Monday, September 30, 2013

Before and After Death - The Tower and The Cathedral

For my first day in London, I decided to do the two things I wanted to see the most - The Tower of London (never been) and St. Paul's Cathedral (have been but don't remember.)

Successfully commuting in from Cambridge to King's Cross and then taking the Tube (once an urbanite, always an urbanite), I arrived at the Tower of London on a brightly sunny and gorgeous day, contrasting to the morbid history of the site I was on. I arrived just in time to catch a tour by a Yeoman Warder, aka Beefeater. Of the many things told but what I found most fascinating is the change in tower architecture for defensive towers. Before the Crusades, towers were square. After the Crusades, they were round. 

The Tower also has the only surviving medieval palace in Britain, dating back to the 1200s, which stands in the wall above Traitor's Gate. Prisoners were brought o the Tower through the Gate, two of which were quite famous and queens - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. 

Speaking of Anne Boleyn, I stood where she, and many others, lost their heads, which was quite powerful. Moving on to see where she spent her time before her death, I made my way through the White Tower. It currently houses the Royal Armory, and does not show many signs to the fact that the White Tower used to be the prison and execution site. Other "guests" of the White Tower were Sir Thomas More, Lady Jane Grey, and most famously, Princes Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, also known as the Princes in the Tower, who disappeared and were said to have been either killed by their Uncle Richard or were spirited away to Ireland...Digression...There were two small skeletons found behind a staircase in the White Tower during Charles II's reign. It is thought that these may be the remains of the Princes, which are now interred at Westminster Abbey.  Now that Richard III's remains were discovered and confirmed last year in Leicester, these skeletons will be tested for DNA and compared to Richard III's for confirmation if the tower skeletons are related to Richard, thus proving them to be his nephews. A 540ish mystery may come to an end.

What was quite striking was the vastness of the complex and various architectural styles represented, from Saxon to Norman all the way up to Georgian, as seen in the Hospital buildings and houses. (Evidently, according to my Beefeater tour guide, there are still people who live with their families at the Tower.)

Taking the opportunity to walk, I found my way from the Tower west to St. Paul's Cathedral. Not able to take pictures of the interior, I am not able to describe the awesomeness of the gilded and colorful altars or ceilings. The crypt holds the remains of many famous people. I accidentally walked on Joshua Reynolds and JMW Turner and saw the monuments to Robert Hooke, William Blake, Alexander Fleming, and Lord Nelson. The coffin that Nelson is buried in was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, but when he fell of favor with Henry VIII, he did not receive such a stately burial. The coffin was put into storage for about two hundred years until it was used for Nelson when he died at the Battle of Trafalgar. 

Taking advantage of the perfect weather, I climbed to the Golden Gallery on the top of Wren's great Dome - 550+ steps. And it was worth it for the panoramic views of the London, and the melding of historic architecture and newly modern developments like the Shard.

Photos from the day can be found here

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Experiencing History and Magic

On this lovely sunny and breezy Sunday, I made my way into Cambridge to see what this town is all about since it is so near and dear to my nearest and dearest friends. It was described to me by a friend as, "one of my favorite places on the planet" and another as "just a magical little bubble."

I was guided by my incredibly knowledgeable host, who had something to say about literally everything we passed. In essence, I just followed her and listened.

We first made our way to Chesterton's St. Andrew's Church, to see a medieval wall painting of the Final Judgement.

Walking into town by way of the Midsummer Common and through Jesus Green, we first stopped at St. John's College. Entering St. John's through the gateway with the Tudor coat of arms, we walked along the quads (not through the grass because only Fellows (American equivalent are Professors) are allowed to walk on the grass*) to stand on Kitchen Bridge to see the Bridge of Sighs and watch people punting on the Cam. The Bridge of Sighs, built in the 19th century, was inspired by the covered bridge at the Doge's Palace in Venice.

*According to Cambridge lore, there is evidently "a load of special ducks" that would sit on the green in Emmanuel College. It was noticed that the ducks would sit on the green, which is not allowed since only Fellows are allowed on the green. Therefore, logic would dictate the following three options:
1. It doesn't matter that ducks are on the green. Ducks sit on grass and do not abide by historic precedent for their nesting needs.
2. Let anyone walk on the green.
3. Make the ducks Fellows so that they would be aligned with Cambridge rules and traditions and therefore allowed on the green.

Emmanuel College went with the most logical option, number three. No examples are yet known of students being lectured by a duck, yet.

