The Tower of London: A Much Disputed History

We had lunch near Buckingham Palace (my last meat pie!), then traveled to the Tower of London. Like most things on this trip, I was verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry excited to go there. I’ve heard frequent complaints from people that it was ” so small,” but I thought it was quite impressive. So many of the things I’ve read have had the Tower in them at some point, and it was so crazy to be walking on such rich historical grounds. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to scream or cry. img_8620 img_8625 img_8628 img_8631 img_8633 img_8635We got a fabulous view of the Tower Bridge as we walked along the wall.img_8640The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in late 1066 and was the first structure built on the grounds. The outer walls and buildings were added by later monarchs.

img_8641 img_8650For me, the most significant thing to happen in the White Tower was the murder of the two princes and their [disputed] burial under the steps there. After King Edward IV died (the king to Elizabeth Woodville’s queen and detailed in The White Queen – IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO THESE PEOPLE), his son became King Edward V. Edward IV’s rotten younger brother, Richard, wanted the throne for himself, so he was managed to have Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage declared invalid by finding people to claim that Edward had a pre-contract for marriage to another woman before he met Elizabeth.

Mean Richard took young King Edward V (age 12) and his little brother, also Richard (9), and imprisoned them in the tower in 1493. They then completely disappeared never to be heard from again. In 1674 two sets of bones were found in a staircase and declared to be [disputed of course] the two princes. Below is the place they [allegedly] were found. Mean Richard became Richard III, and the site serves as a terrible example of how a desire for power can lead people to do truly terrible things.

img_8652Much of the the White Tower was refurbished for Anne Boleyn’s coronation ceremonies, and it later served as an armory which was super cool.

img_8656img_8658img_8663 img_8666 After the White Tower, our next stop was to see all of the Crown Jewels in the Waterloo Barracks. Those were some RIDICULOUS diamonds. Absolutely unnecessary. And I wish they were mine. img_8668One of the places I had to see was the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula which is where Anne Boleyn is buried. Sari and Anne (not Boleyn) wanted to go see the ravens and check out a shop, so Chris and I went to the chapel. I was really excited because he had a lot of questions about Henry VIII and his legacy, and since no one really ever wants to talk to me about it, I was thrilled to have someone to chat history with.

img_8682After her execution [the exact location is still disputed, but widely believed to have been at the entrance to the Crown Jewels above (the Waterloo Barracks)] she was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel. Later renovations identified her remains [also disputed], and she now has a marker on the marble floor. The area where she is [allegedly] buried is roped off, but I could see it and a picture of her stone is below.

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I felt exceptionally sad being there because her death is a tragedy. She did nothing wrong other than marrying A TERRIBLE MAN. Part of her end was due to a falling out with the powerful Thomas Cromwell because she thought the money raised from the fallen monasteries should be given to charity (and he wanted it to go to the king). See? Good queen. I also have pity for Catherine Howard because she was a teenager who was married to an old fat man because of her power hungry family, but she actually made some terrible choices (again, she was really young and I can’t blame her for what she did even though doing that while married to a murderer was not a good idea. Also, I can’t say it enough, but SCREW YOU TERRIBLE JANE BOLEYN). Being a woman was a hard business.

We then walked over to the execution site where there is a memorial for ten people who were executed on the Tower grounds. These were private executions (many were royals) where the public was not allowed to watch [Anne was not beheaded in this place despite her name being listed on the memorial]. This memorial reminds me a lot of Cinderella (a glass shoe belongs on that pillow) and I kind of hate it.

img_8681I also made sure to see the the Traitor’s Gate which is where many Tudor prisoners entered the Tower, including Sir Thomas More and maybe Anne Boleyn [this is disputed].img_8691We had about 30 minutes left before the Tower closed, so we wandered around trying to see as much as we could. img_8693 img_8695 img_8700 img_8701The Tower was probably my second favorite thing after the play because it has so much historical relevance to the people I most enjoy reading about. After the Tower, we rode the tube over to the play and had some snacks beforehand.

