Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A very special visit from the US of A! July 26, 2011

We happily welcomed our 22 year old niece Elise and her friend Laura to our humble abode on Saturday, June 11.  After many excited emails back and forth they arrived looking a little disheveled but with bright smiles.  Their mission:  To see as much as possible in their eight days here.  We tried to warn them that after that long flight they would be exhausted.  They assured us they would sleep on the plane and be ready for their first sight after a quick shower and change at our house.  Their travel day was even longer than most because they chose to take a bus from Baltimore, MD to New Jersey, then switch over to a train to get to the Newark, NJ airport for their flight here.  So not only did they fly all night to get here, but they also had a full day of travel the day of their flight!  Ah, to be young again.

Their flight was made up of mostly Brits.  This is usually the case on the flights into the UK.  So many of the British people love to visit America.  It is their most favorite destination.  Elise had her first "British term" experience when she got up to go to the bathroom on the plane.  As she came back to her seat a man handed her her sweater and said, "this was on the floor and getting trod on."  A funny term, and yes, very British.  In their young mindsets, they booked seats together one aisle and one middle so as not to bother anyone else when they had to get up.  Their conscientiousness backfired because their window seat companion had them up and down the whole flight using the bathroom!  So suffice it to say, they didn't get much sleep. 

That's Elise in front and Laura behind her on the right.  I don't have a photo shop
on my computer to pull the shot in more.
This did not hamper their excitement at being here.  They were still raring to go so I packed us a picnic lunch while they showered and by Saturday late morning we were headed to see Stonehenge in Wiltshire.  We have not seen this yet either and had been wanting to.  It did not disappoint.  

Elise (left) and Laura

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Stonehenge that left us wanting more.  But what they do know is that it was built in three phases, the first being in 3100 BC.  It is estimated that the construction required more than thirty million hours of labor!  They still aren't positive how those huge stones were moved with no machinery. But there is a popular theory.  During the second phase (2150 BC) the bluestones were brought from the Preseli mountains in Wales, by way of rivers and across land on rollers and sledges. This journey was 240 miles long!  The third stage around 2000 BC saw the arrival of the Sarsen stones brought from a much closer location (North Wiltshire, about 25 miles away). The largest of these weighed 50 tons, so transportation by water was impossible.  They could have only been moved by sledges and ropes.  Modern calculations show that it would have taken 500 men pulling leather ropes to move one stone, with another 100 men needed to lay the huge rollers in front of the sledge.

There are many legends and folklore as to why the stones were placed there.  Way too many (and some just plain crazy) to name here.  Although it is clear that it was used as a burial site.  Cremated remains have been found on the site dating as far back as 3000 BC.  More remains were discovered from years after that which proves its continued use as a burial site for some time.  Interestingly, remains from far away were found there too.  Remains were found of a teenage boy buried approximately 1550 BC and was raised near the Mediterranean Sea; a metal worker from 2300 BC grew up near the alpine foothills in Germany; and the Boscombe Bowmen (a name given to a group of early Bronze Age individuals) likely arrived from Wales or Brittany, France.

Other theories about the purpose of Stonehenge range from human sacrifices to celestial observatory function which might have allowed the prediction of eclipse, solstice and equinox. There is what is called the Heelstone, a stone that lies just outside the main entrance and outside of the circle of Stonehenge. It leans towards the circle.  Lacking a suitable mountain the builders had to provide an outlier to mark the rising of the sun at midsummer as seen from the center of the circle. When one stands within Stonehenge, facing north-east through the entrance towards the Heelstone, one sees the sun rise above the stone.

The Heelstone
Lots of folklore and stories abound at the site.  It was all very interesting.  But like I said, the four of us came away from there with more questions than answers.  We wanted to know FACTS, something you aren't going to ever get from a site like that.

I had arranged for us to stay in the area that night in a local hotel.  The Salisbury Cathedral was nearby and our plan was to visit it the next day. The girls were real troopers that first day and actually stayed up until 7:00 or 8:00 that evening.  I couldn't have done it, but they did.

