Inside the Tower

In my last post, I explained some of the history behind the Tower of London. Obviously, many things look a lot different than they did during the palace and prison and torture days, but there are some things that haven’t changed much.

Outer wall of the Tower

Certain parts of the Tower have been tourist attractions since the 17th century. One of these is the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are kept! I made a beeline for the jewels when I got inside because everyone says that the line gets very long later in the day. I don’t know much about precious gemstones and jewelry, but even I could tell that the stuff they have in the Jewel House is ridiculous. They have the coronation crown which weighs 7 pounds. Imagine having to wear that on your head! There’s also the world’s largest clear-cut diamond. It’s 530 carats which means nothing to me but apparently the average size for an engagement ring diamond is around 1 carat, soooo… it’s 530 times that. The oldest object, the anointing spoon used in coronations, is from the 1300s. Most of the other objects are much newer because the originals were melted down when the monarchy was abolished in the English Civil War (1649).

The Jewel House

My personal favorite object in the Jewel House was a “punch bowl” that was made of solid gold and, according to the sign, could hold 144 bottles of wine. 144 BOTTLES. Now, I know I’m just a commoner who doesn’t know how anything works, but could someone PLEASE explain to me why that’s necessary?? I couldn’t wrap my head around most of the things in the room, to be honest. The gemstones weren’t that impressive because my brain couldn’t comprehend that they weren’t rhinestones, they were real. I thought about how people save up to buy gold jewelry… how many rings and necklaces do you think you could make with a 144-bottles-of-wine-sized punch bowl? Insanity.

When I was finished gaping at the jewels, I went on a Yeoman Warder tour. The Yeoman Warders, popularly called Beefeaters (though the origin of that name is unknown), are the keepers of the Tower, responsible for guarding any prisoners (historically) and watching over the crown jewels. There are 37 of them who live within the Tower walls with their families. To qualify, they must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years and been awarded a good conduct medal. They give free tours throughout the day, explaining the history of and telling stories about the Tower. The whole thing is a kind of theatrical experience and is very well done.

Tower views

The Tower complex is HUGE. After the Beefeater tour, I checked out the torture devices, walked along the walls, and explored a bunch of different towers before going into the White Tower. Today, it’s filled with exhibitions of armor and weaponry. I can’t say I’m terribly interested in either, but the collection was still impressive which is pretty much the point. Originally, its purpose was to show the monarch’s right to rule and awe visitors.

While I was walking around, I bumped into a big group that was part of an interactive skit. I don’t know how well you can see, but one of the guys in this picture is dressed up as a knight. They explained all of the different groups in history who tried to seize control of the Tower. At the end, they explained that the only group that ever successfully infiltrated the castle was the peasants during the Peasants Revolt. It was a fun way to learn about history! (Definitely geared towards kids, but no matter.)

View from the White Tower looking towards Tower Green

Armor display in the White Tower

This book made me laugh because it’s HUGE. According to the label, it’s 914 pages of inventory, spanning from 1675-1679. Imagine if it was your job to write in this monstrosity.

One of the unsolved mysteries of the Tower of London took place in the White Tower. In 1483, King Edward IV died. His son, Edward V, was next in line for the throne, but he was only 12 years old. Edward V’s uncle was put in charge until he was old enough to rule, and he brought Edward and his 9-year-old brother, Richard, to the Tower of London. After their uncle was crowned king, the boys disappeared and were thought to have been murdered, though their bodies were nowhere to be found. In 1674, during some construction work, the bones of two children were found underneath a staircase in the White Tower. They were assumed to be the bones Edward and Richard and were reburied in Westminster Abbey; however, they haven’t been tested to confirm that assumption. And so, the mystery continues.

The building in the corner is the Queen’s House. It is the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London. It was built around 1540 and is architecturally significant because most other buildings in London from this time period burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. This one survived thanks to its location within the Tower’s stone walls.

Interior Tower views

The Traitors’ Gate was the water entrance to the Tower. A lot of the prisoners kept in the Tower throughout history were brought in through the Traitors’ Gate.

As you can see, it was a slightly foggy day… Crazy how the tops of those buildings completely vanish.

Me with the White Tower!

Another former attraction at the Tower was the “Menagerie”, basically a predecessor of modern-day zoos but way less functional. The royalty used to receive exotic animals as gifts from leaders of other nations (actually, fun fact: the Queen STILL receives animals as gifts – what?!?! – but now they’re sent to the London Zoo). The Tower housed this collection starting the early 13th century, including now-extinct Barbary lions, leopards, a polar bear that used to fish for food in the Thames River, monkeys, bears, an African elephant that was fed wine every day in an attempt to keep it warm (!?!? And then it died after four years because obviously that didn’t work), a hyena, wolves, an ostrich that died from eating too many nails thanks to ignorant visitors who thought ostriches ate iron, birds, snakes that were wrapped in blankets and put on a stove to keep them warm, and more. They weren’t terribly well-kept, partly because the people in charge didn’t know much about how to take care of some of them, and would attack each other and sometimes visitors. The Menagerie was opened to the public in the 18th century, and admission was either 3 half-pence (cents) or a dog or cat to feed to the lions. I promise I didn’t make that up. In the 19th century, the animals were moved to Regent’s Park, now the site of the London Zoo where they are properly cared for.

There are animal sculptures around the Tower as a reminder of the good ‘ole Menagerie days.

Spotted! The Tower ravens are allowed to roam freely within the complex, and I stumbled upon one of them during my explorations

There are still some animals on the Tower grounds… ravens. Six ravens are kept due to the superstition that if the ravens depart, the Tower will crumble and the kingdom will follow. No one is completely sure how or why the superstition and tradition came to be, but there’s no turning back now! The Tower ravens are cared for by one of the Beefeaters, the Ravenmaster. One of the signs said that they each eat 170g of raw meat and bird biscuits soaked in blood each day. So that’s gross. And sometimes, for a special treat, they get a sheep’s heart. Double ew.

The ravens’ cages

By the time I left the Tower, it was about to close, along with everything else I was considering seeing. So much for my ambitious plans for the day! I should have known, though, because never in my life have I gone through a museum quickly.