The play ended spectacularly and I was so happy with it. I laughed, I sobbed, and I had moments of sheer terror. I hope it comes here so I can see it again. The kid who played Scorpius was amazing, and Noma Dumezweni as Hermione was fantastic. She perfectly captured Hermione’s intensity and intelligence, while also exuding the compassion and care that really define her character. So SCREW ALL OF YOU JERKS who thought a black woman couldn’t be a perfect Hermione because SHE WAS.

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Also, HELLO to Sarah who recognized me and came over to chat at the play. She’s off frolicking about in Scotland and Ireland now, so let’s all be jealous of her. So many things that happened felt like real magic, and it was such a high-quality production. Go see it if you can! They also have super cool merchandise!

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This trip was so fun and I am so glad we got to spend so much time with Anne and Chris. It could not have been better and my face hurt all day from laughing. We really had almost too much fun because we only slept a few hours each night. The last night we got home around one am, packed until around two, then got up at six to go to the airport. I had major feet problems the last few days of the trip because they had swollen so much from all of the walking that a lot of skin had been rubbed off and my shoes felt like a vice. I was hobbling around the last two days, and I almost cried in the airport because I could barely move, but I made it. I was so thrilled to sit on that plane. Sari and I had a nine hour flight to Vancouver, and I slept for so much of it that I barely finished a single movie.

img_8730We got home Saturday night at seven, then were in bed asleep by 8:30. I woke up early on Sunday, and spent the day unpacking, washing clothes, meal prepping, and going through emails. I tried to keep busy so I wouldn’t be tempted to nap which actually worked quite well. I went to bed at 7:30 on Sunday night and had an amazing night of sleep until I had to get up at 5:30 am. I honestly don’t know how people can come home from a long trip on Sunday and go to work on Monday. I need that buffer day to get my shit together mentally and physically.

Last Day in London

I meant to publish this on Sunday, but I spent pretty much the entire way home on Saturday asleep. Then, it didn’t happen on Monday either, so here it is on Tuesday. You are welcome.

We woke up on Friday for our last day in London (insert sad face). Our first stop of the day was Westminster Abbey, but to get there we got to walk past Big Ben and the Parliament buildings. MAGNIFICENT. I’m so bitter that I only had my iPhone to take pictures with.

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After viewing Parliament, we walked over to Westminster to get in line.img_8488img_8492 img_8543 img_8537 img_8529We bought our tickets for Westminster online, and we lined up to get inside at 9:15. It worked out perfectly because when they started letting people in at 9:30, there were only about 10 people in front of us. The line of people waiting to buy tickets had over fifty. We were able to view the Abbey without dealing with a crowd since we were ahead of most of the other people. I was so thrilled to be there. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was gorgeous and I have to say, Kate had a LONG walk up that aisle. It wasn’t as long as the wait to marry William, but long nonetheless. That’s barely even half of the length of the cathedral.

img_8707Again, I feel weird saying this, but I completely geeked out (quietly and respectfully) when we saw the resting places of Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, and Mary, Queen of Scots. There were a lot of kings too, but I’m really all about the great royal ladies of history. It was so weird to be near the resting places of so many major historical figures. I had to stifle my pleasure at the one-upmanship of Elizabeth I building a giant tomb ON TOP of Mary Tudor. That is the mean girl long game.

img_8709We did get to take pictures in the cloisters, but they lacked fan vaulting, so I was less enthused about them.

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Still nice.

After Westminster, we tried to find somewhere to eat some breakfast, but there wasn’t a damn thing around. We walked around for such a long time searching for anything we could eat that we fell into that black hole when no one is serving ANY FOOD AT ALL because breakfast ended at 10:30 and lunch will not be served until noon. DISASTER. We eventually ended up in St. James’s Park where we found  a food stand selling hot dogs and waffles. It wasn’t great, but it was food and we were desperate. I don’t understand why the English refuse to have food available all day! SO RUDE. Where are your pastry shops!!!!img_8552img_8556We took our food and walked around the outside of St. James’s Palace for a bit. I really wanted to see it as it was built by ol’ Henry VIII, but we didn’t have time to go in. I also wasn’t able to find any of the famous H.A. initials for Henry and Anne, but I was glad to just set eyes on the place.

img_8559 img_8561 img_8564My list of things to do the next time I visit London is SO LONG.

