Saturday, April 23, 2011

London Day 3 and 4 - Tower of London, Westminister, Theater, and the Rest

Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20

I am so glad we got an early start on Tuesday.  We arrived at the Tower of London to enjoy all of the sites before the title wave of tourists.  The Tower of London is really the first castle of the city, built by William the Conqueror.  From here Henry III and Edward I also ruled during the 12th and 13th centuries.  Most curious though is its role as a prison.  Here Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for a time, as was the future Queen Elizabeth I.  It is also the site of the execution of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII.  She was falsely accused of adultery and was disposed of at the Tower.

Besides the history of the place as a fortress, palace, and prison, it now serves to guard the Crown Jewels.  This collection is used for coronation ceremonies for the new monarch.  We saw various crowns worn by Queen Elizabeth II, Victoria, William and Mary, and others.  All were extraordinary, containing some of the most precious stones in the world.  We walked right into the gallery and toured the exhibition, all of which took about 20 to 30 minutes.  When we left the Tower of London, there was a line to enter the exhibition that extended the length of the castle interior--probably a two-hour wait to enter.  We escaped the tourist horror, and grabbed a picnic lunch at Pret (our new favorite, great quality sandwiches for cheap).

We made our back to Westminster Abbey.  Because of the site's short hours, we were forced to stand in line with other tourists for about a half hour.  Not bad considering the our luck otherwise.  Besides we would enjoy the fantastic exterior and warm weather.  Inside our jaws dropped.  Westminster Abbey is another phenomenal church.  But, it is unique in that it is an "abbey," meaning burial ground.  It was a hodgepodge of graves from the most powerful figures in English history, all crammed in and randomly situated in the same space.  Many of the tombs featured "death masks" as well, so we could see a vivid likeness of the various monarchs (Elizabeth I as an example).  This was Laura's playground too.  An addition to the abbey, commissioned by Henry VII, matched the incredible detail of St. George's Chapel the day before.  The Abbey is also the site of the royal coronation that includes the Crown Jewels we had seen earlier.  (Now the church awaits the wedding of William and Kate). The tour inside was well worth the wait.

We exited the church to find the sun still shining bright.  We took a few photos of the exterior of the church and the House of Parliament across the street.  We continued to St. James Park, which would lead us to Buckingham Palace.  Everything was in bloom, and we sensed preparations were underway to beautify the scenery ahead of the wedding of William and Kate. 

We made our way back to the Theater district to pick up some fire-sale tickets to the "Children's Hour," an American play about a slander case in a girl's school.  It was written by a native of New Orleans, Lillian Hellman.  It starred Keira Knightley, English actress in "Bend it like Beckham" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."  It was fascinating to see her attempt an American accent; she tried to smooth it out with a New York twang.  It had been a long time since I had seen a play, and this piece was provocative, powerful, and easy to follow.  I am glad Laura insisted we go to a London show.  I felt like a local, although I did not drink or eat ice cream in the theater like they did. 

The next day, we leisurely got out of bed, checked out of the hotel, and explored some of Nottinghill.  Laura had to buy some "William and Kate" trinkets on Portabello Road.  We arrived in Hyde Park to scope out Kensington Palace, where Diana lived after the divorce.  Nearby, we peeked in at the Organery, one of the most famous Tea Rooms in London.  Before long it was time to say goodbye.  I was headed back to Sevilla via Malaga and Laura, back to New York.  We could not have executed our London trip more perfectly.  I was happy to have Laura's company.  I am glad I played some part in making Laura's dream trip to London come true. 

To see the rest of the London photos, click "London Day 3 and 4 - 4-19, 4-20" at

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