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U.K. Travel Diary – Day 1

March 28, 2011

Over the next few weeks, I plan on publishing some of my journal and pics from our vacation to the U.K.  Although it is a little far afield from the normal entertainment content of my blog, it is a fun insight into some locations where great movies have been filmed and set.  Don’t worry – I’ll still be including movie reviews, etc. in addition to the travel entries…

DAY 1 – London

Arrived at Heathrow early in the morning.  Heathrow security is SERIOUS.  Do NOT make them angry.  The average policemen don’t carry guns, but the airport folks carry automatic weapons that are larger than they are.  As Bridget Jones would say, “Vry Vry lrg guns.”

Upon arriving at our hotel, we were on our own for the first day as official tour activities did not start until Sunday.  We mastered the Tube first thing, as our hotel was right off the Bakerloo line, which connects to the center of London.  I felt like a pro – nothing in London ever made me feel scared, overwhelmed or lost.  They have an awesome transit system, and everywhere in the touristy sections is marked with very detailed maps and signs.

Tube station for our hotel off of Edgware Road

We went for a walk around Trafalgar Square, with its bright fountains and aggressive pidgeons.  Kids and adults of all ages were climbing around Nelson’s Column in the unusually bright March sunshine.  It was a gloriously balmy, clear day.

We then walked up the steps off the square to the National Gallery and saw (among other works of art) Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” and Monet’s “The Lily Pond”.  Very  crowded, but awe-inspiring how much masterwork can be crammed into one historic building.

Our first London meal was at Pizza Express, which is the London version of California Pizza Kitchen.  We soon discovered we are no longer in the land of supersize beverages or fast service.

fountains at Trafalgar Square

It will cost you about 4 pounds for a 12 oz Coke, which comes with lemon, not lime, and two measly cubes of ice if you are lucky.

We then took the tube to Embankment Pier, which is lovely – such a stunning view of the Thames.  The area outside the station is picture book London: giant pidgeons, cute cafes, perfectly manicured, green parks and gorgerous old buildings.

chapel inside the White Tower

From Embankment, we went to the Tower of London, which is one of the most incredible things I’ve even experienced.  I would happily move in with the Beefeaters (who have lived and worked in the Tower for hundreds of years) if they would take me on.  It was immensely moving to walk around and touch the walls where makers and shakers of history ate, slept, consulted and worshipped.

At the Tower of London

I stood in the same rooms where Robert Dudley, Jane Grey, and Walter Raliegh were all held prisoner.  I glanced up and got weepy eyed upon seeing the Bloody Tower, where the little princes met their ends at the hands of either Richard III or Henry VII (depending on your point-of-view).

There is an awesome armory exhibit on display in the White Tower (which itself dates to 1066).  It was a tie for most shocking:  Henry VIII’s giant codpiece on his 1541 armor, or the sad little set of full battle gear for his sickly son, Edward VI).

We then paused on the Tower Green, where illustrious prisoners were once granted the great honor of a “private” (under 25 people) execution.  Among those who met their untimely ends here are Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard.  There is a glass monument honoring those who perished on the Green.

the Tower guards march

The most moving part of the day for me was the chance to get to sit inside the tiny chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula (Peter in Chains), a living, working chapel, where those beheaded on the green were casually tossed beneath the floorboards without a marker or second thought.   They were almost lost to history until later generations discovered them.  The remains of Jane Grey, Katharine Howard (whose body Henry VIII didn’t even leave intact due to her adultery, pouring lyme into the coffin) and Anne Boleyn lie directly under the chapel’s altar.  It is such a peaceful, sad place that brought tears of wonder and sadness to my eyes. Such a lonely little chapel where so many great (and mostly innocent) men and women met their undignified ends simply because they were on the wrong side of a tempestuous monarch (Henry VIII, I’m talking to YOU).

The White Tower, first built in 1066 by William the Conquerer

The chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula is a holy pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics, as its crypt contains the remains of two saints: Thomas More and Roger Fisher, who both were victims of Henry VIII’s ire and need to be head of the English church.  Ironically, they are buried within spitting distance of Anne Boleyn, the very woman who was the impetus of Henry’s need to become head of church and state.  Anne would have the last laugh, as her Lutheran and Reformist beliefs would shape the future of the realm under her daughter, Elizabeth I’s rule.

Tune in next week for Day 2!

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