Our next stop of the day was Buckingham Palace a.k.a. my future home with Harry. img_8574 img_8586 img_8605 img_8608I was excited to see the inside of palace because I am always down to see a palace, but I was SO PUMPED to see the exhibition of Queen Elizabeth’s clothing. I couldn’t take pictures, but you can look at it more in-depth here, and I have a few pictures below from the website. I am not a fashion person (in case you weren’t sure), but the history of her clothing and style choices was absolutely fascinating. I also felt very lucky to be on the taller side of average height because most of the clothes were separated from me by about 15 little old ladies who were VERY AGGRESSIVE when it came to seeing a diamond encrusted gown. I managed to get up close to a lot of them, but it came at the cost of a bunch of sharp little old elbows in my sides.

img_8711I thought her coronation gown was the most interesting piece because I had never noticed the details of it before. The Queen requested that the emblems of the Dominions that she was to rule over be added. I  thought the Scottish thistles were the prettiest. It was so pretty, and so so tiny. She is a little bitty thing. It was cool to learn how involved she has been in the design and style of her clothes.

img_8712 img_8713 So fabulous. If you are anywhere near this exhibition, then it is totally worth the time and you MUST GO. After the palace, I went to their gift shop and bought pretty much everything. It was so hard to decided between the Queen’s 90th birthday memorabilia and the longest reign items. It was all so fantastic.

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After the Muggle Tour, we headed back to Borough Market for lunch. Anne had listed it as a top place she wanted to go, and it would never have occurred to me to even visit a street market, so I was glad she suggested it because it was so cool. We walked around surveying the food options for about 30 minutes, and I decided on a pork sandwich for lunch.

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We were all still hungry after our lunch (because we were already limping from walking so much that morning), and we wanted to spend at least an hour resting, so we bought a huge chunk of sourdough, some cheese, and some prosciutto. It was fabulous.img_8355We walked over to the closed bar for some beer to go with our second lunch, and when we came out a lot of people were taking pictures of it. After asking around, we learned it was used as Bridget Jones’ house in the movie. I didn’t recognize it all. I really have to start paying more attention to things.img_8267

From the markets, we walked south to the Great Fire Monument. Chris and I decided to walk up the stairs to the top to check out the view. For a few pounds, it was worth it.

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We then moved further down the road to Leadenhall Market because it was a filming site for HP and is a gorgeous Victorian market. I really wish I had taken my bustle so I could walk around pretending to be a proper Victorian lady. That wouldn’t have been weird at all.
img_8394 img_8397 img_8399 They have filmed some exterior Diagon Alley scenes there, and this was the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in Goblet of Fire.img_8404 img_8390It was just after five and we were getting pretty tired of walking (11 miles in at that point), so we took the tube to the Palace Theatre to find a place to relax before going to the play. We wanted to visit the House of Minalima beforehand because they have some super cool HP stuff. We couldn’t afford it (a lot of it is artwork), but the store was so neat.

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As we were puttering around by the play looking for a place to get a drink, this eclectically dressed photographer walked across the street right in front of us with a man. He has the man to pose by a wall and started taking his picture. We had to stop because we almost ran into them. I was so busy looking at the photographer who was wearing a vibrant array of layers and accessories, that I didn’t notice the man as much. His face seemed familiar and distinctive, but Layers McAccessories distracted me. Seconds after we passed him, Anne sucked air and said “duuuuuuuuuuude” in a low voice. It was followed shortly by a mostly quiet shriek of “THAT IS MERYN TRANT” (a character from Game of Thrones who was played by Ian Beattie). AND IT WAS.

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He walked back across the street where he was enjoying a beer with friends at a table on the sidewalk, and we stood there for several minutes dumbfounded. As we discussed A.) If it would be rude to say something to him and B.) Could we maintain our composure enough to not frighten him (Sari and Chris voted that Anne and I couldn’t. Rude.), we noticed another familiar man with him – BARRISTAN THE BOLD (Ian McElhinney). He’s the man with the white hair on the other side of that vehicle. I would be a pitiful member of the paparazzi.

img_8426image-686x385So many fantasy worlds colliding! Anyway, we were super thrilled with seeing them and opted to not be jerks and let them enjoy their beer in peace. We had a couple of drinks elsewhere, then went to the play. We got in line at 6:15 (we did the play in two parts and it started at 7:30 PM each night). I was impressed with how easy it was to pick up our tickets, get through security and into the building (they let us in with our backpacks, big cameras, and food in our bags), and get up to our seats.