We woke up to rain the following day.  We had a long streak of what the Brits called drought before the girls arrived but it seemed that their visit also brought the rain.  We decided that it was a good thing that it was a day we were seeing an indoor site so we didn't care.  After eating our "full English breakfast", (sausage, bacon, eggs, cooked tomato, fried bread, baked beans, toast, sometimes mushrooms) we were off to Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral is unique in being built almost entirely in one architectural style - Early English Gothic.  The first foundation stones were laid on April 28, 1220.  It has the largest cloister and cathedral close in Britain.  The cloister is a rectangular courtyard surrounded by covered walks that lies in the center of the cathedral buildings.  Back in the day this would separate the monks from the serfs (peasants) and workmen whose lives and work went on outside and around the cloister.  The close is an architectural term referring to the buildings that surround the cathedral.  For instance the diocesan offices, schools, free-standing chapels and houses of the bishops and other clergy associated with the cathedral.  The close at Salisbury Cathedral is 80 acres.  The church spire on the cathedral is the tallest in Britain.  

Salisbury Cloisture
There are a lot of cathedrals in England as you can imagine, but one of the big draws to Salisbury is that it houses the best of the four surviving original copies left of the Magna Carta.  The Magna Carta is a charter (grant of authority) written for the relationship of the King and his subjects.  In 1214 King John had ruled for 15 years. This cruel monarch had been getting progressively worse demanding more and more through the feudal system that bound  the lords and subjects in the middle ages in Europe.  Finally King John had incurred the wrath of the barons.  His demands for war funds, taxation was excessive and the collection brutal.  Lands were seized and plundered.  Civil war was close to breaking out.  The Magna Carta was written by the barons. The King, with his back up against the wall had no choice but to sign.  It was written in Latin on calfskin and signed in 1215.  I bought a translation of it in the gift shop.  It is very interesting reading.  It covered so many things!  Here are a few of the many items discussed:

1)   First, that we have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for
       us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have 
       its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired...

       ...To all free men of our kingdom we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever,
       all the liberties written below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs of us
       and our heirs:

6)   Heirs may be given in marriage, but not to someone lower in social standing.  Before a 
       marriage takes place, it shall be made known to the heir's next-of-kin.

8)  No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a
      husband.  But she must give security that she will not marry without royal consent,
      if she holds her lands of the Crown, or without the consent of whatever other lord
      she may hold them of.

15) In future we will allow no one to levy an 'aid' from his free men, except to ransom his
       person, to make his eldest son a knight, and (once) to marry his eldest daughter.  For
       these purposes only a reasonable 'aid' may be levied.

30) No sheriff, royal official, or other person shall take horses or carts for transport from
       any free man, without his consent.

54) No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of
       any person except her husband.

63) [The last section]  It is accordingly our wish and command that the English Church
       shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties,
       rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fulness and entirety for them
       and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever.

        Both we and the barons have sworn that all this shall be observed in good faith
        and without deceit.  Witness the abovementioned people and many others.

        Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and
        and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign.

Most of the sections were too long to include here, but that is just a smattering to give you an idea.  They claim that the Magna Carta has been used to help other countries write their laws and there is even mention in the tourist information that some of it was used as a guide in writing The Declaration of Independence! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures of the Magna Carta.  However, here is a few of the interior of the cathedral.

Huge pipe organ

The cathedral was so beautiful.  So many paintings, stained glass windows, sculptures, memorials, shrines, tombs, beautiful carvings on ceilings and walls (many that tell a story).   One interesting item was the clock they had.  It certainly didn't look like a clock. When it was pointed out to me, I couldn't find it even though I was standing right in front of it.  It was a medieval clock dating back to at least 1386.  It is the oldest working clock in Europe.  It has no face, being designed to strike the hours.  Look at the picture below. 

For you readers out there, who have read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (and if you haven't read it I highly recommend it), it has stirred much interest in people who have been inspired to visit Salisbury Cathedral.  Follett tells the story of the building of a beautiful medieval cathedral similar to Salisbury.  The fictitious city Kingsbridge is not far from the real Salisbury.  There are many great characters and the historical details are researched meticulously.  For those of you who remember Ken Follett as a spy and espionage writer, in recent years he has put out many historical fiction novels, Pillars probably being the most popular.  It has taken number one or two on many "best books ever written" lists.  He usually writes a series of two to three books, (which he did for Pillars too).  FYI ~ Fall of Giants is the first book of a new series that I just finished.  The fates of five interrelated families, American, Russian, German, English and Welsh during the First World War.

We drove home that evening.  We had to get home so the girls and I could finalize our plans because early the next morning we were heading to Paris!  They knew it would be a quick trip, but hated to miss out on Paris while they were over on this side of the world.  So we booked a cheap flight that got us there in an hour and a half arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport around 9:00 am Monday morning.  That gave us two full days in Paris as we were leaving the next evening around 7:00 pm to fly back. 

