The Tower of London

On our last full day in London, we had one place we all wanted to tour…the Tower of London. We jumped on and off the Underground to arrive at this well known landmark just before it opened. The plan was to tour the Tower and then finish the day with a hop on/hop off bus tour.

My first surprise was that lots of other people arrived early and the line to purchase tickets was already long. No problem. Although it felt like the line barely moved, 40 minutes later we had tickets.

The real surprise, however, was the Tower itself. Somehow, my education about what the tower actually is, was lacking.

Being an avid reader and movie watcher with an interest in British lit and history, I thought I knew the Tower of London well. However, when I caught my first glimpse of the Tower, I realized my perceptions were skewed.

I expected the Tower to look like this:

Instead, the Tower looks like this!

The Tower isn’t a singular tower…it’s multiple towers, it’s a fortress, it’s a complex! How did I not know this? We spent several hours exploring this fascinating place, rich in history.

Here are the highlights:

My first look at the Tower of London, which was a big surprise, in the early morning sunlight.

William the Conqueror built the White Tower that is now in the center of the complex, in 1078. That tower was considered a symbol of oppression against London by the Norman ruler, and it was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. However, that was not the primary purpose of the complex. It was a royal residence, a grand palace, early in its history.

I had a lot to learn about the Tower, it seemed, beginning with discovering that the official name of this castle is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. No wonder the name has been shortened to simply, the Tower of London.

Set up as a community within thick castle walls, there are streets with buildings and living quarters and battlements that circle the fortress, linking multiple towers together. This brick building is the mint shop, where coins were minted.

Inside the fortress. This is a fortified castle.

We climbed up into the battlements, and visited the Medieval Palace first. These rooms were built by and used by King Henry III and King Edward between 1216 and 1307.

The Tower Bridge, as seen from the battlements.

The Raven’s Lodgings and two of the seven ravens who reside within the tower grounds. Legend says that as long as six ravens live at the tower, it will not fall. The ravens are well cared for and quite friendly.

The White Tower.

Part of the original ruins.

Guards are stationed around the grounds. This one was outside the building housing the Crown Jewels.

Some of the people who work in the Tower complex live within it as well.

Inside the Bloody Tower, so named after the young sons of King Edward V were sent to the tower by their uncle, after their father died. The princes were never seen again. Two hundred years after their disappearance, skeletal remains of two children were found beneath a staircase. They are thought to be the young princes, murdered by their ambitious uncle, who then became king.

The Traitor’s Gate, off of the Thames River, through which prisoners could enter by ship.

We enjoyed the many exhibits, buildings and towers within the castle, walking the battlements first, and then exploring from the ground.

I learned about the history of London’s monarchy and the many people who spent time as prisoners in the tower or who were executed there. I discovered Royal Beasts were kept on site until the London zoo opened in 1828.

The only area we didn’t get to see was the Torture Exhibit, which was closed for maintenance. Overall, this tour was a delightful surprise that we all enjoyed.

Because of the time we spent at the Tower of London, we chose not to do the hop on/hop off bus. With stops at King’s Crossing Station, and the Harry Potter store there, and Piccadilly Square, by way of the Underground, we felt we had seen all we hoped to in London.

It is packing time. Tomorrow we fly out of London, homeward bound. What an amazing trip with my mom, sisters and niece. We will be discussing this adventure for months to come. I am so grateful for this trip and for the trip to Italy with my grandson and daughter earlier in the year. Traveling is rapidly becoming a passion for me.

Where will I wander next?

Collecting Moments

In slightly more than a month, I'll be off on my next adventure, traveling to Ireland, Scotland and England. I'll be accompanied on this trip by my mom, my two sisters and my niece. As I did before the Italy trip, I am starting to cast the vision forward, "seeing" myself having a wonderful time in those countries and I am making preparations at home.

I already know how to pack a carry on for 12 days. I have clothes for the cooler temps that we will experience in the UK. My passport is ready. As I was cleaning the kitchen tonight, the thought came to find out interesting facts about the three cities that will be our home bases as we venture out. I welcomed the tap of inspiration.

