There’s no place like (the Tower of) London!

Today was a long and exciting day full of A LOT of walking. Sitting down to write this blog feels fantastic. I get to tell you about our morning adventure of visiting the Tower of London and Christina will post about our adventures at the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. We started off our day with hot english breakfasts again! I never thought I would get used to eating baked beans for breakfast, but I definitely missed it while we were in Bath. So we left our hostel (which is right across the street from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is one of the largest church buildings in England) and hopped on the bus toward the Tower of London!

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We got there before it opened to the public, so we had time to wander the area and check out the views. The tower is right by the River Thames and the Tower Bridge. I saw so many landmarks of London today that I have only ever seen on TV and in movies, it was quite exciting.

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We also saw this logo ALL over the tower and on the uniforms of the beefeaters, which are the guards of the tower with funny uniforms on. They are nicknamed beefeaters because part of their payment for work in the 16th and 17th centuries was a lot of meat, which was very expensive at the time. Anyway, the logo above stands for “the reign of Elizabeth II” who is obviously the current leader of the British Monarchy.

The Tower of London has been around for over 900 years. There has been different buildings built and destroyed during this time, but the tower has always been right by the river, which was originally built as a defense for the city. So it isn’t exactly a single tower, as I was thinking it was, but actually multiple building that have served as living quarters, menageries, prisons, and MANY other things!

Courtney was our tour guide for the tower and told us all about the history of the tower. She informed us that before Word War II, only 7 people were actually beheaded there, one of which includes Anne Boleyn. She was King Henry VIII 2nd wife and he basically falsified charges to have her killed so he could marry another woman (and another and another….). A few of the shops at the tower had an ornament set you could buy that had Henry VIII and his SIX wives as a single pack. I found that type of souvenir VERY bizarre.

Also, there are multiple ravens that live within the walls. It is said that if the ravens leave the walls of the tower, it will mean the end of England. So, of course, to avoid this all the ravens have clipped wings. I feel bad for them, but it is also a little amusing to see these big ravens hopping around the grounds inside the walls.

After Courtney’s presentation about the tower and the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt, a man who loved Anne Boleyn and witnessed her death while he was imprisoned in the tower, we had a couple hours to explore on our own! I spent that entire time going through galleries and even seeing the crown jewels. The craziest thing I saw in the crown jewels area? A GOLD punch bowl over 3 feet wide and so large that it can fit 144 bottles of wine in it! I can’t even picture owning 144 bottles of wine, let alone pouring all of them into one giant bowl.

Another place I enjoyed looking through was the Royal Armoury. It was in the White Tower of the grounds and it was massive. The building was full of weapons that have been used throughout the course of British history and the history of the Tower of London. There were A LOT of weapons around and also a lot of suits of armor. It was a lot of fun to see and explore that place.

After the morning at the Tower, we were ready to move on to other exciting adventures. Christina will let you know all about them in her post!

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Day 13: Shakespeare – Part 2

After exploring a few of the sights connected to Shakespeare and his life and family, it was time to talk about theatre! Gretchen did a presentation on Henry IV part 1, which was appropriate because she is a theatre major herself! While still at Hall’s Croft, a few of us sat in the cafe for tea and snacks, so we discussed Shakespeare’s play there.

Henry IV part 1 is one of Will’s “history” plays. There isn’t an exact date of when he wrote this play, but it was first performed in 1600! This story is a lot of fun because there are scenes that take place in a rowdy pub and the play ends with an exciting battle. With Gretchen leading the conversation, we discussed the play’s themes and characters. Falstaff is a comedic character and both is Shakespeare’s time and our own now, is one of his most popular characters. He is a loud, bumbling man who drinks a lot of alcohol, but he also has some of the funniest lines in all of Shakespeare.

This play spends a lot of time talking about honor. Every character in this play has a different view on honor, and it works out for most of them, even the characters that decided one of the most honorable things to do is die honorably. Talking about all of this really pumped up all of us in the group because our day was going to culminate in seeing Henry IV part 1 live at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Before heading to the theatre, we were all STARVING. So as a group we headed to a fish and chips place by the theatre called Barnaby’s. I think we overwhelmed them a little bit considering we took up half the place.

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The Royal Shakespeare Company WAS SO AWESOME! The first thing we did when we got there was head to the shop. It was so overwhelming because I wanted to buy everything. I did end up buying a lot of things because all the things were so awesome. I totally bought a magnet that said “to be or not to be.”

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Henry IV part 1 was phenomenal. The Royal Shakespeare Company is the end all and be all of Shakespearian theatre. They have been around for a very long time and many famous British actors have been in productions here. Everything about the theatre was so amazing and I was so excited.

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The theatre was not what I was expecting at all. We had seats pretty high up and they were these awkward barstool-like seats REALLY high up. We were definitely among the stage lights. A couple people in our group were a little terrified, because of the whole height and being really up high thing. That all went away when the show started though! I have never scene such a professional production of a show before and I enjoyed the experience a lot.

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The funny scenes were hilarious, the serious scenes were dramatic, and the battle scenes were so intense! During the intermission, Amara and I ran toward each other and couldn’t even speak in actual sentences because we were both so excited about the show.

It was a lot of fun and we ended the night waiting for an hour at the bus stop to take us back to the hostel. We were all full of the high of Shakespeare and that hour went by quite quickly. After seeing this amazing show, I’m quite excited to head back to the theatre Monday night to see The Roaring Girl.