Friday, December 28, 2007

Seeing England

I've done more sight seeing in the last week than we had done thus far in England. Although sight seeing can be somewhat of a bother, and sometimes I feel like we spend more time in transit to sights, and dressing Lydia for the weather, finding somewhere to eat once we're at the spot, etc, etc, than we actually do seeing the sights, I know that in the long run what I'll remember is what I saw. I know this partly because after I came home from Egypt, and told Avram about places that I had been sightseeing there, it was usually punctuated by, "the Pyramids did have a toilet, which was a very good thing, but when I was in Palmyra (Jordan) there weren't any toilets, and I almost died. Then there were the marble squat toilets in Aleppo..." It was like that yesterday, but instead ran, "Our touristy cafe at lunch didn't serve tap water (grr, how un-British of them!), and we were too cheap to pay three pounds for it, and then I found some other water outside, but it was still two pounds, and inside the tower, I finally found a drinking fountain, the only second one I've found in Britain (the other one in the temple), but of course, drinking fountains are never very satisfying. Finally in the train station on the way home, Avram bought me a 2 liter of water, and I had great fun drinking out of it until Lydia backwashed carrots and PB&J sandwich into it..." But now I can actually remember the sights themselves.

On Christmas Eve, Matt and Sarah and us went to Blenheim Palace, the largest palace in England and home to the Duke of Marlborough, which family line also included Winston Churchill (his uncle was a duke of Marlborough). The palace itself isn't open for the winter, but we walked around the extensive grounds, for three pounds apiece. Shortly after we paid and entered the grounds, I noticed there were many people taking their dogs out for walks, and in a couple of instances their children in strollers (pushchairs) for walks. I was surprised that so many people would be willing to pay just to take pets/children on walks, but then I noticed a small door in an unsuspecting place, and when I came up close to it, and peaked on to the other side, my suspicions were confirmed. There is a hidden "porter's" door, that one can open from the outside, that the locals can use for free. At first I grew incensed that we had paid, between the four of us, twenty-four American dollars to walk around a palace's grounds when we could have done it for free. Gradually I grew reconciled to the noblesse oblige gesture of the current Duke, to let the common locals use his beautiful (and they are) grounds (they still have to pay to enter the formal gardens and palace). And now we've done our part to help keep up the costly place, and being that we are locals (Blenheim Palace is only four miles from our house), if we end up at Blenheim again to just wander the outside grounds, I will feel perfectly comfortable in using the porter's gate to do so. Because of course it's only for the locals.

We also visited Churchill's grave, for Avram and I the second time, and this time again Lydia screamed hysterically as we left it. Avram and I are beginning to suspect our daughter is a secret fan of the Bulldog. Either that, or she hates going back into here stroller and/or car seat after being let go to run free.

Then yesterday we went with the Purcells to London to the London Tower. Between the frailties of the train system and frailties of small children (Jonathon got tired, and Lydia got very heavy to carry around the many-staired exhibits) we only actually spent about three hours in the tower, but it was wonderful to go to, nonetheless. We saw the crown jewels, which I didn't care about seeing, but then were amazing to see, and medieval re-enacters that put my entire medieval history to shame. I desperately wanted to go up and talk to them, but their clothes were so well made, and their portrayal so convincing that I couldn't bumble up to them and stutter out, "I love your felted wool. How did you do it?" So I instead just worshipped from afar, and vowed to myself that maybe someday I could be a part of a group as amazing as they were. There was even a pair of medieval Jews, with the man wearing the Tembel cap, or the yellow pointed hat and both having the appliqued Decalogue (ten commandments) on their garments.

Also, we went through a Beefeater tour, which is a nickname given to the Yeoman warders who still live within the walls of the Tower, and do their warderly things. At first I thought that they were just glorified tour guides, but in fact they are still a military unit very much still in action. And there are, among the historical prisons and towers, whole rows of town houses inside where they live. These are historical townhouses too, this being England. Our Beefeater (so named because they were once given rations of beef), Bob, was funny and historical while still being extremely respectful, and having a carrying voice to catch over a hundred people's attention. The tour ended in a still working chapel (Bob's granddaughter will be christened there next year), where historically many of the famous people were unceremoniously buried after execution (mostly outside of the tower. Only six people were ever killed in the tower, and it was all during the Tudor's time, I believe). Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, and Catharine Howard were among those under the stones of the altar. Most of the more "common" ones, like St. Sir Thomas More, were buried underneath the stones, but then in Victoria's time they were renovating the chapel, and moved the whole lot (we're talking the whole chapel was one large mass of skeletons) into a vault next to the chapel, where they still rest today.

Even writing about the trip yesterday, the things like waiting for an hour for the train to come, because there was some train that had block both north and south traffic, and so all trains were delayed indefinitely fade into the background, and the history comes alive in my head, and I remember why I sight see, to partake of the world that is out there, to touch the stones of the White tower, which was once the largest powder storage in England, or to stand where accused traitors, both true and false, once stood, and just for a moment, to be a part of their world, their lives, that is sight seeing.

On a more prosaic note, Avram and I have decided that when my parents come in the spring, we'll return to the tower, and this time let my parents take Lydia for the tour and the jewels (both of which are stroller friendly), and we'll go into some of the more stair ridden exhibits, so we can see among other items of interest where the boy king Edward and his brother were liably murdered by the command of his uncle, Richard III, and then their skeletons were discovered in a chest a couple of centuries later by a workman during renovations, and removed to Westminster Abbey, where the kings are buried, to be buried in Innocents corner.

It's exciting and tragic enough to make even I begin to care about the royal history of England.


  1. I also do not like and do like sight-seeing. I will call you on Monday and we'll start talking details for our trip so I can make the French connections and have time to put it in place. Are you getting your Camera back?

  2. speaking of reenacters, check out this medieval wedding. it's absolutely incredible:

  3. not sure if the whole link made it, so I will split it in three:

  4. you'd probably find that the reenacters really didn't know much about the creation of their clothing. I've found that public institutions often can afford very lovely items made by costuming shops who specialize in period clothing. In short though they look nice they probably have no idea how to make the clothes they are wearing.
    Just your friendly museum directors thoughts.