May 24, 2008 – Saturday : London
Today was much more laid back compared to yesterday. We slept in a little, had some breakfast at our hotel and then walked to Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard happened at 11:20 and even though we got there at 11:00 it was already crazy. There were people everywhere! It was insane. Police on horses were keeping the crowds in check. There was a parade with a band, there was yelling and saluting and then the guards just stood there…. DOING NOTHING! How boring! Why is this such a big deal? Why do so many people get there hours ahead of time to watch guards walking in and then standing? Nate and I kept waiting around thinking that there’s gotta be more to this thing than just standing. But there wasn’t, so we left.
We decided to head to the Tower of London. The tubes (subways) between the Palace and the Tower were shut down for repairs so we had to walk. On the map it didn’t look too far but it took us almost two hours to get there. Even though it took so long, it was an unexpectedly beautiful day and it was a wonderful opportunity to get some great pictures. We explored alleys, took pictures of architecture and enjoyed a cappuccino and tomato sandwich in the shadow of an old church.
The Tower of London has been a backdrop to many of the novels I have read about London’s history. I am absolutely fascinated by England’s history, especially the 1500’s during the time of King Henry VIII. It was surreal to be there. It not at all what I expected it to be like. In fact, I was having a hard time even remembering the history and stories because it just didn’t fit with what my imagination had thought up. There was a guard/tour guide that gave us a tour of the grounds and told us a lot of history of each place inside the walls. It was great to have him tell us the stories and refresh my memory. The Palace, also known as the White Tower, is not as palace-like or grand as I would have thought. The grounds weren’t pretty and it was extremely small compared to what my imagination had painted. The Bloody Tower wasn’t any bigger than a 2-story Starbucks and didn’t have an extensive history like I thought it would. The only things that I thought were somewhat fitting to what I had imagined was the chapel and the house that King Henry VIII built for Anne Boleyn. When I walked into the chapel I felt like I was entering history. Even the air and the sunlight streaming through the slits in the stone walls felt ancient. Anne Boleyn’s house was off to the west of the palace built in a quaint cottage style that she loved so much. Anne was executed on the green in front of her home and next to the ancient chapel for treason against the king (although it was most likely the king’s madness that drove him to declare her death sentence). They have built a memorial where she was executed and it takes my breath away when I look around me and realize that these buildings where the last thing she saw before she was killed.
I had a wonderful time wandering through the grounds and touring the Palace. Kings, Queens, knights, commoners, lords, ladies, prisoners and executioners have all walked upon this dirt. Have looked at this view. Have touched these walls. It was a very moving experience for me and I’m so glad I got to see it for myself.
After our time at the Tower we hopped on a bus (instead of walking back) and headed for Victoria Station. Nate has a business contact in London, Ande, and we met up with him at the station. We walked around some of the neighborhoods and ended up at a fancy little restaurant in Chelsea. I ordered Ahi tuna and a glass of wine. While Nate and Ande talked business and computers, I relaxed and reflected on our life these past couple weeks. I’m loving this time but I’m really aprehensive about living in France. I keep thinking about it and how we don’t know the language. We don’t know the culture. We don’t know anyone. Sometimes I think we are absolutely crazy and other times I’m impressed by our adventuresome spirit. I know that total immersion into a culture and a languare is the best way but the fact that we don’t know anyone terrifies me. It’s not like we’re going to be living with a host family that will help us. It’s not like when I lived in Sweden and was surounded by people that were in the same boat as me. It’s just me and Nate and no one else. I’m going to be relying on him like never before as he helps me step out of my comfort zone.