Thursday, 18 November 2010

A visit from the USA: Part II LONDON ENGLAND 11/18/20

I probably should have done this last blog.  I want to give you some idea of the four personalities that we have with Sarah, Cathy, Joe and myself.  Cathy is an aggressive, brave, doesn't back down, knows wants she wants and usually gets it in a hurry, good to have on your side, friend.  I follow close behind.  Not quite as aggressive, not quite as brave, or in a hurry, but definitely know what I want and more often than not I get it.  Joe and Sarah follow the pack with their easy going, laid back style.  They were happy to bring up the rear as Cathy stormed through the crowded streets of London with me trying my best to keep up with her.  They let Cathy and I figure maps and directions, argue with people when need be, and generally run things.  The two of them are also workout fanatics so they have a lot in common there too. They were happy in their shoes and of course we wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

When we got home from Ireland on Wednesday afternoon it was a beautiful day outside.  Sarah, Cathy and I decided we'd walk down to our little village.  There is a ruins of a castle at the end of our main street.  It is called Kirby Muxloe Castle, I have written about it before in this blog.  

A very quick description of the castle.  The land was given to William Lord Hastings in 1474 to build a castle on by King Edward IV.  Hastings father had been loyal to the Duke of York and continued to the Duke of York's heir, King Edward IV.  William followed the loyalty of his father.  During those times, it was common for Kings to shower their loyal nobles with land and riches.  Hence, the castle land.  

Lord Hastings started work on the castle in 1480.  As happens in those times, the ruling families last only as long as their lives or as long as they can keep their thrones from being taken.  In 1483 King Edward IV was executed because he was an obstacle to the Duke of Gloucester's (the future King Richard III) ambitions.  Shortly thereafter, King Richard III had Lord Hastings executed for treason.  Therefore the castle was never finished and still stands partially completed to this day.

Kirby Muxloe Castle 
On our way home through the village we bought fresh produce and stopped at the local bakery for wonderful meat pies.    Meat pies are very very popular here.  Almost any restaurant serves them and you can get them in street markets, all different kinds.  The sausage ones are the most popular.  They are basically a pie dough with meat and vegetables inside.  A little like a pot pie, except they come in turnover type sizes, rolls, squares, etc.
Anyway, those with the salad from the produce and fresh bread from the bakery was our dinner for the night.

We had plans to go to London Friday for the weekend so we had just the next day, Thursday, to figure out a day trip.  Joe had to work so I was going to drop him off at work and then we had the car for the day.  We discussed possible day trips.  Liverpool, Windsor Castle, Shakespeare's hometown, the Cotswolds, various other castles in the area etc.  Cathy asked where the most scenic areas were and both Joe and I responded, "the Cotswolds".  

The Cotswolds is an area of 790 square miles in the upper part of the southwest part of england, called the Heart of England.  It is the country's largest officially designated 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'.  This is where Joe and I did our country walks back in the early summer.  The scenery was so beautiful walking through the countryside.  

I explained to Cathy and Sarah that there are walking trails all over England that cut through the countryside, farms etc. and are open to the public.  We have them in our own village.  No one can deny passage on a trail even though it may go right through their property.  The trails are marked with arrows on fence posts.  It's the way it has always been in England.  It took a little getting used to when Joe and I first walked them.  You literally walk through someone's farm, right through their herds of animals and sometimes right down their driveway following a trail.  But no one even blinks an eye at it.  As long as you close gates and keep control of your dog if you have one, there is no problem.

Cathy is a horsewoman and is very comfortable in the farmland, Sarah the workout champion is game for anything that has to do with exercise.  The weather was supposed to be nice, I had a walking map of the area so the Cotswolds seemed like the natural place to go.  I even knew of a particular walk that I wanted to try.  The last time Joe and I went we tried to find this medieval village and ended up going on the wrong trail, so never found it.

Thursday morning we three women head out with our backpacks, cameras, umbrellas (always), water bottles, jeans and comfortable shoes.  It only took us a little over an hour to get to the village of Todenham, and I recognized the little car park that Joe and I had used previously.  This was the description of the walk on the map I had:
          A loop to the north of Todenham crossing pastoral countryside.  There are
          medieval relics such as Lower Ditchford and Ditchford Frairy villages as well
          as the visible furrows in the fields.

