Trip to England: Tower of London

On Monday Charlie and I headed out early from our flat in Chelsea so we could be in the first group to go into the Tower of London, a royal palace with a sinister history of imprisonment and beheadings. We took the District Line underground to the Tower Hill station.

Inside the Tower of London royal castle.

The advantage of getting to venues early is that the tour buses have not yet arrived. At the Tower of London, in particular, being first means getting in line before 9 a.m. when it opens, except on Monday (and Sunday) when the start time is 10 a.m.  So we were there on Monday.

The guards at all the royal palaces were similarly dressed.

The most popular attraction at the Tower is the Crown jewels where photography is not permitted. Outside the building that houses the jewels are armed guards carrying serious weapons. We felt very safe.

When the moat was filled with water, the sewage caused sickness amongst the soldiers garrisoned there.

We began our time inside the walls of this fortified castle (built in 1079) by standing in the moat (dry now) to wait for our yeoman warder (Beefeater) who would be our guide.

Today’s Yeoman Warders need to have at least 22 years’ military service. Apart from that, they need to have reached the rank of warrant officer and to have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal. They also need to be between 40 and 55 years old on appointment.

He was witty and informative so we followed along with the group for a few stops then slipped off to see the Crown jewels before the crowds increased because we had heard the wait could be an hour or more.

No photos inside but the jewels are dazzling.

We went right through with no wait and few people to impede us.  The regalia is beautiful.  I noted to Charlie that it will most likely be used again in our lifetime since the Queen is in her nineties.

Victoria sponge

We stopped for a coffee and piece of Victoria sponge in the Tower cafe. We have found all the cafes attached to royal venues to be attractive and tasty and well worth the opportunity to sit and relax for a few minutes.

Charlie and a raven comparing beaks.

Our last stop  at The Tower of London was the raven aviary. The Tower has a ravenmaster who takes care of the imperative six plus a spare ravens which reside there. Legend has it that “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”

I was a little uncomfortable this close to a raven especially when he started to squawk and dance.

Ravens are huge birds in the crow family.  I’m sure they could do great harm with their long, pointy beaks but these ravens are accustomed to people and will let them get very close.

The Beefeaters are gracious to pose for photographs.

Next stop Tower Bridge.

Do big birds scare you?

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Trip to England: Westminster Abbey

After attending a late morning church service at Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Church of England) Charlie and I started to walk in a westerly direction across London through Covent Garden, Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square, and Piccadilly Circus to Hawksmore Air Street.

Roast beef dinner — a Sunday tradition.

We had made internet reservations for a Sunday roast beef dinner and arrived on time.  We were seated immediately and served a glorious meal of greens, roasted carrots, fried potatoes, an entire bulb of roasted garlic, roasted shallot, and roast beef (mine was rare, Charlie’s was well done).  To top it off we both got a pitcher of delicious onion gravy. Actually Charlie got 2 pitchers.

That is clotted cream on our sticky pudding.

Then for dessert, I mean pudding, we ordered a sticky toffee pudding to split.  Our waiter made it special by having the kitchen write happy anniversary on the plate.  He also arranged for 2 glasses of special juice since we weren’t drinking alcohol. (The waiter wanted to bring champagne.)

Westminster Abbey — North Face.

After finishing dinner we took the subway from Piccadilly Circus to Westminster.  We walked around the outside of Westminster Abbey and queued to the North Door.  We had planned to attend an organ recital at 4:45 pm free to anyone.  There was a magnificent Swedish organist who really let the organ rip.

Interior Westminster Abbey.

After the half-hour concert Charlie and I were ushered into the area near the main altar for an Evensong service conducted by one of the deans of Westminster.  He was a very interesting man and we were glad to have attended.  It was an intimate service in this very large venue and once again we had front row seats.

The famous London black cab.

After the service it was beginning to get dark outside and my feet were killing me so Charlie hailed a “black cab” to take us back to our flat in Chelsea.  Black cabbies study for years to learn “the knowledge” that allows them to take you anywhere in London.  Our flat is on a street that is only one block long yet the driver knew just how to get us there with no help from SatNav or GPS.  Quite amazing.

Do have a favorite dessert?

Trip to England: Saint Paul’s

On Sunday morning Charlie and I took the London Underground from Earl’s Court station to Mansion station.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the dome toward the right of the photo as viewed from the south side of the river.

We looked up into the sky for the very distinctive dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral which was easy to spot.

The approach to Saint Paul’s from the Mansion underground station.

Entry for the 11:30 service, Sung Eucharist, was unchallenging.  No queueing, just stand at the back of the church until the previous service is over.

The choir sat to the right of the organ on the cathedral floor under the dome. (That’s Charlie’s sleeve on the lower left.)

Charlie and I were able to sit at the end of the front row nearest the organ and choir. The choir consisted of 10 men, 2 women, and 24 boys.  We were all “under the dome” for what is considered the grandest service of the week.

The dome of Saint Paul’s from the inside.

The music was exquisite especially these young choir boys singing a capella Latin liturgy. Without amplification of any kind their voices filled the cathedral.  The whole of this service was sung even by the officiant.

Looking toward the altar.

All were invited to take communion which we did.  Most partakers took a sip of wine from the chalice but I dipped my host into the element as a form of intinction which was readily accepted by the minister holding the cup.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, Church of England.

We stayed for the organ voluntary at the end of the service. Charlie loves organ music.

Do you have a favorite musical instrument to listen to?

Trip to England: Stonehenge

Charlie and I had early morning tickets to visit Stonehenge before the daytime visitors arrived.

Our early morning breakfast.

We packed our bags at 4:15 a.m. and had a bite to eat that the night porter brought to us 15 minutes later.

Charlie gave driving on the right side of the car a try.

