Sunday, January 7, 2007

Still in London -- To the Tower!

Day Three – St. Paul’s, Threadneedle Street and the Tower of London!

Here is the route. We begin at St-Martin-within-Ludgate to St. Pauls, past the Bank of England, get kind of lost for a while, and end up at the Tower of London and All Hallows Church.

After browsing through the Christmas cards in St. Martin, we set out again. Once on the street, we could see the Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Actually, Rowan pointed it out, as I would not have known what I was looking at. We went down the street and I was again struck by the difference in the way that the streets looked. We paused at the intersection and I took this picture. Even the trucks were wee-tiny. Note the cool post box.

I have to say something about crossing the streets at this point. At the beginning of our London trip, more than once, Rowan saved me from certain death. At a street, I would look the wrong way and start to step into oncoming traffic. She would catch me by the elbow and murmur, “Ah, no ye don’t, Missus”. When the light turned, she would tug me along and say, “Come on, then.” The problem is that the cars are coming the wrong way. I think that the Powers That Be in the London Tourism Department got tired of tourists getting plastered all over the front of moving vehicles, because they came up with this nifty device.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I did not understand what the sign meant at first. I would have been hit by a bus in Southhampton Row, but Rowan had good reflexes. I had a moment of enlightenment as we walked further, and learned to Stop, Read, and Look The Wrong Way.

Another problem is that most pedestrians don’t obey the traffic indicators (by the way, the green “WALK” man is not walking, he is sprinting). Pausing at the street and waiting for the little man to turn green marks you as a hopeless tourist. I kept standing at intersections, sort of vibrating with anxiety, wanting to cross, but scared to. The roads are really narrow, as well, which gives you a false sense of bravado – you figure that you can make it across the road really fast. It took some time, but I did get the hang of crossing (and looking the wrong way).

Here are some of the pictures of the front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a stunningly beautiful place. There has been a Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul in London since 604AD. The current Cathedral – the fourth to occupy this site – was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It is beautiful and imposing.

We went in and found that we had to pay to look around. We know that we have a whole day tomorrow and decide to come back so as to enjoy the whole building. We craned our necks to glimpse what we could before emerging into the sunlight. If I have not mentioned it, the weather is just about perfect – cool and fresh.

Rowan says:

We wander inside, but there is a little while to wait until the next tour, and we are keen to walk on and see as much as we can, before the low winter sun sets on out first day in London. The tour is fairly costly, and likely to take quite some time. I want to feel we have time to look around, and I am also aware of a slight touch of historic-interior narcolepsy, which I am rather aghast about. Not in St Paul’s! Help ma kilt! I put this fleeting torpor and foot-shiftyness down to being a little sleep-deprived, after being kept up all night by my autistic son on Tuesday, and must just feel a bit sleepy, entering the peace of St Paul’s. I hope it is nothing to do with the knowledge that we won’t get in to see the famous dome, at the moment. I am so not a cheapskate and a Philistine.

Walking in the crisp December air is wonderful, energising, and I have the urge to keep on striding forth, without stopping too long, taking in as many new sights and sounds as possible. London is a banquet for the senses. I am very happy, browsing through all the delicacies it has to offer. I feel a bit guilty suggesting to Bob that we walk on, and come back later. She is obviously keen to explore the cathedral, inside as well as out, as am I, and we agree to come back another day.

Here is the building across the street from the Cathedral. I just liked it.

This is the statue out in front. There were children playing around it, which is just as it should be.

This is the back of the Cathedral – I think it is called the Churchyard, but I cannot really say. I looked, but could not find out what it is officially dubbed.

I loved the lion fountain. As you look in this direction, the Cathedral is to your left and a smaller chapel is in front of you. The street is at your back.

Here is the spire of the smaller chapel.

There were a lot of city buses whizzing past, interfering with my attempts to take a picture across the street. I tried to take a picture of my reflection in a bus passing by – I think that you can just see a hint of the reflection.

Rowan and I sit for a moment on the wall around the lawn, just enjoying the green grass and the sound of water.

We set off down the street again. At this point, we sort of stopped looking at the map and just starting walking in the general direction of the Tower. This picture is for the Yorks (I love you!).

This is a picture of another church -- it is called St. Mary Aldermary. My picture of the plaque outside was not legible. It is a former medieval church and was largely distroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was rebuilt in 1679-82 by Christopher Wren. It is the only surviving late c17th Gothic church in the City of London. The foundation is old -- there are references to St. Mary de Eldermariechurche as far back as 1080.

Note the Santas -- they are selling Christmas cards in there, but we resist the pressure to go in and browse. They don't have hot dog or burrito stands in London that I saw, but they do have falafel stands.