          It can be quite boggy in wet weather, particularly on the bridleway from High            
          Furze to Todenham.  There is also a ford on this stretch but don't fear, there is 
          a bridge over to the west.

          Parking is just down the hill a couple of hundred yards southwest of the village hall.    

The map stated that this was a two mile walk.  Joe and I had tried it in the past, but inadvertently had gone on the trail going south (because we didn't even see the other trail across the street until later after we got back!)  So I was very excited to finally do the trail right and get to see the medieval relics, whatever they may be.

The beginning of the trail had us go straight into a field of sheep.  We started walking through the field and suddenly Sarah says, "is this sheep poop?"  That should have been my warning that this walk wasn't what Sarah was expecting.  Cathy and I both answered "yes" as we were dodging the piles here and there.  It felt neat to be walking through a field of sheep on this beautiful day.  Sarah wanted to know why we had to walk through grass that was so tall, but shortly she became distracted with taking pictures of the sheep.  

The arrows on the fence posts that you follow are gold and about three inches tall and wide.  So when you enter a field, there is no pathway that you might expect to follow.  You are going in the direction that the arrow said, but the fields are very wide, so you don't know if you should walk in a straight line or diagonal.  Joe and I learned the first time that walking straight can be a big mistake as the next marker could be way off to the right or left.  You basically have to keep walking until you can find another arrow.

We probably spent 15 minutes in that darn sheep field.  Everywhere we walked there was a fence with no gate!  We walked up and back and even laughed at how we hadn't even gotten out of the first field yet!  Then Cathy walked up alongside a barn and found the arrow.  So, we were officially on our way.  

We continued through several fields.  Every time we thought we weren't going to find an arrow, we would manage to find it.  This was becoming quite a challenge.  Sarah then admits that she thought the walk would be a paved sidewalk through open fields!  I couldn't believe it.  I guess she might think that, no one had told her differently.  I had written a pretty long blog about it back in the beginning of June but I guess she hadn't paid attention.  I told her I was sorry.  She had worn comfortable shoes, but they weren't shoes for walking through fields of grass and stickers and such.  She of all people I thought was going to love this.  Turns out she loves to exercise, but only in controlled environment.  We were kind of laughing about it though.

We then walked through another farm where a horse was standing in a field.  Cathy loves horses so she had to spend some time petting it and talking to it.  We were sorry we didn't have any treats for it.  We left the farm by way of their driveway which was going to put us out on a main road.  We were still looking at the map, but those things are so hard to follow.  I've never had good luck with them yet.  Every walk that Joe and I have gone on we have never reached the correct destination.  Just end up coming back around some other way after miles and miles of walking!

We cross the road and into another field.  Throughout this walk we have to decide which way in a lot of these places.  Do we walk along the line where they've planted crops, or go along the fence line?  At one point we thought we should go to the left but that would mean entering a field where there was a bull.  Cathy remarked that maybe we shouldn't go in the field with the bull.  I agreed, especially because he was looking right at us!  So we walked along the bushes that separated one field from another.  By now we are getting sick of walking through all this and wondering if we are ever going to get to where we think we are going.

But we were buoyed by the fact that every time we thought it was hopeless we would see another arrow and it got to be a challenge.  We wanted to find the medieval village!!  We were walking along and came to a sharp corner in a field.  Suddenly Cathy sucks in her breath.  She has just put her foot down and it has sunk to her ankle in water!  She's standing in water and trying to hold onto hanging branches to keep upright.  I'm right behind her and Sarah is behind me.  We stand and discuss whether we should go on.  (Sarah and I are still dry.)  We know that this has got to be the only way we can go.  Somehow we decide to go on so Cathy has to wade through this flooded area to get to the other side.  (Yes, I read that it could be quite boggy in the description, but we hadn't had any rain lately).  I'm next and I have a walking stick so I start feeling around with my stick to see if there are any shallow places.  Finally I just GO and immediately scream.  Cathy hadn't told me it was ice cold!  I think I scared poor Sarah to death, she had to come next.  She's got these brand new little shoes that are so cute and comfortable yet they are not made to stand up to this abuse.  She decides that she is going to run through the bog and maybe she'll just fly on top of the water!  She ends up almost as wet as we are though.  OK, now this is not fun anymore.