There are basically three different ways to get to Paris from here.  Ferry, train or fly.  We chose flying because it was cheaper and faster.  The negative is that Charles De Gaulle airport is pretty far outside the city.  So we had to figure out a way to get into the city from the airport.  Taxis would have been costly.  I found a fantastic website that some wonderful person put up that gave step by step instructions (accompanied by clear photos) of where to go in the airport to get to the train, how to buy the tickets...everything.  It was like "Paris for Dummies".  Once we got off the train in the middle of the city we'd have to find our way to our hotel. I had organized all of our excursions here in the UK with tickets, hotels, directions, closing times, pretty much everything you could think of to need for this site seeing trip.  And after finding that wonderful website about the train into Paris I was feeling quite pleased with myself.  That quickly turned to aggravation when I realized that I had completely forgot to get directions from the train station to our hotel!  We had the address but no idea WHERE in Paris it was.  

The hotel advertised that it was walking distance to the Louvre Museum, but of course we didn't know where that was either.  We tried going to the information booth after getting off the train but they were most UNhelpful.  (The French aren't the friendliest people in the world, at least to Americans).  We had a map of Paris of course but we couldn't find our street  on the map at all.  Outside the train station we saw a tourist information place.  THANK GOODNESS this woman was much more helpful.  She got out her big map and found the street.  Turns out it's just a tiny tiny street (more like an alley), no wonder it wasn't on the map!  She pointed us in the right direction telling us to pass this and that landmark and when we got to such and such circle our street would be right off of it.

We are still carrying our overnight bags and by then were a little frazzled.  We thought about a taxi, but the way the woman talked, we thought it wouldn't be that far.  I suppose if you're out walking and you know where you are going it wouldn't be far.  But in a strange crowded city with large traffic circles everywhere it was a bit overwhelming.  We walked and walked watching for landmarks.  We also had her map.  I can't emphasize enough how confusing their circles are.  To begin with they are HUGE!  Traffic going every direction (it seemed) with maybe 6 or more streets off of each circle.  Some little tiny streets and some big thoroughfares.  They were so big that just to walk around the circle to see the names of the streets running off of it was a big walk!  Not to mention taking your life in your hands each time you cross!  There were a couple times we weren't sure we were in the right circle either.   So a lot of time was wasted just trying to find the right circle, and all of this walking and walking and carrying our bags.  Finally Elise saw the street!  Oh, we were so happy. We were so sick of lugging our stuff around and walking at that point.  It was a tiny cobblestone street, very short, but there it was, and in the middle of it was our hotel.  

We were able to leave our bags at the hotel (we were too early for check-in) and off we went to hail a cab.  We wanted to spend the day in the Louvre as that was the main tourist place we wanted to see.  After getting there by taxi, we realized that our hotel stretched the truth a little bit when it advertised that it was walking distance from the Louvre.  Which is why I picked it, because the Louvre is near a lot of things and we were trying to avoid a bunch of taxis.  Oh well, you live and learn.

When you see the Louvre for the first time you are astounded by the sheer size of it.  It looks like blocks and blocks of buildings.  I cannot explain how huge that place is.  A look back in history tells how it came to be.

One side of The Louvre

Another side of The Louvre and the line to get in!

King Phillippe Auguste built a rampart around Paris in 1190.  To protect the capital from Anglo-Norman threat he built a fortress around the city on the banks of the Seine. This came to be known the Louvre. Gradually the city grew up around the fortress so it no longer surrounded all of Paris.  In the mid 1300's Charles V began transforming the old fortress into a royal residence. A majestic spiral staircase was added, along with elaborately carved windows and the interiors were decorated with sculptures, tapestries and paneling. After the death of Charles VI the Louvre sat for a century until 1527 when Francois I decided to take up residence in Paris. Francois I began the work but it was completed by Henry II. The medieval Louvre gave way to a Renaissance Palace. This was added onto by almost every subsequent French monarch.  During all these years there was always demolition, construction and remodeling done to the buildings by various different monarchs.  Finally King Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles leaving the Louvre as a place to store the royal collection of art. While work did continue under various monarchs orders, the Louvre plunged into a new period of dormancy.  During the French Revolution the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to house the nation's masterpieces.

The museum opened August 10, 1793. Most of the first pieces were royal and confiscated church properties. The size of the collection increased under Napoleon and further increased under the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. Now that it was officially a museum, its size continued to grow along with its collection.  By 1874 the Louvre Palace had achieved its present form.