You can see the two layers of walls and the White Tower rising up behind them. Imagine planning to attack the Tower and seeing this view as you approached (plus a moat!)… I don’t think I would have very high hopes for my chances.

Walking across the bridge.

I made one last stop at Tower Bridge, the famous bridge next to the Tower. Even though the two look similar, the bridge was built during Victorian times (late 1800s). It was required to “blend in” with its surroundings and be built in the Gothic style, hence why it stylistically looks much older than it is. Even though it’s not THAT old comparatively, it’s still pretty impressive that they made an operable bridge 120 years ago that worked for 70 years (the hydraulic system was replaced in the 1970s).

Me with Tower Bridge!

Tower Bridge! It’s a little weird to see a bridge built in Gothic style but with steel components. Those absolutely give it away as a modern (relatively) addition.

View of the Tower of London from Tower Bridge. I know, the view is simply breathtaking because it was such a beautiful and clear day.

After that, I went snack shopping (my favorite part of travel days!) and headed back to my hostel to get ready to go to the airport. Next stop: Iceland!

I had to take a picture of this sign because I don’t think I agree with its claim that the Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. Personally, I would have guessed that the Golden Gate Bridge is more famous, though I’m not sure how you measure fame. What do you think is the world’s most famous bridge?

History of the Tower of London

I had ambitious plans for my last day in London, and of course, they were way too ambitious. I thought I’d spend maybe four hours at the Tower of London and then I could go to either the National Gallery (one of my favorite London museums) or the Tate Britain (Maddy’s favorite museum which I haven’t been to).

From the very beginning, I failed to follow the plan. I wanted to get there at 9:30 because it opens at 10, but I read that they usually let people in a bit early. I had to pack my stuff up before heading out for the day because I was headed to the airport that night, so I didn’t leave even close to on time. I made it to the Tower around 11:30 and surprisingly still managed to beat the crowds. Maybe people were slowed down because of the dreary weather.

I didn’t know much about the Tower before I went, but now my brain is full. My gosh there’s a lot of history in that place. Here’s where I attempt to summarize masses of information and not bore you to tears…

The White Tower, the central structure in the Tower of London complex, was the first structure built in the mid-11th century by William the Conqueror. He believed that he had a rightful claim to the throne of England, and when it was given to another, he and his army successfully invaded from Normandy. He was declared king in 1066. As a show of his power and in an attempt to intimidate the Londoners, he ordered the construction of the 90-foot-tall tower (with 15’ wide walls!!) which would have been, by far, the tallest building they’d ever seen.

The White Tower

During its early years, the Tower was used as a royal residence and prison for wealthy and high-profile people. Many of the kings were afraid of the people, making the idea of living in an easily-defensible castle very appealing. It did a decent job of keeping people out and a much worse job of keeping people in. In fact, the very first prisoner, Bishop Ranulf Flambard, escaped! As the legend goes, he organized a bit of a party for his guards, got them drunk on wine, and snuck out using a rope that was smuggled in at the bottom of the wine container. He wasn’t the last person to escape either… others successfully bribed the guards to help them out!

There aren’t many original furnishings and decorations in the Tower, but in some spaces, historians have tried to recreate what the royal living quarters might have looked like.

Ceiling in one of the towers

The Tower was expanded a few times. An inner ring of walls was constructed and was soon followed up by a second layer of walls, giving it 21 more towers and a moat. Generally, the monarchs who were most concerned with the upkeep of the Tower were the ones who were most disconnected from and fearful of their subjects.

There were multiple times throughout history when people tried to siege the Tower. The only time anyone was successful was during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. They were protesting excessive taxation and managed to make it inside the White Tower. They found the Lord Chancellor and Lord High Treasurer in this chapel inside, two of the men leading the government on behalf of 14-year-old King Richard II, dragged them out to Tower Hill, and executed them. There’s speculation that the peasants were let into the Tower by guards who were sympathetic to their cause.

This pathway runs between the inner and outer walls. I’m standing on an inner wall.

Archer defending the Tower!

The outer walls and the area that used to be the moat

The rack

Starting in the 16th century, the Tower was less popular as a residence among the royals, and it transitioned into other roles. Mostly, it became known as a terrifying prison with horrible conditions and widespread torture. In reality, prisoners were still generally of high-status, were imprisoned for only short time periods, and with enough money, could live in comfort. Torture, while rare, did happen. There were less than 50 recorded incidents of torture at the Tower, but the methods were rather brutal. The most well-known method (though not often used) is probably the rack, where a person’s wrists and ankles are fastened and pulled in opposite directions, stretching the body and dislocating the joints. Another less-used contraption compresses the body by pushing down on the back of someone curled up with their shins on the ground. Others were put in shackles, sometimes hanging from the ceiling. One of the most famous people tortured at the Tower was Guy Fawkes who was part of a plot to blow up Parliament on 5 November 1605 (if you’ve seen the movie V for Vendetta, you’re probably familiar with his name).

“Besides the Rack, the principal kind of torture in England is called the ‘Scavenger’s Daughter’. It is the complete opposite of the rack… The prisoner’s body is folded into three with the shins up against the thighs and the thighs against the stomach. The torturer then forces the ends of two iron bows together and locks the prisoner inside, almost crushing his body with a hellish compression. The is an inhuman torture, in every way worse than the rack…”.

There are carvings all over the various rooms of the Tower where people were imprisoned. Some of them were what I expected, little scratchings that are about as profound as “Lara wuz here”, but then there were also impressive works of art like this one.

Many of the prisoners held in the Tower were eventually executed, either by hanging or beheading. The majority were taken to a nearby hill (Tower Hill) where their deaths were public spectacles. A select few were given the honor of being killed inside the Tower walls on Tower Green, including Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. Apparently, out of “kindness”, he hired an expert swordsman for her execution (to me, “kindness” is a strong word in this situation because he still had her killed…), ensuring that she would be successfully beheaded on the first strike. In other cases, it wasn’t uncommon for the executioner to have to take a few swings before hitting accurately enough to kill the person. That. Sounds. HORRIBLE. I read somewhere that executioners didn’t perform enough executions to become truly skilled (I guess that’s a good thing) and were probably a little drunk because how else could you do that job?