We did find some wild blackberries along the way.  At first I didn't want to eat any just in case.  I told them that I'd wait and see if they started having fits, then I'd try them.  But they were oohing and aahing so much I had to jump in.  They were so delicious.  We ate so many of them too.  Cathy liked hers hard and sour.  Sarah and I loved the real ripe ones.  At least we were getting a nice snack for our troubles.  Oh, and getting to see some pretty scenery too.

The next thing we came to was a creek that had a little bridge over it.  There was absolutely NO yellow sticker anywhere in sight.  So Sarah took off to the left and Cathy took off to the right and walked and walked to try and find a marker.  I stayed right there and waited.  It got to be quite a while and neither of them had come back.  I hollered both their names and neither one answered.  I started feeling all alone and a little spooked so I decided to walk one direction.  As soon as I moved I scared a bunch of pheasants out of a tree.  They made such a huge racket flying out of the trees, I didn't know what it was!  It felt like my heart stopped, and then I got a hot flash.  I hate to be startled like that!

Finally they both came back, neither had seen any sign of any marker.  We were so frustrated.  That meant we had to go ALL THE WAY BACK THE WAY WE CAME!  This is NOT what we wanted.  According to the worthless map our hike would take us to the medieval village and circled around to bring us back to where we parked.  This was much farther away and we had to turn and go back!  I had worn hiking boots because I knew what to expect, but they were soaked.  Cathy had on tennis shoes so hers were absolutely filthy and wet.  Well, we were all wet.  

I don't remember why but we decided to go to this farm close by and ended up coming out of their driveway out to the street that we had crossed earlier.  Except way down from where we had originally crossed.  There was a little side road that we walked on that ran parallel to the main road.  The main road had no sidewalks and was very busy with fast moving vehicles.   Finally a car came down the side road and without even discussing it we flagged it down.  It was a woman and we asked her where was Ditchford Friary Village.  She pointed in the direction that we were walking and said, "it's a good ways down this road".  I don't remember if we asked her for a ride, or if she offered, but the next thing we know we are in her car and heading to the village.  She also pointed out a road on the way and said that that road would take us back to Todenham where we had begun this escapade.  We thanked her profusely as she stopped along the busy road and pointed to a little tiny road and said, "that's Ditchford Frary".

So we set off down this narrow lane.  We walked and we walked and never came to anything!  Finally Sarah got a brilliant idea.  She said, "since we know where the car is now, why don't we just go get it and ride back over here".  Ah, smack to the head, why didn't I think of that!  So we turned abruptly and headed back to the main road.  We managed to get back on the road to Todenham.  We walked and walked and walked.  Sarah was happy now because she had pavement to walk on, but we were all tired.  We walked up and down hills.  We got to the bottom of one hill and looked up to another one ahead and I said, "I just don't want to walk anymore!  I don't want to walk up anymore dang hills!"  Sarah offered to run the rest of the way to the car while Cathy and I sat down and waited.  She didn't mind, (like I said, she loves to exercise).  I gave her the keys to Joe's car and we sat and waited.  It took what felt like a LONG time for her to get back to us.  When she did get back she said, "Kathy you would have died if you saw the hill after this one that I had to go on".  Apparently there was an even worse one.  Yes, I would have just layed down and died!

We drove down the narrow lane that the woman had shown us, all the way to the end.  We NEVER saw that darn village.  I don't know how we could have missed it.  It was just a narrow road.  I hated to give up but we were starving by now.  I'm not sure but I think we were on that darn walk for at least 3 hours.  So we headed to a larger village close by.  Of course as is common in this country, all the restaurants were closed after lunch so we had to be satisfied with tea in the only open place we could find.  It was good though and we did get some sandwiches too.

We didn't get back to pick up Joe until 7:00 that night.  He said he didn't care as he was just going to work until we got there.  I think we just had leftovers that night and hit the sack.  We were headed to London the next day for their last few days here.

