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The Tower of London

After the flower market, Neil and I then walked down to finally explore the Tower of London. It was a grey and drizzly morning. We started by doing a walk of the curtain wall around the entire site to get the lay of the land. We explored different towers and buildings as we came across them. We went and saw the Crown Jewels, ate lunch, and then just as were beginning to think about moving on, the sun came out and gave us the opportunity for a few bright, sunny pictures.

The White Tower, the central keep, is the innermost point of the site (pictured below). The Tower of London was built in the 1070s by William the Conqueror following his invasion and conquest of England. Nothing like the Tower had ever been seen in England before. It was a formidable demonstration of Norman power. The Tower was painted white in 1240 to make it seem more imposing (and thus definitely more memorable.) The top storey was added in 1490 and the onion-shaped turrets were added by Henry VIII.

Below is an artist’s rendition of what the Tower and its defences would have looked like when under construction.

Below, Neil is standing in front of the White Tower (the main keep) and the remains of a Roman wall.

The original design incorporated ruins of the Roman city walls, such as the one Neil is standing in front of. In the illustration below, you’ll see what that wall once looked like.

For fun, here is another angle of that wall, with Tower Bridge in the background.

Today’s entrance to the site is through the Byward Tower, a 13th century addition from Edward I who also added the outer curtain wall and moat.

The moat below was drained in 1845.

Some shots from the Tower grounds.

A crotchety yeoman of the guard.

Interestingly, the Tower wasn’t built as a prison (even though that would be one of its main functions) and there were no purpose-built prison cells. Prisoners were kept anywhere they would fit. In some of the buildings you can see prisoner graffiti carved into the walls, some of it very intricate.

Some prisoners were kept in conditions that were more comfortable than others, such as Sir Walter Ralegh, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. A reconstruction of his room is shown below. At the time of his imprisonment in 1592 and 1593, the “Bloody Tower” was simply known as the “Garden Tower.”

My favourite part of the Tower was the Medieval Palace. In St. Thomas’s Tower, there is a  re-construction of Edward I’s bedchamber as it might have looked like when he stayed there in 1294.

Did you know medieval people slept sitting up? They would crowd pillows all around them.

The Wakefield Tower features a replica throne, private audience chamber, and chapel.

The sun came out, and suddenly things were looking a lot more picturesque.

Traitor’s Gate.

I could get in trouble for this since you’re not allowed to take pictures of the Crown Jewels, but below is an exclusive shot of the Imperial State Crown. It doesn’t photograph that well. Trust me, it was much more beautiful in person.

And because I decided seeing a flower market and the Tower of London in one day was still not enough, we then moved onto the Museum of London.

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The Columbia Road Flower Market

We started off the day by going to the Sunday Columbia Road Flower Market.

There were so many peonies, in so many colours, I just wanted to buy them all!

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London, Shakespeare, and Corgi Cupcakes

Leadenhall Market was within walking distance of where we were staying in London. It is in the financial district, and is one of the oldest markets in London dating back to the 14th century.

The market stands on what was once the centre of Roman London. It also served as a filming location for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. The current architectural features of the market were designed in 1881.

It was quiet on the Saturday morning when I had Neil stop so we could take some pictures, as it is open on weekdays instead of the weekend. Thursday and Friday night were a little more lively! It was the place where I first saw people drinking outside a pub and had a moment of slight culture shock. (They can do that here?)

It was also a quiet morning at the Monument to the Great Fire of London. The Monument itself was closed so we didn’t have the opportunity to walk up the 311 steps to the viewing platform. It’s just as well: from this picture, you can tell it was a little rainy and cold that morning anyway.

The tower is 202 feet tall, which is the distance to the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire first started on September 2, 1666. It was designed by Christopher Wren (who played a major role in rebuilding the city and St. Paul’s Cathedral after the fire) and Robert Hooke.

