Wednesday, December 19, 2007

London Calling - Day 2

Day 2
We woke up early today, got showers and headed to South Bank. We walked around this industrialized area for a while, until glimpsing the London Eye. We made our way over to it, bought tickets at 15£ each, and boarded the world's largest Ferris wheel. The London Eye was originally constructed to be a temporary monument marking the new millenium, however became so popular and maintained backing from British Airways, that it still stands today. The wheel is comprised of large rooms encapsulated in glass, and rotates at one mile per hour, never stopping. On a clear day, visibility is about 30 miles out, however today was not such a clear day. Haze hung in the air with a vengance and wouldn't clear enough to even get a good shot of Big Ben or Parliment. It was still worthwhile though, being on such an amazing piece of machinery, not to mention it got us out of the freezing cold for about 25 minutes. After the Eye, we walked around past County Hall, the London Aquarium (which is the largest aquarium in Europe) and the permanent Dali exhibition space that I visited in my previous trip to London. We then bought tickets for a boat ride down the Thames, and tickets for the Tower of London. We boarded the boat and sat on the roofdeck for optimal touristing. The boat ride turned out to be an awesome decision since we saw a lot of things that I had wanted to see, but didn't nessecarily want to visit. We saw the reconstructed Globe theatre with the only thatched roof in London, the Tate Modern, the Queen Mary ship, Cleopatra's Needle, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the first all green phallic building built which is appropriately nicknamed "The Gerkhin". We also learned some fun facts along the way.

Fun fact #1- The original London Bridge was dismantled stone by stone and moved into the desert of Arizona. The London Bridge that now spans the Thames is a replacement.

Fun fact #2 - The Thames is owned by the Queen and no advertisments are allowed along it's banks. The only building to get away with breaking this rule is a company called OXO that apparently makes bullion cubes. They constructed their building so that there is a large tower with lights spelling out OXO vertically, and therefore constituting a form of advertisement.

Fun fact #3 - The family that owns Unilever soap is RICH! They have a ginormous building along the Thames that I can now only refer to as "The house that soap built!"

Our boat tour ended at the infamous Tower of London. The Tower of London is an ancient castle in London that has been used throughout the centuries as a place of imprisonment and torture. Some of the famous people to come to an end within it's walls include Anne Boylen, Queen Jane Grey (who became a queen at 16 years old, and served only 9 days before getting the axe), the two princes murdered by Richard III, and the dude Braveheart was based off of (no...not Mel Gibson). We took a tour guided by a true Beefeater named Phil. He told us how many people were not actually killed within the castle, but up a hill named Tower Hill. Prisoners were marched up the hill behind the Tower and were greeted by spectators thirsty for blood/entertainment. After the beheadings, the bodies were carried back to the chapel within the castle walls to be dumped uncerimoniously in unmarked graves beneath the chapel floor. The heads were kept, placed on spikes, and displayed upon London Bridge as a warning to others.
Phil also told us several gruesome stories, including the death of Anne Boylen. Anne was French and wished, when her time came, to be beheaded in the traditional French way, which is with the body upright and the axe hitting the neck in a horizontal stroke. Henry sent away to France for a proper executioner, who turned out to be so good that he killed her in one fail swoop. When he bent down to pick up her head, her eyes were still scanning the crowd and her lips were still murmuring in silent prayer.
Another story was about Charles III's illigitimate son that suffered the bloodiest execution in London's history. The executioner wasn't the most precise, and needed five swings of the axe, and eventually a hand saw in order to sever the head. Once the head was off, officials realized that he hadn't had his portrait professionally painted, which is customary of Royal's children, illigitimate or not. They then sent for the surgeon in order for him to sew the head back onto the body and prepare him for his portrait. The artist painted the portrait in a record 12 hours and his body is the only one to have been buried with it's head in the ground's chapel.
As if the stories and thousands of bodies stashed in corners weren't creepy enough, ravens circled overhead constantly. The ravens are said to have been good luck. One king once said that if the ravens were ever to leave, misfortune would befall the castle. Because of this forewarning, a raven keeper is kept on the premises in order to ensure the numbers of ravens stay sufficient.
Phil also told us about his post as a Beefeater, candidly admitting that he has no idea where the name "Beefeater" came from. He told us that in order to hold the post, he had to serve in the Royal Airforce for a minimum of 22 years, reach a corporal lutinent status, and earn certain medals.
After our tour was over, we wandered around the grounds, looking at the crown jewels including a 540 carat diamond from India that was showcased in the handle of a sceptor. We then walked through other towers and even got to see the torture racks. After our bloodlust was quenched, we exited the Tower and took some pictures of Tower Bridge lit up at night while it was opening to let a ship pass. We then made our way back to Earl's court and had a dinner of Chicken Kiev and Kronenberg 1667, and bangers and mash and screwdrivers at the Earls Court Tavern. After dinner we shopped at a corner market for drinks to accompany our budget Pop-Tart breakfasts, and went back to the hotel to relax. I stayed there until I decided to come to this infernal internet cafe where I have sat for the last 3 hours typing this and trying to upload my pictures onto Flickr. Soon I will shake the sleep out of my ass and make my way back to the hotel. Cheers!

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