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Posts Tagged ‘London’

Hoo boy, at this rate I won’t finish my London posts until summer.  Eek!  Sorry for the slow pace, but life (and a sometimes slow internet connection, grr) gets in the way of blogging sometimes.  Day three of my London trip was jam packed, so this may get long, but this day had my favorite sights.

My first stop of the day was Portobello Road Market.

Portobello Road Market
storefront sewing machines
Portobello Road
sign shop
(more…)

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My second day in London was largely spent wandering the turrets, keeps, and walls of the Tower of London.

jumble of towers

While it may not be the most charming fortress, it has so much history and drama that it was a must-see for me.  My first order of business was one of the guided tours by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, mostly serve as ceremonial guards and tour guides and live on the Tower grounds. The Warders give a tour that hits the high points of the Tower’s history, and the tour is the only way to gain access to the Royal Chapel of the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula.

Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula

The chapel, built around 1520 during Henry VIII’s reign, is a pretty little space, but you aren’t allowed to take photos. Several famous Tower prisoners are buried in the chapel, including Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and Thomas More, and during a renovation in the Victorian era approximately 1500 unidentified remains were found under the chapel floor. Yikes.

After the Warder tour, I spent quite a while wandering on my own. First I checked out the Crown Jewels, which are housed in the Waterloo Block and, of course, carefully guarded.

Waterloo Block
guard

I didn’t expect to be as interested in the Crown Jewels as I was. For one thing, I was amazed at the size of some of the stones, like the Cullinan I in the Scepter with the Cross, which, at 530 carats, is the second largest diamond in the world. It was also neat to see the ways the style of crowns has evolved over the centuries.

After viewing the jewels, I headed to the White Tower, which was built by Williams the Conqueror in the late 11th century and is the oldest part of the Tower of London.

White Tower
corner tower

The outside of the White Tower is distinctive with the light stone trim around the windows and architectural details. It was designed to be defensible, so the entrance is on the second floor, reached by wooden stairs that could be knocked down so that attackers could not reach the door.

White Tower

Inside the tower, there was a big exhibit of arms and armor. I got to see several sets of Henry VIII’s armor, horse armor, ceremonial armor for a child, etc. The variety of the armor was really impressive and interesting, and many had gorgeous inlay, engraving, and other decorations. My favorite pieces were the child’s helmet with a little dragon on top and a very intricate ivory saddle.

articulated armor
intricate armor decorations
Henry VIII's armor
dragon helm
ivory saddle

After seeing the White Tower, I wandered the grounds, walls, and several of the towers.

grounds

The Tower is home to a number of ravens, and legend has it that the kingdom is only safe so long as the ravens remain at the Tower. Until I saw them, I wasn’t really sure I could tell the difference between a raven and a crow, but there’s something regal and mysterious about the ravens. But it could just seem that way because crows are more familiar.

Tower raven

In addition to ravens, the Tower of London has had many creatures in residence in its long history, and an exhibit called Royal Beasts gave some intriguing facts about them. Lions were kept at the Tower for over 600 years, and James I designed a bottle nipple for feeding sick cubs. The royal menageries also included tigers, kangaroos, elephants, and even a polar bear. Apparently, the polar bear belonging to Henry III was tied to a rope, so it could swim and fish in the Thames. And I also spotted a couple more fantastical creatures around the Tower.

Gargoyle

In various structures there are placards and displays relating to some of the stories from the Tower’s history. The Beauchamp Tower has carved graffiti left by prisoners, who were kept in the Tower in varying degrees of comfort. In the Bloody Tower there are interactive exhibits on the mystery of the Little Princes. In the Wakefield Tower you can see torture devices. And in the Medieval Palace you can see the royal living spaces built for Edward I.

private chapel
chapel stained glass
Chapel

As you can tell, there was plenty to see! I think I spent over six hours at the Tower. Before I left, I visited the gift shop and snagged a wee, silver Tower for my charm bracelet. Then I headed out to Tower Wharf, where there are lovely views of Tower Bridge and London’s South Bank area.

Tower Bridge illuminated
South Bank

That could have been enough for one day, and I was pretty tired, but I was determined to have authentic fish and chips while in London. I had read that one of the best places for fish and chips is the Golden Hinde. So, after wandering a bit through the streets of the City of London (including the eerily lovely garden of St. Dunstan in the East, which grows among the ruins of a Wren church that was bombed in the Blitz), I headed to Marylebone for dinner.

fish and chips!