The next morning Joe was going to drop us off at the train station so that we could catch a train into London.  He had to work Thursday and Friday so we decided to go on down ahead of him.  He would drive down Friday night.  He was very clear in his instructions about the train.  He told us to be sure that we caught the Virgin train as all others were commuter trains and would be stopping along the way.  So we got online to look up ticket prices.  A ticket would cost about £65 ($97) each and take less than 2 hours to get there.  We didn't bother to buy tickets, deciding we could do that at the station.

At the station we waved good-bye to Joe and ran into the station, wanting to get the first train available for London.  No wasting time for us!  When we got to the window we said we wanted to get a train to London.  The lady said there was a train leaving in two minutes and the price would be only £52 ($78) each.  Hey that sounded like a deal!  Plus we could leave right away so she hollered at some man to hold the train and sold us the tickets.  We ran and jumped on the train so happy to get one right away.

After about five minutes into the ride, here comes the conductor.  He wants to see our tickets and being friendly, starts asking us about our plans.  We excitedly tell him we are going to London to sight see for a few days blah blah blah.  He then said, "well, make sure you get off at Coventry station and switch trains".  We were like, "what?"  He then proceeds to tell us we are on a commuter train and we need to switch trains part way and also it is going to stop all the way to London.  WE HAD DONE EXACTLY WHAT JOE TOLD US NOT TO!   We consoled ourselves that it wasn't that bad and besides we'd saved money on the tickets.  When we told him that we were going to be using the bus and the tube in London he happily sold us those tickets too.  We thought, man now we are prepared.

We were laughing and joking about our mess up and admiring the two little twin girls who were riding next to us with their grandma and grandpa.  They told us they were just riding the train because the girls wanted to, they didn't have any place to go.  The girls were adorable and of course their little British accents were precious.  They were probably about four years old.  We asked them to take a picture of us so we were busy posing for the picture when the train slowed down.  One little girl asked her grandpa (who was taking our picture) if this is where they were getting off.  He said, "No, this is where these ladies are getting off".  You should have seen the feathers fly.  We went from smiling to the camera to jumping up, grabbing our things (which were laid out all over the table, we had four seats facing each other with a table in between), grabbing the camera out of the old man's hands and racing off the train.  I don't know what we thought.  We hadn't even asked when the stop we were getting off was, and weren't prepared in the least when it came.  Thank goodness that man paid attention to what the conductor said!

So now we are at Coventry train station and had to wait about a half hour or so for our next train.  There we sat on the bench, tapping our feet trying to wait patiently.  

We got to London without any other mishaps.  But when we got there we looked at the time and realized it had taken us 3 hours to get there!  The conductor who had sold us our tube and bus passes assured us that when we walked out of the train station there would be a bunch of personnel hanging around to help people get on the correct bus to where they wanted to go.  He said there is a big presence now because of the upcoming 2012 Olympics, they are really working hard on public transportation.  Did we see ONE person when we came out of that station? NO!  Not one!  There were tons of buses lined up along the curb but who knew where they were all going?  Cathy immediately started going up to the drivers and asking if they were going in the direction of Mayfair.  It was obvious they didn't want to be bothered by tourists and were of no help at all.  We felt like they were muttering "dumb Americans" under their breath at us.  We were starting to get a little panicky because we had a reservation for Afternoon Tea at 3:00 at The Connaught Hotel all the way across town.  Finally at last we found a woman who directed us away from the station and across several busy streets to the correct bus stop.  We would have never figured out the correct bus stop was way over there!

Getting to the bus stop and waiting for the correct bus took a little while too.  There are SO many people in London.  It really gets crazy at times just trying to walk on the sidewalk.  I thought it was supposed to be less crowded now that it is not summertime anymore.  But I didn't notice any change, possibly it was MORE crowded.  Once we got on the bus we then had to get out our map and figure out where to get off the bus.  There was a little old lady sitting nearby that had an old old map book, black and white, with tiny tiny streets and a magnifying glass.  Sarah sat by her and she helped us as Cathy and I poured over our own bright colored tourist map.  We got off at the stop we felt was closest to the hotel and were so grateful to see that it was 2:30.  The Tea reservations at a good hotel are hard to come by  and we didn't want to miss ours.  We still had to consult our map and get over to the right street, but we managed and arrived at the restaurant just in time to go to the bathroom and make our reservation on time.

