Sunday, July 27, 2014

England Week 5

Sunday, June 1st - Friday, June 6th

Sunday we went to the 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford City.  This is the entrance with the London Aquatics Centre to the left.  Behind it the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the stadium straight ahead.

This is looking at the aquatics centre from a distance.  It is supposed to look like a dolphin.  London first held the Olympics in 1908 with more than 3,000 competitors from 21 nations.  They also held the first post-war games in 1948 with 59 nations competing for metals.  In 1863 the world's first underground railway carried 30,000 people on opening day from Paddington Station to Farrington.  Some of the less used stations look like they are just about that old, too.  

The Orbit, Britain's largest sculpture, is an icon of the park with breathtaking views from its 377 foot red iron tower.  You can see all of the park and 20 miles beyond over London's skyline and flip the horizon with some mirrors and see it upside down or zoom in.  When you go down the 455 steps you are accompanied by a soundtrack of the city.  Sounds like fun.  It costs 15 pounds and we didn't do it

The kids were having great fun in this splash park.  The cold water would shut off and start up unexpectedly with different heights and forces of jets.  They were screaming with glee.  They also had rock pools, sand pits, tree-houses and wobbly bridges for the kids.

This giant mirrored sign was in front of the Copper Box Arena.  The 44 million pound ($77 million) handball arena also hosted fencing in the Olympics and, goalball during the Paralympic Games.  They were having seminars for the volunteers that were going to help with the Tour de France which starts in Leeds this year.  It continues through the Yorkshire dales to Cambridge and London and then Paris.

They had a trail of outdoor fitness stations.

This was a strange artwork on the side of a building we could see in the distance so I zoomed in on it.  My new camera has a much better zoom than my old one.

They had beautiful flower borders with what looked like nice green playing fields, but were actually just wood fences painted green.  Sort of an optical illusion.

At Lee Valley Velopark, they have the world's fastest cycling track.

We went in and sat down to watch some practice runs by folks that looked like they were just learning.

Just outside the building they had this sort of S-shaped, hilly track for kids to practice doing jumps and such with their bikes.

They had beautiful park lands, gardens and waterways with lots of walking paths and a sculpture trail.  On the grounds there are 525 bird boxes, 150 bat boxes, 8 toad flax habitats for moths, 4 grass snake egg-laying sites, 2 kingfisher nesting banks and 2 otter holts.

Here they split one of those iconic red phone booths in two and used them as sort entrance pillars.

When we left the Olympic Park, we walked across the street to Westfield Stratford City, Europe's largest shopping center.  Mmm, Mmm, the gelato looked very tempting, but we came for supper.

This car was seating at one of the restaurants in the second floor food court.  There were more restaurants on the third floor and another whole food court on the first floor.  John had his favorite ribs again and I had a shrimp and rice dish, so yummy.

Then we stopped at Abbey Road, so John could take my picture.  That's me in the yellow shirt and black pants in the middle of the street.  Thank goodness for me that he hasn't yet figured out how to use the zoom.  Just to the left of me, the white building with the bushes in front is Abbey Road Recording Studios.  The white stone fence and entrance pillars in front are covered with graffiti.  There was lots of traffic here and people just kept darting out in the street, trying to get that famous shot from the album cover.   From here we walked a few blocks to 7 Cavendish Road to see Paul McCartney's current home in London.  Not too fancy, but really couldn't get much of a look behind high solid wood gates.

The line was short when we walked by 221 B Baker street late Sunday afternoon, so we decided to check out the Sherlock Holmes Museum.  Ok, but probably not worth the price.  We stopped at Canary Docks for a bit to have a look around, before we headed home.  We had some cheese, crackers, salami and wine in the room and crashed early. 

Monday we toured Kensington Palace, orangery and gardens.  The statue in front is Queen Victoria.  She reigned 63 years.  This is where Prince Charles and Princess Diana lived and where William and Kate currently live.

View of the gardens from a second story window.  When William III and Mary II were crowned in 1689 at the only double coronation ever (per William's wishes), they quickly bought Kensington which was still rural, because he suffered severely from asthma (coal dust in the city).

