London and Wales, 2009 Home Previous Day Next Day

Day 9: Sunday, Sep. 27
London: Tower of London and Love's Labour's Lost at Shakespeare's Globe

On my last full day in London we went to see the Tower of London. We'd gone past it before, and were ready to see inside. While in the long ticket line, Jennifer reminded me that "Concession" means "Reduced price for old folks" and since the dividing line was 60, I saved 2 and a half Pounds Sterling. The ticket included a guided tour by a Yeoman Warder, which is not to be missed. We also saw exhibits emphasizing Henry VIII (he of the split with the church and the multiple wives). Another highlight was the crown jewels, the only place we saw in London with a Disney-style winding line to control the crowds.

Back at the hotel I did some packing, and then we got sandwiches at Simply Food and the nearby Apostrophe shop, and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare's Globe. We were "groundlings," standing in front of the stage. We ate our sandwiches there, and made it through the hour-and-a-half first act of Love's Labour's Lost. At intermission we went out for drinks, along with much of the crowd, but instead of going back in we relaxed (sitting down) along the edge of the Thames...and then walked back to the hotel.

To get to the Tower of London we took the tube to Tower Hill and walked the short distance to the Tower ticket line. It was long, but moved pretty quickly.

Tickets in hand, we crossed over this low grassy area. It used to be a moat, but (as we heard a few minutes later) there was no natural drainage, so when peopled dumped sewage, carcasses, and other goodies into the moat, it became a less-than-pleasant place. It's more pleasant now, especially if you like siege machines.

This is the entrance to the interior of the complex, across a drawbridge and through the Byward Tower.
A guided tour by a Yeoman Warder (they're sometimes called Beefeaters, but only by tourists) was both informative and entertaining.

Our Yeoman Warder had a wonderful dry wit. All Tower of London tour guides are required to be military veterans who have reached the rank of sergeant-major to even be considered for this post.

Incidentally, ER on his uniform (they don't like you to say "costume") means Elizabeth Regent (Queen Elizabeth) and the II between the two letters comes from the II part of Queen Elizabeth II.

The guide mentioned earlier that a couple of times he has been asked if the third wife of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, was the same Jane Seymour who played Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on TV. He said he was letting us know that it wasn't (it's just her stage name anyway, not her real name), so that we wouldn't embarrass ourselves by asking.

Jennifer's question was if Jane Seymour (the actress) chose that name because it had been used by a wife of Henry VIII. Our guide didn't know, but seemed amused by the question.

Here's the entrance to where the Crown Jewels are held. It really is an impressive collection (no pictures allowed). To keep gawkers from crowding around and impeding the view of others, visitors step onto a moving "sidewalk" that keeps them moving past the most amazing parts of the collection.
Here's the Bloody Tower (not the original name). The Yeoman Warder said there weren't that many executions there, but he did seem to enjoy telling us about the more famous and grotesque ones.
There's an ancient legend that as long as Ravens inhabit the Tower, it will stand. Not taking any chances, the powers-that-be keep a small flock of ravens with clipped wings around. They've become quite tame, and seem to enjoy strutting around the yard.
We had a late lunch at the New Armouries Cafe in the Tower: beef pie, mash (mashed potatoes), and mushy peas (just what it sounds like).
There were occasional costumed entertainers around the large complex, including this jester.
The central part of the Tower of London is the White Tower, which is the castle-within-a-castle at the right of this picture. Within the White Tower was a multi-floor exhibit focusing on Henry the Eighth, including his hobbies, armour, and wives.
From the Tower of London we could see the Tower Bridge nearby. For such a new and relatively small bridge, it's still rather distinctive.
Crossing the moat again to leave the castle, we passed some "soldiers" around a trebuchet. Don't think it was being fired, as it was tied down pretty securely. They probably didn't want any tourists to break into the castle without paying admission.
Back near the hotel, we dropped into Simply Food to get sandwiches to take with us on our next adventure. Like the ATM, this was an essential part of my time in London. Their hot porridge in the morning was really good.
Next the three of us walked across the Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare's Globe. One of the traditions from Shakespeare's day that is continued here is the presence of Groundlings. These are the spectators who mill around on the floor in front of the stage. For a higher price one can get a seat in one of several balconies, but it's said to be more fun to stand up close to the stage, eat, talk, and perhaps heckle the actors.

Here's the stage, ready for the evening's production of Love's Labour's Lost. It's probably not too different from productions of other of Shakespeare's plays...there are no curtains, and minimal moveable props.

Notice the Groundlings at the bottom of the picture. The stage projects out into the central area, with an open area in the middle—right in front of the center of the stage—where the earliest-arriving Groundlings set up camp.

We decided to eat sitting down.

There was a bevy of ushers/guards to make sure the Groundlings didn't sneak up into the seating area. Don't know if that was a problem four centuries ago, but apparently it's a problem now.

Here's the view from Stage Left. The white area in the upper left corner is sky.

Here's the back of the theatre, from the edge of the stage.

It was quite bright inside, as the sun hadn't set and the open air above let in plenty of light (and, good for us, it wasn't raining).

We were happy to sit before it was time to stand up when the play began.

More and more Groundlings entered the area as we ate.

They tried to duplicate the construction of the theater as well as possible, allowing for modern building codes. They don't know exactly how the original was built, but this is probably a pretty good replica. In any case, it seems quite sturdy.

The play began, and the Groundlings were practically wall-to-wall. Not much milling around was going on, as there wasn't room to do much besides stand there.

The first act lasted an hour and a half, and we felt we had truly experienced a Shakespearian play... much so, that we were ready to leave. We got drinks (wine and ale) at a stand right outside, along with others taking intermission, and walked a few yards out to the edge of the Thames. Across the river we could see the icons of The City: St. Paul's Cathedral and construction cranes.
It was a very enjoyable and ultimately relaxing evening.

Speaking of icons, on the way back to the hotel we passed a red telephone booth. I never used one in the UK (not with a cell phone and a local SIM chip) but still had to take the picture.

There were still buses running (visible on the left) but we enjoyed our leisurely walk back to the hotel.