Below is a view of Tower Bridge from London Bridge. The current London Bridge is just a regular concrete and steel bridge opened in 1973 for vehicular traffic. It replaced an earlier 19th century stone arched bridge, which itself replaced a 600-year old medieval bridge. Before then, a series of wood bridges had been used to cross the Thames dating back to the Romans.

A distant view of the Shard.

We went to Borough Market to grab some baked goods and coffee for breakfast. The market celebrated its 1,000th birthday in 2014! The George Inn, which we had stopped at Thursday night, was just a couple of blocks away from the market.

It’s only 10 am but sure, why not?

A cake fit for a Queen. This queen, especially!

I’m still excited by streets with old brick buildings.

The Anchor Bankside pub.

Oh, look what we have happened upon! A popular local theatre! Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was originally built in 1599, burnt down in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and demolished in 1644. In the 1970s American actor and director Sam Wanamaker set about building a reconstruction of the theatre that was as faithful to the original as possible – even using the tools, materials, and construction techniques that would have been used for the original 1599 building. The new building was opened to the public in 1996.

The new theatre is 230 metres (750 feet) from the original site of the Globe. Some Georgian townhouses now occupy the former site. Also, the river Thames was much wider in Shakespeare’s day so while the original site of the Globe in 1599 was located on the banks, that is no longer the case. By choosing this new site the reconstructed Globe retains the Shakespearean atmosphere of a Thames bank side theatre.

The stage features all sorts of trap doors and levels. You can’t see it in the above picture, but there is another level with a window above. During a production of Henry VIII in 1613, a cannon from this window was what started the fire that burned the original Globe down.

The beautiful painted roof shown below represents the heavens.

The Globe has the first and only thatched roof built in the City of London since the Great Fire of 1666. As you can imagine, it took a little bit of a push and pull with the local administration to get that approved!

They used to stuff 3,000 spectators into the theatre for shows. Modern safety requirements have cut that down to 1,400 (half of those standing, half sitting.) We had a fascinating tour of the theatre and learned all sorts of crazy details about these audiences. People would sit on each others’ laps. Also, once they crammed you in, you stayed in. No in/out privileges, no washrooms. For hours. Combined with lots of drinking. I think I would prefer a contemporary audience and access to public washrooms.

These seats next to the stage were reserved for royalty and other VIPs. As you can tell, they’re not the best seats in the house for a performance. But they are the best seats if you want to be seen by everyone else.

In addition to the outdoor Globe theatre and its wonderful tour there is an indoor candle-lit theatre space, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, that is based on the indoor theatre spaces of Jacobean London. There are many beautiful tapestries hanging around the space, such as the one below.

There is also an exhibition about Shakespeare’s life and his work, the construction of the new Globe theatre (how did they prepare all those log beams without power tools? what did they use if they weren’t allowed to use nails or screws?), as well as displays about the costumes, technology (such as it was), and culture of Elizabethan/Jacobean London. We didn’t expect the exhibit at all, let alone find it so engrossing and educational.

The picture below of these Farthingale models reflects the different bustle styles in women’s skirts.

A costume for Queen Elizabeth I.

My first time seeing a reconstruction of a 17th century printing press (with moveable type!).

I couldn’t get over how I was finally seeing all the things I’ve read and learned about in schools and books. Imagine reading Shakespeare for the first time and then getting to go see a play at the Globe? Learning about the history of print and seeing one of these machines? Seeing an early printed edition?

As an English major and a lifetime lover of reading and writing, this is like a pilgrimage to my holy land.

Done to death?? Say it ain’t so! Bloudy fight? Horrible murder??

I can’t remember why I took this picture and it’s driving me a little crazy. I’ve deduced that it’s probably from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Costumes and props used in the shows. Exploring the Globe was definitely a highlight of our time in London and I would definitely like to go back and see a play there.

The Millenium Bridge or, as I like to call it, the “Harry Potter bridge.”

