Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tower of London

The Tower of London was first built in 1066 by William the Conqueror. That original tower in the center of the complex is still there. In good shape too. The complex was expanded and modified over the centuries, mostly during the 12th and 13th centuries. Things like an interior defensive wall, then a second exterior defensive wall, then a moat. And other buildings. Suffice it to say this is the center piece of London history. It scares me to think of how long the lines are going to be here during the Summer Olympics in July and August.  

The grassy area is what used to be the moat. It was much deeper than it appears now, but was unintentionally filled with waste over the years when the planned drainage didn't work like it was supposed to. They claim that's why the grass is so green. It was eventually decided that draining the moat was better than being surrounded by sewage.

The visitor's entrance is between the two round towers.

Beefeaters give free tours. Their real name is Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty's Palace and Fortress the Tower of London. They're the official guardians of the British crown jewels and they live in the Tower. Our guide was quintessential drill sergeant material. You have to have a minimum of 18 years of exemplary military experience to be a Beefeater. This guy had 36. He was an interesting combination of drill sergeant, entertainer, and comedian. Like most drill sergeants, now that I think about it.

If you live in the Tower of London, you're locked in at 10 p.m. A doctor and surgeon have offices here in the tower walls. No Starbucks. No pubs. Probably plenty of ghosts though.

A couple of condemned prisoners look for the way out.

A medieval maiden, obviously looking for a knight. Not you pal.

The complex is quite complex. Lots of buildings and towers, some of them built into the interior defensive walls. 

These three get around. I see them everywhere I go.

A Beefeater leads a group to their next gathering location.

On display in the tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was held prisoner, an original edition of his book The History of the World. 

Tower Bridge, on the River Thames, from inside the Tower of London grounds. The ruins shown here are where ancient walls and towers have fallen. But the White Tower, barely visible on the left, is the oldest structure here, and obviously better built.

One of the ravens of the Tower of London. Legend has it that if all of the ravens leave the Tower, the British Empire will crumble. So they take good care of the ravens, feed them, and clip their wings so they can't fly. There must be at least six ravens there at all times, to prevent the kingdom's demise. They have extras, just in case. Every once in a while you'll see a raven walking with tourists toward the exit, looking nervously at a map and trying to blend in. But the Beefeaters always see them and shout "Git back to your post raven!" 

Legend has it that if all the Robins leave the Tower of London . . . 

The White Tower, in the middle of the Tower complex, is an amazing structure. Hats off to William Conqueror and his builders. The different floors are now used as exhibit spaces for things like armor and weapons.

I'm glad I don't have to wear this stuff. Just one outfit and the closet is full.

An amazing chapel built into one of the upper floors of The White Tower. These guys in 1066 thought on a different scale than I usually do. I guess that's one reason why they conquer countries and I don't. Heck, I didn't even know that was an option. 

It's such a proud moment when you give your kid his first suit of full body armor. "Take good care of this suit Lil' Conqueror. It cost daddy a fortune!"

Traitor's Gate. What a tale of woe goes with this gate. This is the entrance to the Tower that you definitely do not want to use. It means you're going to be a prisoner in the Tower, and probably executed. The future Queen Elizabeth I was brought through this very gate, imprisoned, eventually released, and then became the Queen of England.

Walking Around

Our walk from Trafalgar Square took us past some big clock tower.   

Double-tailed mermaid at Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is here, and also the National Portrait Gallery. 

The Pinter Theatre. We went to see Absent Friends, a play by Alan Ackbourn. Interesting, kinda boring. Shoulda gone to Mama Mia.

The Ireland gang spotted in Trafalgar Square.

You know you're going to run across some street musicians if you go in the Underground or a bridge tunnel. 

Trafalgar Square version of a park bench.

The Nelson Monument and King Charles I on a horse. The Charles statue was placed there in 1678.

So many monuments everywhere.

Tuesday evening, after leaving the theatre and making our way to Piccadilly Station, we encountered a break dancing performance.

At a park near the Tower of London, a dog chases his ball. OK, now I'm getting home sick.

Running Around London

Monday afternoon, after 4 nights in Ireland, we flew back to London. Originally the plan was for Jamie and Carla to stay at the St. Pancras Hotel for two nights, and we had reservations to join them at St. Pancras for the second night, after spending Monday night at our apartment in Uxbridge. Plan B: go to St. Pancras with them for both nights. That was much better, especially since we had four tickets for a 10:30 am entry to the Lucian Freud exhibit Tuesday morning at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Freud exhibit was truly amazing. He died last year at age 88. His early paintings were very different in style from the later ones, but all were brilliant. Many of the paintings were very large, including the unfinished painting on which applied his last brush stroke before he died, painting a dog's ear. The thing I found fascinating was that the dog, half finished at most, didn't have any sketch lines of any sort to serve as a guide as to where to paint or to show the general position of the body. With over 100 paintings in the exhibit, we had to rush to see it all, since we had lots of other things on the day's agenda.  