More prisoner carvings.

A memorial in remembrance of the people who were killed on Tower Green.

This big, grassy area is Tower Green, where the most important people were executed, away from the eyes of the public.

This church, the Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, is the burial place of some of the most famous people who were executed on Tower Green and Tower Hill.

In the 1800s, the moat was filled in with dirt because the water was gross, and people were getting sick from it. The Tower was used to hold prisoners for the last time during WWI and WWII, and some were executed by firing squad within the Tower walls. The final execution was of a German spy in 1941.

Now, the Tower is mostly used for ceremonial purposes and is a huge tourist attraction. I’ll tell you about my visit in my next post

No Time for Getting Sick

The day after I visited Cardiff, I had an 8:15AM bus to London. That was the day when I decided I HAD to stop scheduling myself for transportation that left before 10AM because it never goes well. First of all, I always have things left to pack, and no one in a hostel wakes up before like 9AM unless they’re leaving. That means you have to try to be quiet (or I guess you don’t HAVE to, but I’m not an inconsiderate jerk) which really slows down the packing process. Second, you’re supposed to get to the bus station 15 minutes early. Third, I never budget enough time to get to the bus station, though luckily, in Bristol at least, I didn’t have far to go.

I set my alarm for 7AM, shortly concluded that I didn’t leave myself quite enough time, and went into a panic rush as I tried to get everything done quickly. Of course, rushing leads to stupid mistakes, and while I was packing my bag in the hallway (because I have a lot of very noisy plastic vacuum bags that I don’t like to roll up while people are sleeping), I accidentally locked myself out of my room and had to run downstairs to reception to ask for someone to let me back in.

By the time I left the hostel, I had less than 15 minutes until my bus was supposed to leave, the walk there was about 8 minutes, and of course, it was raining. And of course, I wasn’t wearing a rain jacket because that would have required looking out the window to see that it was raining, and I was too busy panic packing. I practically ran to the bus (both because I was late and because of the rain), and thankfully I made it with about 5 minutes to spare. And I was soaked with rain and also sweating because I ran and there were barely any seats left because I was so late and I sat my disheveled-self next to a girl who was sleeping because she couldn’t be appalled by me if she was asleep.

As much as I like to pretend that I’m a robot who doesn’t require any rest and can walk for an eternity and be fine and doesn’t have to play by the same physical rules as the rest of the people in the universe, I’m not. I have limits, and by the time I left Bristol, I was a bit of a wreck. Not only had I spent like 15 hours a day walking around for three days straight, I also spent my nights trying to catch up on my blog and make plans for the following days and wash every article of clothing in my bag (because I was at almost three weeks of wearing/re-wearing my one week’s worth of clothing).

The results of my complete disregard for my health were that I was 1. Getting sick (and had an intense stuffy/runny nose situation), 2. Absolutely exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open, and 3. Having acute big-toe pain that was so bad I could barely even walk. Yes, you read that correctly. My right big toe was KILLING me. I experienced shooting pain every time I took a step, so when I said that I “ran” to the bus that morning, more accurately I speedily hobble/limped there.

I was worried that something was seriously wrong with me, and that was just not acceptable because I don’t have time to get hurt! Since my brother, Mike, is a doctor, I take full advantage of free medical advice from him, especially when I’m abroad and want to avoid paying to visit a doctor if I don’t need to. (Really though, I just do it for the benefit of his education because it’s good for him to practice diagnosing things. I’m such a thoughtful sister.) I messaged him to ask what he thought was wrong with my toe, and his conclusion was that I had overused it and needed to wear more supportive shoes. Wow. That made me feel stupid. An overused big toe? Come on, Lara. Pull it together!

The good news was that I had already been to London, and I hit the sightseeing pretty hard on that trip. Yes, there are always more things to see, but with Iceland coming up the following week, I didn’t want to keep pushing myself and end up totally useless by the time I made it there. I had three days to spend in London, and the only thing I HAD to do before leaving was go to the Tower of London because I didn’t have time during my previous visit. Otherwise, I wanted to take it slow and give my body a chance to recover.

My plans for my first two days: meet up with friends, sleep, and catch up on work. I was meeting Mike in Iceland in three days, and since Mike loves to hike, my toe had to be better by then. I was NOT interested in tromping around the Icelandic wilderness with a bum foot and slowing Mike down more than I already would.

I met up with Maddy for Sunday roast which is a British tradition. The meal consists of a meat (we went with beef), vegetables, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding (which is not even close to the “pudding” of American English. It’s the thing on the right side of the plate and is hard to describe… it’s kind of bread-like but denser but also airy. Conceptually, it’s maybe equivalent to an American biscuit because you generally put gravy on it.)

I met up with a couple of university friends, Nick and Becca, who are living in London for a year while Becca is in grad school, and a high school friend, Maddy, who I also saw almost a year and a half prior when I visited London after my time in Ghana. It was funny to see all of them because I absolutely did not think that I was going to find myself back in England anytime soon.

Becca told me months ago to let her know if I was ever in town, and I said that it was unlikely because I had already been to London. With Maddy, we laughed the first time about the weirdness of seeing each other in London after so many years apart… and this time, we laughed about the fact that my life has somehow become one where surprise, repeated London trips are a thing. That’s definitely not a reality I ever would have imagined for myself, but how cool, right?!

Cardiff

Here we go, back at it! To reorient you, we’re in England. I spent a few nights in Bristol on the suggestion of a random couple I met in Georgia, and while I was there, I did a couple of day trips: one to Bath and one to my final random-stranger-selected destination of the UK, Cardiff. Here’s where I once again embarrass myself by admitting that the only thing I knew about Cardiff was that it’s in Wales, and I only knew THAT because the previously-mentioned random strangers told me as much. It took me more than half the day to realize that Cardiff isn’t just some city in Wales, it’s the capital. Only slightly more embarrassing is the fact that I learned this from the city buses, branded as, “capital transport for our capital city”. Oops. On the bright side, travelling alone means less talking which means less opportunity for me to accidentally say something stupid before I figure things out.