Cool split level view of the pedestrian bridge looking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is massive. As you’ll see below, it’s impossible to get all of it in one frame. A church has been on this site since 604 A.D. Christopher Wren (as mentioned above) rebuilt St. Paul’s in the late 17th century following the Great Fire. It was the tallest building in London from 1710-1967. The dome is among the highest in the world.

The church is located on the highest point of the City of London, and the largest crypt in Europe located below. English Baroque is the architectural style.

The West Front.

Time to join in the local festivities with a corgi cupcake!

We stopped at the Fleet Street pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for lunch. It was rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire, and has been frequented by literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Dr. Samuel Johnson (whose house is literally just down the alleyway), Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. The layout of the pub retains the old medieval style in which there are several small rooms each warmed by a fire, instead of one big room for everybody.

There is no natural light so it’s a little gloomy, but very atmospheric. The floors are uneven in parts and the roof is low. Definitely built before modern building regulations. I had my first English-baked pot pie here and it was delicious! It was perfect after a slightly chilly morning.

More beautiful buildings spotted along Fleet Street.

Neil hanging out in colourful Neal’s Yard.

Rainy day city pageantry.

The Piccadilly Arcade featured some expensive looking jewelry and high end clothing shops but, sadly, no pinball machines. The second we emerged from this place of class and sophistication onto Piccadilly Street we were surprised by cheers and claps as the London contingent of the Naked Bike Ride went zipping by. I did not take pictures but it was funny to think that this event happened on the same day as the regal Trooping of the Colour and the celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

Piccadilly Circus!

There were so many cool shops to check out in this area. We went to Fortnum & Mason, a posh department store from 1707, and wow, these Brits take their tea and biscuits very seriously here!

My favourite part of the store was their street-side flower display. Go figure.

Bear with me here.

Cath Kidston was nearby and, while I busied myself with that, Neil found a store that specialized in Japanese books.

We then stopped in the toy store, Hamleys, so I could pay my respects to the Queen (she’s shorter than I imagined).

Carnaby Street! The epicentre of Swinging London and mod fashion in the 1960s.

These signs bring a lot of colour to a dreary rainy day.

36,000 more steps and we are exhausted. Back to the hotel with my Cath Kidston loot!

A bit of a whirlwind, this day.

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A Walking Tour of London

My original plan for our first full day in London was for us to go to the Tower of London. However, I saw that Friday was supposed to be sunny while the rest of the weekend was supposed to rain, so I decided to be brave and change things up in order to take advantage of the nice weather while it lasted.

I’m glad I did! We ended up walking over 36,000 steps, or 16 kms. We started out by tracking down a cell service provider so Neil could get a U.K. cell phone plan. Then we walked down Oxford Street.

We came across this statue of William Shakespeare in Leicester Square. The inscription reads: “This enclosure was purchased, laid out and decorated as a garden by Albert Grant ESQ M.P and conveyed by him on the 2nd July 1874 to the Metropolitan Board of Works to be preserved for ever for the free use and enjoyment of the public.” The statue of Shakespeare is modelled after the one in Westminster Abbey. Here, he holds a scroll that contains a quote from Twelfth Night: “THERE IS NO DARKNESS BUT IGNORANCE.” (So terrifyingly fitting these days.)

There are beautiful buildings just about everywhere you look in London. I made Neil stop on Irving Street so I could take a picture of these ones.

We walked around Trafalgar Square and then spent a couple of hours in the National Gallery. We could have spent days in there! We didn’t have time to go to the nearby National Portrait Gallery, but I’m hoping we can go there the next time we go to London.

A view of Trafalgar Square from the steps of the National Gallery.

In addition to the many priceless paintings, the architecture of the National Gallery building is itself a work of art.

Some beautiful impressionist paintings by Monet and Renoir.

We met up with one of Neil’s coworkers at Mildred’s for lunch. Then we proceeded down Whitehall Road with the goal of walking past some of London’s most famous sites.