One of the bedrooms was set up with 18 little children's chairs (for all the children of Queen Anne who died at birth) as if they were attending the 11th birthday party of the only child (William) who survived and sadly died shortly after the party.  Kind of morbid.  Prince William's birthday party actually took place at Windsor Castle with a lavish banquet, fireworks shaped like dragons, dancing and so on, and lots of food and servants were brought over from Kensington to manage it all.

Several rooms had gowns showing past fashions.  These were some of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I's from the 1950s.  Traditionally royalty have tended to wear light colors as they show up better against the background of a crowd.  Her sister, Princess Margaret's, dresses represented the 1960s and 1970s and were much more trendy and flashy.  Time magazine in 1966 said, "London is switched on... The city is alive with birds (girls) and beatles, buzzing with minicars and telly stars, pulsing with half a dozen separate veins of excitement.  The guards now change to a Lennon and McCartney tune..."

Princess Diana's dresses represented 1980s fashions.

King George I unexpectedly became King when Queen Anne died with no heirs.  He hired an artist to create a series of dazzling new staterooms.  The walls of the King's Staircase are painted with familiar faces that courtiers of the day would have recognized.

Handel wrote compositions for the King and Queen and taught music to their children.  He brought his troupe of Italian opera singers here.  

  "King John"  It's good to be the King!  The new King George II received all kinds of people here, people who wanted favors, pardons, patents, widows of deceased sailors who asked for their pensions, even a Yamacraw Chief from Georgia in the new American colony in 1734.  The Queen's strong influence prompted this satirical verse:  "You may strut dapper George, but 'twill all be in vain; We know 'tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign."  When she died in 1737 at St. James Palace, the King insisted nothing be changed at Kensington and bought black uniforms for all the servants.

This spectacular silver mantua (loose gown) cost 10,000 pounds ($17,000) in today's money and was worn by the wife of a prime minister.  Dressing for court was hard work.  A whale bone hoop supported a wide, heavy skirt.  They wore stomachers (pillow-like padding) to fill in the extra space.  Then everything had to be pinned or stitched to fit perfectly.  Accessories included expensive lace treatments on lappets (ornamental head dress), 1 to 3 layers of sleeve ruffles, fan and shoes of the finest material.  Makes me really appreciate my closet full of t-shirts and jeans.

Closer view of the gardens.

We had a picnic lunch on the patio, finishing up our salami, cheese and crackers.

Another look at the Albert Memorial as we walked back across Kensington/Hyde Park.

Albert Hall is surrounded by all kinds of colleges like the Royal College of Organists and the Imperial College of Science Technology.  We stopped here to take the tour of Albert Hall.  The Seekers were playing in concert there for their 50th anniversary.  Remember them?  "World of Our Own", "Georgy Girl" and "I'll Never Find Another You".  Lots of famous people have played here, like Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jay Z.  They also have boxing, basketball, tennis and the PROMS (a 2 month BBC concert series of classical and jazz).  There are four tiers of box seats and we sat in the one next to the Queen's box while our guide told us about the concert hall.  The Queen's box has 20 seats and special chairs are brought in when any royalty is in attendance.  The Queen comes about once a year.  When her box is not being used by family, her employees can fill out a form and pay 5 pounds which goes to charity to sit in her box.  When Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria was so grief stricken, she built the huge memorial to him and used up most of the money that was supposed to be used to build the Hall.  In order to raise funds for building the Hall, individual chairs were sold for 100 pounds for 1,000 years.  It was completed in 1871 and some of the chairs are now owned by big companies.  It holds 5,200 to 5,900 (when floor is cleared of chairs and 500 standing around the top mezzanine).  We took the tube to Miles End and had a very spicy Indian/Thai supper.  The owner said his son wanted to go to MIT and he asked us what we thought of it, whether it was a good school or not and worth it.  

Then we stopped back at the Museum of Natural History with butterfly house on this side and wildflower gardens on the other end.

We had done this part of the museum on an earlier visit.  You took the escalator up into the inside of the earth with the constellations and universe on the walls as you go up.  You learn about the layers of the earth, volcanoes, earthquakes,  rocks and minerals, etc.  There are lots and lots of dinosaur skeletons here and tons of school kids running around gawking at them.