Venturing onwards to see the next in the series of the "Big Three" Colleges, Trinity College. The largest college, Trinity College was founded in 1546 when Henry VIII consolidated many smaller colleges on the site. The one thing I really wanted to see was the Wren Library. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695, the library contains many special collections,such as 1,250 medieval manuscripts, early Shakespeare editions, and many of Sir Isaac Newton's own book. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go inside, but I did at least see it from the outside.

To see the College that I've heard the most about, we next went to Trinity Hall, which was founded in 1350. Trinity Hall was founded by the Bishop of Norwich to promote the study of law since so many lawyers had died of the Black Death. Law still remains one of the College's strengths.

Lastly, we ended the College tour with King's College. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, the College's most famous feature is it's Chapel. The most exquisite aspect is the glorious van faulting, which is the largest fan vault in the world measuring 289 feet. Henry VIII sponsored the stained-glass window and gifted the organ, which is engraved with his initials and Anne Boleyn's thus dating the organ to the three years he was married to her from 1533 to 1536.

Walking through the center of town, we wandered around the Market, which has been in place since the Medieval age. It was quite amazing to be perusing goods in the same place that people have been doing the very same activity for hundreds of years. 

That time period of several hundred years pales in comparison to my next stop - The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I held a hand axe that is 800,000 years old and a pebble chopper that is approximately 1.2 million years old. It was honestly astounding. Receiving literally the Grand Tour of the museum from my tour guide (who happens to work there), it was amazing to see all the hard and very cool work she does every day.

Walking home along the Cam, I concluded that Cambridge is magical.

Photos from the day can be found here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Very English Afternoon, the First of Many

After successfully transversing the Atlantic to arrive in London, and then making my way to Cambridge via various transportational devices, I spent the afternoon in sublime bliss full of tea, sunshine and breezes, and cows.

Taking a walk from Chesterton to Fen Ditton, I was informed of various aspects of local history by my resident tour guide, host, and dear friend, such as:

Chesterton used to be its own distinct village. As Cambridge grew, nearby villages, such as Chesterton, were absorbed to now be neighborhoods.

Chesterton was once a Roman settlment. 

The rectors for the church in Chesterton can be traced back to 1200.

Not only is there still a Common, Stourbridge Common, but it is used by local farmers for grazing their cattle. So as you are walking through the Common, cows graze throughout providing a brief glimpse of past farming practices. 

The Stourbridge Fair was held on Stourbridge Common, and was the largest Fair in the Medieval and Renaissance  periods. The Fair lasted for a month while in its headday. By the end, the Fair lasted for a few days.

A leper chapel still stands on Stourbridge Common. King John granted the chapel the right to hold the Fair in 1199 to raise funds for the chapel and their leper colony. The leper colony closed in the 13th century, and the Fair was then run by the City of Cambridge. The Fair contiuned to grow in popularity, declining in the late 18th century. The last year the Fair ran was 1933. 

The Fair made apperances in such literary works as Pilgrim's Progress, Vanity Fair, and Defoe's Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. 

The Stourbridge Common follows the path along the raceway of the Cam, where the Bumps take place every year. 

And now it is time for a lovely dinnner with vegetables from a true English Garden. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rediscovering England - The Itinerary

The more I researched and read and planned for my upcoming trip, the more excited I am!

Countdown until departure = 6 Days!

After reading through two of my favorite traveling planning books (Frommer's England and the Best of Wales and DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Britain), I've come up with an overwhelming list of things to do, places to go, sites to see.

And my list is....

East Anglia
Saffron Walden

East Midland
Chatsworth House
Burghley House

Tower of London
Westminster Abbey
St. Paul's Cathedral (and yes, I'm going to the top of Wren's Dome!)
National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum
Royal London Hospital Museum
Hampton Court (if time allows)

I'll have a home base in Cambridge, which is near and dear to a few of my nearest and dearest, so I'm glad to finally experience the magic of this old town. It will also make traveling easier to have one place to stay and to "fake live" in England for two weeks. It'll be interesting to experience what it is like to live in not only another city but also another country for a brief period of time.

More to come...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rediscovering England


Finally, after two years without a proper vacation, I'm making my way across the great Atlantic to Albion for two full weeks steeped in history. I'm compiling a list of places I want to see around London and various other environs, such as East Anglia, Yorkshire, and the Lake District. I'm beyond excited to explore the Tower of London, climb to the top of St. Paul's, and visit Highgate Cemetery (which I wrote about in these two previous posts: here and here.)

So while I'm discovering all sorts things of English and historical significance, I'll blog about each days' adventures. (At least the goal will be to blog each day...let's see how that goes.)

Departure date is in 19 days so I best get cracking on setting my itinerary!