Monday, October 14, 2013

September 16, Monday in London

Sept 16, 2014
Up at the crack of dawn. No wait, it was still dark. But the clouds were gone, and soon we saw we would have blue skies to start the tour with.
Our tour, The Magic of London, started in a madhouse of being picked up in one bus to be taken to Victoria Station to get on another bus where we queued up with hundreds of other people waiting to get on their tours. After some mass confusion, we got on our bus, only to have 5 couples moved to another to even out the group to about 20.
We were on a full sized bus, which means I can't see anything high, and nothing on the other side. We drove thru the streets of London in the different areas of financial, commercial, leisure, intermixed with historical. Visualize massive modern buildings and squeezed in between or behind them a rugged stone building or church with an architecture that jars against the squares and glass of the modern. You can see one in the middle of this block.

We saw a few buildings that had been bombed in WW2, that instead of rebuilding the older section a modern addition was made to attach to it. We learned that during the blackouts the buildings along the Thames (Tims) River were hit hardest because the moonlight off the river gave some light for the bombers to see.
Our first stop was supposed to be on the Thames to take a short river cruise but we missed the boat by 3 mins due to the delays at Victoria Station. So we went back and waited for our bus to come back for us, which was supposed to meet us down river, & we headed to our next stop.
Ours stops were mostly to get out and take photos, but we were able to go inside the Tower of London, to see the crown jewels, and all the buildings and displays. This is a river view of The Tower showing the walls along the shore.
This shows part of an excavation exposing some old walls under ground. The "lions" are actually made of twisted wire to represent some of the original animals that were kept in a zoo inside the yard. 

An entrance in the wall to the inner yard. 
We walked around inside the walled area with all these buildings inside it.

From this side above the walls you can see the Tower Bridge outside to the left. 
 And from this side the buildings of the modern city of London. Down below inside the walls those cages hold crows, who were traditionally part of the zoo and continue to be kept on.
Part of our tour included going inside the Tower to see the Crown Jewels. No photos are allowed in there, so all you get to see is the building outside. And yes they were impressive and fabulous, and so much history and tradition behind them. 

There was a lot of armor & military weapons in the museum section. We ladies got quite a giggle over King Henry VIII's armor with his very large codpiece. Men never change. We climbed up very steep stairs to the top of the Tower but couldn't go inside the small prisons up there. 

We did see Traitor's Gate where the prisoners were brought inside on a boat in the water that you always see in the movies. Our tour guide to the Tower was a Yeoman Warder aka Beefeater, all dressed in a red wool tunic, who was a military soldier who after serving 22 years was eligible to retire there as a Warder of the Tower. They are in charge of the Keys to the tower, but also serve as guides to tourists. 

Outside the main gate we saw the Tower Bridge next to the Tower, not London Bridge as most of us call it, and watched after the bridge had lifted for a small cruise ship coming under it. 

We then went down to the river and got on another boat and went 20 minutes upstream. By this time it was getting windy and clouds were rolling in. They were still predicting gale force winds but fortunately it never got that bad.
We continued on driving around the government houses, & 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, seeing statues and monuments. We got a laugh when we heard our guide tell us about a business that formerly sold livestock but now only sells dead meat. I guess it's not a fresh kill anymore.

At one point we pulled over so we could get out and take quick photos of Westminster Church, which was kind of sad that it was so quick, and came back to the bus where it had a flat tire. Things were not going well. 
We were dropped off near Buckingham Palace where we were out front of the main gates, taking photos, and wondering how much smaller it was than it looked on TV. 

                                                I always thought the gates were taller than this. 
I stood with my back to it facing out to the long street beyond and it too looked smaller without the thousands of people we saw on TV during the weddings and celebrations. There was no changing of the guard that day but I did take photos of the guards on duty. 
The rain started to come down more and we walked on past Clarence House where Prince Charles had been living. Neither he or the Queen were in residence right now as they were all up in Scotland on vacation.

Our next stop was by St Paul's Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren, and where Princess Diana was married.  But before that we all found different places nearby to have lunch. Just as we walked into Paul's, a small cafe to the right in this photo, the rain came down in buckets. We bought some baguette chicken sandwiches, a large vanilla macaron, and hot chocolate, as thick as syrup, and went upstairs to eat our lunch. Afterwards we all met back in the square and went on our tour inside the church. 

