A Travellerspoint blog

6: Ruby Slippers

semi-overcast 19 °C
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I spent the day today with another aussie from the hostel, Nancy. We started our day by catching the ferry up to Greenwich to see the meridian line, the observatory and the naval museum. The banks of the Thames really remind me of the banks of the Brissie river near Teneriffe. This is because the part of the Thames we were boating on were where the old wool sheds and ship yards are housed, similar to the area around Teneriffe. Both areas have transformed these old buildings into beautiful new apartments so the similarities were really quite striking.

Greenwich itself is surprisingly beautiful. I had no real expectations of what Greenwich would be like. I was really only going to see the Meridian Line and take a snap of me standing on either side! The town itself though is worth going to even if the Meridian Line wasn’t there! The town has a real ‘little village’ atmosphere, even though it is only 30min from downtown London. We started our day by just wandering around the town and during our wander came across this lovely indoor market place that has been in use for a couple of hundred years. The market itself was mainly all bric-a-brac but not the usual ‘garage sale’ stuff we would have at home, but really good antiquey/ quirky things! One seller was actually selling a bugle.. I was sorely tempted to buy the bugle (but really, what am I going to do with a bugle???) Another seller was selling old coins; crowns, thruppence etc.. I didn’t realise how big a crown was.. it would weigh down your pocket if you were unlucky enough to have a few of them!

After wandering amongst all of these old antiquey things we decided we had better head up the hill to see the observatory and more importantly the meridian line. We decided not to spend the 10 pound they were asking to go inside the observatory so we just wandered around the hill top and checked out the view as well as the line.. (note to self, you don’t need to pay to see the line—it can be found in the public areas if you know where to look!) During our amble around the observatory we saw squirrels! I’d forgotten how cute the little critters could be. One very daring little dude was even cheeky enough to come right up near us!

We rounded out our Greenwich trip by going and having a look inside the Maritime museum. There is an exhibition inside that is all about the Battle of Trafalgar when Nelson was killed. They still have the clothing he was wearing when he was shot on display so you can see the actual bullet hole that killed Nelson. There is also the stern of a ship on display that was used during that fateful battle as well as a barge that was used by one of the kings of England to travel up and down the Thames that is covered in 24 carat gold leaf… It’s good to be king! Nancy rounded out her trip to the Maritime museum by having a go on the museum’s bridge simulator—she was the bridge captain of a vessel that had to make port on the Eastern side of the Opera house (which in the game is actually the western side of the opera house!!!!) We walked away feeling slightly sea sick (from the simulator) but very pleased with our day spent at Greenwich.

We both rounded out the day by going back into town to see another show; The Wizard of Oz! We turned up to the Palladium (the theatre where it is showing) about an hour and a half before the show was due to start and bought some last minute tickets. We paid 32 pounds and we were placed in the 7th row back from the stage right in the middle! Prime seats at a rock bottom rate!!! (Note to self, if you want to see a West End show—just rock up an hour before and try and get lucky… if that show isn’t available you can bet that one of them will be!) Richard Crawford is the headline act for the show and he played the Wizard. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much and was thoroughly wowed.. The show had everything! Really awesome sets, a real Toto!! (yep they had trained a couple of white terriers to play the role.. and gee did the dogs pull it off!) pyrotechnics, stuff coming out of the roof, people coming out of the roof… you name it this show had it! It is probably one of the best shows I’ve seen and probably also one of the cheapest!!!!! We both spent up big at the gift shop and then headed home.. Absolutely fantastic ending to a super great day!

Posted by weary_feet 08:49 Archived in England Comments (0)

5: Hung, Drawn and Quartered

overcast 18 °C
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Spent today doing some more site seeing of London (I swear even if you were here for month’s you still wouldn’t be able to see it all!) Started the day by wandering down to the Thames and this time I went over the Millennium bridge to Southbank towards the Globe and the Tate.

I’ve decided to save these two items for when I come back to London before I go to Middle East so instead of entering I continued left towards the London Bridge. At the famous bridge (which isn’t much to look at) I entered an exhibition on the London Bridge that the brochure claimed ‘was to be the scariest day of your life!’. Well I couldn’t pass up the chance for a good fright so in I went.