Here’s a map to help you get oriented… The blue diamond is London, the purple house is Bristol, the orange heart is Bath, and the green star is Cardiff.

For anyone confused by the whole UK/Great Britain/England thing, here’s a five-second explanation. England is a country. Great Britain is the name of the island that contains the primary land area of England, Wales, and Scotland. The UK (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is a collection of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. London is the capital city of both England and the UK as a whole. The UK countries have the same currency, military, and overall government (the Queen, Prime Minister, and the two Parliamentary houses), but they are four distinct countries with their own smaller executive governments, education systems, cultures, flags, and even languages. There are four Celtic languages spoken in various parts of the UK. In Wales, about 20% of the population can speak Welsh. Fun side fact: the blue, white, and red UK flag is the one you’re probably most familiar with. It’s a combination of the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

That was more than five seconds, I know, but even that is a SUPER simplified explanation. The full details are enough to make your brain explode. Now that we have the essentials covered, here we go. Once again, I was advised that the best way to get to my destination from Bristol was the train. I still don’t understand how the train can possibly be the cheapest option, but I’m not going to question it!

When I walked out of the station in Cardiff, I had this feeling that I couldn’t completely understand… I felt like I had been there before. Things seemed familiar. Since I had definitely never been to Wales, I disregarded my feeling and kept moving. But still, it was disconcerting.

My initial thoughts:

  • Wow it really does look different than England! (*facepalm* at my ignorant past self)
  • There are so many flags here! Guess they don’t want you to forget that you’re in Wales! (Yeah, plus it’s the capital… silly Lara.)
  • Is that Welsh on those signs? Whatttttt? HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE THAT?
  • Hm… sooo where should I go?

First impression street. Welsh flags everywhere! (Also, prepare yourself for TONS of pictures.)

I guess maybe I should’ve done some planning beyond flagging things on Google maps on the train ride from Bristol. It’s hard to plan when you’re going somewhere new every day! So maybe it wasn’t my best-planned day, but I knew I at least had to go to Cardiff Castle and decided that the rest would work itself out.

St. John the Baptist on the approach

I have a never-fail strategy for times when I don’t know where to go: Look at the people around you, and walk like you have a clue. I followed the crowd, impulsively turned into a cool-looking building, and found myself in the central market! Okay, so I didn’t actually realize that’s where I was until after I walked out… Whoops! Thank you, GPS and Google maps. But it was on my list of things to see, so be impressed with my intuition and natural directional abilities. The market has two levels – the ground floor and a balcony that wraps around the perimeter. It’s been around since 1891, and the stalls sell a WIDE range of things, from produce and prepared food to souvenirs and vintage vinyl (side note: in case you were wondering, there is such a thing as NON-vintage vinyl. Apparently, vinyl is making a comeback and you can actually get records for new music). I had fun just walking around and checking out the offerings.

From there, I made my way to Cardiff Castle, popping into St. John the Baptist City Parish Church along the way (I think they need a few more words in that name. Way too short).

View inside the market from the balcony level

St. John the Baptist Church

Inside St. John the Baptist Church

The first known fortification at the site of the castle was a 3rd-century Roman fortress, but there were probably smaller Roman defenses there starting in the 1st century. It still blows my mind that the Roman Empire stretched all the way to Wales. I know it was huge, but like… whoa. After that, a castle was built on the site in the 11th century. Throughout the years, it was held by various forces and owners who all made their own additions and modifications. It didn’t become the property of the city of Cardiff until almost 1950!

Some of the original Roman walls!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before (just kidding… I’m sure I’ve mentioned this at least 100 times), but I LOVE CASTLES. Sometimes when I say that, especially in front of jaded backpackers who have been wandering around Europe for far too long, the response is an eye roll, a knowing smile, and the question, “How long have you been in Europe?” Their assumption is that I haven’t spent much time in Europe because if I HAD, I would be bored with castles like they are because EVERY town has a castle and they think they’re all the same and oh how cute that this little amateur traveler still finds castles exciting. You know what I have to say to those people? I have been to A LOT of castles, and guess what? I still think they’re all exciting. And a lot of churches. And I’ve walked a lot of bridges and visited a lot of cities and seen a lot of amazing views… but I’m not sick of any of those either. I think that if you’re sick of those things, you need to go back to wherever you lost your “awe” glasses and put them back on because the fact that other amazing places exist doesn’t make the one you’re at any LESS amazing. End rant. Sorry. I had to get that out. But seriously. If you’re travelling and you’re not surprised or amazed by anything, take a pause and check yourself because the world is freaking incredible. Okay, NOW I’m finished.

Entrance into the castle

Outside the castle walls

Like I was saying, I LOVE CASTLES. Even better if you can walk along the walls because my favorite thing to do (feel free to judge me for this) is walk along the walls and pretend I’m a princess. Or better yet, a queen. (As I get older, I more often go in the queen direction.)

The wall walk. Perfect for princess strolling. It would be better if you could see over the walls while strolling, but it’ll do. I’m not too picky.

I had no idea how many parts there were to the castle complex. After my regal wall-stroll, I went INSIDE the walls. During World War II, the walls were used as air-raid shelters and could hold almost 2,000 people! As an important port city, Cardiff was heavily bombed during WWII, killing hundreds of civilians. In case you had trouble imagining that terrifying experience, there was a soundtrack that included air-raid sirens and planes flying overhead. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine how it felt. Total darkness. Stale air heavy with fear. Silence except for the sound of breathing and the occasional cry of a child. Feeling completely powerless. I started feeling claustrophobic and had to go outside.

Inside the walls. This was the part without the windows blocked off. There was another section that was almost completely dark to help with the visualization process. It wasn’t nearly as pleasant.

They had old posters from WWII on display inside the walls. This was one of a series reminding people to watch what they say because the enemy has ears everywhere. In this one, two women are talking, and the wall behind them is covered in Hitler faces. It says, “Don’t forget that walls have ears! Careless talk costs lives”

This poster reminds you of the things that you should put into place before you go to sleep.
“LOOK before you sleep
All windows and inner doors open?
Water in buckets?
Sand in buckets?
Gas mask, clothes, and torch handy?
Good night!”
Eek.


