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Day 5: Tower of London, Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abby, Billy Elliot

March 27, 2015

Today has been yet another busy day for the PHS choir!

We woke up quite early this morning, leaving for the famous Tower of London at 7:30 in the morning and are met with a Yeoman Warder, a witty chap who goes by the name Bonnie. The Yeomen Warders are men who have retired from the Armed Forces of theCommonwealth realms (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) for over twenty two years, be senior officers, as well as have the medal of Service and Good Conduct. They are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London serving as tour guides, but in the past their job was traditionally to protect the Tower of London and to safeguard the Crown Jewles. Of the Yeomen, some are Ravenmasters, who do as their name suggests, watching over the ravens of the Tower of London, whose wings are clipped so they are always there. For it’s said if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Tower will fall and disaster will follow. The Yeomen Wardere wear traditional garb embroirdered with a E II R, which stands for the Queen Elizabeth II Regina, showing they work for the Queen.

We got to tour the entire place, even getting in a couple minutes early to watch the Opening Ceremony of opening up the Tower, something that used to be a necessary duty while now it is living and breathing tradition. There is also the Closing Ceremony, which is filled with more pomp. These ceremony’s have been carried out every single day for the last 700 years.

Every. Single. Day.

In fact, when the Tower had been bombed just outside it’s gates in WW2, the only change was that the Cloaing Ceremony was delayed by a mere ten minutes.

Our choir had the incredible experience of being able to perform an impromptu concert just outside on the gates on the surrounding grass, backing up right against this majestic fortress.  People walking by loved it of course, but it was more than that.  It was a reality check in a way, of just how privileged we were to be in such a historic place that has been around for hundreds of years, over generations, over so many people’s stories and now we’re a teensy little part of it too.

Going on from the Tower, I went over with my mom and got some hot chocolate from a nearby coffee stand right outside the Tower.  Now I mention this because in the States, we’re accustomed to having hot chocolate that’s relatively thin- you know, good, but most of the time not that rich. Well. This hot chocolate was heavenly. It was so rich it was almost like drinking liquid chocolate, a much more European thing to do and if you ever end up going to Europe, you simply have to try it! Also, anything you buy there, unlike here, the tax is already included in the shown price of what you want.  It says 2 pounds is the price? Then you only have to pay two pounds and not any more sneaking cents in there like it is here.

For lunch, we had a rather drast contrast of what we’re used to, eating at a medival banquet restaurant. Though I myself wasn’t a particularly huge fan of the food, it was an interesting experience. The whole atmosphere of being in a sort if dungeon-esque, brick, low-ceilings basement with dark but colorful lighting and waitresses dressed as if they were from the Middle Ages really set the mood for the roast beef.

After, we piled onto the coaches once more and toured both the Churchill War Rooms and the Westminster Abby. Our group went to the war rooms first. These bunkers underground the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of London were used by Churchill, obviously, as well as a few select other people worrking for the British war effort in WW2, most of whom didn’t know that Churchill was there at all it was such a secret place. When the war ended, the people pretty much just got up and left, forgetting about the place for three years or so. In the 70s the rooms then were opened to the public as a museum, displaying most everything just as how it had been when the war ended. Wax figures have also been added make the feel more real. My experience with the Rooms was great… aside from getting lost underground that is.

Next was Westminster Abby, one of my favorite places so far on our trip. Going into our tour, I wasn’t sure what to expect of such a place aside from being where monarchs like Willia and Kate were married and crowned.  There are a lot of things are famous in London.  But Westminster is so much more. It’s gorgeous for one, built by two different kings, in mostly the late English gothic style. Grand arches, beautiful engravings, glorious restored painted bits of it. And also, incredible people. Now, not in the sense that they are incredible, but that they were incredible, for now, they’re dead. Yes, there are many famous tombs in Westminster. The man who built the church, King Edward the Confessor, is buried in the back and regarded as a saint now due to the miracles that happened around his shrine behind the altar of the Abby. Also buried there with a magnificent shrine is one if Englsnd’s best monarchs, Queen Elizabeth the first. Elizabeth is in fact not buried alone, she is buried with her half sister Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary. Many of the people buried here from older times with shrines have in their shrines, sculptures of the deceased they honor. And we know they are very close representations of the peoples’ faces because death masks are taken after one is deceased, masks made out of plaster. Long ago, the Abby supported itself financially by selling these plots, so if you were rich enough your family build you a place there. Then it became that graves and plaques to deceased had to be thereafter approved by the Dean. Because of this, some of the most ostentatious graves are for normal people who just happened to be rich and die before the Dean put a checks on everything. Famous people burried there that I remember best are Issac Newton and Charles Dickens. There are also plaques to Rudard Kilpling, Shakespeare, and others. Most of the names that I remember are from the Poet’s corner of the church. Westminster does a sort of grouping of each type of person- poets and writers are buried and given recognition in the same places while the architects are together, and the military men together, etc. The oldest person buried there is a man from the 1000s, nearly a thousand years ago.

I walked over the grave of Issac Newton and Charles Dickens.

Issac Newton and Charles Dickens.

If that isn’t incredible I don’t know what is. But one of the other perhaps more incredible parts of the church is the respect given to the Unknown Warrior. He is buried beneath a large engraved stone tablet on the floor with poppies surrounding it, commemorating the men that died in World War 1. It is the only floor stone in the whole Abby that is not permitted to be walked upon. Even Kate diverted her path when her and Prince William got married in the Westminster in 2011.

Changing then on the coach into nicer clothes, we stopped for dinner at a French cafe place, and then went straight into seeing our second musical in London- Billy Elliot.  This musical, in my opinion, was even better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s about a boy from a poor mining Irish town who learns ballet during a rough time in the town when the miners are on strike, some of whom are his father and older brother. They of course don’t support this his newfound talent.  The musical has some extremely talented dancers and half of them are about ten years old. The musical Billy Elliot is 10 years old and this particular theater’s performance of it is up for an Oliver Award for it. The only downside to the play were two things, the first being a ton of swearing, even by all the kids, but it was understandable to set the scene of how rough their lives were. U The second part was a bit drastic for us Americans though- a bunch of actors were smoking on stage a lot, which again adds to setting, but I think it can be understood more seriously as a fire hazard. Not only that but it gave some of us, including me, splitting headaches. It’s only once you leave America that you realize how lucky we are to have such tight rules on smoking.

We got back the latest we ever have to the hotel, arriving at nearly 23:00 and still having to pack, but honestly would we have it any other way? It’s our last full day in London after all, why not use it!

23:35 PM London Time, March 25, 2015

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