Tower of London

On Tuesday, June 20, we took a ferry to the Tower of London; this is a view of Big Ben from the ferry.

I’d imagined the Tower of London as a single structure but it’s more like a village, with many buildings surrounding a courtyard. In addition to being a prison, it had been the residence of the royal family and was (and still is) the keeper of the crown jewels.

We started our visit with an hour-long tour guided by a beefeater (below). He showed us Traitor’s Gate, where Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn would have entered the tower for her imprisonment, and took us into the church where Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard are buried (no pictures were allowed inside).

Here is the site where both women were beheaded for infidelity to the king:

I just read a book about Henry VIII’s wives. Although it’s likely that Katherine Howard was unfaithful (she confessed), the charges against her cousin Anne Boleyn are dubious. Henry VIII wanted to get rid of Anne because she hadn’t yet given him an heir and he had fallen in love with Jane Seymour.

There’s also a section of the tower called the Medieval Palace, where the royal family would have stayed (usually for a specific purpose and not for very long). They were built by Henry III and his son Edward I.

This is a recreation of Edward I’s bedchamber (I believe the bed is mentioned in Lucy Worsley’s book, If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home).

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Jane Austen’s House Museum

On Sunday, June 18, we visited Jane Austen’s Chawton home, where she wrote three novels and started one more.

I’d read that her Chawton home was modest, but I’d never understood why since it looked fairly large from the outside. But inside, the rooms were small and sparsely furnished.

The house tour was self-guided, and while the rooms could become cramped, they eventually emptied out and I had them to myself for a few moments.

Here were my favorite objects inside the home:

A bookcase from Jane’s childhood home in Steventon (the Steventon house no longer exists):

Her writing desk in the kitchen:

The bedroom that she shared with her sister Cassandra (the bed is not the original):

Jane Austen’s ring and bracelet:

A quilt top that she made with her mother and sister (this is just a small section):

After we toured the house, we browsed the gift shop and only one of us came away with something: Ben. He purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice (without any prompting from me). He read it steadily throughout our vacation and is now more than halfway through.

From the house museum, we walked up the street to “the great house” owned by Jane’s brother Edward. He never lived there, preferring one of his other estates, but Jane and her family had free use of the manor. To be honest, it wasn’t worth the visit except to see how different it was from Chawton House. The interior wasn’t restored to what it was in Jane Austen’s time but contained an exhibit comparing Jane Austen to an author who I hadn’t heard of.

The one interesting object in the house was an exact replica of the wedding dress that Jennifer Ehle wore in A&E’s Pride & Prejudice.

This was easily one of the best days of the trip, since seeing Jane Austen’s home was one of the primary reasons I wanted to go to England.

 

London

England has been the best part of our trip (as I knew it would be).

Trafalgar Square (above) was about a block away from our hotel. You can see Big Ben in the distance (on the left).

On our first day, without knowing where we were going (we didn’t yet have a map or an adequate data plan for our phones), we walked through this archway to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace.

The guards at Buckingham Palace started marching back and forth from their posts (not sure why).

We also visited Selfridge’s on Oxford St. (I didn’t take any pictures there). I loved seeing the famous revolving doors that were featured on the TV show.

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed Seville Row, which was mentioned often on The Great British Sewing Bee. The neighborhood was full of designer stores, like Chanel and some others that I hadn’t heard of but I’m sure are equally fancy.

On our second day, we saw Westminster Abbey but didn’t have time to go in, as the line was long and I had plans for the afternoon. Also, they don’t allow photography inside, which kind of dampened my enthusiasm.

At 1 p.m., I met my friend Yasmin for tea at The Goring (she also lives in Virginia but happened to be in London at the same time as we were). Our waiters were French (a bit difficult to understand) and always on-hand to refill our tea cups. The scones were unlike any I’ve had before (they looked almost like rolls) and broke in half; Yasmin told me that that’s the sign of a good scone. By the end, I was so full that I only sampled one of the desserts.

Cliffs of Moher

Our second guided tour was to Dunguaire Castle and the Cliffs of Moher on Wednesday. Ben almost didn’t make it. At 9:45 a.m., the tour bus started to pull out of Galway Coach Station, while Ben was still in the station (in his defense, the bus was leaving 15 minutes ahead of schedule).

After Ben was on board, we drove to Dunguaire Castle, where we took photos but unfortunately didn’t go in.

These buildings were just down the street from the castle. Our guide told us they’re more in the English style than Irish, and that the straw for straw roofs is shipped in from Poland.

After the castle, we went to the “baby cliffs” (I’m not sure what they’re called, since the stop was unplanned; our guide referred to them as the “baby cliffs”). Ben was brave and ventured out on a ledge.

Finally, we went to the Cliffs of Moher.

There were two paths at the cliffs – a more dangerous path on the left that is closer to the edge of the cliffs and an easier path on the right. We took the path on the left (not my first choice).

On the way down the cliff, I met this dog, who put his paw in my hand when I tried to pet him. He was tied up next to his owner, who was painting the scenery.

On the drive back, we visited a prehistoric grave site called Gleninsheen Wedge Tomb. It’s older than the pyramids.

Galway

On our third day in Ireland, we boarded a train to Galway.  After we checked in at the Clybaun Hotel, we ate lunch at Cupan Tae. I ordered afternoon tea, while Ben had a salad.

Galway reminds me of Alexandria, in that its small streets are full of shops and restaurants, but other than eating and shopping, I’m not sure what else you’d do.

We took an hour-long bus tour of Galway. Our Irish tour guide was very familiar with Alexandria, including with our neighborhood, as he has friends in the area. He told me that he’d visited Mount Vernon, and that he’d seen a snake there (Ireland doesn’t have snakes; lucky).

The claddagh ring was everywhere – on signs, in stores, on street art. If I didn’t already have a claddagh ring, I’d be tempted to buy one.

We ended our day as we did most days in Ireland – at the pub. I ordered tea.