Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tales from a Tourist...(Tower, St Paul's & Hampton Court)

I am gonna desperately try to be thorough in my blogging because it hit me that I am not just blogging to tell you all about my trip, but also to tell ME about my trip. When I return to the states and try to chronicle all this into a scrapbook, I will be using this blog to remember everything I did. So if I get long winded you can just skip to the pictures, although I do hope you'll be wanting to hear the stories behind all the pictures - because their good stories (that is if I remember them all).

This weekend was my last weekend with Greg touring London! I was going into it not expecting to have as much fun as last week because we saw SO much and it was so incredibly amazing. But God is awesome and wonderful and sees fit to do amazingly cool things for me and so to my wonderment this weekend was BETTER!!!! I stayed 2 nights at Greg's flat in Richmond (a rather affluent part of the London suburbs) and so we had friday night, all day saturday, and most of Sunday to explore and see the sights. I felt so independent walking to the train station, buying my train ticket, and even changing trains on my way to Richmond all by myself. The reason I had to change trains was because I missed the direct train from Egham to Richmond. It was a "Sliding Doors" moment where I was 3 feet away from the train when the doors closed and left without me. But I am an independent Londoner and so I was not derailed. I made it to Richmond just 10 minutes later than expected and Greg met me there. We had dinner and then walked around the town along the Thames (pronounced Teh-ms). When then returned to his flat around 9:30pm and called his family and my parents. The connection to the internet is MUCH better at his apartment. Then I went to bed because we had a very full and early day ahead of us.
Side note: you have no idea how much I loved have a queen size bed to myself and a full bathroom to use!! After a week of dorm life with community showers and toilets and a sink with two faucets (hot and cold) so you get either REALLY HOT or REALLY COLD water. I slept so peacefully and comfortably!! It was glorious. here is my view from my room window in his flat

I awoke right before my alarm went off to the sound of rain pelting the big picture window in my room. It was 7am and I knew rain was in the forcast so I lay awake listening to the rain for a few minutes. I LOVE rain and especially hard rain, but NOT when I am wanting to walk around London all day and see the sights. So as I dressed and got ready I prayed and prayed that God would make the day really fun and give us a little bit of sun at the right parts at least. We left Richmond and got on the underground to go to Tower Hill (our first stop - the Tower of London). When we walked out of the train station at our destination the rain had stopped and it was just overcast (kind of fitting to our tower of london tour), but to my extreme delight by the time we got had our tickets and walked in, the clouds parted and the sun was shining!! It was out ALL day!!! Again, God is awesome!!

I will tell you this - if you can only to do one thing in the entire city of London, it HAS to be the Tower of London!!! Now it is not my favorite thing that I have done (that comes later), but it is still amazing and has it all! The Tower of London is where the crown jewels are, it's where Anne Boleyn was beheaded
Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned, Queen Elizabeth I spent some time there as a prisoner before her sister died, they tortured people here

and the best part of the entire place is the Yoeman Warder tours. It's like the jungle cruise with all the jokes and dry humor coupled with IMMENSE amounts of history! The Yoeman Warders are not just tour guides though. Everything single one of them has served at least 25 years in the Queen's armed forces and are decorated servicemen. They live at the Tower of London with their families and are just sweet old men.

I will tell you the crown jewels are impressive (my favorite was the sword bedazzled with hundreds of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, gold, silver, and every other precious stone you can think of). Unfortunately you can't take pictures of the crown jewels, but you can check out some pics here. They also show a video of Queen Elizabeth II being crowned, which brought a little tear to my eye to think of the amazing feelings she must have felt becoming the Queen of England!
Some other cool aspects of the T.O.L. would be the ravens (they have to have at least 6 ravens on the premises at all times or else the "kingdom will fall" - I have no idea why or when that started. But so you can relax, they have 9 on the grounds all with clipped wings and most of them in cages - they are covering all their bases), the white tower (has the armory and a history about the weapons of england)
the wall carvings (done by prisoners - names, prayers, crosses, etc)
traitors gate (the water entrance where traitors and prisoners were brought in (it's just a gate, but it's so eery)
and of course the iconic tower bridge!
(This is just outside the tower of London - that behind me is the "Gherkin" named because it looks like a pickle).

(This is at a gift shop near the tower of london)

After The Tower of London (which took us close to 3.5 hours to get through) we grabbed lunch and walked to St Paul's Cathedral. I have heard it was big and cool and definitely something to visit, but until you see it and experience it, you have NO IDEA. This is by far, hands down, bar none, my FAVORITE thing I have done in England so far!!

So St Paul's Cathedral was burned down during the great London fire in 1666. But Christopher Wren to the rescue! He designed one of the most incredible buildings I have had the privilage to behold. Not only is it massive and overwhelming on the outside, I seriously got choked up and a a little bit misty (which is an understatement, because I totally cried). I cannot describe the beauty! I was not allowed to take pictures inside the church (and although I am a skilled secret picture taker (see visit to Windsor), I felt a little sacreligious if I would have tried. So I downloaded some pics from the internet of my favorite parts.

