Monday, July 21, 2014

Lots more history, a dear Abbey and Matilda

So, having done my research, I calculated the best way to get to today's destination was to catch a bus. Staying at a hotel on the Strand is handy for that sort of thing; a lot of major transit routes go along here, in all directions. Yes, the tube is usually faster, but the bus stop is a lot closer, and I was quite happy to look at things as we went along.

It took a while, but it dropped me pretty much right at the door of this place:

The Tower of London. I won't try to explain the history of the place; I don't have the time. So just check out the Wikipedia page . But if you can't be bothered with that, just be aware it's one of the most important places in English political history, and has been since it - or, at least, the first part of it - was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.

Wandering around there - I got an audio tour which was information and meant I could move at my own pace - was so fascinating. So much has happened there over the nearly one thousand years it's been in use. And they've not skimped on filling it full of unbelievably interesting stuff.

Oh, and the Crown Jewels are there, and while I was expecting to be impressed, I wasn't quite ready for what I saw. The gemstones in the crowns are one thing, but the gold - so much gold!

Some of the action in Richard III takes place at the Tower, and there are numerous references to it throughout the play. While Shakespeare did take some liberties with actual history in the writing of the play, the Duke of Clarence definitely died there, and it is suspected Edward IV's two sons (referred to as The Princes in the Tower) did as well.

There's a massive museum of historical weaponry and armour there, too - some used by different English kings, including Henry VIII. I didn't take any photos of that, though.

I did take some pictures of the ravens - there's a legend that if all the ravens leave the Tower then the country will fall, so they make sure there are always a few around, and they have their wings clipped so they can't fly away. So they run about the place and occasionally pop up on top of displays like the one below.

I probably didn't get to see everything I wanted to see there, but I had other things to do, so I left to catch the tube - I'm getting the hang of this whole tube thing; it's really very handy, and ridiculously fast - to my next destination, which was the Churchill War Rooms.

At this point I can't remember if I didn't take any photos because I couldn't, or because I didn't feel the urge. Either way there aren't any. But it's a truly fascinating exhibit on how they managed the war effort from well underground in tiny, cramped rooms. There's also (as the name suggests) a Churchill museum, which I found very illuminating, even though I've read a couple of Churchill biographies. They've got lots of his stuff there - clothes, notebooks, photos and so forth.

Oh, and they make a damn fine carrot cake in the café...

I didn't have to walk very far from there to my next destination, but I was a little bit unsure where to actually go in, since I saw a sign saying 'St Margaret's' and went past what is actually the main entrance to this place.

Last on my list for the day: the magnificent Westminster Abbey. While the exact origins are lost in the mists of time, it's even older than the Tower of London, having been built by Edward the Confessor before the Norman invasion in 1066. So yeah, lots of history.

I grabbed myself an audio guide - voiced by Jeremy Irons - and made the rounds. There's so much sculpture and burial paraphernalia in some of the rooms that it's difficult to move through some of them. And there are a huge number of famous/important people either buried there or honoured with a plaque on the floor - way too many for me to list, but I did feel no small amount of awe at some of the monarchs like Henry V and Elizabeth I (amazing tombs as well) plus some of history's greatest achievers in science, art and politics: Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and the two William Pitts (younger and elder) - as someone who loves theatre and literature I felt a huge surge of emotion in Poet's Corner when knowing I was in the presence of the resting place of Henry Irving, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Lawrence Olivier.

For a full list of who's buried and memorialised there, go here. Oh, and I got a bit of a shock when I saw my (proper) name on that list...

I took another photo from the cloisters (you can't take any inside) because it looked so impressive.

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick lie-down before heading out again to meet up with Ele for dinner and Matilda: the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre. As usual, will (eventually) put up a detailed description of the shows I've seen, but I will add that we both came out of it absolutely blown away. It was amazing in every possibly sense of the word. Freaking spectacular.

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