The Louvre today contains more than 380,000 of objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight departments in more than 652,000 square feet. It is the world's most visited museum with an average of 15,000 visitors per day.  We were sure there were that many the day we were there.  It was SO crowded.  We later found out that it was some kind of holiday in France.  After being so careful to NOT go on a weekend because of crowds I was disappointed to find that out.  

Getting through the crowds was a feat in itself.  For instance, the Mona Lisa.  There is a rail around the picture so you can only get so close.  But around that rail was a huge crowd!  A semi-circle was formed around the rail that was probably 12 people deep all the way around. The only way to get up close was to step up to the back of the crowd and wait (and wait and wait) as the people up front finished looking which would allow you to move up a few inches. There were some RUDE people who would just bulldoze their way to the front.  This was infuriating me.  But since I was with the girls, I had to bite my tongue.  I just about lost it when two very large bald men pushed their way to the front.  Apparently they were brothers.  Without even looking at the painting, they proceeded to stand in front of it taking turns taking each other's pictures in front of the Mona Lisa.  I'm not talking about a little snapshot.  It was like a photo shoot!  They posed, whoever was holding the camera would say look this way, move that way and on and on.  I was seriously about to lose it.  Finally I did say, "oh, come on!".  To which the bigger one said, "we had to wait our turn like everyone else, so you have to wait" and then took even longer.  I felt like screaming that they hadn't waited at all!!  They forced their way to the front just to take pictures of each other.  But I kept quiet.  The crowds were really insane.  Of course everyone wants to see the most famous pieces of art. At every popular piece I was amazed at all the people that only wanted a picture of themselves next to the art!  It would have been fine if there weren't people waiting and waiting to get their own glimpse of it.  Ridiculous!

Making our way around the Louvre and finding things was about as confusing as the Paris streets!  But with Miss Elise and her maps, we made it just fine.  Every once in a while I would question, "are you sure this is the right way?" to which she would patiently answer, "yes, I think so" and she would be right!  That place is so big, you could spend a week in there and just scratch the surface.  Really, really amazing.

Anyway, when we finally got our turn at the artwork here are the pictures we managed to take.

Aphrodite - Venus de Milo
Ramesses II

The Wedding Feast at Cana
That afternoon/evening we bought tickets on one of the Hop-on Hop-off buses that tour the city.  They have a great deal where you buy a ticket and it is good for 24 hours.  The buses are big double deckers and take you all over Paris to see different tourist sites.  They give you headphones to listen to a description of what you are seeing.  You can get off whenever you want and then catch another bus when you are ready to continue.  We knew that buying this ticket would allow us to see some of the things that evening and then we could use it the next day to tour around until we had to make our way back to the airport.  It worked out perfectly.  The weather was not cooperating (we got used to this) so that the next day we were continually putting our umbrellas up and then down (we sat on the top).  In fact we really had a bad downpour for a while there that almost drove us to the lower level.  Thank goodness I have learned from living here to never go anywhere without my umbrella. Here are some scenes from Paris:

Eiffel Tower

Academy of Music

Caged in basketball courts in the city?
Typical outdoor cafe, they're everywhere.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Close up of cathedral

We made our way back to the airport MUCH easier than when we had arrived.  So easy in fact that we had to sit and wait a long time for our flight.  But after our issue with the streets of Paris upon our arrival we were too afraid to take any chances.  I have to say that I had thought in the back of my mind that I needed to go to Paris with the girls to make sure they got around okay and see that nothing happened to them.  Well that's a laugh.  Elise is SO capable and experienced and not afraid to ask questions that she just leads the way.  Laura and I were both glad to hand the reins to her!  Elise's main complaint was that she couldn't speak French.  She speaks Spanish fluently, but no French.  She said the next time she gets to France she is going to know their language.  I don't doubt her for a minute. On the other hand we did have some young French waiters at one of the cafes we ate at who were so busy showing off for the girls that they could barely get our food delivered to our table. I guess it was a good thing that the middle aged aunt was there to watch over them then! 

While Elise is out front leading, Laura is the quiet one who never makes a fuss.  However, poor Laura had a string of bad luck on this trip that she certainly didn't deserve.  It was nothing extremely bad, but if an elevator door was going to shut on someone it was her (twice) or the subway door.  When the ticket taking machine at the tube stations malfunctioned and spit back a ticket, it was always Laura.  If a mud puddle suddenly appeared and splattered mud all over it was little Laura who got it!  She was always quietly going about her business but somehow got the brunt of the mishaps.  She took it all in stride though, very good naturedly, even though we had to laugh at her!