Whitehall Road takes its name from the Palace of Whitehall, which was the main royal residence between 1530 and 1689 (including King Henry VIII.) With 1,500 rooms, it was the largest palace in Europe. Unfortunately, it burned down in 1698 with only the Banqueting House surviving.

The weekend we were there was the same as the celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday and the Trooping of the Colour. I had a hunch that we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near this part of town on the day of the event, Saturday, so we decided to see the sites when it wasn’t as crowded.

We came across Horse Guard’s Parade where the big military march would be taking place the next day.

A regal looking pair.

We walked all the way down to Parliament Square and came across Sir Winston.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. (Fittingly, Sir Winston is keeping his eye on them.)

Selfie attempt.

Hullo hullo?

Westminster Abbey is another site we will have to return to in the future.

Walking past Westminster Abbey.

The gates of Buckingham Palace.

We’ll try to do a tour another time.

The Canada Gate.

What was surprisingly touching was the Canada Memorial in Green Park, just to the North side of Buckingham Palace. It commemorates all the Canadian soldiers killed in WWI and WWII.

It was really beautiful and peaceful. An inscription at the centre of the memorial reads, “In two world wars one million Canadians came to Britain and joined the fight for freedom. From danger shared, our friendship prospers.”

We popped into the Buckingham Palace gift shop where I had my choice of corgi souvenirs. You’ll be pleased to know I picked up one that was wearing a  royal robe.

Hurray, a walk through Hyde Park! And I come across my first garden of the trip!

English roses.

Pink poppies!

Did I mention that 2016 was the year of the English Garden? Surely that wasn’t a coincidence.

There were so many geese along the Serpentine, including these fluffy goslings.

We were so happy to find the Diana Memorial playground and fountain. People (mostly kids) are encouraged to splash around and play in the fountain. Our feet were seriously hurting by this point.

We walked by Kensington Palace, which is where Prince Will, Princess Kate, and Prince Harry reside.

These royals sure appreciate a beautiful gate!

And a beautiful garden.

Selfie time.

A beautiful private residence. I noticed that there were lots of little garden areas for people to enjoy.

Here’s a cool pub I wanted to check out, but we were running late to meet up with one of Neil’s coworkers for dinner. Next time! I do admire how any pub worth its salt will trim itself with a copious amount of potted plants.

Neil and I met up with his coworker in Brixton. He took us to Pop Brixton for a drink, where a collection of stacked shipping containers has been used to create a community market of independent restaurants, galleries, and shops. It was a really cool place to check out. I had my first aperol spritz there.

We ended the evening at a local pub, The Ivy.

That was the end of day two! 38,091 steps in total.


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Arriving in London

Once upon a time, when taking the Meyers-Briggs test, I debated between whether I was a “P” or a “J.” The P/J designation is how a person prefers to deal with the outside world. Do they want things to be structured and planned out? Or do they prefer to be more spontaneous and take things as they come?

For the longest time, I thought I was a “P.” Then when I was planning a trip to Tofino with my mom, brother, and sister-in-law I caught myself writing trip details on index cards. Nope, I’m definitely a J.

Our itinerary.

We took off from Vancouver on the evening of Wednesday, June 8. We had a direct flight that took us over the Arctic. I started watching this television show I had heard about, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (more on that later), before I fell asleep.

We landed in London around noon. While taking the tube to downtown London it really hit me what was happening. (I’m taking the tube! Into London!).

We stayed in a hotel near Spitalfields Market. We were within walking distance of Brick Lane, Whitechapel, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the Columbia Flower Market (much more on that later). Whitechapel is where Jack the Ripper carried out his grisly crimes, so I tried not to think about that too much while walking the streets at night. I know, I know, it happened a LONG time ago and the streets of today are very different from the streets of then. But as you’ll see throughout this trip that as I’m exploring the places where all this fascinating history I’ve read about has taken place, I want to try and tap into that experience by imagining myself there. Some places it’s easier to do this than others.