Each year the average U.K. citizen consumes 52 liters of soft drinks.  For a typical family of four, that means using around 624 cans and/or bottles, filling the landfills and possibly littering the streets and countryside.

Food for thought.

Here we are on Tuesday morning leaving our room over the pub

Heading down to the ground floor patio behind the bar where they have a microbrewery.

Hence all the kegs.

Then we headed in to tour Westminster Abbey.  William the Conqueror was crowned here on Christmas Day in 1066 and all coronations have been held here since then.

Side entrance where you line up to enter.  Most of the kings and queens were buried at Westminster until the 19th century.  Then they started using St. George's Chapel, Windsor and Frogmore.

View of the cloisters inside.

The monk's private gardens.

Walking along the street after we left Westminster we came by this person protesting.  He or she had a picture of Putin/Hitler covering his or her face with the caption Adolph Putin.  We had a delicious lunch at the crypt cafe in St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church.  Pretty much all of the cathedrals and museums have really good food in their cafeteria style restaurants. 

Then we walked over to Leicester Square where we got tickets for the play "Handbagged" the next night and walked around Chinatown and checked what movies were playing.  Statue of Charlie Chaplin across from the Notre Dame de France Church and near Chinatown and Prince Charles Cinema.  I stepped inside to check out the church with a very pretty round interior.  There were 8 people sitting in the pews sleeping, one snoring very loudly.  Most of them appeared to be homeless and there were a few more the next day when we stopped back again.

Heading home down the escalator to the tube.  Sometimes we had to take three really long escalators like this to get down to our train.  It is a really amazing system, the layers and layers of tunnels at different depths underground.  It's really an efficient people mover system, but thank goodness for the escalators, not all stations have them.  We took the tube back to Waltham Stow and had supper at the Goose Pub next to the tube station.  John had the Brazil mixed grill and a pint of ale.  I had the fish and chips and mushy peas and a Pimms.  We picked up a few groceries for breakfast and were home by 7:00 PM.

Wednesday we went on a tour of the Globe Theater.  In 1949 young actor, Sam Wanamaker, came to London to visit the site of Shakespeare's theater and found only a blackened bronze plaque on the wall of a brewery.  He had an idea for a more fitting memorial to the Bard and inspired a world-wide effort to reconstruct the Globe as exact to the original as possible.  It is the first thatch roof building in London since the Great Fire in 1666.  They had to use goat's hair instead of cow's hair for their wattle and daub walls.   Cow's hair was much longer back in the 16th century and in much demand for the thatched roof business.  

These are the kind of protective shoes the ladies used to wear over their good shoes, so they wouldn't sink into the wet ground and ruin their fancy, expensive shoes.

The Royal Courts of Justice where you can sit in on court cases if you wish.

Taking advantage of Beatles mania to advertise their Indian food business.

Somerset House where the scene with the ice skating pond in "Love Actually" took place.  Also has the Courtauld Institute of Art and free art gallery.

City of Westminster street light.  You can tell which city you are in, because it is engraved on each street light.

This was our view as we ate lunch at a nice Italian restaurant across the street from St. Paul's Cathedral.  The statue out front to the left is Queen Anne.  It's actually in the center, but my angle is bad.  Wednesday afternoon we went to the movie "Grand Budapest Hotel" at the Prince Charles Cinema near Leicester Square.  The movie was okay, but not as good as we thought it might be.  In the evening we went to the play "Handbagged" at the Vaudeville Theater about Margaret Thatcher and the Queen.  It was very good and very funny.

Thursday we came back to take the tour and climb the 550 steps to the top of St. Paul's.  Awesome views.  London Eye in the far distance just left of the left steeple.  Lord Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson are buried in the crypt.  No others had been buried here until about 70 years ago, when they took some because Westminster was becoming so crowded.  No state people are buried here, only the people's heroes.  They do not usually do weddings or funerals, but Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales were married here.

