Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Friday, June 07, 2013

London: The Tide Waits for No Family

In front of Tower Bridge.

Me: Are you excited to go the Tower, Benny?
Benny: I'm especially excited I'm not going there to be executed.

We were beginning to adjust to London time, which meant no more 4 a.m. risings. Instead, we slept in until 8, barely getting to the dining room in time to get breakfast, and not leaving the B&B until almost 10. Benny was lethargic until we boarded the boat for the trip to the Tower of London, one of the crown jewels of this European Trip for me.

Outside our London Bed and Breakfast.
Benny loved the boat ride. We admired the new glassy skyscrapers on the opposite bank, most topped with construction cranes, including "the Shard" and one building that looked like a crystal pineapple.

We disembarked beside the Traitor's Gate, the historic water entrance for Tower prisoners. Queen Elizabeth (then Princess) was sent to the Tower by her sister Queen Mary and arrived there by the Traitor's Gate.
Traitors Gate at morning low tide, seen from the Thames.

Traitor's Gate at afternoon high tide. Too late to enter now! 

Elizabeth's arrival was delayed by the famous "Tide Letter" (which I saw on a previous trip to London). She had asked the lords escorting her for time to write a final letter to her sister and by the time she finished, the water level of the Thames was too high for her to go to the water that day. When she finally did arrive at the Tower, she sat on the water steps and refused to move until one of her male servants started crying. Elizabeth scolded him, and her spirits restored, agreed to be conducted to her prison. I wanted to see those water steps. It was all I could do not to jump onto the pier and run for the Tower walls.

A few pretty girls were walking the Tower grounds in Elizabethan costume; it must be hard to smile and smile while tourists swarm around you. One guy stepped all over one girl's trailing skirts, pinning her to the spot, and he just laughed and didn't even apologize. Benny liked the crown jewels and the knights' armor. We were less impressed by the monument on the scaffold site: a glass pillow surrounded by the Tower's most famous victims: Anne Boleyn, Katharine Howard, the Earl of Essex, Lady Jane Grey. It was an odd memorial, kind of a Cinderella slipper story gone bad.
The Bell Tower, where Elizabeth was kept.

I tried to get Benny to go to the Torture Chamber but he would have none of it. I went, but it was pretty tame anyway — What happened to the stuffed guy stretched out on the rack? Why is the chopping block jumbled in with a bunch of other items instead of standing out in its grisly glory with a nice ax next to it?

William the Conqueror's White Tower.
Tragedy always makes you hungry, so we had fish and chips on the waterfront, then climbed back into the boat. We walked along the waterfront, admiring the Battle of Britain memorial, on the way to the Churchill War Rooms. In hindsight, we really should have skipped the Churchill War Rooms. Our asses were dragging, and I for one had slept poorly the night before. But I'd already paid a fortune for the tickets, so we headed inside. It was fascinating, but to our tired eyes, it was also a warren of hot, dark and crowded passageways. Ron and Benny vanished, and I wandered the rooms searching for them before finally thinking to go outside where I found them drooping in the sunshine like unwatered roses.

Wiped out after a long day.
Obviously jet lag was kicking our butts, so all we could do is go to bed early again and hope the next day would be better. We were leaving London for Canterbury the following afternoon and would need our wits about us.

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