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 it 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.
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. 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.
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 with 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!
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.
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?