We are walking up the street to Threadneedle Street and the Bank of England, which Rowan is keen to see. We pass Bow Street and Bread Street. Rowan says that she thinks that this is where the Great Fire of London started. I ask her if she wants to get a picture of the street. She shoots me an ironic glance and remarks, “If I see a woman in an apron running out of a bakery, shouting ‘Fire!’ … I’d take a picture of tha”. Suitably chastened, I subside. Later, tells me that she thinks that she was mistaken about where the Great Fire started, saying that she thinks that it happened in Pudding Lane. I am amused that she thinks that I would even begin to hazard a guess as to where the conflagration started.

She has been remarkably patient with me, as I have been stopping about every two steps and taking a picture. Sometimes multiple pictures. As we walk along, Rowan is hit with a fit of Scottishness -- when she is unimpressed with all things English. I have handed her the map to take another photo …

and she is looking to see how far we have come. I finish taking the shot and see her perusing the map with a frown and exclaims, “We’ve done London in a half an hour!” (Insert visual of her drawing vague circles on the map with a forefinger.) She continues in a somewhat disgruntled tone of voice. “I thought this place was supposed to be big!” I, with remarkable forbearance, do not point out the fact that she has the map upside down. She perks up as we get to Threadneedle Street and oohs over the Bank of England. She starts telling me the history of what we are seeing. I cannot help teasing her a little and ask her how she likes London, and with good humor, she says that she likes it enough to come back. She is once again in charity with the City. We wander around the intersection, taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful buildings.

London is a study in contrasts. To the left are these wonderful old buildings

and to the right is this horrible monstrosity. I am irresistibly reminded of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” music video.

Rowan writes:

We pass the Swiss Tower, known locally as “The Gherkin”, soaring into the skyline like a Faberge egg - a gaudy bauble, rudely out of place. It demands admiration, insistently, like a spoiled child. The navy blue pillar, crossed over with a silvered diamond net, looks like a refugee from 1001 Arabian nights. Perhaps Scheherezade lives there. It is screamingly out of place.

Bob – Rowan did NOT believe me when I told her that the lovely church next to it was named St. Andrew Undershaft Church. For reals. We tried not to giggle, but … we did. The irony is not lost on the locals, either.

Rowan says:

We stroll on, getting a mite peckish. Bob sees a snack in her future, and she needs camera batteries. This is serious! We come upon a little PC World store, and wander in. Bob wants an extension cord, and cannot make the dimly lit assistants understand what she is after. The lights may be on in that shop, but there is clearly nobody home.

Bob says:

It is funny those things that remind you that you are no longer in Kansas. Despite a number of attempts, I cannot make the assistants in the shop understand what an extension cord is. Not one of them. I want to grab the nearest and shout, “Extension cord! Extension cord! You know – it plugs into a wall!” It takes me a few moments to explain it to Rowan, but she at least gets it. We do everything but play Pictionary – but alas. I leave with a new stock of batteries, but no extension cord.

Rowan says:

We wander into an arcade of souvenir shops, outside of the Tower. It has a lovely cavernous quality about it, and the sense that one might find something really fine and quirky, lurking in a niche. The subterranean shops offer tall padded Union Jack hats (I want one.) There are cool London hoodies, t-shirts with the Underground logo, and little red double-decker buses on keyrings. I want one of those, too. And a pillar-box piggy-bank. And Union Jack socks. I want a Tower Bridge fridge magnet and a set of black London taxi and red pillar-box magnetic noughts and crosses. Oh, and a Prince William mousemat? Maybe not…

There is a small ticket-booth, selling tickets for the big West End shows. On the spur of the moment, we try to buy tickets for Monty Python’s “Spamalot” for Friday, but there are none to be had. Tim Curry is King Arthur in the show. I remember him as Frank’n’Furter in the film of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

We go for lunch at a nice little café, which has a blackboard chalked-up with dishes it doesn’t actually sell. The menu is quite good, though, nice sustaining snacky meals which are interesting and sound tasty. I order a spicy chicken baked potato, and I cringe a little and try to ignore the fact that the chef is sifting the chicken salad filling onto my baked potato with his bare hands. The chicken-potato is very tasty. Bob has a tuna melt and chips.

Bob says:

Actually, I quite liked my tuna melt. Rowan was a bit surprised at the amount of salt that I put on my fries, but I inform her that I am a salt vampire, masquerading as a person.

If I don’t have this much salt, my already-low blood pressure will plummet. I try to convince her that it is really a health strategy. We could not order the items that were on the chalked wall-menu, but it felt so good to sit down, that we were not going to move. I learn that what I call tuna salad is called tuna mayonnaise. I took a bite of my sandwich and had one of those moments like from the movie “Big” – when Tom Hanks takes a bite of caviar.

