Thursday, May 3, 2012

What we did next

Tuesday = Tower Day!

The iconic White Tower

We slept in a bit on Tuesday, our poor bodies were a bit tired after sooo much walking over the past few days, then we headed in to the Tower of London, a building with nearly 1000 years of history which is mind-blowing in itself! We’ve both been there before, so we started with the parts I didn’t get to see the first time around: the medieval palace, the wall walks, the Torture at the Tower section, and the Fusiliers Museum. We also, of course, had a look in the White Tower, the Bloody Tower and the Beauchamp Tower. The thing about the Tower of London is that it is just so dang old, and so stereotypically castle-ish, that it almost doesn’t feel real. It feels like you are at a theme park. But when you stop and really think about where you are standing, and the history that has taken place there, it is quite incredible that it is even standing, let alone that it’s in the amazing condition that it is.

Outside the Byward Tower

Pepsi by the Beasts of the Tower shop

Note: Mads refuses to have her picture taken, so I've started a trend: photos of Mads walking places from behind. I might open a gallery one day. This is Mads walking into a tower.

Mads walking up a spiral staircase.

Mads in a tower. Note the beautiful vaulted ceiling. I would definitely like a room like this!

My highlights of the Tower:
  • ·      I LOVE the graffiti in the Beauchamp tower. It is my absolute favourite thing there: it’s so poetic and beautifully carved and sad. It gives a human face to the Tower and the famous prisoners that were held there.
  • ·      The armour in the White Tower is incredible – my favourite suit belonged to Henry VIII, and was worn when he met with the King of France. Let’s just say he wasn’t shy about his masculinity...
  • ·      The Wall Walk was really nice, and the medieval palace was very cool, with beautiful vaulted ceilings in some of the towers.

I'm a natural with a crossbow. Come on, do your worst!!

Yay! Got her in a pose! Mads demonstrates the immense size of this ceremonial sword belonging to Henry V.

Me and the White Tower

The absolute best was yet to come but more on that a bit later.

We hopped on a boat to take us down the Thames from the Tower to Westminster, which was really nice: the sun was shining, a perfect day to be on the water. We had commentary from our not-a-guide-but-a-waterman, who rolled out many so-bad-they’re-bloody-funny jokes all the way down the Thames. After disembarking we wandered up to Leicester Square to have a look in HMV, but didn’t buy anything in the end. Leicester Square is ALWAYS insanely busy, full of very interesting types, flashing lights and noise. Despite all this I like it.

Tower Bridge from the Thames at the Tower. T.T.T.

Thinking evil thoughts, as usual.

On the boat

Big Ben, Westminster.

We went to Mads’ RML (bible study) group at St Helen’s to have dinner with her friends in the church. They were all very glad to see Mads back, and she was very happy to be back, and they seem like a nice bunch of people. They were certainly cracking out the Aussie jokes but we won them over with the Tim Tams and pinchy koalas that Mads brought them.

St Helen's Bishopsgate.

And so we headed back to the Tower of London to witness the 750 year old Ceremony of the Keys. The Tower looks quite spectacular at night time, all lit up. We presented our ticket and were allowed, with maybe 100 others,  back in to the Tower, and I must say it felt rather eerie standing by Traitor’s Gate at night time, thinking of the other poor souls throughout history who have come through that gate at night-time, never to leave again. Basically the ceremony is the locking-up of the Tower of London each night: apart from it being an important historical site it does house the Crown Jewels so this is rather important. The chief Yeoman dude meets an armed sentry below the Bloody Tower, and they march down to the front gates and lock them. They then march back towards the Bloody Tower and are met by another armed sentry who adopts the challenge pose with his gun and commands them ‘Halt! Who Comes there?’ An exchange follows, and they are allowed to proceed with Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. They then meet the guards who are to guard the Tower through the night, they present arms, we all pray for the Queen and the Last Post is played. Then off they go to do their duty. It really is amazing to think the same thing has been happening for such a long time, and they all look so impressive in their red coats and bearskin hats, I had chills up my spine being allowed to witness it, and I highly recommend that if you are coming to London you try and get there: you have to write to the Ceremony of the Keys office months in advance to get a spot, but it’s well worth it!

The Tower at night. Creepy. 

Yesterday we headed to the British Museum, another of my favourite places on the planet so far! The place is so incredibly massive, and choc-a-bloc full of the most amazing artifacts nicked from all over the world, many of them thousands and thousands of years old. Quite apart from the countless treasures the museum holds, the building itself is stunningly beautiful.

The British Museum

The Great Court in the British Museum.

We started, of course, with the Sutton Hoo helmet, which I went completely gaga over the last time we were here. It’s just such an important piece, more than anything, and it’s an iconic image representing British archaeology.  We found the Enlightenment exhibition, which was interesting in itself, telling the story of the Victorian Enlightenment when archaeology and historical research was born, really; but as well as this it was housed in the King’s Library, which used to belong to King George III and was the most beautiful room all by itself!

Sutton Hoooooo!!!

Mads in the Enlightenment exhibition in the King's Library.

Naturally we had to check out the beautiful but controversial Elgin Marbles, or the sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. After a quick drink we went to the Egypt: Life and Death galleries that house a number of mummies, as well as sarcophagi and coffins and tomb paintings from Ancient Egypt. I felt a little sickened afterwards, seeing the tourists gawking at and taking photographs of the mummies – certainly they’re interesting, but a little respect wouldn’t go astray: after all once upon a time they were living, breathing human beings just like you and me. And I suppose that is the one drawback of the British Museum, it is just so famous that it is ALWAYS sooo full of tourists, and really the only way to avoid them is to find some of the more obscure galleries, which we managed to do with a fairly out-of-the-way Greece and Rome section which was full of beautiful pottery and everyday objects, like medical instruments, armour and one of my faves for the day, the engraved cover of a booklet that granted a man Roman Citizenship after 20 years military service.  We also noticed that there was a lot of duck pottery, which seemed a bit random...

Me and the Parthenon Sculptures

A chick with a duck.

A dude scowling at a goose. I don't know what he did wrong. Maybe he's just a generally mischievous goose. 

Starving, we had lunner (lunch/dinner) at the Museum Tavern across the road, an old-style English pub with delicious burgers and giant ciders, and then went to Westfield at Stratford. And if you thought Westfield Parramatta could be unbearably busy, you ain’t seen nothing!  There are so many people all packed into this shopping centre, and while it is huge the crowds are ridiculous. We did have a list of things we wanted to get, but after battling the gagillions of fellow shoppers we accepted defeat with a couple of pairs of tights and went to see Pirates at the movies. It was AWESOME! Seriously, see it! Hilarious! And it’s kinda cool seeing a movie that is set in London when you are in London. 

Mads in the Museum Tavern. 

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