Somewhere on the other side of these distant hills lies Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
The other side of this life.
At this festive time of year it seems a good idea to think about the cheery Georgians of England, who had a penchant for grand architecture that matched their imperial ambitions.
A notable example, The Royal Crescent, can be found in Bath. Today the place is a much-sought after home address, as much as it surely was after its completion in 1775.
Like everything else in the UK, the complex looks better on a sunnty day.
Pleasant to gaze upon but probably a bit like living in a fish bowl for the residents.
The Tower of London is another one of those places that was pre-fixed in my memory from boyhood stories and photos. I imagined it to look something like this photo below of the Armory, even though I was puzzled as to which part of the image comprised the actual “Tower.”
I was impatient to see the place and so we arrived at 3 pm on our first day in London. This is by far the best time to visit; the ticket taker tried to discourage me from entering at the late hour and advised us to come back in the morning. However the crowds had thinned and we had an unimpeded look at the London’s richest historical site.
We entered through the western gate, the route through which all tourists are funneled.
The architeture, some of which is a thousand years old, is imposing enough, even with the ample evidence of rebuilding. This building is the home of the Britsh Crown Jewels. We had all the time in the world to gaze at the ostentatious display of royal wealth. No photorgraphy allowed, of course.
Dark passageways abounded.
And school kids looked befuddled, as kids do everywhere at such grown-up sites.
I really wanted to find the room in which Ann Boleyn had been held captive prior to her beheading on 19 May, 1536. Astonishingly I couldn’t find this tidbit of information anywhere in the various tourist brochures or plaques on the grounds. Another boyhood dream dashed.
But we did see some places where prisoners were held and we took the opportunity to study the grafitti they created between torture sessions. Grim stuff. One gentleman, inkeeper Hew Draper, was locked up for “sorcery” in 1561 yet remained apparently unrepentant.
Meanwhile other tourists thought it best to keep checking their Facebook pages or whatever.
I strove to find symbols of the modern Tower and its place in British society. Here is a succint view of new London, the Tower walls, and the immigrants who keep things presentable.
Finally I realized it’s not a place that Brits probably think much about these days. The Tower hides in plain view, in this case behind the windows of restaurant on the St. Katherine Docks, on the other side of an elevated roadway.
As for Hew Draper, that unfortunate Tudor innkeeper, The Guardian speculates on his eventual fate as follows:
“What happened to Draper? No one knows. His death is not recorded in the Tower annals; nor is his escape, or his later life. Perhaps the occult experiment he was performing in the Salt Tower was a success and he vanished from captivity in a puff of smoke.”
At the other end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle stand Holyrood Palace and the ruins of the abbey with the same name. The word Holyrood means Holy Cross, rightly enough, as a piece of the true cross was once associated with the abbey. The relic is thought to have disappeared during the Reformation but the name did not.
The main entrance to the palace, which is steeped in Scottish history, forms a vast plaza. We visited early one morning just after opening time at 9 am, a good time to avoid crowds.
Now the official summer residence of Queen Elizabeth, the public rooms of the palace can be toured.
We entered the inner courtyard and into a pleasing interior space.
Although I didn’t see any signs warning of the fact, photography inside the palace is forbidden. Promptly after snatching the image below of the main stairway, a young man raced to the top of the stairs to inform me that using my “device” was not allowed.
I don’t blame the British for this policy but it was a bit unnerving to realize that our every move was scrutinized via CCTV.
After exiting the halls of the palace we inspected the ruins of the abbey, which fell into disuse during the 18th century.
Originally founded in 1127, presumably to help honor the piece of the true cross, the abbey was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the property.
I have never understood the draw of the “self-guided audio tour,” with its jabbering non-stop commentary that always reminds me of a poorly-educated Egyptian tour guide going on about King Tut. I would rather contemplate the surroundings in silence. But that is just my opinion.
As the sun rose higher the sky cleared and we enjoyed another glorious autumn day in Scotland.
Yet in the end, a nagging doubt about these displays of royal assets bothers me. How so few individuals can gather around them such an extravagant amount of public wealth is a worrisome aspect of human culture, whether these displays are open to to tourists or not.
Some people don’t care for this particular voyage, considering it cold, foggy, and expensive. True enough, but really, to get an idea of Prince William Sound and the terrific scenery in and around the famous body of water, you can’t beat the ferry ride.
And so, on a cold, foggy August day we embarked from Valdez.
There were actual sailors out and about on the inlet. Braver souls than I.
As we headed west the fog began to lift.
And the scenery began.
We saw quite a few work boats. Fishing is a big deal in Alaska.
And glaciers. Lots of those.
As a bonus we came within a few miles of the well-known Eisenhower Glacier, although since it has retreated at least 10 miles in the last several decades and is far less spectacular than in days of old.
It used to extend to the end of this inlet. No more.
From time to time other passengers ventured on deck.
I finally tired of going outside in the bitter cold and therefore didn’t record our arrival in Whittier.
And so, while coming into port I contented myself with more obscure imagery.
I took a walk on the Tower Bridge and discovered that the site is one of the world’s premier tourist destinations.
Mingling with the crowds, I noted that there were literally dozens of nationalities, all here to experience one of England’s iconic structures.
The weather had begun to turn during this final portion of our trip but It was still fun to see the Thames River in action.
Before this visit to London – I’d last been here 30 years ago – I had never appreciated that the Tower of London is on the river. Indeed I’d never even visited this part of the city with its skyscrapers and river traffic.
I walked part way across the bridge but was somewhat daunted by the traffic and urban bustle.
Back in 1967 the scene was more bucolic. My parents took the following photos while in London to prepare for the final voyage of the Queen Mary.
Really, Tower Bridge hasn’t changed a great deal since then, other than that pedestrians are no longer welcome to try their luck crossing on foot through traffic mid-span. The present blue paint on the railings and suspension cables doesn’t seem to be an improvement, however.
Here’s the view from the upper level platform, something I didn’t see because of the cost. The day was even sunny, apparently.
I try to understand why people from the world over want to come here, perhaps in hopes that some of England’s past glory and wealth might pass to them.
1967 photos by Ken and Peg Herring
While we were in England last month the rugby World Cup games were in full swing. In Bath, we listened to carousing late into a Saturday night as the Welsch team prevailed and in York, we came across a merry band of roving Aussies, boozily cheering their home team.
I mean, who would not be sympathetic to their well-lubricated celebration?