Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wandering in Westminster

So for my final day in London I had decided on heading back to Westminster, hoping to get a clearer shot of the Houses of Parliament (i.e. in the morning so with the sun behind me and not behind the building!) and then go visit Westminster Abbey and finally head over to St Paul's Cathedral. Well I ended up heading late into town (had to be telephone support for a couple of hours for my sister's friend who was flying out of Heathrow to teach Spanish in Indiana for a year, and was having some ticket troubles, as in "we're sorry you aren't anywhere in our list of passengers"), fortunately for me the sun was still at an o.k. angle for the photo I wanted to take:

After which I crossed the river yet again (is it me or does that water look murkier than before?) and just wandered around the building taking in all the details. Or at least as much as guys like these would let me:

grrrr... I wanted to go wandering inside! :p

Anyhow, so I continued walking around the outside and came across mister Oliver Cromwell looking down on the local traffic:

and yet another entrance they wouldn't let me through:

Perhaps I'll have better luck with this one? (is the the other "tall" tower at the opposite end of Big Ben's tower)

Oops! I guess this one is for the use of a single individual:

and since I'm not QE2 I guess I'll have to satisfy my curiousity with admiring all the carved little details.

Here's a peek around the tower's corner:

with I'm guessing previous Kings looking out across the land

lol I looooove the details!

and my zoom lens:

I must say though these two fellahs watching over the gate were my favourites!

Can you make out the royal motto on the second? "Dieu et mon Droit"

What luck I had (as usual) with the weather! When I caught the train into town it was raining... when I reached Westminster I was greeted by skies like these:

So after wandering around the Houses of Parliament as much as allowed, and after having satisfied the rumblings of my stomach, I figured it was time to peek into one place I knew I could go into: Westminster Abbey! Here's a glimpse of the back as seen from the Sovereign's Entrance of Parliament:

Impressive! Although the façade is even lovlier:

reaching up towards the heavens!

But as that turned out to be the exit, I had to make my way around the side tourist entrance.

Admiring the rose? It was even lovelier from the inside with the sunlight shining through! If only I had a picture...

Once again admiring all the details... I am so in love with Gothic Churches! I could spend hours upon hours gazing upon this bit and that bit and...

So, big tourist attraction, right? So you have to pay to get in... well if you do then add on a couple of quid for the Verger's Tour! 90' with someone narrating the history of the Abbey to you and taking you through roped off places normally off-limits (like Edward the Confessor's Chapel). I particularly enjoyed seeing that Queens and sisters Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were buried together (separated by war, united in death), although Elizabeth is the one who got her effigy on the tombstone (courtesy of King James 1st, whose mother Mary Queen of Scots is buried in a neighbouring chapel). I was also moved by the tomb of the unkown soldier (the first of its kind)

Now, here's my big bone of contention with this place: NO PHOTOS ALLOWED! whaaaaat?! Even if without flash?! snif!!! That's torture!!! On the other hand the inside is so cluttered with tombstones, sculptures, windows, monuments... I could probably fill up my computer with images of it all! :p

I guess I'll just have to send you along to a virtual tour here, or the Abbey's highlights from their official website.

I can share a few snapshots of the Cloisters with you, no problems (other than the hour and diminishing light) there!

Here's the entrance/exit from the Church:

Beautiful work in those arches that look out in the garden:

Zut! Once upon a time (in high school) I used to know the architectural terms (in French) for a Gothic Church... are those reinforcement structures the "arc-boutants"?

Entrance to a Chapel:

There weren't as many commemorative monuments as inside the Church, but here are a couple that particularly caught my attention:

As an oceanographer and marine biologist how could I not appreciate that second one?! ;o)

And voilà! As we say in Spain "Colorín colorado, este cuento se ha terminado!" In other words, time's up, the story's over, time to go home! After spending 3h in the Abbey there was no time left to head over to St Paul's, will have to see that on my next visit!

Might as well say one last good-bye to this guy before I hop on the Tube (and head over to my favourite bookstores to load up on reading material):

One last thing, my sister and I celebrated the end of the trip (courtesy of a parental gift) by catching a show:

As my sister was fond of saying (repeatedly), "now that was a wicked show!", go see it! :o)

Hope you enjoyed the weekend in London!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Camulodunum / Colchester

Nice thing about visiting a sister who's boyfriend's parents loaned her their car for the weekend? Getting to visit something outside of London! ;o) (that and getting picked up at the airport, lol!)

After considering a few options for our Sunday escapade (factoring in the probable lateness of breakfast after drinks etc. in London the night before), we finally settled on Colchester (about an hour away) basically because it had a castle (I'm a sucker for those) and this one was a Norman Keep which is something I've never seen! :o) (that and the entrance fees were cheap compared to some others we considered). Unfortunately Colchester's website isn't that informative, I just thought the only other thing there would be the Natural History Museum (we didn't get in, apparently places close early on Sundays) and the Zoo (my sister went 2 years ago). So I was pleasantly surprised when driving into to town and seeing bits and pieces of a magnificent stone wall and an arch (Romans?! YAY!!!). No stopping since we were running a bit late so went straight to the Keep:

Massive stone walls! Definitely looked like it was built for surviving a war!