Let me just say that The Connaught Hotel is probably the fanciest hotel I've ever been in.  And we have been in some really nice hotels due to Joe's working for Aireco for so many years and going on their annual trips.  The hotel was just beautiful, very very posh.      They had maids in the bathrooms (which I've seen many times), however I've never seen them fold the toilet paper after each person, turn the water on for you to wash your hands and wipe the sink down after each use.  I know I know, they work for tips, but there certainly wasn't any tip jar evident.  

We were ushered into a bright restaurant with floor to ceiling windows circling the room.  I don't remember if I asked Sarah or Cathy this but I felt a little out of place.  We were dressed fairly casual and were surrounded by expensively dressed business people and ladies dressed to the nines to shop and have tea.  I just can't hardly believe that people do these type of things on a regular basis.  Our waiter was a French guy, trained superbly in the art of waiting tables at a ritzy place.  He was a little hard to understand and it was hard to not chuckle at his flamboyant ways. 

There are two kinds of tea occasions in England.  Afternoon Tea is usually between 3 - 5:00 in the afternoon and includes sandwiches, pastries and tea of course.  High tea is later, between 5 - 6:00 pm and includes sandwiches, meats, eggs etc.  It is usually followed by a late meal in the evening.  We have noticed that the English eat dinner much later than we did in the states.  You can go to a restaurant here around 6:00 and it won't be crowded at all, but give it a couple of hours and it will be packed.  But don't wait too late in the small villages or it will be closed!

Back to our Afternoon Tea adventure.  There is not a menu for food because the same is served for each table.  But the tea menu was several pages long!  Even though we had a menu with lengthy descriptions for every kind of tea you could imagine, the waiter still went through the whole thing describing each one as if it were a rare delicacy.  His strong French accent took on an excited tone while his hands waved around in delight.  It was truly a show to watch.  The trouble for me is I don't care for tea (or coffee) so I was in a bit of a dilemma for me on what to drink.  The choices were tea, coffee or champagne!  (I really wanted a diet coke, but no way was I going to say that!)  I decided to go with tea, since that was the main attraction.  I asked for the blandest tea they had and he went off at a trot to fulfill our tea orders.   

Once our tea came and he served us with his own personal flair and impeccable manners, he brought us our three tiers of finger sandwiches.  There were several different fancy types of sandwiches.  Smoked salmon and wasabi cream, egg salad with watercress, cucumber and dill cream, and chicken with Greek yogurt and chives.  When we were finished with the sandwiches he brought ANOTHER three tier service full of desserts and pastries.  Such as, raspberry and pistachio tart, hazlenut dacquoise (layers of nut flavored meringue with a cream filling), chocolate ganache and salty caramel mousse and chocolate cake to name a few.  While we were eating the desserts he brought us a basket of fresh scones with clotted cream and jams.  The scones here are wonderful, so are the jams.  But if you have never tried clotted cream you are surely missing a treat.  Clotted cream (also called Devonshire cream) is a thick cream made from scalded milk.  You put it on top of a scone with jam and it just melts in your mouth.  It is scrumptious!  

I don't have to tell you that we left that tea room so full!  It was delicious and definitely an eye opening experience.  It was costly though.  We paid £40 per person ($60) so it wasn't cheap.  But it was fun and I'm glad we did it.

We had tickets to see the play Billy Elliot that night all the way over on the west side of London in the theater district.  The show was at 7:30 so we decided to walk that direction and we'd stop along the way if we saw anything that we must have in a store window.  We had a couple of hours so we didn't have to rush at all.  But wanted to find the theater ahead of time to make sure we knew where it was.  We made our way through London (and again the crowds) but got over to the west end in plenty of time to have a couple of drinks and get to the show on  time.

The play was fantastic.  It has won 10 Tony Awards including best musical.  It is the story of a young boy who grew up in North East London where coal mining was the lifeblood of the community.  With the encouragement of a couple of teachers he discovers he has a talent for dance and going behind his family's back he learns ballet.  Eventually he is discovered by his coal mining father and brother and they make things very hard for him.  But he is so talented that he manages to get an audition at the Royal Ballet School and of course, the rest is history.  