St. Paul's Cathedral is Christopher Wren's crowning achievement among the over 50 churches and other buildings he designed after the Great Fire of London.  There are 6 million pieces of glass in the mosaic pictures on the ceiling.  It has the largest swinging bell in the world, now operated electronically, and the largest church clock in the world.  We caught a quick lunch in the crypt cafe and walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Globe Theater for the afternoon performance of "Antony and Cleopatra".

It was an interesting experience, but I think we both enjoyed the other two plays we saw more.  In Shakespeare's time it cost a penny to stand on the floor by the stage, two pennies for a seat and three pennies if you wanted a cushion.  It costs a bit more now, to say the least, but still only 5 pounds to stand, about $8.50.  In Shakespeare's time the standing people were packed in like sardines and drinking beer.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.  They were unable to move, so they just pee'd in place, earning the name "pennystinkers".  Regulations won't allow them to pack people in so tightly nowadays, so the theater only holds about 1,600 instead of the 3,000 they could pack in back then.  But it is still one of the largest theaters in London.  London doubled in size from 1550 to 1600 and doubled again by 1650 to 400,000 and was the largest city in the world.  The Globe burned down in 1613 and all of London's theaters were closed down by 1641.  Southwark was considered a rowdy area with all sorts of disreputable things going on, much of it blamed on the theaters that got people excited and apt to cause riots.

Walking along the Thames again after the play.  Another unique way to make a living.  This river walk is part of the Jubilee Walkway that is part of a 60-mile "greenway" circling the city, including the Olympic Park.

Sand artists right below the river wall building all sorts of sand sculptures.

Whitehall on the other side of the Victoria Embankment Bridge.

We decided to ride the London Eye, the world's highest observational wheel, as the line wasn't too long for a change.  It's 443 feet high.  There are 32 air-conditioned capsules that hold 25 people each.  There is one red capsule for V.I.P.s, parties, weddings, etc.  You go around once.  It takes 30 minutes.

Great views of Parliament and Westminster Abbey behind Big Ben.

As each one is emptied, a crew of 3 men does a security check for bombs with mirrors on handles to look under the benches.  It never stops moving.  It just moves so slow there is time to unload, do the bomb check and load up again before it moves past the platform.

Looking across Westminster Bridge from Big Ben to the London Eye and the Aquarium.

We decided to take the tube to Chinatown for the Hong Kong buffet.  As we were walking there, we passed this place and John wondered out loud what the qualifications might be to become an award winning gay bar.  I had a Rekorderlig Cider with my supper.  It was very good.  After a very good and filling supper, we headed home on the tube and picked up a few groceries for breakfast on our walk back to our pub.

Friday we toured the Tower of London.  It was home to many important institutions over 900 years.  The Royal Mint was here over 500 years until 1810.  The Tower has stored the Monarch's treasure since it was built, first in the original White Tower before Henry VII built the special Jewel Tower in the 1500s providing secure storage for the Crown Jewels, both valuable and important symbols of royal authority.  After Charles I's execution in 1649 when Cromwell took charge, Parliament seized and melted down or sold off its contents.   The Jewel House was demolished in 1669 and when Charles II was crowned, his newly made Crown Jewels were stored in Martin Tower, moved to Wakefield Tower in 1869 and placed in the new Jewel House in Waterloo Block in 1967. 

This is the new Jewel Tower where the Crown Jewels are kept with the Welsh Guards on duty.  A guard will have been in operations every year, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. interspersed with fire fighting and public duties.

I'm not sure how they can see under those big, furry, bear skin hats.  Inside are all kinds of crowns and sceptres and orbs, enormous gold punch bowls and tea services, 20 pound gold coronation robe and such.  The Cullinan Diamond, the biggest diamond ever found, was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and named after the mine owner.  It was 3,106 carats, 1.33 lbs.  A heavily guarded decoy was shipped to London by ship and the real diamond was sent by parcel post.  The cutting process was started in 1908 and it took 8 months to transform it into 9 major stones and 96 smaller gems.  The two largest are in the Crown Jewels.  The 530 carat Cullinan I sits on top of the Sovereign's sceptre.  The 317 carat Cullinan II is set in the Imperial State Crown.  