Our chauffeur picked us up at the airport Tuesday night and brought us to our door.  Just kidding, our chauffeur of course was Joe.  I made a quick breakfast/dinner of scrambled eggs and crumpets because the girls and I were leaving the next morning to go to Liverpool, home of the Beatles! This is a place that has been on our lists of places to go and we hadn't gotten around to doing it.  I sure hope that I can go back and take Joe because I loved it.

This was just a day trip so after taking Joe to work we headed up to Liverpool.  It is a two hour drive NW from our house. Liverpool is a major port in England. It is located on the River Mersey, (made famous by the song Ferry Cross the Mersey sung by Jerry and the Pacemakers, 1964)  and then flows into the Irish Sea. It is famous for the Beatles of course but has built up into a large metropolis with tons of shopping, restaurants, museums and theatres.  Our main objective was to go on a Beatles tour and see an art museum that the girls were interested in.  

We ended up on The Magical Mystery Tour.  I loved this tour!  It was SO interesting to me.  I was a little young when the Beatles made their debut on the American scene.  However, I have three older sisters so I was definitely aware of their music.  And of course over the years who hasn't heard their music and become a fan?  The same went for the girls. The Beatles story is so amazing and interesting. The tour was so much fun and lively with Beatles music playing. Sometimes I just wanted to belt out and sing with the songs. I'm sure the girls were glad I restrained myself.  Many of the places we went were mentioned in the songs that the Beatles wrote.  The easiest way for me to explain it is to use the pictures that I took and write captions for you. 

Ringo Starr lived in terrace house behind van for the first few years of his life.

The fifth rowhouse down is where Ringo Starr's family
moved when he was young.  Ringo lived in
this house for 20 years.

Penny Lane was SO much FUN to drive down!  They played the song on the speakers and we were literally driving by things that were mentioned in the song!!  See below:

On Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he's had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

On the corner is a banker with a motor car
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mac
In the pouring rain...
Very strange

The song continues, the firehouse is no longer there.

In  Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass
And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen
He likes to keep his fire engine clean
It's a clean machine

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back

Below behind Elise and Laura is a white building that sits
in the middle of the roundabout on Penny Lane.

Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout
A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she's in a play
She is anyway

In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim
Then the fireman rushes in
From the pouring rain...
Very strange

George Harrison's childhood home
12 Arnold Grove

The graveyard in St. Peter's Church in Liverpool where
Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met.
There is a gravestone with the name Eleanore Rigby there.
Paul said he doesn't recall naming the song Eleanore Rigby
after the gravestone, but he may have been unconsciously
influenced by the name on the grave.

Strawberry Fields was the name of a Salvation Army Children's Home that was right around the corner from where John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi.  He and his friends used to play in the garden behind the home. Every year there was a garden party at Calderstones Park near the home.  The Salvation Army band would play. This was a special treat for young John to go to this party. There was very good memories in Strawberry Field for John and he wrote the song with the same name.  Below is a picture of the house behind the gates (no longer in use).

John Lennon's childhood home where he lived happily
with his Aunt Mimi an Uncle George for 17 years.
The house is now owned by the National Trust.

Paul McCartney's childhood home.  Paul's mother died when
he was 14 of breast cancer. His dad allowed the boys to practice
here so many of their song writing and jam sessions were done in this house.
Paul's house is also owned by the National Trust.

After we finished the tour we went to the harbor and had lunch at a cafe there.  Then we walked down to a modern art museum that Laura wanted to see.  She studied Art History in college so she was really getting to see some neat stuff (at the Louvre) and other places we toured.  Suffice it to say I DON'T GET MODERN ART!  Never have and never will.

Thursday was a quieter day.  We went and toured the Cadbury Chocolate factory.  It was only an hour away.  Cadbury is who makes most of the chocolate bars in the UK.  They call them sweets.  The smell when you went in was enough to make me swoon!  We had a good time and got free chocolate!  Just in case the free stuff wasn't enough we bought some in the BIG discount room in the gift shop.  Suffice it to say that we had our chocolate fix taken care of for weeks!

