Tuesday, 21 July 2009
I finally saw the soldiers in the red coats and big, furry black hats! I found them at The Tower of London. I guess it only makes sense that they would be at the oldest fortress in Europe. The Tower of London outing was one of the best days during my time in Europe -- the Bronte pilgrimage is still #1 -- despite the rain and the mean Beefeater (I'll get to him in moment...) I reveled in the history on display within the immense grounds. My aunt, mom and I spent nearly four hours at the Tower and we still didn't see everything.
I waited to explore the Tower until I could enjoy it with someone else and I'm glad I did. It is the kind of place that demands turning to a companion and saying, "Wow," or "Can you believe that?," or "Man, that's old!" I had also been told that the best way to see the Tower is with the help of a Beefeater, also known as Yeomen. I prefer to call them Beefeaters because it sounds funny. Beefeaters are retired British Military men who must have served for at least 22 years in the armed services and hold the Long-Service and Good Conduct Medal. They live on the premises with their families and they take their jobs VERY seriously.
I was giddy with excitement as we waited for our tour with one of the serious, old military dudes and I waited patiently for our guide to arrive. He finally appeared in the distance and walked toward us in full regalia -- an impressive black uniform with vibrant red royal insignia and piping. His proper British accent was enthralling and his enthusiasm and booming voice were mesmerizing. Although, under that funny and fancy hat, I sensed a bit of cranky, old man but I figured he hadn't had enough prune juice that morning or something.
As luck would have it the unusually sunny weather I had been experiencing for most of my stay in London was coming to an end and the rain was pushing against the clouds looming in the sky over the Tower grounds. Mr. Beefeater stood on a stone step against the tower wall and told the large crowd that no brollies (translation: umbrellas) were allowed to be opened during the tour because someone could lose an eye -- now let me pause here for a moment, or two and let's ponder this together; 1) London = rain, rain = umbrellas...aren't they used to umbrellas in this city? Which leads to 2) In all my time here, I have yet to see someone lose an eye on a rainy day and I am among the most frenzied, rude, inconsiderate people in London, the hardened commuters. If they can figure out how to avoide gouging out the eyes of strangers I think we could manage at the Tower. Regardless of these musings "thems the rules" of this Beefeater and most of us put our umbrellas in our bags and hoped the rain would hold out.
About ten minutes into the tour, which was really informative and entertaining, the skies opened up and rain began to pelt our large group. In mid-sentence, the Beefeater said, "Get another tour after the rain, folks," and he was gone. It took me a moment to realize that a few tourists had opened their brollies and the Beefeater had stomped away as a result of their violation of his rule. I realize he made a rule and it was broken but what about the rule-followers like me, my mom and my aunt? Not only were we wet but we were guideless in the most historical place in the city! Having been a teacher in the past, I can tell you that to punish the entire class for one student's bad behavior is a big no-no. In addition, he could have considered that the violators may have not spoken English well and may not have understood his brolly rule! Or, maybe those folks who opened their umbrellas joined the group late? I am a firm but fair person and I feel that a second chance is always in order. Mr. Beefy, obviously didn't feel the same way.
We proceeded to buy a guided audio tour and did our best exploring the grounds and garnering all the history we could adsorb. Overall, despite the rain and the mean Beefeater, we had a fabulous time and learned a great deal about the history of England and the history of the Tower itself. It was humbling to think of all the history greats that have passed through those gates; some in good circumstances, but many in less than stellar circumstances. I didn't see or feel any ghosts, which was a disappointment but it was crowded that day and maybe the ghosts needed a break from all the tourists, or maybe the mean Beefeaters have scared them all away!
The Temporary European