The White Tower was the original part built by William the Conqueror in 1080 to control London and the rebels.  It was deliberately built with the tall wooden steps, so they could be knocked down or burned to keep attackers out.  His successors enlarged it to its present 18 acres, a castle complex of 20 towers.  It was surrounded by a 120 foot moat with an island prowled by wild animals, an inner wall, an outer wall and another moat.  If you got by all that they would be dumping boiling oil on you as you tried to climb the walls, which were 15 feet thick at the base and 11 feet at the top.  It was as hard to get in as it was to get out and it has a bloody history of torture and execution.  

Now this is the entrance to the extensive Tower Armouries Museum since 1652, the longest running visitor attraction in the world, displaying magnificent arms and armour.  By 1692 the Horse Armoury featured a line of heroic Kings wearing armour on life-size carved wooden horses.  

Like many others, Princess Elizabeth was brought here in a boat through Traitors Gate just as her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been before she was beheaded.  Elizabeth was one of the few lucky ones to survive and went on to become Queen and bring others here to be tortured and executed.  

The Beefeaters give excellent tours.  They are very entertaining, telling strange and morbid stories of the history of the Tower.  In the evenings they give Jack-the-Ripper tours.  They must have served 22 years in the military to become a Beefeater.  Their real name is Yeoman Warders, but Beefeaters became a derogatory nickname, because the poor people thought they received special favors as part of their job, such as large rations of the King's beef, while the poor subsisted mostly on their vegetable gardens.  Their duties were to guard the Tower, the prisoners and the Crown Jewels.  Now they just lead the tours and ritually lock up at night with the Ceremony of the Keys.  

35 Yeoman, including one woman, and their families live here in these apartments in the inner walls in a community of about 130.

We saw school kids in uniforms everywhere we went.  These kids had the same shoes, socks, caps, everything except back packs.  All age kids through high school wear uniforms.  I think it's a great idea.

Bronze 24-pounder cannon, 5 and 3/4 ton, probably Flemish 1607, carriage British 1827.

Some of the wooden horses and armour in the four story museum.

There are rows and rows and rows of breast and back plates of French Cuirassiers brought back to the Tower from the battlefield of Waterloo in 1815, along with cannons, muskets, bayonets, swords, spears, knives, lances, machine guns, dueling pistols, etc. 

Henry VIII's armour 1540.

This armour with scenes of the life of Alexander the Great belonged to Henry Prince of Wales, The Lost Prince, who died at age 19.

Pikeman's armour made in the 1620s with very distinctive decoration and model cannons made in 1638 for 8-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales, later King Charles II.

Bearing swords for Henry IV and V carried ceremonially blades upwards, symbolizing the monarch's power, about 14 pounds each.  1540 German field armour for a giant 6'8" tall and 1610 armour for a dwarf, probably for future King Charles I as a boy about 5 years old.

This sculpture of a dragon was made out of old weapons and pieces of armour.

There was a toilet in each corner of the Tower on the second or third floor open to the outdoors below.

It was common for highly decorated examples of firearms to be presented as gifts to prospective purchasers of large orders.  Salesman sample Sterling Mk-4 sub-machine gun has gold-plated accessories and leather case.

Executioner's block.  Prisoners of noble birth found guilty of treason were beheaded with this 7 pound axe from the 1500s, on this 125 pound oak block with curved cut-outs to accommodate the head and upper chest exposing the neck. 

This sculpture on the Tower Green marks the spot where royals knelt for a final time, before the King with their hands tied behind their backs, saying a final prayer and lying their heads on the block.  It was very unusual to be executed within the Tower walls.  Three Queens, two lords and two ladies were executed here.  Privileged executions of controversial people were easier to control within the fortress out of the public gaze.  Only 22 were executed within the Tower, 7 in the 1400s and 1500s, 3 in the 1700s and 12 in the 1900s (German spies in WWII).  All executed here and on Tower Hill are buried in the nearby 16th century chapel, including two of Henry VIII's wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, who were buried headless.  Their heads were placed on stakes on the London Bridge.  Anne Boleyn's sister was also beheaded for helping Catherine Howard to commit adultery.  

