July 5, 2011

Day 3 London: Tower, St. Paul's, Millenium Bridge, Hyde Park & Nash Concert!

Wrong country's military garb, husband.... 

Happy Fourth of July!! (Andrew’s Note: Wife!  Shhhhh!!  Someone will hear you!  People get hung by the neck until dead for treason around here for that!)  We went to the Tower of London today… can you tell!?!  Sorry – Happy Fourth of July!
They ended up draining the moat b/c it became a cesspool... which seems a better defense than... grass

This morning (another beautiful, sunny, 75 degree day), Allison and Daniel and I went to visit the Tower of London.  This structure is where a lot of high profile prisoners were held and/or executed – Anne Boelyn, Lady Jean Gray, Sir Walter Raliegh, Mary Queen of Scots, and plenty of others (Allison:  And a lot of Raven’s wings).  It’s another example of the old and new blend here – it’s a building that was built in the 1000’s smack in the middle of skyscrapers and cranes.  (Why did they build such a pretty old castle right where all these buildings are?? ;-)  We went on a tour given by a Yeoman Warder, or Beefeater.  They say the real name for them is Yeoman Warders, but people call them Beefeaters because they were allowed to come in after the Tudor king at his table and eat the rest of the scraps left over after dinner.  The first thing out of our Warder’s mouth was, “Any Americans here?” (hands go up)  “This is your day isn’t it?  See, if you’d just paid your taxes, all this could’ve been yours…”  Very funny guy and a very entertaining tour.  The men who work as Warders are selected by the Queen for a good military service record and other qualifications he didn’t talk about.  We walked through and learned about the different houses, buildings and towers in the complex and ended up in the small chapel.  We were sent off to wander on our own and went to the Jewel House, where the British crown jewels are kept.  That was incredible – of course seeing the current crowns, scepters, maces and swords was great, but I loved looking at the really old pieces.  The crowns and gold from 600 years ago are there and they look like they were just made!  The jewels were quite a sight, too – the Imperial State Crown (currently Queen Elizabeth’s) has over 3,000 jewels in it and the royal scepter has the largest cut diamond in the world (at 530 carats) called the Star of Africa.  Oh, Monarchy.  They just HAD to barely outdo Allison’s engagement ring… ;-)  We also saw the White Tower museum where all kinds of armor and weapons and equipment are on display.  The very first thing you see is a glass case with Henry VIII’s armor in it!  Again, it looks like it was made yesterday but it’s 400 years old.

Please don't kill us while we take a picture with you.  

So much for chivalry... the boys left me with their stuff while they went to play with weapons.

After the Tower, Allison and I made our way to the Wall Street-ish section of London and had a great lunch at a beautiful pub, The Counting House.  Although we were the only ones in there not in a suit and tie, and Allison was pretty much the only female, it was fun.  The building is an old converted bank building and lined with dark wood and very pretty windows.  We had Leek and Potato Soup, Welsh Rarebit (it’s ham, not rabbit), and a little plate of apples, cheese, ham, and bread.  Mmmm….something to replace the calories from the 6 zillion miles we’ve walked so far!  (You should see my feet!  No matter how hard I scrub, they’re “London-tube-stop-black”)

After lunch, we hopped over to Hyde Park.  Henry VIII used to hunt here and we tried picturing our dogs, Chile and Won Ton, hunting?… quite laughable.  We wanted to hear rantings from Speaker’s Corner but I guess they were all having a pint… no speakers.  Boo. I tried to get Andrew to give a speech… he flaked.   We might actually come back another day and ride bikes around the park… all 600 acres of it.  Gotta work off those ‘pasties’ somehow.  (By the way, it's pronounced pasty like nasty.)  You can rent the bikes all over London for like a pound an hour, and return them all over the place.  Love this city!
What... your park doesn't have a giant horse head in it?  

City of London festival placed pianos all over the city for the public to play.

Following the expedition, we did a tour of St. Paul’s cathedral.  It is simply incredible.  Your neck hurts afterwards because you can’t get over how amazing the mosaics and baroque style decorations are.  The dome is huge, second only to St. Peter’s in Rome.  Most of you have probably seen the interior, as Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married there.  Churchill had his funeral there. If I went to church here, I’d be hard pressed to pay attention.  We took an audio tour much like at Westminster, but St. Pauls uses iPod’s for their tour, so naturally I was much more impressed.  Way to stay cool St. Paul's, way to stay cool.  On the music side of things, St. Pauls was one of the major locations in London to use polyphony, and they house and school a boys choir just like at Westminster!  (There has been a boy's choir there for about 1100 years.  This puts our 3-4 year old programs into perspective...)  
St. Paul's.  This is a must if you visit!

Even their rubbish bins are snooty.

After our tour of the church and crypt, I took Andrew over Millennium Bridge.  After the recent Harry Potter movie, it just doesn’t seem all that awesome.  Not nearly death eater-y enough…. 

We then took the long way (read… we got very lost) to our first concert for the City of London Festival: The Nash Ensemble.  Wow!!  Wow!!!  There is really something to be said for such a high quality group playing such a diverse style of music.  Here was their set list:

Grieg - Andante con moto for piano trio
Vaughan Williams - Six Studies on English Folk Songs for Cello and Piano
Grainger - My Robin is to Greenwood Gone, Shepherd's Hey, Handel in the Strand
Brett Dean - Sextet
Delius - La Calinda: Air and Dance
Dvorak - Piano Quartet in Eb, Op. 87

The festival is featuring a diverse range of countries music, as well as key composers, Grainger being one of them.  Percy Grainger is probably in my top five of favorite composers list, look him up on iTunes if you get a chance!  He hails from Australia, was quite popular and had a very...distinct...personality.  His personality showed in his compositions: he didn’t write ‘ritardando’ (getting slower) in music, he wrote ‘slowingly, bit by bit… but not too much’.  Very quirky!  Some of my favorites of his are the folk tunes he wrote for band and choirs.  Good stuff.

On the opposite end of early music, we heard a very very modern piece, “Sextet” by Brett Dean, who was in the audience for the performance, which was broadcast live on BBC3.  (Run on sentence!!)  Having just studied 12 tone theory in my grad class in June, I thoroughly enjoyed the unique composition that used a matrix of 12 music notes that were manipulated to create an entire work.  Bizarre, but fascinating.  At one point the violin and violist placed a paperclip on one of their strings, it created at eerie-haunted house like effect.  
Draper's Hall, our first concert! Isn't it beautiful?!!

Nash Ensemble!
 This put us in rather late, so we'll probably start posting in the mornings now as it is more convenient.  Next up is Buckingham and the British Museum and The Lion King!  Super excited!

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