Monday, July 21, 2008

Euro-Trip Day 2

The first day was not what I had hoped for. We had originally planned to go see the British Museum, but I didn't anticipate being as tired as I was. Well, we got to our hotel room and I slept for only 6 hours and was up at 4:30. The sun comes up early here and goes down later. So the sun started coming through the curtains at about 4:15 and I also couldn't take any more of my dad's snoring (it's not his fault) so I got up, showered and went down to the lobby to continue reading Gore Vidal's Burr (what can I say? I'm on a Vidal kick right now). So I stayed down there until about 7:00 which was when we set the wake-up call for. My dad was now up so I started flipping channels to see what was on TV. I got caught up on English sports scores and was happy to find out that American sports were highlighted. All of us met downstairs at the lobby at 8:00 and found a bus to take us to Baker Street. It was cold. I mean cold. This is July and I was wearing jeans and a jacket. Not only cold but windy. Man, I could see myself living here (I hate heat). We stopped off at a place to get a "traditional" English breakfast, which, I admit is not what I really want. A traditional English breakfast is 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon (tastes more like ham), sausage (not like our sausage links or patties), toast, baked beans, black pudding, tomatoes and coffee or tea. I decided to pass and went with something a little more easy on my stomach.

We then started to head over to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the gaurds. We got there at about 10:40. The change starts at 11:30 and everyone recommends you be there by 11:00 to get a spot. We were situated opposite Buckingham and the main gate at the statue of Queen Victoria which has some very good classical influence. There were tons of people there, I mean tons. The bobbies were out in force and telling people who were climbing on the statue of Victoria to get down from their high vantage point. The Union Jack was flying over Buckingham so you knew that the Queen was in that day. As a a palace, Buckingham is not that impressive from the outside (I'm sure from the inside it is nothing short of magnificnet). Finally teh change starts to occur. It is standing room only. We already see a contingent of guards come from the side and their commander starts barking orders. We are too far away and the guards are still behind the gates to really see what is going on. Of course, I was impressed by how disciplined they were standing there rifles in hand for 25 minutes. Then we start hearing drumbeats and another contingent of guards entered the left gate. There were some maneuvers, but again, we couldn't see. Then later we heard some instruments play and another contingent of guards, both dressed in red and black and fully armed, with the Queen's band arrived. They marched right in front of us so we got some good pictures. Again, I was amazed by the discipline and their marching style was just really cool. They went in the right gate. There were some exchanges between the commanders of the respectiv guard units all the while the two color bearers were marching the premises in lock step. I'm not sure what the purpose is. A small group of guards departed and I'm not sure why. Then the band set up and started playing some music to keep the crowd entertained. They even played the Spy Hunter theme. Weird. After some more maneuvers, the guards split up in two and were about to come through the center gate. The first battalion came out marching to Mozart's Non piu andre from Le Nozze di Figaro (Brian, I know you'd appreciate that!) and the second battalion came out marching to the traditional tune of the the World Turn'd Upside Down (those of you who have seen Mel Gibson's The Patriot will have heard that tune throughout the movie). I was disappointed not to hear Rule Brittania nor god Save the Queen. We're in England, damnit! All in all, the changing of the guard was a really over-hyped affair. it's something to see, but really nothing to get worked into a frenzy over.

After that, we caught a taxi for Trafalgar Square. Here is where you have Lord Nelson's column, who was the victor over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile and again at Trafalgar where he lost his life but won the battle (true military genius). You have other monuments to other kings such as George IV and Charles II and a nice archway with a Latin inscription dedicated to Queen Victoria. This is also where the National Gallery is located. It is free admission, but we were taking it easy prior to our going to the Tower of London, where we headed for next.

We got to the Tower of London at about 2;30. I first noticed what seemed to be an old Roman wall and it was. It was part of the original fortified outpost of London built around 200 A.D. The wall extended all the way to the Thames river and was used as a supporting wall (I would find out later) for the original design for the Tower of London. They had also unearthed there a bronze statue (believed to be the Emperor Trajan; I don't think so, it looks more like Augustus, but why would his image be there?) and an inscription from C. Iulius Classicanus, one of the imperial governors. We got into the tower. I had always believed that the Tower of London was just a tower. How good to be proven wrong. This was a fortification and a palace as well as a place for condemned prisoners. I went off on my own exploring while my parents and sister took a guided tour. I went into the apartment of Edward I and Henry III. It's not as ornate as you might expect but the building techniques for that day and age (originally started in 1077, but Henry III and his son Edward I made extensive changes to make it the tower we know today in the late 1200s) were nothing short of impressive. I went through the White Tower and saw the armory (which it became later on rather than a palace). The amount and kinds of weapons stored there in such intricate displays was cool. There was enough there to start a small war, even by today's standards! There were all sorts of suits of armor including the armor of Henry VIII which also had a giant cock plate where he was obviously displaying his own insecurities.

We saw the crown jewels most of which are replicas. The star of Africa is housed elsewhere as well as the large sapphire and ruby that are part of the collection. ANd we paid money, I thought, to see the real thing! Typical.

Following the Tower, we went to meet a friend of Stephanie, Francesca, who is in the same program. She is from Venice and is very nice. REgrettably, I was not able to practice my Italian with her, but I am so out of practice that I would have just made a fool out of myself. We went out for dinner and I must say that British cuisine is really not all that great! Fish and chips are famous but when you get down to it-it is almost disgusting! But hey, the Brits cannot be good at everything, can they?

We went home where I was still in much need of sleep and failed to get it. The next day was going to be a busy one with trips to Westminster Abbey and the British Museum as well as a boat cruise down the River Thames.

I hope you are all well. More later.

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