It is still a royal residence.  These buildings are where the Queen or other royals stay when they visit.  This was the town square and knights exercised and jousted here.  There is also a Royal Fusiliers
Regimental Museum.  They were first raised at the Tower in 1685 and still have their headquarters at the museum and hold formal dinners and ceremonial occasions here.  The worst defeat of the Royal Fuseliers was at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, where the regiment was all but wiped out.  The rebels captured the King's Colours which are still displayed at West Point Military Academy.  The Fuseliers perform a number of ceremonial duties, along with regular deployments, including guarding Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace and the Tower of London.  The Corps of Drums leads the battalion in parades.   I was supposed to meet John in front of the museum and he never showed up.  After a long wait, I finally went up to one of the Beefeaters and asked if he might have noticed him wandering about looking for his wife.  He just said, "Dumped you then, he has, eh?"

In the 1547 inventory this was listed as a 'stele color for a prisoner' (collar of torment).  Early Tower guide books preferred a more domestic use -- put around the necks of scolding or wayward wives.  There was also an executioner's mask, an iron mask called a scold's bridle, originally used to punish gossips.

The rack, where the prisoner lies in the middle of the frame with his hands tied to the upper roller and his feet to the lower roller, pulling on the wooden levers until the joints of the body are pulled apart.  Sometimes they would hang a man by his hands in a piece of iron with two holes, tied in the middle by a rope to a beam, for 5 or 6 hours.  Sometimes the iron was rounded and polished, but sometimes it had a cutting edge that drew blood.  A king, a sorcerer and a Jesuit Priest were held in one of the rooms we were in.  The Catholic priest was seen as a threat to the state under Protestant Elizabeth I and hung by his hands from manacles 14 times until his middle finger was torn out.  Still he refused to name other English Catholics and was found guilty of treason and hung, drawn and quartered in 1595.

Scavenger's Daughter, invented by the Lieutenant of the Tower in 1534, was said to be the worst kind of torture, rarely used, only evidence of 6 cases has been found.  A base plate with two semi-circular bows tightened across the prisoner's back until blood spurted from nose and ears.

Notice the monkeys on the lower wall and the lions in the picture below guarding the entrance.  The animals are all made out of some sort of metal mesh.  What do you get someone who has everything?  From the year 1210 powerful rulers tried to impress each other exchanging living gifts.  Londoners brought friends and family to see the Royal Menagerie.  They might also bring a live dog or cat to feed to the beasts.  Important people from overseas might be shown around by the King himself.  A monkey room was set up to entertain visitors who were amused by them living in a furnished room and they could walk among them in the room.

  King Richard I, also known as the Lion Hearted or Coeur-de-Lion, ruled 1189 to 1199.  The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, gave 3 lions to his nephew, King Henry III in 1235.  The hill in the lower left corner is Tower Hill where the general, non-royal rebels and criminals were beheaded.  Edward IV established a permanent scaffold site here on Tower Hill in 1465.  Over 100 prisoners were executed here over the centuries, mostly in the 1500s.  The last public executions were the hanging of three people for their part in the Gordon Riots (a week of anti-Catholic riots in 1780 that left London burning and in ruins).  The last public beheading on Tower Hill was in 1747.

King James I designed a nipple so sick lion cubs could be fed.  Snakes were wrapped in blankets and kept on the stove to keep them warm.  An ostrich died after swallowing a large nail.  Visitors fed pieces of metal to it believing they ate iron.  They also had crocodiles in the moat.

King Henry III's polar bear was tied to a long rope, so it could go fishing in the Thames.  It was not the only popular menagerie in London.  Exotic animals were kept at the Tower for over 600 years.  After a series of attacks on people and staff, in 1832 the King and the Duke of Wellington (Constable of the Tower) decided they had to go.  They transferred them to the new London Zoo and the Lion Tower was knocked down.

When the museum closed for the day we grabbed a quick supper at McDonald's and went to the National Portrait Gallery until closing at 9:00 PM.  A long day!  

I will post the 6th and last blog on our trip to England in a few days.

Until then, Over and Out,

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