It was great because once we got in, we only waited in line for merchandise for a few minutes. The second night we went at seven, and the line was down two stories of steps and took about 20 minutes. Go early if you want stuff. They have really great shirts with new designs for the houses, and the merchandise changes from part one to part two. I got a pen the first night and a new t-shirt the second night. Don’t make a mistake and get there after most of the stuff is gone (Gryffindor stuff was spare when we got there early the first night).

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Part One was so incredible, and I still don’t know how they made half of it happen. Even if I had disliked the story (which I didn’t), then I would have still been mesmerized by the play. It was just so well done and perfectly captured the magic of the books and films. All about our last day in London tomorrow! Sad times.

Muggles About London

Thursday was our first full day in London, and I wish so much we were staying another week or even a month. So much to do (and ice cream is everywhere!)! We started the day by taking the tube to Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. We got there around eight which was awesome because there was no line. We all took pictures again with the “real” platform (which is located between platforms 8 and 9 because 10 is in another building or something), but Chris’s was the best. Or kind of the worst because he’s a classic Gryffindor. img_8233

We then went right next door and spent about 30 minutes in the Platform 9 3/4 shop. I think I’ve spent more money on Harry Potter stuff than I spent on the trip (this is an exaggeration, but it sure feels like it!). After spending all of our money, we went across the street to the St. Pancras Hotel (I am pretty sure I’ve mistakenly called it the St. Pancreas for all of time). The gorgeous Victorian architecture of the hotel was used for the external shots of King’s Cross Station in the Harry Potter films.

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The St. Pancras is also home to the Spice Girls’ Wannabe music video. I wanted to do the dance on the stairs, but we weren’t really supposed to be in the area at all since we were peasants and not hotel guests. I just acted like I knew what I was doing, took some fast pictures, and darted out of there. It was beautiful! I really wish that my real camera wasn’t broken because these pictures suck.

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Look at this glorious ceiling!
img_8256We ate breakfast, then hopped on the tube to London Bridge for our 11 am Muggle Walking Tour. For only 12 pounds, we were taken on a 2.5 hour tour of Harry Potter filming locations and inspirational points. Ellie was our tour guide and she was truly great. You could tell she was a huge fan and she was completely delightful and funny. She was also full of general historical tidbits and interesting pieces of information as we made our way across the city. Our Oxford tour was a bit of a disappointment, but the Muggle Tour hit it out of the park.

Our first stop was in the Borough Market for the site of the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.img_8269

They had to build a fake entrance to go over the building because that’s clearly not very magical. Harry is dropped off here by the Knight Bus. We learned that they built the Knightbus by stacking two double decker buses on top of one another. Unfortunately, when this location was scouted and created, they didn’t realize that there was a bridge that the bus couldn’t get under, so they had to dismantle it to get it under. Between that project and what they had to pay the local businesses for shutting the area down for filming, it was quite an expensive scene in the end.

We saw the creepy Clink prison which had zero escapees in its 600 years of operation and served as the inspiration for Azkaban (along with Alcatraz). img_8273

We went through the Westminster tube station and up the escalator that Harry and Mr. Weasley go through on their way to The Ministry of Magic in The Order of the Phoenix. Instead of shooting at night in the station, the location scouts demanded a day shoot for “natural light.” There is no natural light in there. It cost them two million dollars to close the station, and only two shots were used in the final cut of the film. Warner Brothers seems very silly with money.

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We walked all around the government area (I don’t know what this area is formally called) between Westminster and Trafalgar Square. A lot of exterior shots were done there, and we went to the spot where the entrance to Ministry of Magic scene mentioned above happened. They also made a false front and built a fake phone booth for Mr. Weasley to enter with his visitor. It is also where Ron, Hermione, and Harry snuck in when they used the polyjuice potion in The Deathly Hallows Part 1.

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The actual entrance area.

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Not magical. We walked through Trafalgar Square which was lovely.