Apparently Colchester Castle is the largest castle keep built by the Normans in England (brief history reminder: the Normans -French from Normandy- invaded England in the 11th century when William the Conqueror laid claim to the English throne stating that it had been promised to him by Edward the Confessor who died childless. Victory over the English army -Saxons- at the Battle of Hastings. Permanent French presence in England until a fusion of the two peoples and cultures a couple of centuries later). The keep was built between 1076 and 1125 with extensive re-use of brick and tiles from the ruined Roman town and built on the foundations of the great Roman Temple of Claudius. Apparently it was a full story higher than what's left now as the upper part was demolished in the 1690s.

The Keep is now the town's history museum which is what you can visit with your basic entrance fee. But a mere 2 extra pounds gets you into an hour-long, highly entertaining and informative guided tour! Care to join me as I revisit the tour and the Museum while browsing through some of my pictures?

Our guided started by leading us down

into the foundations of the original Roman temple (which had originally been filled up with sand for structural support, was emptied out in the 18th-19th centuries).

We wandered in and out and she gave us a general history lesson of the region (see below with museum pictures) and talked about the construction (and destruction) of the original Roman Temple and then the keep. In some of the walls you can see where the stones change from the foundations of the Roman Temple to those added on for the Norman Keep. And by the way... the Romans had better workmanship! ;o)

As we headed back up (I love spiralling castle staircases, don't you?)

she stopped to point out some Medieval graffiti:

As we headed up into the light (so currently on the roof top as that level was blown away)

I was amazed to find a tree had been planted there!

Walking through a narrow corridor

into what remains of the original Chapel (the floor is original, the wooden beams, windows etc put in place to give an idea of what the chapel would have been like)

Check the view from the top! Looking out over Colchester:

As we headed back down the tight spiral

we'd come across a few of the original windows (no way an arrow's going to be coming through that narrow slit!):

Anyone need to use the privy?

After that we were left on our own to visit the Museum which has been set up inside the man hall of the Keep. It was a highly interactive experience, with lots of "toys" to play with and plenty of maquettes and illustrations of the various periods of history we had been told about while in the foundations.

Some fun facts and stories I learnt from the guide and while goofing around in the Museum:
  • Apparently this was the oldest recorded town in Britain under the name Camulodunum, as tribal capital for the Trinovantes in 25BC. The Romans considered its king Cunobelin (know to readers of Shakespeare as Cymbline) more than a mere tribal leader, to them he was Rex Britannorum or King of the Britons.

  • After the Roman invasion under the Emperor Claudius (bringing elephants with him!) the first legionary fortress was built there later to be chosen as the site for a retirement settlement for Roman soldiers (I got a real kick out of that! Roman soldiers retiring in England? And now the Mediterranean coastline is packed with retired Brits! lol!). A monumental temple was built there dedicated to Claudius. Here's a model of it:

Mosaic found in the ruins of a neighbouring house:

As I mentioned before, the museum is highly interactive, all my sister is missing is a pilum or glaive to be the perfect Roman Legionnaire!

That is unless her boyfriend

decides to sell her as a slave...

  • When Queen Boudica led the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes in revolt against the Romans in 60AD, her troops destroyed the town (and then moved on to do the same to London!) including -after a 2 day siege- the temple where many of the citizens had taken refuge (stone walls = impregnable, wooden roof? fire = ouch!). The wall surrounding the town was built after this event.
  • The Castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror, and apparently the Tower of London has the exact same design, just built on a smaller scale! Here's a model of the town at the time of the Castle's completion:
  • Do I look fierce enough to be a Norman warrior?
  • Apparently the Keep has never needed to serve its primary purpose as a centre for defense. Among its many uses it has been a county prison (in the 17th century it was the location for "questioning" suspected witches)
  • It was a final bastion of Royalists at the end of the Civil War (Cromwell vs King Charles I)
  • In the late 17th century it was bought for a pittance by a Mr Wheeler who dynamited the upper structures to get building materials he could re-sell (he didn't finish taking the place apart due to bankruptcy).
  • And in the early 18th century it was acquired by the local MP Charles Grey who restored it to its current condition (adding in some historical inaccuracies) and created the park that surrounds it.
  • The foundations were used as bomb shelters in WW2.

We decided to walk around the park for a bit and following our ears (we heard music) led us to this:

a very large and lovely park!

As we walked down and around we came across the Roman Wall:

Time to head home. Here's a glimpse of the Castle from the other side, you can clearly make out the location of the Chapel in the left-hand corner there!

CrazyCris "castle-hugger" ;o)