Wednesday, January 8, 2014

London Holiday, 3: The Tower

Okay, now that the bitching and moaning is all out of my system, back to the trip.  In Part 1, I mentioned that we landed, dropped off our luggage, took a brief nap, and powered through the rest of the day with a trip to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery of Art.  The following day, Dec. 23rd, the worst gale to hit Britain in 127 years began. This storm would go on to flood several rivers and leave thousands homeless or without power by Christmas Day.  In London, the gale took the form of a cold, wet wind with gusts that immediately turned most umbrellas inside-out.  So of course, we decided to visit the Tower of London! (For those who don't know, the Tower is not an actual tower, but a castle complex consisting of walls, residences, multiple towers and a central keep called the White Tower.  A lot of it is outdoors.) The weather was horrible, but bearable, especially since there are plenty of opportunities to duck in someplace, dry off and warm up.

(One of the sceptres.  The Culinar Diamond is the size of your clenched fist.)

We immediately headed for the crown jewels where, after a bit of a line, we saw the biggest f-ing diamonds, rubies and sapphires I have ever seen.  Sadly, pictures were not allowed, but you can get an idea from the stock photos. I thought "jewels the size of an egg" was Monty Python hyperbole. It is not.

(One of the many crowns.  The ruby is indeed the size of a large egg.  The diamond beneath it is cut from the same giant stone as the one in the sceptre.)

From the crown jewels we went to the White Tower where the arms, armor, gifts to the crown, and other artifacts are kept.  There are three floors.  The first is the royal armor through the ages, including the Line of Kings exhibit.

(Henry VIII's armor.  Clearly the man had his priorities with regard to protection.)

The second floor focuses more on the history of the Tower, and the third on its role in history as a prison and as the seat of the Royal Mint. (Fun fact: the first director of the mint, charged with finding ways to foil counterfeiters, was none other than Sir Isaac Newton.) A quick lunch and then off to the Bloody Tower to look at implements of torture.

(The Tower of London chopping block.  Yeah, that one.)

In lulls during the wind and rain, we saw something I was not expecting to see, considering the weather conditions:  the famous Ravens of the Tower. There is a myth that says that if these birds ever leave the Tower, Britain will fall, so the birds are kept there forcibly, but they are well and humanely kept.

(My lovely daughter Olivia snapping a picture of a very friendly Tower raven. He clearly has done this before.)

After the Tower we went back to the flat for a quick change into dry clothes and then it was off to our first play in the West End, One Man, Two Guv'nors, which was one of the funniest (and most fun) evenings I've ever had at the theater. Based on a Renaissance Commedia dell'Arte play, it had great 1960's Buddy-Holly type music and in true Commedia form, the characters frequently broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience directly. I can't go into details without ruining the premise of the show for those who haven't seen it, but suffice it to say that we managed to be there on a truly remarkable night, when the audience participation portions took the actors quite by surprise and they managed to spin it into comedy gold.  The closest thing I can think of to describe it is when Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would go out of their way to crack each other up on the old Carol Burnett Show. 

(If you EVER have a chance to see this show, DO IT.  Seriously.)

After the show we went home to get ready for Christmas Eve, which promised to be a very, very big day.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the Tower of London, and especially the flock of ravens. Beautiful, smart birds.