When they were looking for a boy to play Billy Elliot, they not only needed one, but three boys to do the part.  It is a grueling schedule for the kids in the play.  So ironically while they were looking at ballet schools all over the country they were looking at real Billy Elliots.  Kids who had fantastic talent but were basically unknowns.  Naturally there were a lot of kids in this play who all sang and danced beautifully.  I was surprised when we walked out of the theater after the play and there was a van pulled up to the sidewalk.  The side door was open and inside were a bunch of the little kids who were in the play that night.  They just looked like a van load of tired little kids and I felt sympathy for them at that moment.  It was like 11:00 at night and they were obviously exhausted.  

It had been a long day of walking and riding but we still had to walk over to the tube station and ride 45 minutes back to our hotel.  Joe was to already be there after driving from work to London that night.  When we got to our tube stop and tried to leave the tube terminal, the personnel there informed us that we didn't have the correct tube ticket to get off at that particular station.  Apparently our train conductor in the morning didn't sell us the correct tube ticket that would also allow us to travel on the outskirts of London.  They let us through though, after reminding us that we could have been charged £50 each for the error.  That would have just topped off the day wouldn't it?  We probably would have run sobbing into the hotel!

The next day we had planned to go on a bike tour of London.  The same company that Joe and I used in Paris has them in London too.  Even though I had the bad crash in Paris, I was game to go again.  Especially since the weather was supposed to be so nice.  We had to be in London at 11:00 AM for the ride.  So we thought if we left our hotel, caught the tube by 9:45 that we'd get there in time. 

Cathy and Sarah had come down early for breakfast.  Joe and I were just going to meet them for a quick cup of coffee.  While we were getting ready that morning Cathy called our room and said that they were down having breakfast and that it was free with the room.  I had booked the rooms and knew that I had specifically said no to the breakfasts because I didn't know exactly what we'd be doing every day.  We get down there and the host at the restaurant tells us that "no, our breakfast did not come with our rooms".  I told him that I had booked two rooms and my friends had been told that their breakfast was free, so I wanted to make sure they weren't going to be charged for it.  About this time Cathy comes by and I tell her that her room wasn't supposed to include breakfast.  She said, "well, you told us it was free and we ate it so we aren't going to be paying".  She started to walk away and then turned and I saw her face change to the go getter that we all know and love.  She said, "And you owe these people a free breakfast because you told me that mine was free and I told them too".  Joe (who was about to go into his flee mode) and I just kind of laughed and so did the guy.  We didn't even care because we weren't planning on eating anyway.  But when the guy chuckled she didn't like it.  She said, "I'm not kidding.  You owe them a breakfast just like ours".  About this time a manager walks up and says,  "go ahead, eat".  So we walked away.  We were laughing and saying, "thanks for the free breakfast Cathy".  

Naturally we went and got a plate of food.  The four of us were eating and had already forgotten the time.  When we realized it, it was 10:00 and we only had an hour to get down to the tube station (a couple of blocks walk) and all the way to London!  We hurried and hurried onto the tube, rode while nervously watching the clocks.  We had to change trains one time.  That entails walking what seems like forever in the undergrounds stations, up steps, down steps following signs to the right train.  We ended up getting to where we were supposed to be at 11:20 or so.  We even ran up and down the streets in the area hoping to catch up with the tour before they actually rode.  We knew that in Paris they stayed at the meeting place for like 15 minutes after the hour and then walked with all the tour people to their shop to fit everyone with a bike.  But we couldn't find them anywhere.  We were really disappointed.  That would have been so much fun with Cathy and Sarah.

We finally gave up and walked BACK down to the tube station to catch another tube.  We decided to go to The Tower of London.  Joe and I toured it back on our first trip to England before he had even accepted this job.  Funny, that it is the first historic place that I saw in this country and still remains my favorite. 

The Tower of London is a historic castle that sits on the River Thames in London.  It was built in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England.  In the early days it served as a royal residence but since at least 1100 the castle served as a prison among other things.  