For the girls last weekend here we (Joe included) spent the weekend in London.  We left early Friday morning to go to Hampton Court Palace. The Palace sits along the Thames River about 20 miles upstream from central London. It was just an old barn when Cardinal Mosely (a favorite of King Henry VIII) took over the site in 1514.  Wolsey spent lavishly to build the finest Palace in England. He was a bit of a showman and wanted desperately to prove that the plain English churchman knew how to live as graciously as any cardinal in Rome. It is really a beautiful place.  Sadly, (well, not really if you know anything about Wosley), Wosley was not able to enjoy his palace for long.  While his enemies and the king were plotting his downfall he gave the palace as a gift to King Henry VIII in 1528.

                                                        HAMPTON COURT PALACE

Henry VIII's court consisted of over a thousand people, while he owned over 60 houses and palaces few were big enough to house his whole court.  So he immediately began rebuilding and expanding the palace. The King was impatient for work to be done.  So impatient that when they were building the Great Hall, he made the masons work during the night too by candlelight. That room alone took five years to build! But it was the most important room in the palace, where the King would dine in state on a raised platform. Anyway, the building went on for years and years and the palace was used in the meantime, as seen by the following important occurrences at Hampton Palace:

1537  Queen Jane Seymore, Henry VIII's third wife gives birth to 
Prince Edward.  She dies shortly thereafter from complications 
from the birth.

1540  King Henry VIII's divorce from Anne of Cleves is signed.  It is 
also where Henry VIII marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

1541  Catherine Howard's earlier sexual liaisons are revealed to King 
Henry VIII at Hampton Court.  She is interrogated and kept under 
house arrest there.  [The Queen was dragged away from the gallery 
of the chapel screaming.  Her ghost is said to haunt it.]

1543  King Henry VIII marries his sixth and final wife at the 
chapel there.

When King Henry VIII died in 1547 he was succeeded by his son and then his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.  The palace was still used by them.  On Elizabeth I's death in 1601, the Tudor period ended.  During the Stuart period that followed, the palace was used some, but never to the extend of the Tudors. On Queen Anne's death in 1714 the Stuart dynasty came to and end. In 1760 George III abandons Hampton Court as a royal residence. In 1838 Queen Victoria opens the gardens and state apartments to the public free of charge.

The palace today is all about King Henry VIII and the Tudor world.  We saw the Tudor kitchens, the Tudor women's dresses, the King and Queen's state apartments and the awesome Great Hall, known as England's last and greatest medieval hall.  Below are some of the pictures we took while visiting.

                                                                  THE KITCHENS


Queen's bedchamber

Cloisters at Hampton Court Palace

King Henry VIII

Katherine of Aragon, first wife

Ann Boleyn, second wife

Jane Seymour, third wife
Died after childbirth

Anne of Cleves, fourth wife

Catherine Howard, fifth wife

Kathryn Parr, sixth wife
outlives Henry VIII

School children getting to meet King Henry VIII!!

Kids fascinated by the period actors. (All school children
wear uniforms in England.)

Kids having fun listening to a knight.

We drove from Hampton Court Palace to our hotel, dropped off our luggage and rode the tube into downtown London.  Our next stop was The Tower of London.  Joe and I have been there several times as it is our favorite place to take visitors.  It has just about everything you could want from a castle. 

William the Conqueror began the construction of The White Tower (the first building built on the site) in 1078, so it is old, old, old. The Tower fortifications were updated and expanded and a series of separate building campaigns by medieval kings ensured that by 1350 the Tower was pretty much the formidable fortress that is there today. 

The Tower of London sounds as if it is a name for one single tower.  It was named that because of The White Tower which was built first.  But really The Tower of London includes the castle, a chapel, Yeoman's Warders (ceremonial guards of The Tower of London) quarters and other buildings and towers that are all enclosed by two sets of circular defensive walls and a moat.
Our Beefeater that day.
A day at The Tower includes free tours several times a day by Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders) who live on the castle grounds.  These guys are both knowledgeable and entertaining. The various buildings house weapons and the actual armory worn by Kings, the crown jewels (one of my favorites), prison towers with actual graffiti written by prisoners in medieval times, items of torture used (my very favorite), the chapel and of course the castle with the interior as it would have been in medieval times, financial records, (e.g. King Edwards financial accounts record a payment of 11 shillings and a penny for timber, boards and sawn panels for a bed for the lord King and for transporting it through England!  And don't forget the Tower Green, an area in the courtyard where executions took place. Execution inside the tower grounds was a privilege only for those with high rank, to be executed away from the gaping crowds. The best known for being executed on the site were Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII, who was in her early thirties), Catherine Howard (fifth wife of Henry VIII, who was barely in her twenties) and Lady Jane Grey who was only sixteen.  There is a monument where the executions took place.