This poster is asking for women to volunteer to help children from evacuated areas. The images show the various things that need to be done, such as getting the kids ready for school, preparing meals, sewing, supervising playtime, etc.
The best part is at the bottom where it says, “These are jobs which will have to be done. All women love children and like to help them. Offer your services.”
So, in case you were wondering, ALL WOMEN LOVE CHILDREN AND WANT TO HELP THEM. But we’re not going to generalize or anything.

This poster encourages people to grow their own vegetables throughout the year. It explains what things can be planted in each season, shows a plan for crop rotation, and gives detailed instructions about how your garden should operate.


This poster shows how to properly put on and use your gas mask. It firmly reminds readers that their gas masks should be kept on-hand at ALL times.

“In an air raid
If you are caught in the street
1. Don’t stand and stare at the sky
2. Take cover at once”
This is terrifying.


Heyy self-timer with the keep in the background

Flowers!

I had to take a picture of this because it was too darn stereotypical. The two boys you can kind of see in front of the keep were sword fighting with wooden swords.

After leaving the walls, I climbed up to the keep. The current structure was built in the 12th century, and for those of you unfamiliar with castle terminology, was the main stronghold of the castle. This one is basically just a very tall stone cylinder on top of a very natural-looking hill (or motte), and from the top, there’s a nice view of the city.

Approaching the keep. Check out that motte!

The keep

Looking out from the keep. You can see the foundations where there used to be more walls. The keep was once much bigger than it is now.

Inside the keep

At the top!

View of the House and Cardiff (and tower cranes)

The last building inside the castle walls is the “House” (their words), or more accurately, the mansion. The first structure was built in the early 1400s, but practically every subsequent owner made modifications, giving it a strong architectural-collage vibe.

The House. Can you see why I don’t think “House” (even with a capital ‘H’) is a sufficient name??

Clock tower

The inside of the mansion was predictably lavish, but the décor was surprisingly varied. There was one room called the “Arab Room” that was definitely not what I was expecting to find in Wales. Then, the next second, I was in the banqueting hall that looks like the set of a movie in the Middle Ages where people are meant to be swigging beers and slamming their glasses down on the table. There’s also an absolutely amaaaaazinggg library where I wanted to touch everything and, of course, was allowed to touch nothing.

The ceiling in the Arab Room

I couldn’t stop staring… like what is even happening on this ceiling? How the heck did they build it??

Staircase. I just wish it wasn’t so plain-looking.

Honestly, I don’t even understand what’s going on up there

This place is ridiculous

Details of the banqueting hall

Casual dining room ceiling

Isn’t this what your fireplaces look like?

First peek into the library…

One day, I’m going to have a library like this (even if I have to rebind every trashy novel I own in order to make it look this classy)

Isn’t it beautiful??

There’s also a falconry on the castle grounds

I was all castled-out after I finished walking through the “House”, so I started the long walk to my next destination, Llandaff Cathedral. To be honest, I have no idea why I decided to go there. I saw it on the map, decided it might be nice to walk around a bit, and apparently wasn’t deterred by the fact that it was three miles away… ha. I tried to at least pick a scenic route through some parks, and I saw lots of normal people doing normal things. That’s another one of my favorite things to do when I’m travelling: wander into the parts of the city where regular people live life.

Outside of the castle is the famous “Animal Wall”. Along the wall, there are 15 different animals that appear to be climbing out of the park and into the city.

This hyena (I think??) was my favorite. It looks confused/terrified.

Walking the tree-lined paths to Llandaff

Llandaff Cathedral from the back

This stone is right outside the cathedral and reads, “On 2nd January 1941, the cathedral was devastated by an enemy landmine which fell in this place now set apart to receive the cremated remains of the faithful departed. Remember them before God & honour this hallowed ground.”

The cathedral was massive and beautiful, as expected. The current building isn’t actually that old because it was built after WWII when the previous building was severely damaged. I wandered through the church and around the nearby neighborhood before heading back into town.

I really don’t understand the purpose of this archway and the huge cylindrical drum over it, but I think maybe it’s just art.

Inside the cathedral

They had some serious stained glass

Llandaff Cathedral

This park used to be the Bishop’s Palace. The ruins of the old palace were left in place, and now it’s a public park. This is another thing I just stumbled upon.

On the way out of the Bishop’s palace park

Street views

Flowers along my walking route!

I still had a few things that I wanted to see down on the waterfront, but when it started drizzling and I was near the train station anyway, I decided to call it a day. Plus, my feet were hurting. A couple minutes later, I patted myself on the back for a well-made decision because it started POURING rain. No, thank you!

At the end of the day, after all of my wandering across the universe, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been to Wales before. The houses, the terrain, the names of places… everything seemed too familiar. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized the reason why. Many of the early settlers of the area where I grew up in Pennsylvania were from Wales. In fact, the Welsh Quakers were granted a large tract of land west of Philadelphia and even attempted to make it a separate county with a local government that operated in Welsh. They established settlements with Welsh names, some of which have carried on until today, such as Bala Cynwyd, Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, etc. If you’re looking at those words and wondering how the heck you pronounce them, exactly.

So, there you have it. The very long story of how I went all the way to Wales just to realize that I could have walked around at home and gotten the same effect.

Peaceful and pretty!

Happy to be in the woods!

This house is literally 80% of the houses in my town

I took the scenic route on the way back to town

How slow exactly is “DEAD SLOW”?

What country am I even in anymore???

City Hall and pretty trees

City Hall

In Case You Were Worried That I Fell Off a Cliff…

I’m happy to inform you that I didn’t, and I’m sorry to have worried you.

In case you wanted proof that my blog hasn’t been hijacked by a robot: As you can see, I’m alive and well and enjoying catching up with friends! (Or maybe that’s NOT real Lara and I’m just a robot with very impressive disguising abilities. We’ll never know for sure.)