With Sarah and Cathy we took the one hour Yeoman's Warder tour.  These are ceremonial guardians of the palace whose knowledge of it is excellent.  They wear the historic dark blue uniform with red trim and tall black hats.  It is not easy to become a Yeoman Warder.  They must all be retired military with at least 22 years of service.  They also must hold a long service and good conduct medal.  They live on the castle grounds with their families.  Among other things, these men learn all the history of the castle and must  pass a difficult test giving presentations as their main job will be giving tours.  They are also called Beefeaters, a nickname going back to their position in the Royal Bodyguard where they were permitted to eat as much meat as they wanted from the king's table.

Housing for the Yeoman Warders
When Joe and I went a year ago last October we toured the whole castle.  Some of the interesting parts were:  

The White Tower:  Built to strike fear and submission into the unruly citizens of London.  It houses 500 years of royal armour.  Each armour was different and decorated according to        
the King's power and personality.  They also served to show the actual size of the king wearing the armour.
The White Tower
The Crown Jewels:  The crown jewels are under armed guard in the Jewel House.  They are the greatest collection of Crown Jewels in the world and priceless symbols of British Monarchy.  There were rows and rows of crowns, sceptres, swords, rings, spurs and royal robes.  It was a sight to behold.  I don't know how they supported those huge heavy crowns on their heads!  There was a moving floor that ran along the showcases of jewels, otherwise they'd never get people to stop gawking at the beautiful diamonds and jewels.  To give you an example:

The Imperial State Crown:  The crown that is generally worn at the end of a coronation when the new monarch departs from Westminster Abbey, although it is not normally the actual crown used at coronation.  It is worn annually by the Queen at the state opening of parliament.  This crown alone has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies!  That's what I want for Christmas!!

Sarah and Cathy did go and see The Crown Jewels.  What woman wouldn't?

The Ravens:  Legend has it that the kingdom and Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.  It was Charles II who first insisted that the ravens be protected.  There are seven ravens at the Tower today (the six required plus one spare).  There is a Yeoman Warder who is the Raven Master.  That is his sole job.  The ravens eat 170g of raw meat a day plus bird biscuits soaked in blood.

The Raven Master Yeoman Warder
The Tower Green:  This is a large grassy area in the courtyard amidst all the surrounding castle walls.  It is where some of the great names in history were executed.  It was a privilege reserved for those of high rank to be executed here instead of outside the castle walls where the public could watch.  There is a memorial where the executions took place.  Some of the most famous ones were:  
   - Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII (age early 30's)
   - Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII (age early 20's)
   - Lady Jane Grey (age 16)
   - Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury and relative of King Henry VIII.
         Ordered executed by King Henry VIII for treason at age 67 she was brought to the
         executioners block.  She fought and struggled and an inexperienced executioner chopped                                 a huge gash in her shoulder.  Then proceeded to take 10 more blows before she was dead.
The memorial where the executions took place.
The Salt Tower:  The tower where many prisoners were held hundreds of years ago.  We climbed all the way to the top where there is actual graffiti written by the prisoners all those years ago.  It was really a neat thing to see.  Truly amazing.

Close-ups of graffiti on tower walls.  Unfortunately
you can't read them in the picture.

There were more towers and of course the medieval palace with all the decorations and the kings' beds and such.  Very interesting and fun.  It would take hours and hours to see it all.  Joe and I did see a lot of it though.  I still remember it fondly.

The Bloody Tower

                                                         Examples of Medieval Torture


We found a restaurant and had a leisurely late lunch.  After that we walked the streets of London and shopped for the rest of the afternoon.  We had tickets to see Warhorse at the theater district that night.  When it got to be evening time we found an Irish pub that was near the theater to relax in until time to go to the show.  The Irish pub was playing a Rugby game on their big screen TV.  It was a match between an English team and a team from Limerick.  Of course the Irish servers and  customers were all roused up for the Limerick team.  I kept hearing the men holler "c'mon Monster"  "go Monster" etc.  Joe had already been chatting with an Irishman sitting next to us.  I leaned over and asked Joe which player was Monster.  He said the Irish team was called Munster.  Ohhhh, now I get it!

