England & Greece Explored
Our morning didn't start off very early as we must not be adjusted fully to the time change, so after a slow start and a nice breakfast in the train station of all places, we ventured out in search of the Tower of London. We were so confused to find out that the real London Bridge is not the big one at all...rather, the famous bridge seen in so many pictures is called the Tower Bridge! Once we got over this we walked from the real London Bridge and stumbled across All Hallow's Church, which has inside it an arch from the time of the Romans, who began to build London in AD43. That's pretty old! The walls of the church are lined with soot from the great fire and from another fire that happened to the building. Underneath, as in so many cathedrals and duomos we've ventured through, there is a crypt with another entire church below, a tiny sanctuary with boxes of ashes of adherents over the years. Even though not very ornate, it was quite something to see. After this, we lined up for our tickets and then walked through into the grounds of the Tower of London.
The first set of rooms we walked into were over the gate that boats could escape through into the Thames for a quick getaway ~ they were the rooms of Edward the I, or Longshanks, the King who faced Braveheart (his other name was the Hammer of the Scots) and who was known for his cruelty, in comparison to his father Henry III who was said to be very kindly. I thought it interesting that both he and his Father were married to Eleanors, which is my mother's name. It is said that Edward and Eleanor of Castile were very close and that he was distraught when she died...but he soon married again and the second wife was a French Princess (Margaret) almost 40 years his junior. She was the one who supposedly bore Braveheart's child in the movie...ahhh, romance and intrigue! But the movie is not true to life.
We next wandered through the display of the Crown Jewels, with maces and sceptres and crowns and bracelets, some of the biggest diamonds, emeralds and rubies anywhere in the world - I even knew the name of the one diamond, the Kohinoor, which originated in India. I have actually also been to the place where it is said to have originated from, which is Golkonda fort in Hyderabad, India!
Similar to Edinburgh, one cannot take photos of the Crown Jewels so I had to be satisfied to only gaze at them in passing, while riding a moving sidewalk. It keeps the throngs moving!
What we came there to see was not at all like I had expected - a tower with a dungeon and a high room wherein many were held captive and then executed - I thought it would be at once more grandiose and also frightening but it appeared to be a low building (which did indeed have a lower room displaying frightening torture devices). We were not permitted to go up into the top of the tower to see the room where she was held, so our imaginations had to do the work for us. Nevertheless, it was exciting to see and to envision what it must have been like at the time. I did see the tiny windows and I imagine there is not a lot anyone would have been able to view out of them, save the sky...since the walls are so thick. Some names of those who were imprisoned there that resonated with me from my history lessons are: William Wallace himself before he was hanged, drawn and quartered, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn & Catherine Howard, a couple of Henry VIII's unfortunate wives. Remember that the earlier deaths (1200's/1300's) of those confined to the Tower would have been the times in which the 'Ordeals' decided their guilt... if one was thrown into the water and floated, one was guilty, wherein if one would sink down, they were innocent. Hmmm, doesn't everyone float?!
What's stunning to me is that even those who plotted to kill a Queen or King are now buried in splendour underneath Westminster Abbey.
We just had to finish our afternoon off by dining at the local pub which is aptly named Hung, Drawn and Quartered, wherein we had excellent steak pie with chips.
Our visit the previous day to the Abbey had my husband musing about the nature of the interior of the church, seemingly not nearly as ornate as some of the Italian Catholic churchs/cathedrals/duomos we've been to, the Abbey in comparison is largely about Royalty. However, that musing soon came to an end when we found St. Paul's Cathedral and went inside for the 5pm Evensong Service. There, to the Glory of God, was gold leaf and a painted dome as grand as anywhere else. It was thrilling to attend the Service and to hear an excellent choir, which was visiting from Oregon. I was lucky to have been able to sit right next to the choir, where I was able to see the conductor facing me, instead of behind him. Having been in the High Anglican traditional Church choir for so many years, it was a sublime occasion for me.
We finished our day with a walk up through the Covent Garden area and found a little pizza place, where we dined in the basement. Everything is just hopping busy and we were lucky to get a seat! We started with a tasty appetizer of Burrata Pugliese...and then shared an individual pizza which had Parma ham and Mushrooms on it, chased down by a glass of Prosecco. Both were delicious! Suggest that you try Franco Manca's sourdough pizza if you're in the area! Of course, we had to then find some Gelato which we easily did, and I scarfed down a combo of dark chocolate and salted caramel (there it is again!) while Aris had an Oreo flavoured one.
Day Two, hanged, drawn and quartered!
Having once landed in Heathrow Airport and endured what seemed to have been a long train ride to get to the heart of London, we opted this time to land at Gatwick which is a bit closer. We found our baggage without any delay and proceeded to grab the train and within half an hour we were at Victoria Station where we then found the "O". We were determined not to have to pay for a Taxi! We arrived in the pouring rain and managed to drag our baggage only a few blocks to get checked in. Our Hotel was chosen with access in mind, and we checked in easily at The Grand at Trafalgar, a impressive marble lined foyer greeted us with a smashing looking bar in behind. Our room, while tiny, has everything we need and on the first day we fell down for a quick snooze and then decided to look for some food.
We skipped over a few places not wanting to just hop into the first place we saw, and then found our way to Haymarket and ventured up thataway...ending up at a burger joint that appears to be a chain over here. Much to my surprise a mouse ran through the front entrance and across the threshold right in front of me! I had visions of contracting the Plague... but my common sense prevailed and we went inside anyway, (much to the horror of some lovely people we met the next day and told the story to). I am sure he simply wanted in from the rain as I imagined the overflowing gutters were not too comfortable right then. Well, the burger that I chose and the accompanying salted caramel milkshake were some of the best I've ever tasted! They say England is not known for its food but it was a far cry better than Busseto, Italy! We decided to wait to have fish n chips another night ~ Aris thinks it will be better by the sea.
We were tired again after our trek to find food so we ventured quickly through Piccadilly and then back to our room for another snooze. We are old!
Soon after we were ready for another outing and this time, we walked toward Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. The Abbey was closed and I only had my iphone with me so I settled for a few snaps of the exterior. It was almost dusk so we kept walking. I had tracked down a Census Listing from 1861 that noted my Great Grandfather's parents and siblings place of residence, (just a few years before he was born) so off we went to find Bessborough Place. It is in an area of Westminster closer to the River and there we found some lovely old row houses. I just loved seeing all the chimneys and of course in my head it was a Mary Poppins tune I was humming. It was exciting indeed to imagine my ancestors living in that area, going to church, shopping in the market, going to school. My Great Grandfather was born not long after, in 1869 on board a ship and as it rounded the Cape of Good Hope! In the 1871 Census, the family is found in Birmingham, England and it was as a young man that Percy George Cooper White made his way to Canada and then married the lady that would bear my Grandmother, Louisa Grace Fryers.
Louisa's mother was Hannah Hebblethwaite of Halifax, Yorkshire England, and the next few places that we search for family history in will be from her ancestral line.
Tired once again, we collapsed in our room and there we slept for 12 hours! What a disgrace, when I had meant to set the alarm and not miss a minute more of daylight in London!