The first part of the exhibit takes you through some of the history of the bridge. The bridge was first erected by the Roman’s and was a wooden bridge spanning the Thames. It was first destroyed by Viking raider’s centuries after the Roman’s had quite Britain. It is thought that this is where the nursery rhyme “London bridge is falling down” comes from, the song is about the raiders who pulled down and destroyed the bridge. The first stone bridge was built during the reign of William the Conqueror after 1066 and it was the first stone bridge to be built anywhere in the world! This is the bridge that really created the icon of ‘London Bridge’. This stone bridge was built upon over the years until it was actual a town on top of a bridge! At its height the London Bridge was home to over 3000 people! This bridge was badly damaged during the famous London fires of 1676 and it is estimated that over 1500 people perished on the bridge during the inferno. It was determined in the early 1800s that the old London bridge had, had its day and was therefore replaced by a newer stone bridge. It was only a hundred years later that the bridge had to again be replaced as it was no longer able to cope with the volume of daily traffic and the bridge we see today was opened in the mid-60s.

The original stone bridge was in use for more than 600 years and has quite a sordid history. When criminals were hung on Tower Hill their heads were then displayed on the entry to this bridge as a deterrent. I got to find out the gory details today of how prisoners were ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartered’... First step was the hanging part. A criminal was hung with a length of rope but instead of standing up on a platform or something and having a trap door open, the criminal was hoisted from the ground by his neck... he was then taken to the point of death (normally about 6 min) before being dropped to the ground and revived. He was then re-hoisted back up and brought to near death and then dropped and revived. This process continued for at least 7 hours before the executioner would move on the Drawn. Drawn meant that the criminal was tied down onto a chopping block and whilst still alive had his stomach cut open and his entrails removed. These were then burnt or fed to the criminal before he eventually died of blood loss. Lastly, the criminal had all of his arms and legs removed and his parts of his body sent to all four quarters of the land, hence Quartering. Finally, the head was seasoned with salt and some spices to ensure it would not be pecked by the birds and placed on a pike on the London bridge. Gruesome huh??? This was the outcome for such famous prisoners as Guy Fawkes and William Wallace… it’s probably about the worst way I could imagine to die...

The second part of the visit was into the London Tombs... Apparently, a couple of hundred corpses were discovered under London Bridge and so they have turned these ‘tombs’ into a scary tourist attraction. Basically, ‘zombies’ jump out at you as you slowly walk through an underground graveyard. It was actually quite spooky and more than once I jumped and yelled when a zombie came towards me!

After being nicely scared I continued my wander down the Thames and stopped at the Britain at War exhibition. It is describes the life of Londoner’s during the blitz. A funny letter that I saw in the museum was from a lady in London to her husband on the front line, it read; "You don’t know how hard it is here in London. Everything is being rationed. Now they are even rationing the number of corsets’ and brassieres’ a woman can purchase. How are women in London supposed to get on without these essential items of clothing?” I had a good giggle when I read this. Clearly the propaganda from the front must have been strong, if she believed that life on the home front was tougher than the life of the boys in Europe! Another amusing anecdote was about a man who lived somewhere out near Wimbledon. Every evening he would catch a train into London and would sleep in the Bond Street tube station because as he stated “if he was going to die in an air raid he wanted to die surrounded by the right sort!” I also tested out a gas mask to protect me from a potential gas attack. They even had gas ‘tanks’ for babies. Basically the mother would place the baby inside this tank and hand pump air into the chamber to keep the baby alive… Not sure how effective this is if the person pumping ends up dead…..

My last stop on my Southbank Thames walk was the Tower Bridge. I climbed up to the top of the bridge and walked the gang way between the north and south towers of the bridge. I was lucky enough to get down from the tower just before the bridge was opened to allow a sailing yacht access to the Thames. It’s amazing how they open up the bridge; it’s very seamless and surprisingly quick!

On my way back to the hostel I thought I'd pop into St Paul's and take a look at the interior of the cathedral. I arrived just as the church was closing for the evensong service, so I thought that rather than go and come back and pay to enter the cathedral I would sit through the service and use the service time as time to look at the wonderful roof mosaics. The service was really quite beautiful. For those (like me) who don't know what an evensong service is, it is a nightly service where the choir sing the prayers of the service to God. It was really nice because the big church organ was accompanying the choir, so between the singing and the organ.. really really nice. The interior of the church is also very WOW! The whole cupola of the church is covered in one big mosaic... really beautiful. Its a shame in some ways I did attend a service because I wasn't able to take photos, but the service was really beautiful so I haven't really missed out on much!

After a very relaxing end to my day, I finished it off with a quick bite of Japanese before sitting down to watch some TV with other members of the hostel.