The trip would not be told accurately if I did not show a
picture of Sarah sleeping.  She tended to take cat naps if
we weren't moving or talking!  This snapshot was
taken at the Irish Pub.
War Horse had come highly recommended to me by several people.  A woman I sat next to at Les Miserable who was very well traveled and cultured told me, "If there is nothing else you do in London, you have got to see War Horse".  The people who sat in front of us at Billy Elliot hard heard raves about it and told us we'd need boxes of tissues.  Even the men they knew had sobbed through it.  So we were very excited about seeing the play.  As sometimes happens when a movie is built up so much in your mind that you are actually disappointed when you see it, this is what happened with War Horse.

I have to say it was a great story.  The story takes place in World War I when the beloved pet of a young boy, a horse named Joey, is sold to the cavalry for the war.   The young boy, who is still not old enough to enlist, sets out on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home.  

The incredible part of the show is that all the horses are life size puppets.  It is just amazing to see how they move.  Their movements replicate the exact same movements of real horses, down to the way they pull grass while grazing in a field.  Of course you knew they were puppets, and you could see they were puppets, but when they ran, bucked, died, they moved like real horses.  Even the sounds were real.  Hard to explain, but fascinating to see.  So all in all the show was very good, and yes it was a tear jerker in the end, but I suppose we were all expecting SO much that we were a little disappointed.

When the show was over we had another 45 tube ride back to our hotel.  You may wonder why the heck we got a hotel that was so far from the city.  Well, hotels in London are pretty expensive and the hotel we were at was right at Heathrow Airport, where Cathy and Sarah's flight was taking off.  They were going to have one whole day to themselves in London as Joe and I had to go home.  He was leaving for Germany the same day that Cathy and Sarah were flying home so we had to get him ready to go.

We had a nice breakfast with the girls the next morning and then we had to say good-bye.  They were going to go to Harrods and take a tour of London on the double decker bus.  We had such a good visit and so much fun with our friends.  It was kind of a whirlwind visit, trying to fit so much in.  I learned a lot from our first visitors as far as planning and making mistakes.  They said they didn't mind being the guinea pigs for us!  What else are friends for?

This is us, saying good-bye at the hotel.
Kathy, Joe, Cathy and Sarah


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  2. A song about the Sausage Roll from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Grand Duke. It's so British :D

    And Mrs Lovett, probably the most famous pie-maker in British fiction. Played by Angela Lansbury, with music by Stephen Sondheim. Probably not the most British thing ever.

    The story about your walk made me smile, I've had similar issues - footpaths being non existent or overgrown, huge puddles, and somehow wandering off the route... Once my friend and I went for a wander and ended up walking way further on a route than I'd ever done, trying to take a short cut, then using her mobile in the only place we could find with signal to get my brother to come pick us up. We ended up waiting for him, covered in mud, outside a pub - the first landmark we had found when we realised we were both lost and going to be very late home. For some reason, I remember this mainly with happiness, although my Mum - I was a teenager at the time - did not find it even remotely amusing, particularly as we were gone hours.

    Sympathy for your transport problems. I, again, have similar issues, and I'm a native :)

    The beefeaters reminds me rather of
    another Gilbert and Sullivan...
    Actually an American company but with alarmingly good English accents :)

  3. Again, Kathie, you have successfully recapped our adventures and brought back fond memories of our trip! Some of the events you wrote about I had forgotten, but you seem to remember so clearly which amazes me! I enjoyed getting another history lesson! You forgot to mention that we saw John Edwards at The Tower of London - certainly not the highlight of the trip! The story of the walking trip was quite entertaining. You'd have to experience it to believe it! Thanks for such a great time. I miss you guys!

  4. Another great post Kathy. I checked out the menu for your tea and my mouth just watered even though I didn't know what everything was.
    (What is a Baba?)
    What great adventures you have. Makes me want to come to England and I have never thought I would want to travel there.

  5. Great adventure. You must spend a wonderful time around the world. Don't forget to visit Paris. Regards from Hotel Orly

  6. Argh I do hate having to use the buses in a strange big city!
    So jealous of the afternoon tea you guys had...

    I think Lower Ditchford is just earthworks now and Ditchford Friary lost its church yonks ago and is now just a manor with a few cottages. Where really rich people live in small flats, something like that. There was probably a gate off of the narrow road you went down, but I don't know if you could actually go in there...