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while, and as you might guess, we have a LOT to catch up on. For starters, I’m back in the USA! I got back about a month ago now (whoa! Time flies!), and I’ve been spending my time catching up with family and friends and readjusting to life in a country where I can actually communicate with people. Reverse culture shock is VERY real, and I honestly think it’s worse than regular culture shock.

To answer the #1-most-frequently-asked question (please please don’t ask me this), I don’t know what’s next for me yet. At the moment, I’m working on a few personal projects, helping my parents out, and looking into every option for my future. If anyone has any thoughts, I’m now accepting life path suggestions! I’m not kidding. If you have any ideas about jobs that you think might be a good fit for me, I would be happy to hear them!

While that’s all getting figured out, I want to finish what I started with my blog. My last blog post was from Bath in England, but that’s far from the last place I visited. Between the travelling, sightseeing, getting to know people, and keeping up with my journal, most of my days were packed from morning to evening. I was getting stressed out trying to keep the blog going as well, so I decided to stop worrying and focus on enjoying the rest of my time abroad. Now that I’m back and have a little more free time, I’m excited to tell you about all of the awesome places I visited over the last few months! Trust me, you’re going to want to stick around to hear about them!

Jane Austen and Bath

Mr. Knightley

As I mentioned in my last post about Bath, I started off my Bath day… er that sounds weird… my day in Bath… with a Jane Austen walking tour of the city. Since I apparently knew nothing about Jane’s actual life, I didn’t know that Bath played a BIG role in it and was even where she went to get inspiration and do research for her first book (Northanger Abbey). When I thought about it, I realized that Bath is either mentioned or is the main setting in most of her books. It frequently comes up in the context of either going there on holiday or going to get treatment for some illness as it was a big resort town at that time and, get this… in BATH, the old Roman BATHS were thought to have special healing properties. Ah. It’s all starting to make sense, right?

If you hate Jane Austen, then you should probably just stop reading now because fair warning: the rest of this post is about her.

In case you don’t know who Jane Austen is, let me give you a little summary. She was an English novelist in the early 1800s who wrote 6 novels. Four of them were published during her lifetime (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma), and while they did actually reach a level of success during her lifetime, that’s nothing compared to their popularity since then. The other two (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) were published by her siblings after her early death at the age of 41.

Why did people stop wearing this kind of stuff?? Very unfortunate, in my opinion.

During her life, her books were published anonymously because it wasn’t proper for ladies to write as anything more than a hobby. They weren’t supposed to be seeking fame or fortune from their work, and writing as a full-time job wasn’t seen as a feminine pursuit. So, none of her books had her name attached until after her death. Originally, they were published as being written “By a Lady”.

One of the things that’s so interesting about her is the fact that very little is known about her actual life. She and her sister, Cassandra, were very close and wrote each other thousands of letters over the years, but Cassandra burned most of them after Jane died to prevent relatives and others from reading Jane’s “sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbours or family members” (Cassandra’s words). Hahahahaha. If you read her books, I think you can tell that anyway. Her characters generally aren’t very shy about sharing their opinions of the people they encounter.

Beyond just details about her life, no one is even sure about what she looked like! The museum started out with like eight portraits of “maybe” Jane, and one of the girls working there explained the likelihood of each actually being a portrait of her. The conclusion was that only one of them is fairly certain because it was drawn by her sister Cassandra, but since it shows her from behind, that gives no helpful information about her face.

Me and Mr. Darcy, one of the main characters of Pride and Prejudice. On the inside, I’m even happier than I look in this picture. (Except the character was way more lifelike than I was comfortable with, to be honest. It was kind of creepy.)

Anyway, that’s enough background information. Let’s get back to it. The tour guide was hilarious and did a brilliant job. He was dressed in period clothing and introduced himself as Mr. Knightly, one of the characters in Emma. He explained that Jane’s experiences in Bath and her career as a writer were very intertwined. Her first visit to the city was on holiday for six weeks with her mother and sister, and a couple years later, she spent two months living with her brother who was being treated for gout (a type of arthritis) there. During that two-month period, she did research for Northanger Abbey, and that was her first completed novel.

A couple years later, when she was 25, her father retired, and she moved with her parents and sister Cassandra (they were both unmarried) to Bath. Their first couple of years there were nice, but after her father died unexpectedly, she, her mother, and her sister were left with nearly nothing since women couldn’t inherit. They ended up renting a place on one of the shadiest streets in town, Trim Street, primarily populated by prostitutes, beggars, pimps, and thieves. Our guide said that previously, Jane wrote in a letter that, “I will do all in my power to avoid Trim Street.” So, needless to say, those probably weren’t exactly the best of times. They finally moved away when Jane was 30 and one of her brothers was in a financial position to give them a house.

St. Swithin’s Church, where Jane’s parents were married and her father is buried.

Jane’s father’s grave. The plaque reads, “The Reverend George Austen (1731-1805), Rector of Steventon in Hampshire, married Cassandra Leigh (1739-1827) at the medieval church of St. Swithin’s Walcot, on 26 April 1764.
Their seventh child was the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
With her parents and sister Cassandra, Jane Austen came to live in Bath in 1801, at 4 Sydney Place, until 1804, and then at 3 Green Park Buildings East, where George Austen died on 21 January 1805. He was buried in the crypt of the rebuilt church of St. Swithin’s.
His tombstone was removed to the present site in 1968…”

There were a few notable early fans of her work including Prince George IV, Prince Regent of Wales. He was known as a very extravagant man who apparently drank the equivalent of £2 million of wine each year. Seems to me that you would need to be drinking almost constantly… Anyway, as you might imagine from that statistic, he was very fat and did as much as he could to hide the full extent of his weight. Some of the things that came into men’s fashion at the time were literally only because they helped to make him look less overweight.

Jane had a very low opinion of the Prince Regent. He, on the contrary, had specially bound copies of her books in all of his houses. Regardless of her personal feelings towards him, it was very useful to have rich patrons, not to mention royal ones. When he invited her to visit his home, she didn’t have much choice but to accept. He didn’t meet her in person, but his assistant asked her if she would dedicate her next book to him.