Dublin will be our first stop on the trip. None of us have visited Ireland before. Here are fun things I didn't know about Dublin:

1. Dublin natives, or Dubliners, speak Dublinese, a mix of slang and curse words. An example is "I'm on the lash." which means "I'm out drinking."

2. Dublin is an old Irish Gaelic phrase, Dubh Linn, which means Black Pool.

3. Dublin covers 44.5 square miles. We are staying in the heart of the city.

4. Dublin has the youngest population in all of Europe. Approximately 50% of the population is under the age of 25.

5. Ireland's national treasure is The Book of Kells. This beautiful gold book, containing the four gospels, was created by Celtic monks in 800 AD. The book is located in the Trinity College Library.

Edinburgh is the next major city we will stay in, using it as our base as we explore Scotland. I found out these five things about Edinburgh.

1. Edinburgh's nickname, Auld Reekie (Old Smokey) doesn't refer to a smelly city but to the coal and wood smoke that used to billow from buildings and homes.

2. The majestic Arthur's Seat at the edge of the city is actually an extinct volcano that last erupted 350 million years ago.

3. The Fringe Festival, held in August, is not the original as the International Festive began first. When it originated, poorer acts had to set up on the "fringes" to be able to afford to perform, and hence the name of the festival.

4. Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade.

5. Edinburgh Castle is ranked the 33rd most popular spot in the world for taking a selfie.

And London, England is our final stop on the UK trip. Here are five things about London that I didn't know.

1. The London Stone is protected by an elegant iron barrier, on Cannon Street. It has been noted on maps and in historical accounts for more than 1,000 years. And yet it has no inscription, sign or apparent use. No one knows who put it there or why!

2. The London Bridge was destroyed during a storm in 1091. Made of wood then, it was taken out by a large tornado, along with 600 houses. The bridge was rebuilt, with stone.

3. George Washington's statue, in Trafalgar Square, actually stands on American soil. Dirt was brought in from Virginia and placed under the statue's pedestal.

4. There are more that 1,000 bodies buried under Aldgate Station. Why? It was a plague burial pit, during the Black Plague.

5. London has 21 lost rivers. The reason they are hard to find is because these subterranean rivers flow through man made culverts and the city has been built on top of them.

Reading these little known facts about Dublin, Edinburgh and London has sharpened my desire to explore these places. I am excited to make new discoveries, experience different cultures and form bonds of friendships with people who have fresh perspectives.

I love the quote that says, Collect moments, not things. I'm off on a girls' trip soon, to do that very thing.

Red Nose Day 2017

When Elissa, Dayan and I decided to pack our red noses, in honor of Red Nose Day this year, we thought we would be taking selfies of the experience in Rome. After storms yesterday diverted our plane and then greatly delayed our arrival in Charlotte, our travel itinerary changed. We missed our international flight from Charlotte to Rome. Thousands of other fliers missed their connecting flights as well. 

It was not a happy place last night at the Charlotte Airport as weary travelers struggled to find flights out. 

Through an incredible series of miraculous events, which I will write about when I am not so exhausted, we were placed on the “sold out” last flight out of Charlotte, bound for London. They even delayed the plane until we were onboard. Numb with fatigue but grateful, we arrived in London late this morning. This evening we will catch a connecting flight from London to Rome, arriving at last! 

Red Nose Day 2017
And London happens to be the perfect place to take a Red Nose Day selfie, and wear our wrist bands. We popped on the noses just long enough to take a pic. It is really the donation made to purchase the red noses that is important. 

Because Red Nose Day isn’t just about sporting a clown nose. Begun in England in 1988, Red Nose Day raises funds to help impoverished children around the world. The US joined the yearly event in 2015. Billions of dollars have been raised to date, to keep kids safe, healthy and educated. 

Celebrities and the entertainment industry have supported Red Nose Day for years, using their influence to bring in donations. We certainly aren’t famous, me, my daughter and grandson…however, we believe in this cause, and improving the lives of children globally. 

In a couple of hours we will board a plane for Italy. The tour officially starts in the morning. I am grateful we have made it this far, and we will arrive only a bit behind schedule. I am grateful to wear a red nose once a year too, to donate funds and raise awareness about a worthy cause. 

My next blog post will be from Rome…minus the bright red nose!

Red Nose Day 2017