Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Towerful Tuesday

By Tuesday we figured we'd be out of jet lag enough that we could see the Tower of London, so we marched down there first thing in the morning. It was cool and overcast and we were grateful. We walked right up to the jewel house first and saw the crown jewels first off. They were pretty spectacular. There were lots of Disneyland-style lines with ropes and movies playing, but they weren't necessary because we walked right up to the good stuff. The choicest pieces (the crowns) are set up now with moving walkways on both sides of them to keep people from crowding those and never moving. Rob thinks it's precisely what you need at church buffets -- grab that iceberg salad and that roll as you slide by or it's gone!
We went down the backs of the crowns, then we stood up higher to walk at our own pace, and then slid by the fronts one last time, oohing and aahing at some of the world's largest diamonds. Aside from the crowns the family favorite was a punch bowl the size of a small bathtub with a ladle shaped like a shell.
Aren't they cute?! We came out of the jewel house and the line got longer and longer. That was a Rick Steves tip (to jewel first) and it was a good one.
They have an exhibit up right now about the menagerie and sculptures of former inhabitants that are made out of chicken wire. Very cool.
There were also many, many school groups visiting in their v-neck sweaters or their neon vests, but none were as cute as these French kids in their two straight lines. Lots of us were sneaking pictures of them in their ginghams and short pants and boaters.
We ran into this obliging gentleman who let the boys try on his helmet. Here is Will in the liner. I think it looks like a hotpad.
And Sebastian too. We thought it looked rather like a dustbin. He told us it was late-12th century/early 13th century inside the helmet.
Just love those chicken wire animals! At this point we split up and Rob took Joss through the animal exhibit where Joss claims he heard a "cockaroody" (I'd guess a rooster except that he says it roars). Rob learned about the guest who got her arm bitten off by a lion and the beefeater who was almost lost to a boa constrictor. Yeah. Just two reasons they decided to move the animals up to Regents park and make a zoo.
The kids and I went on the beefeater tour. We'd learned all about them from a video we checked out. They recite 900 years of history in 53 minutes and they have to do it all loudly and wittily. It usually takes them a few months before they try to pass it off to the head yeoman dude and as the trainee was told before he began "By the end of this you're going to hate this stuff. You're going to hate me. You're going to hate everyone". Our guy here was crackin' good -- Maddie has been quoting him ever since.
These were the only ravens we saw. Legend has it that if they leave, the Tower won't be protected and as I recall, they were walking around the green last time I was here. They tried clipping their wings, but then they couldn't mate, so they had to build them ramps to help with takeoff.
We saw our first guard
And we went through the White Tower (the one that started it all, built by William the Conquerer).
They had armor, but it was not as extensive a collection as Vienna's. However they do excel at the interactive. Here Will and Sebi are trying to shoot a crossbow.
This was an exhibit to explain the weapons: grab a weapon and it tells you how to wield it to inflict maximum damage (we stayed in this room for quite a while, as you can imagine)
Rob took the kids through more of the towers and part of the wall walk.
I stayed downstairs with that napping stylemeister Joss.
Then there was a typical London deluge for half an hour or so. When I was here for a summer in 1992, I always seemed to get caught in a cloudburst as I'd walk from my office to the tube. I never did remember to put on a raincoat or pack an umbrella and I'd always be the sopping wet American riding home. This time I did pack the four umbrellas, but I still could have done better -- It was raining hard enough we could have used the stroller's rain guard and the kids' jackets.
Thankfully it didn't last long. After the Tower, we went home for a siesta. We knew after Monday's schlep that we needed some down time. In the evening we took the students out to a brilliant fish n' chips restaurant. Or rather, we took two because the other seven got lost and didn't show up.
We've heard from other directors about how much time they spend waiting for students who are perpetually late. Rob and I have never had a group with this problem. I think it's because we've left the late ones behind in the first week of the trip and never missed them! It is a shame though because it was a great meal. Our kids polished off their plates, scarfed down ketchup, tartar sauce and vinegar with everything and we tried four desserts afterward: bread and butter pudding, chocolate sponge, raspberry sponge, and spotted dick (a steamed pudding).
This is the point where the sane people pat their tummies and turn in for bed.
Not us.
We rode back across town to the Tower where we were greeted by the yeoman warder to watch the Ceremony of the Keys. This is the locking up of the fortress each night complete with lantern, guns, trumpet and lots of regimental bellowing. It was a more intimate and abbreviated beefeater tour, too. Joss and Sebi were certainly the youngest kids there and Rob and I spent a lot of energy trying to keep him from singing "Fish and chips and vineguuuuuuuuur!" at the top of his lungs during the whole event. He didn't and we made it through to the end, but we found we weren't finished yet.
I thought that once it was over you'd go out some freight elevator or service entrance, but no, you walk out through the entrances except that they're all locked. You slip out the cat flap as it were. Except that this is a seriously medieval cat flap -- really skinny. We got Joss out of the inner door by shimmying his stroller around one wheel at a time, but the outer door? Even narrower. There was no way his Phil & Ted's was fitting through that slit. So we popped him out and I took off both back wheels and collapsed it. I was tossing wheels through and when I walked out, there was a very surprised maintenance guy waiting there. I looked at him and said "Bet you don't see that every night!"
It was nearly eleven, but we stopped and bought the kids ice cream to reward them for a long day, then made our way back to apartment to crash.


Ann said...

So fun to see what you're up to! I love the second pic. Miss you.

Janet M Kincaid said...

Let's see... We were in London June 16 - 20. Did we just miss you guys? Are you in Tubingen now? We need to find a weekend to come and see y'all!