After beholding the cathedral floor, Greg and I walked up the 259 steps to the Whispering Gallery (which is in the HUGE famous dome). It is called the Whispering Gallery because if you stand and whisper into the wall, someone on the other side of the Gallery will be able to hear you. Pretty cool. Then Greg and I walked up another 100+ steps up to the Stone Gallery (which is outside overlooking the city).

The golden gallery (the highest gallery) was closed, so we didn't venture higher and instead descended down to the crypt where Admiral Nelson and Christopher Wren, among other are buried and also where the gift shop is. I bought a cross necklace, which is now a most prized possession because it was bought at my favorite place in the whole world.

We left St Paul's, which was difficult because I think I need to live there forever with it's gold gates, marble statues, and presence of God, but we had more to see. Next stop King's Cross Station. If you don't know my intended destination yet, then you've obviously never read Harry Potter. I in fact was on a pilgrimage to the closest thing to Hogwarts I will ever get, which is Platform 9 3/4!! They actually have a spot dedicated to Platform 9 3/4 with a sign and a trolly half sticking out of the wall as if I were on my way to the Hogwarts Express.

By now it was about 3:30pm and Greg and I hoped to get some cheap tickets to a West End show for that night. We took the train to Picadilly to see what shows were available
but to our great dismay Wicked was Sold out as was Thriller and Billy Elliot. We decided instead to visit the Imperial War Museum for a bit and then go to the cinema (movie theater) and see "Slumdog Millionaire." The Imperial War Museum was pretty cool - the Holocaust section was powerful and intense. We hopped on the train back to Richmond to check out their cinema times, but the movie was sold out too! So we just went to the flat, I called my parents and told them about my day and then went to sleep.

I woke up this morning a little later since we weren't leaving until 9:30am. It was raining quite hard when I went to sleep last night, so again I prayed for some clear skies, just like all day saturday. When I awoke it was sunny as can be - Thanks God for being You!! Our day today entailed Hampton Court Palace, which took up most of the day. We caught a bus to the Palace and although it was briskly cold all day, the sun shown and it wasn't bad at all! Hampton Court Palace is one of the many palaces owned by Her Majesty the Queen and has been a royal residence since King Henry VIII's time.
In fact it was King Henry VIII's favorite Palace and where he resided most of the time. It was actually built by his advisor Cardinal Wolsey, but because it was so extravagant (rivaling the King's own estates at the time), like any good subject of the King, Wolsey mysteriously gave of the residence to His Majesty. It is very Tudor in it's architecture for the most part in the front, but near the back the architecture changes drastically to Baroque.
This was because King William III, co-ruler with his wife Mary II, was hoping to demolish the entire palace and rebuild it with his own style with the help of non other than Christopher Wren!! Fortunately the Country couldn't afford a complete renovation so William III settled for half and half, which makes for a very cool and interesting Palace design.
The Palace is my Disneyland with History. It has people dressed in period costume who give great informative tours
vignettes of the way the palace would have looked like during different occupants, amazing gardens and grounds

and even a famous hedge maze to play in (i did it and it was pretty fun).
It also has the guinness book of World Records largest grape Vine in it's wine vineyard section.

Most of the Palace attraction, however, is focused on Henry VIII (which sent my heart racing because I LOVE anything dealing with the Tudor dynasty). Well, good news and bad news. Bad news is the Henry VIII apartments were closed and won't be opened again until April (heart saddened), but the reason is: Henry VIII's 500 anniversary of his reign is in March and a HUGE exhibition (the "second coming") of King Henry VIII will be littered around London from April until the end of the summer!! I came to England at the PERFECT time it seems!! At Hampton Court in April they will have more Henry VIII stuff as well as a Henry VIII person that will be walking around conversing with visitors and I WILL get my picture with him! We had lunch at the Palace Cafe (sausage and wild boar casserole - which is basically as stew).
We also met these birds that I believe are a duck- racoon hybrid with a very croupy sounding duck quack... crazy english bird.

We finished at Hampton Court at about 3:30pm and returned to Richmond. I got packed and again all by myself, I returned to Egham on the train and walked to the school. I am now exhausted and going to bed so I am coherent for my classes tomorrow.


linda t said...

Loved this post Miranda! SOOO informative... sooo interesting.
You will love looking back and reading first hand your every moment and how you felt afterwards.
What a treasure this journal will be... and we get the benefit of following along on your adventure with you!

Sarah said...

Miranda, St. Paul's is breathtakingly beautiful! I consider St. Patrick's Cathedral my church out east but I think St. Paul's is a close rival (and that's without being in England of all places). I'm so glad that you get to be there on this adventure!

Amy T Schubert said...

Oh good ... glad you loved what I am wanting to do when I'm there.
Can't wait for the TOL and St. Paul's ... CANNOT WAIT!

Nicole T said...

What an exciting weekend. And Im glad you are loving your independence! I can't wait to hear about your classes!

kristen said...

How fun and what a blessing to know someone!

NanAZ said...

Great post! I love every detail. And it sounds like you're learning enough to take some of us Americans back for a tour someday.