Of course, she didn’t want to, but how do you say no to a prince? Her next book was Emma, and the dedication she wrote was so sarcastic that they had to revise it multiple times to make it acceptable. Even so, you can still absolutely feel the sarcasm when you read it. It says:

TO
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL
AND OBEDIENT
HUMBLE SERVANT,
THE AUTHOR

That, to me, screams, “I didn’t want to do this, but I did because he told me to and he’s important so here we are.”

Creepy house stalker picture taken from across the street. Their house was the one with the white door.

I may not have known much about Jane Austen at the beginning of the day, but by the end, I was even more impressed and obsessed with her. She’s so funny! And it seems like she was so confident and bold in a time when that wasn’t “acceptable” female behavior. Also, one of the reasons that her books weren’t terribly popular at the time was because they weren’t as dry as the other books that were in style. So basically she had a sense of humor and personality that were ahead of her time.

She died early, at age 41, and the cause is unknown.

After I left the museum, I wandered around town and added a few Jane Austen pilgrimage sites to my list. I did a walk-by of the church where Jane Austen’s parents got married and where her father is buried, and I went to see the house where she lived when her family first moved to Bath following her father’s retirement. I felt a bit creepy because it’s on a normal street and seems like a regular house, though I found out later that it’s a themed B&B. Someone’s bike was parked out front, and that made me wonder (pretending that it WAS just a normal house) if the house would be considered more or less valuable because of its history… maybe more because a famous person lived there, but maybe less because that leads to random people coming to gawk outside.

Sydney Place, the street where the Austens first lived in Bath.

See the plaque to the left of the door?

The house and nearby park were my last two stops of the day, so after I was finished with those, I zombie-walked my way to the train station to head back to Bristol. Another long day, but the random people who told me to visit Bath were right; I did love it there. They have a Jane Austen festival every year where everyone goes to Bath and dresses up in period clothing… I don’t know, I might have to add that to my bucket list…

I walked across this bridge, Pulteney Bridge, on my way across the Avon River to see Jane’s house. This bridge is known for the fact that it has stores lining both sides of the street that runs across it.

Walking across the bridge.

Bath, the city of very unique buildings…

Former location of “the Labyrinth”, a hedge maze in the park across from the Sydney Place house. Jane enjoyed walking in the park and exploring the maze and even mentions it in some of her books.

Railway tracks running next to the park

City views

On the way to the train station

Bath

My adventures of blindly following the advice of strangers continued the next day in Bath. Why Bath? I didn’t know. What’s there? I also didn’t know that. My entire knowledge base going in was that people think it’s beautiful there, and it’s like stepping back in time. That all sounded good to me, so off to Bath I went!

I asked at the hostel about the cheapest way to Bath (because “cheapest” is the key here, not “most efficient” or “easiest”), and I was surprised when the girl told me I should take the train. It was only 8 pounds round trip which was LESS than taking a bus (when does that ever happen??), and it took 10 minutes instead of close to an hour. Woo! Off to a good start.

Bath streets

My first move when I made it to the city was to make a beeline for the visitors’ center because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing there. That ended up being my best decision of the day because after I grabbed a map of the city and walked outside, I saw a man holding a “Free Jane Austen Walking Tour” sign. You may not know this about me, but I am a MASSIVE Jane Austen fan. Like huge. I think she’s brilliant and funny and knows how to write a darn good story.

Okay, maybe it’s not right to describe myself as a massive fan of HER because I basically knew nothing about her actual life. I’m just a huge fan of her work. I’ve read all of her books, some of them multiple times, and each time I think they get better (probably because each time I understand them a bit better… between the British English and the fact that they were written in a different time period, it can be a challenge to catch all of the humor).

I wrote a separate post about the intimate details I learned about Jane’s life, but the tour was cool because the guide (dressed as Mr. Knightley from Emma) didn’t only explain places that directly related to that; he also talked about major sights in town.

First, let me give you a little background on the city of Bath. Bath is located at the site of the only natural hot springs in the UK. It was originally settled by Celtic tribes who thought that the springs were a gift from the gods, specifically their goddess Sulis. When the area was conquered by the Romans in the first century AD, the city and the baths were Romanized. I’ll talk more about the baths later, but for now just appreciate the incredibly creative naming of the city… It all makes sense now, eh?

Back to the tour. We walked past the Bath Abbey (the main cathedral), and Mr. Knightley explained that none of the aristocratic class used to go there because it was considered smelly and touristy and at least the latter is still true today. Apparently, they used to put the corpses of the rich in the crypt underneath the church instead of properly burying them, so it literally smelled like rotting bodies. EW. Due to this, the shops that were directly against the walls of the church didn’t have to pay taxes. CAN YOU IMAGINE?? That’s disgusting. At some point after that, they decided that maybe it was kind of gross to leave bodies out to smell up the place, and they were buried.

Front of the Abbey

There has been a church on the site of the current abbey since the 700s AD, but this building has been there since about the 1500s with major restorations done in the late 1800s. It’s built in the Gothic style, and one of the major features is these angels climbing up “ladders to heaven” on the front façade. Mr. Knightly told us that there’s a story that the Puritans shot off their heads and wings because they were anti-ornamentation, and who knows what’s true except for the fact that some of them are definitely missing heads and wings…

Bath Abbey

The Roman Baths are right near the abbey, and next to those, there’s the Pump House which was a fashionable place for people to hang out in Jane’s day. You could drink water from the spring which supposedly has healing properties, and I learned later in the day that this water was piped up directly from the bath pools… which means people were basically drinking dirty bathwater.

Next to the Pump House is the King’s and Queen’s Baths which was one of the most popular places to “take the waters”. It also contained a book where, during Jane’s time (the early 1800s), you would write when you arrived in town so that everyone would know you were there. It was a time of people knowing everyone else’s business, including how much everyone was worth.

The Pump House

Architecturally, the city is primarily built in the Georgian style. In 1814, the entire city was rebuilt with one main architect, John Wood the Elder. Important buildings were reconstructed in this style, and less important/older ones were simply refaced with a proper façade.

Townhouses called “the circus”. They form a circle with three gaps for roads.