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Somewhere near Charing Cross we turned into this little alley which was J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Knockturn Alley. It has beautiful Victorian windows and is the only street in London to still use gas lamps.

img_8331img_8327Our last stop of the day was the inspiration for Diagon Alley. This street had the cutest shops full of lovely and rare things we couldn’t afford (like signed first editions of Harry Potter and rare military medals).

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We stopped at a lot more places and saw many more things, but it’s hard to capture how neat it was when it’s pictures of buildings and spaces that are normally quite dull looking. If you are ever in London, then I highly recommend the tour. More to come later!

On to Windsor

After the Studio Tour, we drove over to Windsor Castle. We had a entry time of 3:40 and arrived at 3:39. It was so hard to leave Harry Potter on time! We were almost late to Harry Potter because we couldn’t find somewhere serving breakfast. It was a hectic day and we were almost late to everything which is my nightmare.

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When we arrived, we learned that the chapel would be closing at 4:15 and the state rooms wouldn’t accept entry after 4:30 pm. We hustled over to the chapel to check it out for the few minutes that we had.

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It was so pretty inside, and I was so excited to see the tombs and effigies of so many names I recognized (which I feel like is an inappropriate thing to say, but we all know that royalty lives for attention). Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were there which I didn’t expect (and what a particularly exciting coincidence considering I was just talking about them on Friday!). Queen Mary and George V (who even looked like Nicholas II when carved in marble) were there looking regal, but I was most delighted to see Henry VIII. I didn’t remember he was buried there, so imagine my surprise when I saw his name on the floor. Naturally, I walked right over him because he deserves it, but I felt a bit bad because Jane Seymour and a few others were down there. I was really shocked to see that he didn’t have a massive tomb erected for himself. I have such a tenuous relationship with him, I find him so interesting and so terrible. It’s hard to reconcile. I wished we could have seen Victoria and Albert’s mausoleum, but I don’t even know if it’s open to the public.

We next scurried over to the state rooms. We had a choice between those and Queen Mary’s dollhouses, so I chose the former. I saw the dollhouses when I visited in high school and I didn’t wish to relive that experience. We also couldn’t take picture in the staterooms, but they were fabulous. They had Henry VIII’s squatty little fat man armor and that delighted me. What a chunk he was in the end.

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We raced out of there at 5:15 because we needed to be at our apartment to check in by 7. You can file that under “things the didn’t happen.” I think it all went wrong when we opted to stay at Harry Potter past noon instead of driving immediately to our apartment in London. It seemed close, but we were wrong. When we were leaving Windsor, we checked the traffic to Heathrow because our plan was to drop the car off then hop on the tube to the apartment. The traffic showed 45 minutes to the airport (it had been only 10 the day before), then over another hour to the apartment. None of that included time to get gas, unload the car, or deal with unexpected delays at the car rental. I was panicked.

I was anxious about the apartment check in, so we decided that I would take the train from Windsor to the apartment to check us in while they took their time and returned the car. They dropped me off at what seemed like the right train station, and headed to Heathrow. I went into the train station, and after bumbling around for a bit, I learned that I was at the wrong one. So, I took my double backpacks and hiked back up the damn hill to Windsor Castle. I was drenched in sweat, and it was not supposed to be sweaty here. I know I looked like a wild animal, and Sari even compared me to the Hunchback of Notre Dame which was really sweet of her.

Because it took me so long to walk with the backpacks up hill and considering I couldn’t find the station when I got in the area, I missed the train. While I waited, I realized that I was the only one on the platform. Shortly thereafter a man came up and let me know that a train wasn’t coming for a long time, so I wasn’t going anywhere. My only option was to summon an Uber for a two hour ride into London. I was so secretly thankful for the ride because he had air conditioning and I didn’t have to stand with my bags on a hot train. The backpacks were annoying, but not nearly as frustrating as a rolling bag would have been. I got to the apartment at 8 and had to pay a late fee (I was honestly just so thankful that someone was there to give me the keys that I would have given them anything).

The rest of the group arrived close to nine because they spent an hour trying to get gas after finding that every station near the airport was out of diesel. I think we were all so relieved that we actually made it to the apartment, that we lost the will to be frustrated. We went out for burgers and beer, and all of our woes were quickly forgotten.