Our hotel was decent for the price, but I booked a less expensive room without a window. Remind me not to do that again! Windows are worth it. It felt like sleeping in a cave. We turned on the television to the local news to figure out how to dress for the weather.

We grabbed delicious Indian food for a late lunch/early dinner on Brick Lane. Then Neil had a little work to do so he found a Starbucks while I took a nap first at the hotel, and then inadvertently in one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever sat in (and I’m not just saying that because of jet lag.) Once we got change back from spending a few of our bills, I geeked out about holding actual British pound coins in my hands.

Finally, we had a couple of hours to take in the sights.

First we walked around the Tower of London. It was surreal to see, with my own eyes, a place that I had read about and imagined so many times before.

Here was a castle! A real castle! And not just any castle, but the TOWER OF LONDON! Sorry Craigdarroch, you really can’t compete.

We then walked to Tower Bridge. It was built between 1886 and 1894. Fergie sang a song about it! Well, she sings “London Bridge” but we all know she was picturing the towers of this bridge when she sang it. In the colonies this is what we all pictured “London Bridge” looked like until we became better informed.

We admired the view of the Thames and the Tower. The Shard is the tall glass skyscraper on the left. A name and an architectural style that actually makes me think it is literally scraping at the sky.

The Thames! T.S. Eliot brooded along the shores of this river! Well, Eliot and many other novelists and poets, but T.S. Eliot is the one that readily comes to mind! Sweet Thames run softly till I end my song…*

In addition to the White Tower, which is hiding behind the trees, you can see two of London’s hilariously nicknamed towers, “The Walkie-Talkie” and “The Gherkin.” Try to guess which one is which. Later in our trip, we went to the top floor of “The Walkie-Talkie” building to get a view of the city in a place called “the Sky Garden.”

Better image of just The Tower. I’m trying to imagine myself in a boat hundreds of years ago, just casually paddling by.

Traitor’s Gate! Beware!

We went to The George Inn for a pint. I was interested in checking out The George because it is the oldest pub in London. It is also “the only surviving galleried London coaching inn.” (Apparently many of the others gallery inns were destroyed during the Blitz). A coaching inn catered to travelers who rode in stagecoaches and mail coaches. Fresh teams of horses could be hired to replace the tired teams. I wasn’t sure what a “galleried” inn was so I looked it up.”Galleried” refers to an architectural style in which long, narrow rooms (almost like a hallway) are used**. They were popular in Elizabethan and Jacobean houses on the upper floors (thank you, Wikipedia.)

The pub can be traced in historical records to 1542, although it is noted that an inn probably existed in the same location for a long time before that. It was rebuilt in 1676 after a fire. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens have frequented this establishment. Shakespeare might have even put on a show here! Looking into the courtyard, you can see how that would make a decent theatre venue.

I forgot to take a picture of the actual inn itself, not just the courtyard, so I have borrowed the following image from Wikipedia.

We walked down to the waterfront and came across this replica of The Golden Hind, the ship that Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the world between 1577 and 1580 on Queen Elizabeth’s behest. Queen Elizabeth!

We ended the night by stopping for a pint at The Rake. Unfortunately, it was too dark at that point to take any decent pictures. We then went back to the hotel, and that was the end of our first day. 35,331 steps in total.

*Wait, upon re-reading the poem, I think I might actually have a chance of understanding it now. At 19 I had no clue what most of the references meant. My fault for taking a class in Modern Literature in my first year. At 19 I didn’t know what there was to be so moderny (ahem, “modernist”) about.
**Side-note, the Wikipedia page for “long gallery” tells me that “in the 16th century, the seemingly obvious concept of the corridor had not been introduced to British domestic architecture; rooms were entered from outside or by passing from one room to another.” I don’t know why, but I find this fascinating.