At last Michael is free from work so we spent a wonderful day touring around London. Since I had not gone to the Tower of London the previous day, we decided to make it our first destination. The first sign of trouble came when we couldn’t find any place to have breakfast and we MUST have our morning caffeine!! Then, we arrived at the tube station to discover that BOTH of the lines that go to Tower Hill Station were closed for the weekend due to repairs, so, after 3 trains and numerous queries, we ended up at Aldgate station which is the next closest to the Tower. We started walking toward it and ended up finding a small (Italian owned) café called Caffe Miscela Doro and had dessert breads and hot drinks. We saw one man eating a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich for breakfast and it looked so good that we decided to return there for lunch later in the day.
The Tower of London is an impressive fort, comprised of a lot of smaller buildings, and 19 or so massive towers. On normal days, there is a long line for tickets, but we figured that many of the tourists couldn’t figure out how to get there or were put off by the threatening weather. As we went in, one of the Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) was inviting people to join a tour. His call was “Murder, intrigue, romance and execution….hear it all on the tower tour”. We walked slightly into the compound and immediately found the famous Traitors Gate, where many of the prisoners were brought into the complex. We took a few photos and returned to join the next tour. As soon as our guide arrived, he requested that I (and then Michael) join him at the front. I got to hold his cane while he spoke. He said that he picked us to stand with him because “we were tall and would block the wind!!!”. Needless to say, he was very interactive with the crowd and was a wonderful guide.
The Yeoman Warders were originally the King’s guard. To work in the tower today, they must have retired from the Army, Air Force or Marines, and must have achieved a rank of Warrant Officer or above. They and their families are required to live on the premises and we had small glimpses into their family housing areas. Most of them dressed in full regalia of black pants, black and red tunic top and funky black hat. They were given the name of “Beefeaters” because one of the Kings became worried that his guards were not eating well enough to be able to protect him so he decreed that each one would be given a joint of meat each week.
The Warder told many stories about the people who were imprisoned in the tower and then later executed, including Anne Boleyn (1536), Lady Jane Gray (1554), Sir Thomas More (1535), Guy Fawkes (1606), and Sir Walter Raleigh (1618). One of our favorite stories ( in a grizzly sort of way) was James Scott (the Duke of Monmouth). Apparently he was beheaded and his head was placed on a post beside the Thames River. They then realized that there was not a current portrait of the Duke, so the Beefeaters were told to retrieve the head and it was sewed back on to the body and the portrait was very quickly painted. Many persons who saw the portrait commented that “he was certainly a pale man”.
We saw the crown jewels of England and the Cullinan Diamond (3,107 carats). They were most impressive. We especially liked the coronation rings….they were beautiful, and not quite as gaudy as the other pieces.
After leaving the tower we walked back to our café and had lunch. I kept to the toasted cheese and tomato idea, but Michael opted for a toasted focaccia bread with a thin breaded chicken cutlet and cheese.
After lunch, we walked down the Lower Thames Street and across the famous London Bridge. We wound our way through the churches and old buildings to the Shakespeare Globe theater, a reproduction of the original building. Unfortunately, there was a performance of Othello in progress, so we could not enter the theater. We opted instead for buying Brian an Tee-shirt and continuing our journey.
We had decided to return to Fortnam and Masons store, so we began our search for a tube station. We saw a sign that pointed to one particular station, but then somehow ended up going the exact opposite direction and, 20 minutes later, ended up at a different station. We enjoyed looking around F&M and ended up purchasing a jar of Blue Stilton cheese and a “Tea-time” hamper that contained tea and other goodies to eat.
We arrived back at our apartment around 4:00, and rested for a few minutes before leaving at 5:00 to go to “Phantom of the Opera”. When we first got to the Picadilly area, we got our bearings, found the theater and figured out how we would get back to the tube station after the play. We then found a restaurant and had a leisurely dinner complete with cheese pizza, wine, brandy, desserts and tea/coffee.
We walked across to Her Majesty’s Theatre and climbed WAY UP into our seats. We were on the next to the top row and were “up close and personal” with the crown moldings on the ceiling!!! The theater is very narrow but goes up quite high so we were basically looking down onto the stage. Each seat had a set of opera glasses that you could rent for 50 pence and they helped greatly in watching the play. When it first started, we both had trouble understanding the actors…..probably because of the accent, but they became easier to understand as the play went on. The cast was wonderful and had amazing voices and talent. The scenery and technical aspects were amazing as well. In one scene (where the Phantom is taking Christine down under the theater), there was smoke billowing across the stage, candles rising up from under the stage and the characters entered the stage on what looked like a boat. It was one of the most amazing scenes that I have ever seen.
We ended the night with another tube ride to our neighborhood and a walk to our apartment. The tube was absolutely packed. It was interesting to me that the most crowded time that I saw was at 10:30 pm on a Saturday night!!!