Posted by weary_feet 08:32 Archived in England Comments (0)

4: Three Blind Mice

overcast 19 °C
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Had a bit of a sleep in today as I really only had the plan to see the British museum and then to see the Mousetrap that evening!

The British museum is open of the premier museums in the world and houses many relics from all ages from all countries. Again I felt a slight let down at the museum... One of the big problems with my trip is that I’ve seen most of the top museums in the world within a fairly short space of time so seeing more friezes or more Egyptian relics is kind of a bit ho hum... I don’t want this to take away from the incredible artefacts that can be found in the museum, I guess what I’m saying is that they aren’t quite as exciting as they were when I saw similar ones a couple of months ago.

The number one reason to come to the British museum is to see the Rosetta stone. This stone was the key that unlocked the Egyptian Hieroglyphics and is so famous because after finding this stone (which incidentally was found by Napoleon—which I did not realise!) Egyptologists could finally translate the hieroglyphics into a modern day language. I guess in itself the stone is nothing special to look at but the excitement it must have caused Egyptologists back in the late 1800s would have been something special. From the stone I wandered haphazardly through the Egyptian collection ogling the statues of Ramses II before heading up the stairs to the mummy collection.

The mummy collection in the museum is the largest in the world and it is pretty incredible to think that inside many of the linen wraps still in the museum are actual bodies from thousands of years ago!! There is also a body from thousands of years ago that was discovered just in the desert and has preserved all the time til now. When you look at the outer casings and the inner head dresses etc. from the mummies it does give you some sort of clue as to how advanced the Egyptian civilisation was… most of the mummies come from at least 500 years before Christ…

The other highlight for me was the Britannic section of the museum. This section contains artefacts from the bronze and Iron Age and really highlights Britain’s early history. I particularly liked the Celtic collection that has a Bronze Age Germanic helmet that was found inside a burial mound up in Yorkshire. This section also has a prehistoric Briton that was found buried in a peat bog fully preserved. It is thought that this man was probably a sacrifice to some pagan god as he was well dressed, had a crushed in skull and was found with many other artefacts (jars and jugs etc.) that were probably also sacrifices. It’s amazing to see how well a peat bog preserves people!

After going through the pre- middle ages of Britain I decided that I had seen enough of the British Museum (it is one of those museums that even if you were there all day you wouldn’t even see a quarter of all of the exhibits!) and decided to catch the tube to Harrods to have a bit of retail therapy. I found Harrods quite confusing! I haven’t ever seen a department store that is so poorly laid out... it is a complete rabbit warren, in fact I got lost a couple of times and had to ask for directions!

But taking aside the size of Harrods and the unusual layout of the shop, I do believe that you probably could buy almost anything in the store! I spent quite a bit of time just wandering around the glittering jewellery sections and was very surprised to see many different types of jewellery on display... what I mean is that there were the usual diamond jewels- earrings, necklaces etc. but there was also jewellery that was clearly for Indian or Pakistani customers.. (more than 24 carat gold with interesting designs etc.) Coupled with this was jewellery I took as middle eastern as it had quite a distinctive Moorish influence. I purchased two pairs of woollen socks and some shampoo... nothing exciting but a couple of things that were needed!

Rounded out the day by attending the Mousetrap! The Mousetrap is the longest running show in the West End and has been shown continuously for 59 years! It is Agatha Christie’s most acclaimed play and therefore is a twisted ‘who-dunnit’ with the ending a little surprising (although I did guess it right at intermission)... The theatre where the show plays is this really small, intimate old theatre that feels really homey and was very comfortable. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so I couldn’t capture a picky of the theatre.

Great night out following a great day!

Posted by weary_feet 08:23 Archived in England Comments (0)

3: Off with her head!

all seasons in one day 22 °C
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A nice early start today as I planned to see the Tower of London! I would say that the Tower is easily the number one attraction here in London and it is easy to see why! A part of the Tower is the original fortress built by William the Conqueror and was finished in 1078!!! How incredible is it that a building started almost 1000 years ago is still standing and is still begin used today!

Entry is via one of the portcullises into the outer bailey. From here you then have to enter the inner bailey to enter the fortress. The outer bailey actually also contains the medieval castle built by Henry III and it is within the outer walls that he built his chambers and meeting rooms. I guess it is a practical way to use your outer wall, build rooms inside, but it also feels a tad unsafe in that this is also the area that is going to be attacked first??

