Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mary Poppins in Londinium

Monday morning, early, I arrived to London. Managed to find my way to Hunt Castle with little difficulty, until I got within 10 meters of the place. At that point the street became a court and the numbers reflected much but not reality. I finally dug deep into my memory and explored the little center court which brought me to the door.

It was good to see Phil again, I also woke up Simon who was much nicer than Phil was hoping for... We chatted for a few hours, Phil made me breakfast, I finally showered and Phil and I ventured out into the ancient city.

We walked through the center of London to the Tower of London. It was the first time either of us had been there. We first walked around to find the entrance (where we started from) and then began our exploration. It was very cool. I'd somehow always thought of the Tower of London as being a really tall tower surrounded by a moat. It's not, it's a castle. It is in fact, many castles built over many centuries, mostly interconnected by castle walls and surrounded by a large moat to prevent invasions. Now the moat is mostly dry and I'm sure much of the dampness and scum has vanished also.

In the towers where they used to keep prisoners, oddly enough it's not the one called Bloody Tower... there is glass over the inscriptions scratched by prisoners which are still somewhat legible. There is a very high number of jesuits and a few from the gunpowder plot - among others. Apparently the only time the Tower of London was ever broken into was by peasants outraged by an increase in taxes who, upon entering, committed the most heinous crimes - they insulted the guards!

I also received a history lesson in jewels, it's also where many of the crown jewels are kept on display alongside thousands of diamonds beside one crown to demonstrate how many diamonds used to be embedded in it. I also saw the Koh-i-noor, and a demonstration of what used to be the largest diamond in the world which is now split into two large, valuable diamonds, and many smaller ones. The "small" ones of course are tiny and would be an embarrassment to anyone getting engaged, being only a centimeter around rather than 7 or 5 centimeters.

We then took a boat down the Thames (correctly pronounced so that it should rhyme with James and the TH should be enunciated rather than shortened to a T sound - Simon was very careful to ensure I knew that...) to Greenwich village. Here, Phil made sure to remind me that it is the original and best - not like the fake, knockoff version in NYC. By the time we arrived it was already dark. Still wandering through the old naval academy and up to the observatory at the top of the hill was quite beautiful. There was a great view of all of London as we stood at General Wolfe's feet.

For any Canadians out there, I was able to impress the Brit with my knowledge of "British" history fought on Canadian soil. Wolfe being the general who defeated the French General Montcalme and sent the French settlers packing - most of whom fled to New Orleans, hence the Cajun population there phonetically somewhat similar to the Acadian population of eastern Canada. The Acadians remaining in Canada fled west and north, mostly into the woods and resettled in harsher climates. I also thought of Peter who refreshed my knowledge of Canadian history recently (hence my impressive knowledge, down to the details of the decisive battle) and wished I had a camera with me to take a picture with the statue.

We then got back on the ferry up to central London where we met up with Simon and Oliver for drinks - yummy, yummy mulled wine, and supper. After which we wandered around, met up with some other folk and continued to drink until my jetlag hit like a brick wall and I was incapable of even polite smalltalk. I also had a cold and was impressed how polite they all were while I was rather less than the most scintillating conversationalist or entertaining guest. London weather was a bit of a shock coming from Africa and, I've since discovered, also colder than NY.

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