I managed to take one photo inside the church of some beautifully carved wood before I saw the "No Photos" sign.
It was so beautiful there, and my camera was crying not to take photos. Later when we went to the front where we stood near the altar I realized I was standing right where Diana had stood when she was married, and I looked back to the end past the chairs where all the crowned heads of Europe had sat during the service. It sent chills over me.
We went down in the crypts, where Admiral Lord Nelson was buried, & saw other memorials for Lawrence of Arabia and Florence Nightingale.
In the gift shop we looked at some Xmas ornaments and finally decided on this one to bring back as our memory ornament from our trip. 

Back at our bus stop, a double-decker red bus took us on the rest of our ride past the London Eye with the Big Ben clock in the background. My impression of the area along the Thames River was very plain,with extreme modern glass buildings behind apartments and commercial buildings built along the shore. These areas used to have abandoned buildings damaged by bombing and left to fall apart after the war. In the 1980s many were torn down and replaced with all these modern buildings. I had a hard time taking photos of the historic buildings without those overpowering them.

Our final stop was at Harrods Department Store where we had a cream tea in their 5th floor dining room. We were served champagne, then very fluffy scones with tea. I love comparing the scones I've had in England to ones at home, and even the ones I've made. They need to be much bigger. 

This was the end of our tour and we were left to shop in the store, and find our own ways back to our hotels, which we didn't know when everyone booked their tours. We did some shopping, and I decided to look for a neck scarf and Howard wanted a tie. I about choked when the first scarf I picked up at Harrods was L630, and the cheap one was L230. I usually figure it a little less than double US, so do the math.
Howard went looking at ties, and he found a cheap one for L68 but decided against it too. 

While he was in the men's section I had noticed an entry area to it that was like a long room all decorated in Egyptian d├ęcor. There was a sign over it saying it was a memorial to Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed. 

I continued walking around and then noticed a group of ladies at one end taking photos of something. I walked down there and saw a photo memorial to Diana & Dodi with tall candles, pink roses, and the engagement ring (maybe a replica?) that he was going to give her. A British lady and I stayed there a bit looking at it and she said we heard it was a set-up. The British people are being told this now. I started to talk but I kept choking up.
Then hubby & I went downstairs to the Harrods Store to shop for gifts. I bought a tin of Harrods Afternoon Tea, and he bought a gift for his mom.
We took a taxi back to the hotel to rest for 2 hrs before we take the tube over to the Tower of London again for tonight's Key Ceremony, where they lock up the Crown Jewels. We were told about this by our friends, and only 20 people are allowed to view it each night, and it's free. But you have to mail a letter requesting the tickets way ahead of time and give a three day window to attend, and they send you your ticket. We've been told its very impressive.

We're back from the Key Ceremony. We took the Tube on the Jubilee Line which brought us out about half mile from the Tower entrance. 

 At 9:30pm the outside gate at the Tower was unlocked and we and the rest of the 20 people were escorted inside and turned over to one of the Yeoman Warders. He told us the history behind the Key Ceremony which is a formal ceremony by all the guards that has been going on since the year 1231, every night, no matter the weather. They lock up all the gates on the inner wall surrounding the crown jewels. We were guided to the gate leading up to the Tower and told to stand and watch, and be respectfully quiet.

  While we were waiting two groups of about 20 people each walked up and were told to stand on either side of the gate. We were mystified at first as we thought our group were the only ones allowed in, but our guide told us don't worry, you have the best view and they won't be allowed to come inside the gate to see the final ceremony there. A group of six Fusiliars/guards came marching down from the hill inside, all dressed in red w/ the tall black beaver hats and carrying their rifles. They marched loudly out into the outer road and our Yeoman became part of the ceremony where he carries a lantern and the keys. As he approached, the guards yelled, “who goes there?” To which he said, “the Queen's Keys”. “Which Queen?” “Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth”. And he was allowed to pass and gave the keys to the guards. This was all done very loudly, the marching and the yelling. The Keys represent the Queen and they salute them as if they were she. The guards marched up the hill inside the gate, and the other guests were sent on their way. We then walked up the hill where the guards all stood at attention. The bugler, or drummer as they call him, played some kind of song for a minute, and then they marched away. We quietly walked back down the hill and back to the outer road. This was the only time we could take any photos, and had ours taken with our Beefeater. 
We introduced ourselves, and we both gave him one of our shoulder patches. He was delighted and said he's been given a few and loves having them. He had done his 22 years in the Army, and had also been a constable for some time before he retired and became a Yeoman. We were both really impressed with the solemnity and history that we had just witnessed. They repeat this again in the morning to unlock the gates for another day of work guarding the Tower.

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