Mouth full of tuna, I realize that there is something wrong with it. I do not want to swallow until I know what the problem is, and I do not want to tarnish the image of Americans by ejecting it onto my plate. I peer at the filling. There are things in the tuna that look vaguely familiar, but out of place. I bravely swallow and pry open the bread and ask what is in it. Rowan looks at me as if it is a trick question and says, “Sweet corn?” This is how I learn that Brits put sweet corn in tuna salad. It is not bad, once I know what I am eating.

Rowan says:

We come across a wide street past an amazing ornate building, with a statue of Poseidon. In front of the building, lies a monument to Allied soldiers. We walked through the beautiful Garden of Remembrance.

As we cross the road and look up, we see it, huddling against the skyline. The Tower of London. THE TOWER OF LONDON! Yay! I am blown away. It is totally stupendous. Even from here, we can see that the tower is vast, a great walled compound, the buildings crenellated and of a soft yellow brick. It seems to go on forever. It is perfect. I want to go live there. It is the most beautiful building I have seen, so far. I love the sense of scale. The Tudory-chunky sense of power and majesty. It is like Henry the Eighth, an exhibitionist, but, you know, with oodles of charm.

Bob says:

This is the view, standing on the street across from the Tower. Behind us is the Memorial ...

And in front of us is the Tower.

We go by the ticket booth and find that the Tower closes in an hour and we decided that we want to give it more time than that. As we have nothing specific planned for tomorrow, we decide to come back and spend more time there.

Rowan and I enjoyed a quick look around the gift shop, replete with fake swords, shortbread and shot glasses with the Tower etched into them. There is a sale on lavender spa items. I am not sure if there is some historical significance to the lavender, but I am not even tempted.

I spy a church to the west of the Tower, just past the ticket booths. It is beautiful and pulls us in.

We enter All Hallows Church – the oldest church in the City of London, with parts of the building dating from 675 AD. Beneath an original Saxon arch, a Roman pavement was discovered in 1926, indicating that there has been city life on this spot for over 2000 years. After being executed on Tower Hill, numerous beheaded bodies were brought into the church, including those of Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and Archbishop Laud.

William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was baptised in the church and educated in the schoolroom (now the Parish Room). John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the USA, was married in All Hallows in 1797. In 1666 the Great Fire of London started a few hundred yards from the church. All Hallows survived through the efforts of Admiral Penn, William Penn's father. But in 1940 Hitler's bombs succeeded where the Great Fire had failed. Only the tower and the walls remained but the late Queen Mother laid a new foundation stone in 1948.

If you look at the right side of the picture, you can see an effigy.

Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from the tower of this church.

'I up to the top of Barking Steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere great fires, the fire being spread so far as I could see it.'

Sir William Penn saved All Hallows from the conflagration by ordering an intervening row of houses to be blown up, thus creating a fire-break.

I love this place. It is clearly a place where people come and worship -- a working church, despite its age.

We stop and light a candle for the children and pray for them.

Rowan says:

All Hallows is all lit up against the encroaching darkness. There is a Christmas Fayre in progress, and the Vicar is calling out directions about the raffle. There are various colourful stalls, with bright jewelery and knitted knick-knacks. The bottle stall, on close inspection, appears to contain the exotic unwanted contents of the congregation’s drinks cabinets – dusty surprise gifts of sangria, and tequila with scuury little worms. People have brought an exotic cornucopia of bottles to be won.

Bob says:

This is a view from the front of the church, looking towards the back. You can see people at the different booths.

I don’t know if you can tell, but one of the booth vendors is in Tudor costume. I just liked the contrast between the effigy and the booths behind it.

This is our view as we leave the church. I think that it is one of my favorite pictures that I took in London. The lights had just come on in the Tower.

As we leave, the Christmas lights in the trees light up the square. We have just a little bit of time to get back to the hotel and prepare for the evening’s surprise. Rowan still has no idea what we are going to be doing this evening, but I hope that she likes it. We hurry in the chill to the Tower Hill Underground Station.

Next -- A Mysterious Night Out


Rowan said...

I am very fond of the picture of the Tower, all lit up against the darkening sky, where it looks sleepy, yet dignified. If I were to take one image away with me from London, on that day of the fun long stravaig, it would have to be this one. Looking forward to seeing the pics from our return visit on Friday. Tower-tastic! : )
(I kinda liked the place...does it show?)

David Sim, Golspie said...

Dr Bob has a natural eye for a picture and I like her succinct descriptions-obviously Rowan has some experience with the written word! How could the two of you fit in so much in the time? A lot of knowledge and work has gone in to this production--if you get fed up of the day job you could always try photojournalism.

Dr. Bob said...

hey! A true haverer. It is nice to see you. You are welcome to come anytime. You are right -- Rowan knows her way around a well-turned phrase.

Yep, we kinda surprised ourselves on how much we saw. Let's just say that we are good schleppers.

ooooh ... photojournalism. If I quit my day job, that is a possibility.