most attractions don't open until 10. Fortunately, the Tower of London opens at 9, and I had reserved my ticket ahead of time.

To get there is too far to walk, so I took the Tube. I never thought I was much of a crowd person, but I really loved being around the hustle and bustle as everyone is headed off to work. Just seeing everyone criss-crossing to make it to their correct destination is fascinating! I couldn't help but smile as I joined them.

I could have taken the Tube all the way to Tower Hill, but I decided to utilize another perk of my Oyster card: the River Bus! It takes people to various stops along the River Thames, and it doesn't cost anything extra! I got off at Westminster and joined the River Bus there.

It was extra fun seeing all the major sites from the river itself, and I didn't have to book a river cruise or anything!

I got off at Tower Hill and made my way to the Tower of London, where they had just opened. I had missed the first Beefeater tour, so I decided to see the Crown Jewels. It had been advised in Rick Steeves' book to do that right away early in the morning, because the crowds get crazy. I'm glad I remembered that; outside the building were a bunch of steel queue rails that, at my time of the day, weren't being used!

I had to wait inside a little bit, but once you get in the bling is in every room. They have done a fantastic job explaining the items and for what they are used. Finally, after seeing royal trumpets, maces, swords, and the royal robe, we were taken to the royal items that are used at the coronation of the king/queen. They had to be remade after the British Civil War because the originals had been melted down. The oldest item is the Coronation Spoon from the 12th century! (They use it to anoint the oil on the royal's head, by the way.)

The room to view the royal items is long and narrow, and they use a motorized walkway on either side to get people through faster. Luckily, they have a second step of observation, so I just went around and onto the walkway again to view everything. I did that four times!

Not only do they have the coronation crown (St. Edward's Crown) that is only used at the coronation, so it hasn't been used since 1953. The Queen usually wears the Imperial State Crown, which she wears at the opening of Parliament every year. They had the Queen Mother's crown, Consort crowns, and prince crowns. With the crowns are the scepters and orb, also used at the coronation. The scepters represent the royal as the head of church and the head of state. They actually had to make a second scepter and orb when Mary II was crowned as sovereign ruler along with her husband, William III. (That answered my question of why the College of William and Mary mentions both of them!)

Afterwards they had non-coronation royal items, including the banquet ware, like the Great Punch Bowl, which can hold 144 bottles of wine and opening on top is 1 meter long! I also saw the royal baptismal font which is used to baptize babies in the royal family.

Needless to say, this area was fascinating, and worth the price of my admission. (And no, I couldn't take photos.) But I still had the rest of the Tower of London to visit!

I went back to the Beefeater tour, which ended up being a huge group of peoples! We had Bill as our guide, and he was awesomely rude. He would yell at people to hurry up, but he also was incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. He was a former officer in the British Army, so he insulted at the Beefeaters from the Navy, Marines, and Air Force. He also loved to poke fun at the United States and France.

I went up many of the towers there, including the ones where Anne Boelyn stayed, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote, and the two young princes - nephews of Richard III - were kept (and apparently murdered - a fascinating story!). I went up the White Tower and saw more historical artifacts. I saw the graffiti etched into some of the prison quarters by prisoners. And I got out my umbrella that I purchased yesterday, because rain has returned to London!

My second stop of the day was St. Paul's Cathedral, after a quick soft-serve ice cream cone. Amongst all the buildings suddenly rises this massive domed structure, and it is huge and beautiful. I couldn't believe that I was going up the steps that had been famously mentioned by Mary Poppins in "Feed the Birds." (Watch that segment - those are the steps!)


There was no birdwoman, or I would have certainly bought a bag.

I entered and once again received an audio guide at no extra cost (the one at the Tower cost four pounds - I decided not to get it.) This was built after the Great Fire, designed by Christopher Wren, who also designed many of the churches built after the fire. It was a Baroque style, which meant that icons and statues were missing, and the facade was very simple. But then Queen Victoria decided to plaster Victorian-style mosaics and paintings on the eastern half, so it's quite a remarkable change of pace.

I saw the American chapel, which is dedicated to the American soldiers who were stationed in Britain and died in World War II. On a stained glass window is George Washington up in the corner!

As I was looking around, suddenly the organ started to play, and my ears perked up. They were starting their Eucharist service, and he was playing preservice on an organ console on the floor (that could be shut up and wheeled around, to my fascination!). The echo chamber is incredible here - he finished the piece and the final chord echoed for a full three seconds. You may think that's not very long, but count a full three seconds and think of a sound that isn't being played anymore filling that whole time. It was incredible!

I didn't stick around for the Eucharist service, but instead went up the Dome. Let's just say that I no longer love spiral staircases. There were 528 steps to get up to the Golden Gallery, where you can find some amazing views of London. I climbed all of them, but I was tired!

I came down just as the organist was playing postservice - Elgar's "Nimrod." If you know this piece, you know that at the end it blasts off with all the sounds before finally ending quietly. I got to hear the organ with everything pulled out, and it was beautiful. I'll never think of that piece the same way again.

I quick stopped for a panini to eat on the road while I crossed the Millennium Bridge (yes, the one from Harry Potter) to get to Shakespeare's Globe. This is not the original - that burned down - but it's a pretty accurate replica. I had an online ticket to see Twelfth Night, and I was glad I got it because the production was sold out!

In true Shakespearean style, I purchased the cheapest ticket - a five pound Yard ticket, which meant I had to stand for all 2 hours and 40 minutes. Luckily, while most people positioned themselves right in front, I went over to the left side and found myself leaning against the stage itself! It was a great view, plus when it started to rain I was able to shield myself from most of it because of the roof that goes over the stage.

The cast was great, and I loved being so close as they wandered around the stage. It was an interesting version of Twelfth Night, to say the least. They sang a lot - some were musical versions of the sonnets, but others were 1970s tunes like Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." If people weren't dressed in Scottish garb, they were in '70s clothing, too. I thought that was pretty neat.

Once the play was done, I went back to St. Paul's to view their Evensong. It was a 40 minute service with a few readings and liturgy and songs done by the choir. The first time the choir started singing, I had that throat thingy, where your throat suddenly contracts and tears start to form at your eyes. What a sound! There were young boys, but also men and women in the choir. They knew how to sing.

It was raining steadily when I got out of Evensong, so I happily joined the throng of umbrella-clad businesspeople and was pretty much thrilled to be there. Don't worry, people - I am taking a lot of time to enjoy the fact that I'm here.

I stopped by a restaurant called Cojean for supper and had a fish stir fry that was very good. I took transportation back to my Tube station and was done for the day!

Well, sort of. I stopped by a pharmacy and bought two Cadbury chocolate bars, too. I had to! It's England!

Tomorrow is a much less structured day - I have no online reservations for anything. I'm looking forward to wingin' it!

Read about my third day in London HERE!

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