We headed off to Stonehenge using our Sat Nav (GPS) to direct us the 39 miles to the area. With early morning traffic it took us about an hour to get there.

A view of the stone circle at Stonehenge.

We were let in through the gates by a guard to whom we showed our access ticket.  We were instructed to park then walk over to the nearby building which holds a shop and a cafe (both closed) and toilets (open). We were to meet a shuttle bus on the access road which would take us to the stones.

We could get very close to the stones and inspect each divot.

We were allowed to walk amongst the stones and take pictures but “NO TOUCHING”.

Lighting cables are stashed at the bottom of the stones.

We were warned not to trip over the electric cables that had been laid for an event later that evening.

A foggy morning at Stonehenge.

The land was covered with fog which made Stonehenge feel timeless. Stonehenge is believed to be 5117 years old.

The sun rose n the easter sky between the stone uprights.

Charlie and I were amongst the stones for the sunrise which happened about 6:30 a.m. that day.

Charlie between a rock and a hard place.

Cold: Yes.  Expensive: Yes.  But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.

What’s the oldest relic you have viewed?

Trip to England: Windsor Castle

Charlie drove our rental car into Enterprise Slough (rhymes with “plough”) just 5 miles north of Windsor in England.  Apparently there are 2 “Sloughs” — one has Windsor in its area and one does not.  We needed to get to Windsor so we had chosen the Slough closest to that place when making arrangements from the United States. Even though they were closest Windsor was not in their district.  However Charlie convinced Toby, the Enterprise agent, to give us a lift to Windsor 5 miles away. Thank you, Toby.

Standing at the High Street and Castle Hill waiting for the Royal Guard.

Dropped off at the Windsor train station, we walked uphill to the intersection in front of Windsor Castle where the Windsor Guard led by the Regimental Band marched through the streets and into the Castle grounds.

Windsor Castle is like a small village with over 150 permanent residents.

Charlie and I had pre-purchased tickets online so we went straight to the front of the line where we were sent through security with our suitcases because we were between residences and heading into London from Bath after stopping at Windsor. We were hoping to stash our things in a special locker but instead we had to drag everything with us over the castle grounds until we arrived at the State Apartments.

The moat garden can only be viewed over a wall.

First we passed by the castle’s moat which has never had water in it in all of its 948 years.  Instead it has been planted as a garden.

The Royal Cloak Room — we left everything except our cloaks.

Before heading into the State Rooms we stopped by the “Cloak Room” and gave our luggage to the attendant to who exchanged plastic numbered tabs for our things.  The luggage was carried through to the other side and we would pick it up on our way out of the castle. (We would then have to lug it to the Chapel where Harry and Meghan were married: Saint George’s Chapel at Windsor.)

Charlie will never pass on ice cream.

On our way to the State Apartments Charlie stopped to get a mango sorbet from the Windsor Dairy.

These benches might be inspiration for our benches at Glade Chapel.

We lounged on the benches that lined the walkway.

Windsor Castle inside the gates.

As we were not permitted to take photos inside the castle I can only post outside pictures.

Windsor Castle is a memory.

A side note: When one of the guards saw Charlie and me lugging our suitcases around he asked us if Her Majesty “were” expecting us.  We only wish it had been so.

Do you have a favorite food that you can never turn down?

Trip to England: Bath Abbey Bell Tower

Lest you think the only thing Charlie and I did in England was to eat, we also climbed steps, 212 overall.

Our tour took us over the area in front of the stained glass window on the eastern wall of the the Abbey.

We bought two £8 tickets to climb the bell tower of Bath Abbey with our guide Laura.

Many of the buildings in Bath are constructed of golden Bath limestone.

First we climbed a spiral staircase to a narrow path on the roof of the abbey.  The view was very good.

The Bath Abbey bells are a 10-bell set and therefore 10 rope pulls.

Then we crossed that roof and went up another spiral staircase to the ringing room where all-things-church-bell were explained to us. The beautifully soft woolen handle on the bell pull-ropes is called a sally. The ropes are different lengths to accommodate different sizes and weights (and therefore pitches) of bells.

Our guide sitting in front of the biggest bell in the tower.

After that we went up to the bell tower where the bells are actually kept — 10 in all.

We’re inside the clock. The movement moves imperceptibly slow.

Across the vaulted ceiling from the bell tower is the Abbey clock that face Abbey plaza.

View from the top of the tower.

Finally we climbed to the very top of the tower where all of Bath — 360 degrees — can be seen.

Graffiti was carved into the lead of the wall on the tower roof.

On the wall of this uppermost platform is graffiti carved into the wall that is hundreds of years old.

Are you comfortable with heights?

Trip to England: Anniversary Tea

Charlie and I were in Bath in the UK for our wedding anniversary (#9).

The Pump Room

We decided to take tea at the Pump Room which is attached to the Roman baths at Bath. We had plans at tea time so we showed up at the restaurant at noon when we were immediately seated.  As time progressed other tables started to fill. Had we arrived later we would have had to wait at the door for a table.

Tea sandwiches on the bottom, scones and clotted cream in the middle, and sweets on top.

I ordered a proper English tea which came with small sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, and desserts.

A small glass with smoked salmon spread was served with toasted bread crisps.

Everything was delicious but I especially like the scones which I don’t usually care for.  I drank my entire pot of tea.

Fish cakes and smashed peas.

Charlie eschewed tea in favor of Cornish cod fish cakes and smashed peas.

A fountain urn sits in the window alcove with famous Bath mineral water spouting from it.

He really enjoyed the piano music, especially Gershwin favorites, that played throughout lunch from the grand piano at the front of the room.

Water from the fountain can be tasted for 50 pence per glass.

Of course I shared my desserts with him.  Happy anniversary.

What is your go-to celebration meal?