Yum! I enjoyed my crispy, flaky fish and rested my feet a bit before hitting the streets again, this time to take in the lights and do some shopping.

holiday lights

Without meaning to, I ended up at the Liberty of London store, which was beautiful, inside and out, from the window displays to the merchandising.

Liberty of London
Liberty window display
fabrics for sale
rug room

As I recall, I pretty much fell into bed that night, happy and exhausted from a full day of drinking in London’s past and present.

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In the late fall, I decided I needed a vacation. Work had been crazy, friends were having rough times, and so on. At first, I thought I would just take a week off from work, but stay in town. With the help of an airfare voucher and an ad for good fares to London, though, my vacation plan got much more grand. I had been to London once before, my senior year of college, but the visit had been cut very short. It was 1997, and I was supposed to fly from Boston to England on April 1st for about four days in London and a long weekend in Chichester, where a friend was getting married. Alas, April fooled us big time with a blizzard that delayed my trip three days. So, I spent less than 48 hours in London that trip, which made me eager to go back.

St. Pancras exterior

So, 15 years later, I got to actually spend my four days in London, in early December, and it was awesome.  I packed a lot into the days, but left knowing there was so much more I could have done.  I arrived in the morning, a little bleary from the long, overnight flight, but eager to get exploring.  After leaving my luggage at the hostel, I headed to King’s Cross/St. Pancras.  This is a transportation hub and shopping area, with two stations right next to each other.  King’s Cross is sleek and modern, while St. Pancras is ornate and Victorian.  Both house rail platforms, restaurants and shops.  St. Pancras is, at least to me, more picturesque, so it bore the brunt of my shutterbugging.

St. Pancras Station

ornate

Everywhere I looked there were lovely decorative elements, inside and out. And on the upper level of the station I stumbled upon the Olympic rings and a huge sculpture that I found charming and perfectly suited to such a busy place of departure and arrival.

Olympic rings at St. Pancras

statue

Honestly, one of my main reasons for visiting King’s Cross/St. Pancras was to check out Eat St., which is a spot where a variety of food trucks and vendors gather at lunchtime a few days a week. There were so many delicious sounding items that it took me a while to decide on my lunch. I finally settled on a pork taco from Buen Provecho and a noodle soup from Yum Bun.

pork taco

soup

After lunch I headed around the corner to the British Library. I think this was the only attraction I visited on both my trips to London, which isn’t really surprising, since I am an avid reader and majored in English. The Library, though, is rather different from what I remembered since it’s current site (created to bring together the parts of the collection that had been scattered around London) opened in 1997, but after my visit. My romantic side kind of prefers the old look, with the glass cases of manuscripts surrounded by two stories of shelves, but I have to admit that the new galleries are better organized and more informative. I found it thrilling to see the original manuscripts of books and authors I love, Austen, Bronte, Shakespeare, along with letters to and from royalty and other historical figures. This time I also really enjoyed the impressive collection of religious texts, many gorgeously illustrated, from all sorts of faiths. One of the temporary exhibits was on Dickens and his historical context, from which I learned a lot. Well, truly I retained only a little, but I have notes. (Yes, I am such a nerd that I take notes on vacation.)

British Library passageway

My final tourist stop of the day, though I was nearly falling down tired, was the Wellcome Collection. This place is a quirky museum that began with the personal collection of Sir Henry Wellcome and has expanded to include art and other exhibits that relate to health and medicine. Seriously, quirky. The main collection ranges from chastity belts and fertility charms to amputation saws and prosthetic limbs. There are rotating exhibits, as well. I was particularly taken with the Mexican votives in the Miracles and Charms exhibit. The votives, or miracle paintings, are painted on tin roof tiles or other small plaques and created in gratitude to God for deliverance from illness, accident, or some other difficulty. There were dozens of these works, and they were somehow both uniform (standard size and some very common compositions and motifs) and diverse (folksy to sophisticated and all sorts of stories from bandits to electrocution.) Fascinating stuff.

By then it was evening and, not having gotten much sleep on the flight the night before, I was exhausted. So after heading back to the hostel, I had no trouble at all going to sleep, even though it was only afternoon back home.

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