The middle of the circus

One of the interesting features in town is called the Royal Crescent. This was built by John Wood the Younger, and actually, he only designed the curving façade. People purchased a certain length of the façade and then could build whatever they wanted behind it! So, something may look like two houses from the front but actually be only one. Mr. Knightley said that this was the typical Bath way… it was all about having the appearance of high society. The actual substance was less important.

The Royal Crescent

The backs of some of the Royal Crescent houses. See how icky the back looks compared to the uniformity of the front?

In the center of the city, the three primary streets are Quiet Street, John Street, and Wood Street. He told a story about the meeting to name the streets of the new city of Bath. The architect, John Wood, wouldn’t shut up, so the guy in charge of the meeting yelled, “QUIET, John Wood!” and so, they had their first three street names.

Another random street in town… As you can see, they all look kind of similar,

This was the door handle on one of the churches… I thought it was funny

After the tour, I walked to the Botanical Gardens. It was the PERFECT time of year to go because the flowers were blooming, and things were actually green!

Enjoy these pretty spring pictures!

I continued roaming before finally making my way to the baths. Admission was a bit expensive, but it was totally worth it! There’s a museum portion and then the actual baths. For the museum, there was a free audio guide, and when I got to the bath part, I was just in time for the last guided tour of the day which ended up being fantastic!

The temple in the center was dedicated to Sulis (the Celtic goddess) and the Roman goddess Minerva who they considered the same goddess by a different name. These baths are particularly interesting because of the style mixing between the Roman and local tribal cultures. Archaeologists guess that the Romans probably saw parallels between some of the gods that the locals worshipped and their gods, so they didn’t want to run the risk of offending one of them, hence the mixed styles.

The side of the temple with what they guess is a gorgon head, but it’s unlike anything anywhere else, so no one actually has a clue where the design came from

The baths are fed by 10,000-year-old rainwater that goes 3km underground and comes up at 37 degrees C. The local tribes, and later the Romans, thought it had healing properties, so the bathhouse was one of the first things to be built by the Roman conquerors. The land around the springs was dried, and the temple was built.

In classic Roman form, the design pushed the engineering boundaries of the time. The main bath pool originally had a 20m high roof. The first iteration was made of wood, but that rotted quickly because of the heat and moisture. It was replaced with a roof made of hollow bricks.

Curse tablets

One of my favorite things were curse tablets. If someone was wronged, for example if something was stolen from them, they would buy these little lead tablets and write what was stolen, who took it (or a list of suspects if they didn’t know for sure), and a request for Minerva to curse them in whatever way they saw fit. They would roll these up and then throw them into the main spring pool. If the tablet floated, it was said that the curse would come back on the curser, so people were sure to make them heavy and fold them up really well.

More curse tablets. They had some of the texts written out, and I thought they were hilarious. Here are a couple examples:
“May the person who has stolen Vilbia (possibly a slave) from me become as liquid as water… who has stolen it: [list of names of people the author suspects]”
“I curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that the goddess Sulis inflict death upon… and not allow him to sleep or have children now or in the future.”
That second one seems like a bit of an extreme curse for stealing a cloak, but hey, what do I know?

We walked through the different rooms of the baths, and the guide explained what each was used for. First was the changing room where people would prepare for the bath process. The baths were affordable, so people of all social classes used them. The rich came more often and had servants to help them and to guard their belongings. The poorer people undressed themselves and didn’t have anyone to watch over their stuff which often led to thefts (and people asking Minerva for curses).

The changing room. They had these funny projections to help you visualize the happenings in each room.

After undressing, bathers moved into the tepidarium, the warm heat room, for cleaning and hair removal. People removed all of their body hair from the neck down. If you were rich, you could afford a blade to shave it. Otherwise, you were stuck with plucking… EEK! When your hair was all removed, you were massaged with oil (to clean you, obviously) and then sent to the next room, the caldarium.

Inside the tepidarium. You can see the simulation people getting massages.

This was the hot room and was like a sauna. It had a raised floor that contained an underfloor heating system. In this room, people sweated, and the oil was scraped off. What was done with this sweaty oil? Glad you asked. If it was used by someone important, sometimes it was sold by enterprising Romans as a face cream so that you could absorb some of the essence of the person who used it. Otherwise, it was probably sent back to the tepidarium and reused. Hygienic, huh?

Caldarium. The stacks of bricks are called the hypocaust. Those are what held up the raised floor.

Lead pipes for carrying water

After being “cleaned”, people moved to the main pool which was a big social hub. You could buy wine, and to sweeten it, they would often add lead powder. The main pool was also lined with lead sheets for waterproofing purposes. Lead pipes carry water throughout the compound… so it’s probably safe to say that literally everyone had lead poisoning.

Main bathing pool

Standing on ancient ground

The waters in Bath were believed to have healing properties, so this bath has a special immersion pool for healing. Rather than being healed, people probably just ended up passing on their skin conditions to other people in the baths.

The “healing” immersion pool

In the early 5th century, the Roman Empire started struggling, and skilled workers were recalled to Rome. No one who was left knew how to maintain the facilities, so the roof started to collapse. By the 12th century, all evidence of the Roman Empire in Bath was gone. The floor level of the baths is six meters below the modern-day street level!

The sacred spring where the curse tablets and other sacrifices were thrown

A recovered sacrifice. I love how delicate it is!

In the late 1800s, people’s basements started filling up with water which led to an investigation to understand why. In this process, they discovered the hot springs and started buying up people’s properties to investigate. This process was delayed by 10 years because one person kept holding out and refusing to sell, so they had to wait for him to die (who wants a basement filled with water??). Since then, the Roman Baths have become one of the major tourist attractions in town… and rightfully so because they’re awesome.

The mineral water that you’re allowed to drink. Ew.

I absolutely loved my time at the baths. I thought it was so freaking cool. At the end, you can drink some of the (cleaned) water. It’s disgusting. There are so many minerals and stuff in it that it tastes repulsive. The guide said that they would bottle and sell it, but legally, you need to have the bottling plant at the site of the spring, and they don’t have the space for that. My question is, would people seriously buy it despite the taste just because it’s supposedly good for you? Not me!