Update: O.K. It’s Friday and we’re on a train to Cambridge to see Jen and Mark Desvaux so I’ve got time to write now. Yesterday we started the day with a ferry down the Thames to the Tower of London. It was fantastic. We got there at 9: 30 am sharp for opening and there was nobody there. All morning it felt like there were no tourists yet in London (the tourists are back today however; more on that later). The cobbled streets in the fortress were murder on the feet though and we were exhausted by lunch.
Moment of Irony: When King Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic church he appointed himself as the leading religious authority. He had at least two people murdered (Thomas More, Cardinal John Fisher and others) and then eventually put at least three of his wives to death. What a vile and depraved man! Yet on the way out you could buy mugs, fridge magnets, or T-Shirts with him on it. We don’t sell O.J. Simpson shirts! Why sell King Henry VIII shirts? Anyway, the whole fortress was huge! 17 acres of buildings dating back to the 15th century (some as old as the 9th century!).
Moment of Reality: In the movie Braveheart, Mel Gibson lifts a Portcullis (drawbridge gate) himself and lets his buddies out of a fortress in Scotland. An actual one is huge! The one at the Tower weighs over two tons! Mel Gibson might have been able to lift that but there’s no way William Wallace would have lifted one. While in the White tower (it was like the White House only more castley) I got to sit on a 900 year old toilet, just for fun.
The crown jewels were amazing. At the head of the coronation staff is a diamond called the Star of Africa – 533 karats! It’s the size of a kiwi! The best part is that there were no line-ups. We haven’t stood in a line the whole time we’ve been here. Julie and I were in the room with the crown jewels, on our own for at least 15 minutes. We saw two or three other people the whole time we were in there. I was imagining how cool it would be to steal them but I didn’t.
Across the Street we saw an exposed part of the original Roman wall around the city of London. Built in the 1st century A.D. it marked the easterly limit of the city. Amazing. The Tower Hill Tube station (subway) is built around the ruins of the original gate.
Next we went to the British Museum. I nearly cried. We saw the Rosetta Stone, it was discovered by Napolean in 1799, taken from French Soldiers by the British and presented to King George of England in 1801??? Until then there was no one on earth who could read Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Stone includes Egyptian, something Arabic, and ancient Greek describing a decree from Ptolemy V, describing the repeal of various taxes and instructions to erect statues in temples. Since they knew what the second two languages said they could figure out what the Egyptian said. Very cool. This was about the point where the battery on the camera died. We couldn’t believe it. I got about 6 more pictures before it died. Grr.
Next we saw two bearded men / lions that weighed multiple tons each that stood at the entrance to the city of Nineveh in the 8th century B.C. The prophet Jonah would have walked between these two lions on his way into Nineveh. Amazing. Also saw Sennacherib’s victory stele which tells of the siege of King Hezekiah in Jerusalem (2 Kg 18-19, 2 Chr 32 and Is 36-37) . Amazing. There was also a room full of stone friezes from King Asurbanipal’s palace. They showed the victory of the city of Lacish and the Jews going into exile in 701 B.C. Unbelievable.
We took about four hours looking around. It was unbelievable and we barely scratched the surface. Both of us couldn’t believe that it was free. It was like the ROM on steroids. I was totally bummed about the camera but there was nothing I could do.
In the evening we took a walk from the Hyde Corner tube station through St. James Park (lovely) and got to see Buckingham Palace just as the sun was setting (wish the camera worked). The flag was up so the Queen was home. I waved but I don’t think she saw me. Next we walked through St. James and stopped for coffee across the street from the Nelson monument. Just up the Mall is a monument to Prince Fredrick, Duke of York. He was the younger brother of King George IV and was the commander and chief of the armed forces in the 18th century. He was apparently known for being a very decisive leader. At the peak of the British Conquest of the 18th century he was in command of 10 000 men. He was known to march them up the hill and march them down again. When they were up, they were up and when they were down they were down, and when they were only half … well you get the picture.
We returned to the hotel utterly exhausted. I crawled on my knees to the bathroom to brush my teeth because I couldn’t bear the thought of putting my feet on the ground again. We slept like stones.