What year is it, she gasps…

The clothes are clean, the cat has forgiven us for leaving him at the animal hospital, the luggage is mostly put away, but, alas, I have no energy. The sun, a fuzzy ball hidden behind cloud layers, adds to the dreamy illusion that, although I am back in the states, I haven’t made itjetlag home. Worse yet, I believe this condition will never end and that, like a character in a science fiction movie, I will be stuck in a limbo between time zones forever.

ViewfromTower

View from the Tower of London. Building designed by Dr. Seuss?

England (London in particular) is a country of stark contrasts. Built next to the remnants of medieval castles are modern structures seemingly designed by Dr. Seuss. Neither seem quite real, separated as they are by centuries. I felt haunted by Lady Jane Grey as I stood on the walls of the Tower of London looking out at the rising skyscrapers of modern London. What would she think if she could see London now? Don’t ask me why I channeled Lady Jane and not one of the many other people executed on the chopping block.LadyJane Perhaps because my ancestors left England in order to avoid prosecution for their beliefs, the same beliefs which sealed Lady Grey’s fate. I hope she was comforted in the end by a vision of a time when the mighty Tower would be rendered small and puny by history.

Poppies

The moat around the Tower filled with blood red ceramic poppies meant to honor the dead of WWI.

I must admit – I don’t get the whole crown jewels thing. Luckily the day we were at the Tower it was stormy enough to scare away most of the tourists and the line to see the royal trinkets and baubles was not long otherwise I’d be even more perturbed by the ostentatiousness of all the jeweled crowns, orbs, ceremonial plates, solid gold teapots and emerald-bearing serving spoons which I’d stupidly waited in line to see.  Good grief! It was all a little too much for my Yankee sensibilities. Especially as they are stored in a castle famous for savagery and blood-letting. As I said, I don’t get it. Blood and greed together are not  pretty, even if their value is inestimable.

If you visit enough castles and museums in England I guarantee you will get royally confused by the royals. To help us understand the royal succession we bought a book about the Kings and Queens of England which I attempted to read. Holy Shamoligans! Here’s the lowdown on those dudes: It all started KingsandQueenswith the House of Wessex, a bunch of Saxon warlords who took over after Roman rule came to an end in 802. They were eventually beaten by William the Conqueror (a Norman). And when his descendants started to falter, the houses of Beaufort and Tudor, Lancaster and York moved in for the kill resulting in the house of the Plantagenets which ruled for 300 years. In 1455 the infamous War of the Roses (actually a thirty year clash between the houses of York and Lancaster) ended up with the Tudors back in control (a whole lot of backstabbing and scheming went into this turnover). When Elizabeth I died without heirs, the son of Mary Queen of Scots (James I) was crowned King of England. His coronation helped insure that Scotland would stay a part of the Kingdom (very clever). The Stuarts (as they called themselves) ruled until Bonnie Prince Charlie lost the kingdom to the German house of Hanover. During WWI the Hanovers changed their name to Windsor for obvious reasons. So there you have it. An idiot’s interpretation of the history of the English aristocracy!

BigBen

Big Ben and the houses of Parliament

In order to live like Londoners, we rented a flat for the week. It was nothing to write home about but clean and safe. My God, really safe. We were across the street (more like an alley) from a barracks housing the Queen’s brigade, and round the corner from the very modern New Scotland Yard. Two, maybe three, blocks over was Buckingham Palace and just down the road, the houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Each morning thousands of commuters dressed in suits and carrying briefcases exited nearby St. James Underground station, walked past our flat in unison, marching off to jobs we figured were with the government. Across the street was a pub and just beneath us a small market run by an Indian family. We went out for lunch most days but, exhausted after walking all over London, generally opted for take out from the nearby Marks and Spencer for dinner.

For months I’d fantasized about  taking day trips to places outside of London – Bath or Stonehenge, maybe.  Trust me, there’s an unending list of must see places supposedly close enough to London to visit in a day. “Supposedly” being the operative word.  The problem is that there are twelve major railway stations in London! Twelve!  And they are all in different districts and they all service routes to different parts of England.  We were fifteen minutes walking distance from the Victoria Station which services towns in southeast England – Dover, Canterbury, Rye and Hastings.  However Bath is serviced via the Paddington Station, probably an hour’s walk from our flat.

RickSteves

Easy day trips, my arse!

Thus if you factor in the time spent getting across London via the tube, a bus or taxi, those “easy day trips” become days to endure (unless of course, you’re Rick Steves who has his own transporter and magically pops up at railway stations fresh as a daisy for a “day’s jaunt.”  Sometimes I hate that man!)

After note from Jan: I’ve been advised that the reason the ceramic poppies are being “planted” in the moat around the Tower of London is to honor the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI. Click here to read a moving blog post about WWI and how it affected one author’s family.

Next: Freezing our butts off in Dover, a carnival fit for the Bard, and “stay on the left Joel and mind those curbs” – tips for driving in England. Basically, don’t.

By the way – what year is it?

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “What year is it, she gasps…

  1. Worse case scenario for Jet lag: 1 week recovery for every 1 hr. difference. 😦 Nah the worst is over – day two or three are always worse than day 1, but day 4 for is annoying because you think Surely your time clock has reset. Get lots of sleep, drink lots of water – time cures this ill.

  2. What a well-written travelogue. We were in London in the fall of 2013. We’d been before but wanted more time, but there never is enough time, is there?

    Like you, we ended up getting some great meals from Marks and Spencer and taking it back to the flat we rented. We had it for two weeks, but unfortunately, my husband, Rob, picked up a bug on the cruise ship we were on and there went a lot of our plans. And we were also going to go to Bath and Stonehenge, but ran out of energy and time. London is fabulous. Loved your quick summation of how the royals became the royals. Well done! Though we couldn’t get to everything on our list, we did do a tour of Buckingham Palace and the gardens, which was during the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Your post brought back some delicious memories.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Diana! It’s not as easy to take those day trips from London as guidebooks would have you think – especially if you’re under the weather! Luckily, as you point out, there’s plenty to do in London!

  3. Great, comprehensive post, Jan! Makes me want to return to London. I also felt very conflicted at the Tower, but found it haunting and fascinating as well. And thank you for that summary of royal history! Very helpful. I hope your jet lag is better soon.

  4. I have spent more than twenty years traveling back and forth to London, and in that time, I’ve come to see what two decades worth of time can do. Yep, plenty of construction, and now nearly stand still traffic (what an absolute pain), but it’s the people and the feel of the city that I believe has changed the most. It’s become a faster paced and wholly rushed megalopolis. I can’t keep up.
    I do still love so much of the countryside of the UK though, so as long as I could avoid London, I’m always happy to return. I miss the London of twenty years ago.
    And I’m totally with you, Jan, on the whole royal wealth displeasure. Good heavens, it’s obscene.

  5. Great depiction of a trip to London & despite everything, sounds like you had a great time there. Being an expat I knew exactly what you’re talking about. Getting across London is an endurance test in itself. But really there is so much to see in London outside of the usual tourist things like the Tower, which is definitely a mixed blessing, that the day trips are not necessary. Of course it’s great to see other parts of the country too. Looking forward to next instalment. There is nothing quite the same as M&S ready meals over here I have to say.

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