May 26, 2006

Other: Pilgrim's Progress

I'll be back in Canada before this diary gets out of London, I think. Glad I've got notes.

Day 26 - London

We lost our native guide - some nonsense about work or some such - so we went off on our own for a tour of the rebuilt Globe Theatre. It was nice enough, if little too tourist-oriented and a little under technical for my taste. Yes, the construction is authentic, though there are concessions to safety laws: there are metal hand rails, for instance; and the the first thatched roof since 1666 *ahem* features an authentic Elizabethan hand-built sprinkler system. But the walls are really lime & plaster with animal hair, and it is held together with 12,000 wooden pegs.
Warning: don't ever eat a jelly doughnut in the UK, Globe theatre or not. They just can't get it right.
We made for St. Paul's Cathedral next, but were stopped short by the £9 ($20) admission fee. A little too rich for a simple look-around, frankly. So instead we went to the much smaller Southwark Cathedral instead. Masively rebuilt, enough of the original remained for them to claim title as teh oldest Gothic church in London (and that's saying something). There are several dedicated chapels, including a quite recent (1950s) monument to Shakespeare (statue and window) and a much older one to "doctor" Lionel Lockyer which has a wonderful epitath to his immortal fame and in one big advertisement to his panceatic (is that a word?) PILLS. I'll write a little more about him when I get back.
Q: What's London built on?
A: London.
We passed one building that was exposed by fire, and it ended up that it was a bishop's home built hundreds of years ago! The new building now incorporates much of the old structure, and it looks fantastic. Kudos to the business or government that worked to keep it as part of the cityscape. When I mentioned before about stumbling over history on this island, I really wasn't kidding! This whole thing is about one block from a functioning reproduction of Sir Francis "I'm-NOT-A-Pirate-The-Queen-Says-So" Drake's ship the Golden Hinde.
A bit of lunch, then it was off to the Tower of London. The Tower is at one end of the Tower Bridge, a very impressive structure that North Americans keep calling the London Bridge. The London Bridge is a rather flat, plain looking thing that has one end in London proper (London is about one square mile).
Did I mention that the Globe tour was a little too tourist-friendly? Nothing like the Tower is!These folks have it down flat: the Yeomen who work here as guides (the "Beefeaters") are all retired military sargeants, so they've got the voices for it. If you check their uniforms, they're wearing their fruit salad, and I didn't see any less than three bands thick. Plum job, and a huge honour: they live on the premises with their families, the pay is good, and let's face it: being able to say that you are a guard in the Tower gets you RESPECT. The buildings, while authentic, are a little too slick for their own good. While you certainly know you're not in some Disnified version of a castle when you tour it (the White Tower is almost 1000 years old), but you can't shake the "this is for tourists" ambiance.
Then there's the crown jewels. Hold on, let me rewrite that: then there's the


They are utterly surreal. You know that they are authentic, but the mind simply rebels. They are simply too big, too intricate, and too bloody valuble to be believed. And no, the gemstones look absolutely NOTHING like glass or paste gems. There are several gold items nearby as well, but after the JEWELS!!! the gold is nothing. You can appreciate the skill that went into their manufacture, but... One piece, the Sovereign's Sceptre, holds the Cullinan Diamond, a brilliantly cut stone also known as the "Great Star of Africa: it weighs 530 carats, or about 17 ounces. The second biggest is the famous Koh-I-Noor: it's in the Queen Mother's crown and is a fifth the size. Film and photographs are simply not enough to give the impact these items have.

I'll leave it to you to imagine the security.


posted by Thursday at 7:58 am


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