Old Roman wall described below

I have written about The Tower of London in past blogs so I won't go into too much detail
here (believe me there is a lot more I could say!).  Nor will I put up more pictures.  I just think it should be on everyone's must see list if they are traveling to London.  

We left The Tower of London and were back out on the streets of London.  I can't believe how crowded a city can be ALL the time.  We were at a tube stop trying to read the maps.  We wanted to go to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.  A passerby overheard us and pointed to a bus stop down the road.  Since we had tube tickets they are also good for buses.  He told us what stop to get off for the Globe so off we went.  A public bus in London is an experience alone!  The people crowding in, the honking, changing lanes and constant stopping!  Not to mention tons of people on bicycles who ride RIGHT NEXT to the buses!  I can't tell you how many times it looked like the bus mirrors were going to knock them off their bikes.  Thank goodness I don't have to ride one of those buses to get around. It took a while but we eventually made it.  

All four of us must have had "lost" written on her foreheads because as soon as we got off someone else started telling us the way to the theater.  We hadn't even asked!  So we went off the direction he said.  A few minutes later there he was again directing us as we were about to go the wrong way!  I was starting to get a little wary of him.  Why was he following us AND we couldn't see the theater at all from where we were.  I was wondering if he was taking us somewhere off the beaten path and up to no good.  But as we continued on we came to it eventually.  Another good samaritan in the big city.

The Globe Theatre was a three story, open air amphitheatre approximately 100 feet in diameter that could house up to 3,000 spectators.  It was built in 1599 by William Shakespeare and his company of actors. These companies were made up of shareholders who performed in the plays but were also responsible for the management. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII when a theatrical cannon misfired igniting the wooden beams and thatching.  It was rebuilt on the same site in 1614. Like all the other theatres in London it was closed down in 1642 by the Puritans. Two years later it was pulled down to make room for tenements.  

It was not until 1989 that the old foundation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was discovered.
This led to a huge fundraising and and researching project that eventually led to the reconstruction of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. By using historical information and traditional building techniques a replica of the old Elizabethan theatre, thatched roof and all was built.  Although the new theatre only has a 1,500 seating capacity, the theatre is still open air, exposing spectators to the English weather. 

Here are a few fun trivial facts about the Globe Theatre and other theatres back in time:

~  Besides plays, Elizabethan Theatres were also used for bear baiting,                                                       gambling and for immoral purposes.

~  At the start of the play after collecting money from the audience the                          admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage - the box office.

~  Color coding was used to advertise the type of play to be performed -                                      a black play meant a tragedy, a white a comedy and a red history.

~  A trumpet was sounded to announce to people that the play was                                           about to begin in order for people to take their final places.

~  During the height of the summer the groundlings (commoners who                                    could not afford to pay for a seat, were allowed to pay a penny to stand                                       in The Pit just below the stage, which could get very crowded) were also                                 referred to as 'stinkards' for obvious reasons.

~  In Shakespeare's time copyright did not exist. Rival theatres would                                    send their members to attend plays to produce unauthorized copies of                                   plays - notes were made and copied as quickly as possible.

~  In just two weeks Elizabethan Theatres could often present eleven                              different performances of ten different plays.

~  There were no actresses.  Female characters had to be played by                                           young boys.  The acting profession was not a credible one and it was                                  unthinkable that any woman would appear in a play.

~  Many of the boys died of poisoning due to the vast quantities of 
lead in their make-up.

Shakespeare coined over 135 phrases, more than any other individual in the English language.  Many of them are still in use today.  Here is just a few:

It's Greek to me                       Bag and Baggage              Seen better days
Vanished into thin air              Foul Play                           The game is up
Knitted your brow                   Slept not a wink                Good riddance
Without rhyme or reason       Truth were known                                                                              In a fool's paradise                   Fair play
At one fell swoop                      In a pickle                          Star crossed lovers

I realize now that I didn't take any pictures of the theatre from the outside.  Here is a small model of the theatre along with some of the costumes that were used in Shakespeare's time:

From the theatre we headed over to the west side of London.  We went to dinner and then had tickets to see Wicked that night.  Wicked is a musical based on the novel by Gregory Maguire that tells the untold story of a friendship between two girls who first meet as sorcery students. Their extraordinary adventures in Oz will ultimately see them fulfil their destinies as Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West.  The play was fantastic!  We all just loved it.  The music was brilliant, the costumes stunning, the whole play was spectacular.  It was such a treat for us to go with the girls to see it.