The tour of the Tower starts inside the outer bailey walls where the Yeoman (Beefeater) guard takes you for a quick walk through the fortress and its thousands of years of history. You start where Ann Boleyn was first brought into the tower the day before her coronation to Henry VIII, it is ironic but two steps ahead is also the place where she was last brought into the Tower (the Traitors Gate) for her execution!

We then went around to see the where the Ravens are kept. There is a legend in the Tower that if the ravens should ever leave the Tower then the monarchy and the empire of Great Britain will fall. To ensure that the ravens don’t leave the Tower, King Charles II had a permanent aviary built on site that houses 4 pairs of ravens. All 8 ravens have their wings clipped and are well fed so it is highly unlikely that the birds will ever leave the tower!

From the Ravens coop we moved onto the history of the White Tower. The White Tower is the “Tower” that is always photographed and is actually all that I thought was at the Tower of London! It is the original fortress that was first constructed by William the Conqueror. Today the interior is set out as a museum and you can see many pieces of armour from the Middle Ages most notably that of Henry VIII. It also houses a chapel that was the chapel used by many of the Kings and Queens of England for prayer. It is also the last place that many of the Queens of England last saw prior to losing their heads…

Which brings me to the sordid history of the Tower. Over the centuries the Tower was most famously used as a prison and also as the last resting place for many poor souls. More than 1500 people are buried on the site of the Tower all of which were deemed ‘Traitors to the crown’ and had their heads removed from their bodies. The most famous prisoners to the tower are probably; Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Francis Drake and the two princes. The two princes is probably the most interesting story and was one I remember we learnt about in history in high school.

The two boys were the sons of Edward IV and were kept in the tower by probably Richard III who was their uncle. He wanted to be crowned king (not just regent) so kept the two boys in isolation. It is supposed that they were killed in the tower and their remains were sealed away in the White Tower. During construction works carried out by Charles II, two small skeletons were discovered in a trunk buried inside one of the walls of the castle. It was then supposed by the King that these were the remains of the two princes (who until then had disappeared) and their remains were removed and reburied in Westminster Abbey.

You can also see the place in which Henry VIIIs Queens all lost their heads. They were fortunate to lose their heads within the grounds of the castle and were not subject to the walk up to Tower hill (outside the grounds) where the regular traitors had their heads chopped off. One of the stories goes that one old lady (I can’t remember which one) who was tried and convicted of treason decided she didn’t want to lose her head so got up and ran away from the executioner. He then chased her over the Tower Hill and slowly hacked her to pieces!! Yuk… Apparently you wanted to lose your head in just one stroke, on another occasion someone had to have 8 hacks to get someone’s head off… Aaah!!!!

Of course, no day at the tower is complete without the obligatory walk pass of the Crown Jewels. The Jewels are housed in a vault deep within one of the castle’s buildings. You enter a travelator at one end and slowly make your way passed the coronation jewels. The jewels on display are the ones used during coronation so aren’t the ‘everyday’ jewels of the Queen and her family. I have to say that the two infamous diamonds the Star of Africa and the Koh-i-noor are really impressive.. the rest of it was probably as nice as many of the other jewels I’ve seen in my travels but didn’t knock my socks off! I guess that’s the blasé-ness coming through from someone who has clearly seen too many jewels during her travels… If these were the first jewels you had seen then you would be absolutely dumb struck but after seeing so many…………………….. All right I know I’m showing off now :)

All in all I had an absolutely top day and highly recommend the Tower as one of the best day’s out you will have in your travels!

Posted by weary_feet 11:31 Archived in England Comments (0)

2: Rest day today!

rain 18 °C
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I felt absolutely exhausted when I woke up this morning so I decided to take it easy today and just do some more walking and maybe catch a movie. So after getting myself going I decided to go down to the river Thames and go for a walk along the Thames towards parliament and across to the other side towards the eye.

Today is a Sunday and Boris Johnson was doing a “Bike for the environment” day here in London so many of the streets in London had been closed to just allow push bikes and families to go for a ride through London. So walking amongst the bikes was really quite nice (much nicer than buses and cars!) Walked down the Thames across the river to the eye and then back across the river in time to see Big Ben chime at 12pm before continuing down the Thames towards the Tate Britain.

Finally decided that I had walked far enough and took the tube back towards Oxford St to go hunting a travel agent, to organise my flights to the middle east. From here I decided to head back towards the hostel to have a snooze and then rounded out my day by heading back to Leicester Square to catch a movie, Cowboys and Aliens.. which isn’t worth the effort!

Posted by weary_feet 11:11 Archived in England Comments (0)

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