Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Tower of London - full of great stories

The Tower of London, containing the White Palace, is a must-see when in London. There is so much history and many fascinating stories to discover. Make sure you do a tour accompanied by a yeoman warder. They bring everything to life and give you the juicy bits.

The Tower idea first saw daylight towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. William needed to cnstruct defenses for his new realm. The White Tower which gives the castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror  and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite; a bit like the Bastille in France. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. But has also been a luxurious Royal Palace for centuries too.

It has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the Royal Mint and is still the home of the Crown Jewels of England. 

The peak period of the castle's use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries, when many famous figures  such as Elizabeth before she became queen, Sir Walter Raleigh and Margaret Pole were held within its walls.  Ann Bolyn was executed there on Tower Green and a plaque marks the spot where she and others like poor old Margaret Pole met their end.

Royalty and nobles often has very comfortable lodgings just before execution. They arrived via the River Thames at Traitor's Gate. Some prisoners were in unpleasant lodgings and were tortured, such as Guy Fawkes. Most were executed nearby at Tower Hill. Rudolph Hess, Hitler's deputy, was held there for a while. The castle suffered bomb damage during WWII but was rapidly repaired and reopened as a key tourism attraction, as it has been for hundreds of years.

There's the infamous story of the princes in the tower who were probably murdered at the behest of their uncle Richard III who was seizing the throne after the death of his brother Henry IV. Skeletons were found of two boys and buried properly some years ago. The irony is that Richard was also found recently, unceremoniously lying under a carpark in Leicester, outside of London.he to has been reburied.

It must have been a wonder in the days when it housed the Royal Menagerie before zoos really existed, with lions and other exotic beasts and birds. These days there are only wire sculptured animals on display as remnants of a past exhibition. They are cleverly made from chicken wire.

There are still 7 ravens lving there and probably always will be as there's a saying that if the ravens leave the realm will fall.

I very much enjoyed this visit, arriving by a Thames cruise, being escorted around by a knowledgable yeoman warder. These guys are there to defend the place. They are all ex military service men and it's a sinecure for life. They have the right to be buried on site. Few others, apart from royalty through the ages, have had that right. You can catch the ferry back to Westminster if you wish. The Tower ramparts are also a great place to watch the Tower Bridge. I had the luck to be there just as it was opening for a small cruise liner.
For lots more info on the history of the Tower of London go to 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Doing the Lambeth Walk.

More than six years had passed living in France and I had never, ever visited England. So near and yet so far. Having no idea how long I will stay in France I decided to bite the bullet and just do it while I still lived in Europe. Many of my ancesters were English and Irish as well as French - it was time to explore another of my cultural and DNA influences.

I used airbnb to keep the costs down yet stay in central London for five nights. I'd have loved to have rented an apartment but all I could manage was a room in an apartment in a block of apartments in Lambeth with other renters. It wasn't ideal with only one bathroom and toilet and limited cooking facilities so I decided not to cook. Instead I included pottles of yoghurt and a jar of cereal for my budget breakfasts in my luggage. I bought milk teabags and sugar from a little grocery shop not far away. That's the advantage, for the moment, of the UK being part of Europe - you can just bring anything with you.

I have to say, I loved London. It was so good to speak English everywhere I went. I felt quite safe and wasn't worried about terrorists, even though London has experienced its fair share in the past. In London its easy to walk along the river as far as you want, easier than Paris and the Seine. It's cleaner too and it seemed livelier, more optimistic. Paris is grey and depressed these days with tourist numbers considerably down.

Living where I was, I did A LOT of walking to get around the central city. It was doable. I learnt to catch the bus using my Oyster card kindly given to me by a friend's daughter who's living in London. I often got fed up waiting for the bus, especially at night and would just take off in the direction of my lodgings. It wasn't unusual for me to beat the bus home and it was pretty cool walking along the Thames at any hour, day or night. The Tube station nearest to my accommodation was closed for renovations so walking along Lambeth Road, past the Lambeth Walk became regular.

I got to know the bridges over the Thames very well, especially Lambeth and Westminister bridges. I sometimes caught a bus outside the remains of Lambeth Palace to Victoria Coach station on the North bank for day-tours.

The Houses of Parliament were my daily accompaniment on my walks, past the London Eye and the Art Gallery. My first monument to visit was the Museum of London. It's located near St Paul's Cathedral.
They had a special exhibition on about the Great Fire of 1666 but I didn't have time to visit that. Instead I enjoyed the general exposition on the history of London including very ancient times, invasions by Romans, Vikings, the Black Death, the Great Fire, theatres like the Globe and the Rose, wars (inevitably) costumes and paintings. Many of the museums and art galleries are free in London which is a wonderful way to share culture and history.