Monday, June 9, 2014

Adventures at and around the Tower of London

Visiting the Tower of London - a former royal palace, which Henry VIII famously turned into a prison - is expensive, so expensive in fact that we hadn't thought we'd visit it at all. However, I remembered last Saturday evening that I'd made plans to meet a musicologist from Ireland at the Tower's chapel service the next morning. It turns out that, as at St Paul's Cathedral, "I'm here for the service" are the magic words. We were admitted free of charge into the Tower, and had a few minutes to enjoy the stunning architecture on our way to the chapel. And it's not just any chapel, it's one of the Chapels Royal (though we learned that the Queen seldom attends services, unless they're singing Stanford in B-flat!)

The service, Choral Matins, was really lovely, and featured the Te Deum from William Byrd's Great Service (as I whispered to husband when it was done, "this is why Queen Elizabeth tolerated Byrd's Catholicism!") We enjoyed a trebuchet demonstration (photo of it in action below!) and for lunch, the biggest fish fillet I've ever seen (so we just split one order of fish and chips). Husband wanted to see the Tower Bridge nearby, so we wandered across it and found all sorts of cool things to look at on the other side of the Thames, including some kind of music festival in the park and the HMS Belfast, before crossing back on London Bridge to find a tube station home. It was a spectacular Sunday afternoon.

The completely awesome Tower of London. The original castle bit was built by
William the Conqueror in the eleventh century.

The Chapel Royal (St Peter ad Vincula), which was smaller and simpler than I expected,
but really beautiful and with great acoustics, and the people were extraordinarily friendly.

I'm such a sucker for medieval siege weaponry; I couldn't resist stopping
by to watch the trebuchet demonstration on our way out.

If you looked really close at one of the turrets, you'd find this ghostly
soldier protecting Her Majesty's palace.
A view of the Shard (one of the distinctive buildings downtown near that Tower)

And a view of the Gherkin (another of those buildings that seems so incongruous alongside the
Tower, which is in the foreground). Husband says a gherkin is a small, sweet pickle.
The Tower Bridge, an icon of London. If your ship needs to pass through, you have
to give them 24 hours' notice.

Doesn't this totally look like Diagon Alley??

HMS Belfast, a decommissioned WWII cruiser now on permanent display. As the trebuchet
at the Tower of London was the siege engine of its time, the cruiser serves the same purpose for the twentieth century.

We finished up our trip by meandering down the river to London Bridge -
you can see its label on the side of the pillar. Contrary to the nursery rhyme, it looks pretty sturdy to me!

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