After the play we had a 45 minute tube ride back to our hotel.  Hotels in the city are very expensive so Joe and I have found one outside the city that is reasonable.  We always stay there and then tube into London.  It had been a long busy day and we only had one day left.

The next morning we headed back in on the tube.  The only thing scheduled was souvenir shopping and a walking tour called "The Royal Wedding Walk".  The girls were sold on this one as soon as they saw the name.  They were fascinated by William and Kate's wedding and excited to see some of the places they's seen on TV from the wedding.  (Although they both insisted that HARRY was the Prince that they fancied.  A sighting of him would have made their whole trip!)  

We were lucky to get into London and be at Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guard.  Wow!  The crowds were amazing.  I cannot imagine living in an area where there are tourists all the time.  You could not even get up to the fence that surrounds the palace yard (and believe me this was a long, long fence) to get a good view of it.  That's the only bad thing about touring...the dang tourists!!


It took some time but we finally found the place to meet for the walking tour.  I had the map that day and I think Elise was about to go crazy!!  I had full confidence because Joe was with me and he is good about remembering landmarks and such.  However, in the area of Piccadilly Circus, which is where we were, there is so much construction going on that some buildings are blocked off and covered.  Nothing looked like it had before.  And I am always one for trying to find a short cut.  Well my shortcuts weren't panning out and we were getting dangerously close to the tour time.  I know the girls were starting to get a little panicked!  But they kept their cool and we finally managed to get where we were going.

The walking tour was fun and informative.  We had a great tour guide.  He took us all around to different places.  We walked by Westminster Abbey, through St. James Park, past 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister's home), Parliament and Big Ben and the Horse Guard Parade, a large area where tournaments (including jousting) were held in the time of Henry VIII. It is still used for various ceremonies and parades.

Big Ben

Westminster Cathedral
Horse Guard Parade

One of the stops I enjoyed the most was the statues of King Goerge VI (the one depicted in the movie The King's Speech) and his wife, known fondly as the Queen Mother. The statues are located near Buckingham Palace.  I loved hearing about their devotion to each other and some of the things they did to endear themselves to the British people.  For example, they famously stayed in Britain during the Blitz in WWII when they could have taken safety abroad. The Queen often took walks to parts of London that were targeted by the Germans, in particular East End, where she met with families made homeless by the bombing and walked amongst the rubble. When Buckingham Palace took several hits itself, Elizabeth was able to say, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face". 
Statues of King George VI (1895-1952)
Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900-2002)
Pelicans in St. James park. Pelicans were first introduced in
1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador.

Gardens at one gate to Buckingham Palace.

We had to deal with rain every single day that the girls were here, and this day had to be the worst.  We had torrential downpours during our walking tour. The rain was so bad that we all had to huddle in doorways and wait out the worst of it.  And typical of England, a few minutes later the sun would come out and you'd almost forget that you are soaking wet from a previous downpour.  It doesn't usually rain that hard, but I suppose it was a kind of a sending off to the girls. I felt bad for them as our spring had been relatively dry and the rain seemed to come in right at their arrival.

One more stop before we left London.  The girls wanted to go to King's Cross tube station to see platform 9 3/4.  (Think Harry Potter.)  Here they are, silly girls.

Finally we headed back one more time on the tube to get our luggage from the hotel and drive home.  Here is a picture of the girls checking out their photos but looking tired on the tube that night. 

The girls had to get ready for their long journey home the next morning.  We so enjoyed having them here and hope their trip was memorable.  Joe kept up a steady banter with Laura, playing matchmaker and trying to get her fixed up with our single son, Gary. I tried to tell him that you can't pick your daughter-in-law, but he refused to stop trying.  One night when Joe and I were in bed, I was listening to their voices in the next room as they were getting their things together and said, "isn't it nice to hear young voices in the house"? It was just cute to hear their little chirpy voices. Our house is always so quiet and if we do have guests they aren't young people.  It was so enjoyable to have them here that week.  They were easy house guests to have.  We told our niece that she was invited back anytime and of course Laura too.  Such wonderful delightful girls.


  1. OMG you guys did A LOT! Sounds like they had a great time! I hope you got me an off season Cadbury Egg while you were basking in your chocolate joy! I don't think I could live anywhere near that place!

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