The eastern coast of Ireland drifts by as we fly towards London.

I guess we got out of Ireland just in time, before we started looking like tourists. 

The St. Pancras Hotel is located next door to the St. Pancras train station and the King's Cross tube station. Go out the side door of the Booking Office restaurant and you're standing in the train station.

Jamie and Carla relax in the lobby of the St. Pancras Hotel. This place was an old train station and hotel slated to be demolished. It was rescued and renovated thanks to the efforts of Sir John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate of England.

The train station is more like an upscale mall with shops and restaurants. Tuesday morning, before heading out to the Lucian Freud exhibit we stopped at a French cafe in the train station for breakfast.

Carla initiates a book conversation with a Tube reader.

Buying a snack on the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Thames, St. Paul's Cathedral in the background. 

A shady looking character watches Carla. 

The Tube maps are starting to make sense.

Robin teaching Underground Navigation 101. Her students paid close attention, and that turned out to be really good the next day when we put them on the wrong train to Heathrow. Oops.

St. Paul's. Millennium Bridge. Jamie. Carla.

On the north bank of the Thames, near the Millennium Bridge, is an office building named Baynard Place. It stands on the site of Baynard Castle that burned down, owned by Mary Sidney. Interestingly, this is a brilliant sculpture based on a "Shakespeare" quote called The Seven Ages of Man. The quote is chiseled in a beautiful spiral design around the base of the column. And it's on Mary Sidney's former property. Weird.

Even more interestingly, the sculpture is by Richard Kindersley, who gave Robin a stone-cutting lesson in his studio, then turned his studio over to her to practice in for an entire day, several years ago. A great artist, his work can be found all over London and the UK.

If you want to just ride the escalator, stand to the right. That leaves room on the left for people who are in a hurry or just can't tolerate wasting time standing still. Yes, that's Robin up there on the left.
I added Carla (right) to my Tube Feet photo collection.

Gobnait: Woman of the Bees

There are many ancient, sacred wells in Ireland. The wells were originally of Celtic origin, but were later assimilated into the Christian religion. On the way to the airport we stopped for gas in Ballyvourney and got directions to Gobnait's Well, tucked away on a small, quiet road with an old church, abbey ruins, and a cemetery. 

Gobnait (of the 6th century) kept the plague out of Ballyvourney by designating it consecrated ground. She had a special relationship with honey bees and used honey to treat illness and wounds. Her name is the Irish equivalent of the Hebrew name Deborah, which means "honey bee." Bees were part of ancient Irish laws called the Bech Bretha (Bee Judgements). 

Gobnait was born in County Clare, but "fled" from there for some reason (honey bees perhaps?) to the Aran Islands. She encountered an angel who told her to go on a journey and stop when she came upon nine white deer. She journeyed across southern Ireland, found three white deer and followed them to Ballymakeera, found six more white deer there, then carried on to Ballyvourney and, sure enough, found nine white deer. Why didn't the angel just say "Go to Ballyvourney"? Jeez louise.

Gobnait (aka Deborah) founded a women's community. Ballyvourney is still a popular pilgrimage site, especially on February 11, Gobnait Pattern Day (Pattern Day is a special day when large crowds assemble).

Fortunately, it's not Gobnait Pattern Day, which makes for a nicer visit and uncluttered photos.

Deborah's Well is on a hill above the church grounds, just out of view in the bottom section of the top photo. Notice the tea cups that are available for sampling the water. Carla and Robin took a sip, then buzzed around the cemetery. 

The trees around the well continue the ubiquitous green color scheme very nicely.

These are the ruins of a famine porridge house, where I assume starving people came for food during the Irish Potato Famine.

Inscription: 1846 - 1848 Famine Porridge House.

The church and cemetery are still being used.

Jamie and I walked down the road for more photos. He snapped while I tapped (using an iPhone, y'know).

Peace. Quiet. Beauty. Serenity. Might want to consider a Starbucks with Wi-Fi, however. 

Inside the roofless abbey is a nice spot for more burial plots. The mat of lush green grasses was so thick and spongy that it felt like walking on thick foam rubber. That's pretty much what I was going for in our front yard in Santa Fe. After losing all three blades of grass I gave up and covered the yard with stone pavers.