January 18, Saturday: Tower of London, and free time, TWO student accounts!

Saturday, January 18
By Amy Duong, senior alto
Major: Music Business

Today was our first, full day in London; and we had it all to ourselves, after singing six concerts (and six rehearsals) in five days. Of course the day started with full English breakfast—I have yet to try the black pudding.  We’ll see if I can muster the courage for that!  Right after breakfast we were on the bus and on our way to the Tower of London. I will admit I was expecting a literal tower.  However, I was not disappointed. I was immediately taken back in time when I saw the size of the now dry moat, and just the thought of that large a body of water surrounding the tower was astounding. Then we walked into the Tower, which is actually a huge complex of buildings that have served as homes, munitions storage, the Royal Mint, an execution site, a chapel, and many other functions throughout the past 1000 years.

Walking where people have lived and worked since the time of William the Conqueror made me acutely aware of my place in time. I have had this feeling in general here in England, but that feeling was much more acute at the tower, which was built on the site of the original Roman encampment. Our tour included the torture chambers, learning about the 6 ravens, and seeing the crown jewels. OH MY—MAGNIFICENT! I was awe-struck at the glory of all of the jewels—the spectacularly glistening rubies, diamonds, sapphires, pearls, and I-don’t-even-know-what-else.  They are symbols of the power and majesty of the royal families that have governed England since the seventeenth century, when the monarchy was restored.  (The crown jewels were destroyed during the English Civil War.)

After the Tower, the choir was set loose on the city. The group that I was with had the privilege of going to both the British Library and the British Museum. At the library we explored the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, an exhibition that featured original manuscripts of music, literature, and historical documents dating back hundreds of years.  A few in particular: an original manuscript of Beowolf (with a recording of Julian Glover reading an excerpt), an official certificate of Mozart’s marriage, complete with his and Constanze’s signatures, the manuscript copy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (turned, appropriately for us, to a section of the choral movement), and one of four surviving copies of the Magna Carta—wowz!.

The British Museum is HUGE, and my small group had about an hour before closing; so we did what the museum called “the highlights of the magnificent permanent collection.” The highlights tour included the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures from ancient Greece, and an ornate vase from the Ming dynasty.

They aren’t lying when they say you walk everywhere.  I don’t know that any comfortable shoe would still have been comfortable after a full day of touring. I also felt mentally exhausted from all of the rich history and culture that I was trying to take in.

Dinner on our own is more enjoyable than in our whole, large group, in that we are able to go and explore the small pubs, or hole-in-the-wall restaurants. This evening, my intimate group of four discovered a Greek restaurant that had been refurbished from an old bar. The set-up was similar to that of tapas—small appetizer size plates that the table shares. It was a great way to taste whatever dish we wanted to, everything was authentic and freshly made—yum! We ended the evening in what has become one of my favorite ways to hang out and relax: in a pub! It has become a pleasurable pastime, because it revolves around sitting at a table with friends and talking for hours.

We get a whole day to ourselves tomorrow, so look out London!  Chamber Choir is ready for even more exploration and adventure.

Second student account is below.

Saturday, January 18
By James Smith, senior tenor
Major: Vocal Performance

Today was our first free day (after six concerts and rehearsals in five days) and I couldn’t have been more excited to have time to explore London! We started off the day by driving through the heart of the historic section of London while our tour guide, Anita Baker, pointed out some of the more important sights and explained their significance. I was entranced by the sense of history and sheer beauty that radiated from the area.

After driving over Tower Bridge we visited the Tower of London. I was extremely surprised to find out that it is in fact not a singular tower, but actually more of a fortress with many buildings. Anita gave us a brief tour around the area and talked about many of the famous executions that occurred there. We were even lucky enough to get a group picture with one of the guards (known as Yeomen of the Guard or “Beefeaters”), which was really surprising, considering that they have to deal with tourists all day. 

We then were set free to see the Crown Jewels at our own pace. I can easily say that the Crown Jewels were by far the most beautiful and extravagant things that I have ever seen. I was in complete awe of how intricate and complex the jewels were. I was again surprised to find out that the jewels consisted of more than just the crown, but many different pieces that all play a role in the coronation process. My favorite piece was the sceptre with cross, which contained the world’s largest clear-cut diamond at 530 carats. It was absolutely breathtaking!  After seeing the jewels, I used the rest of my time there to see the torture exhibit and the White Tower, which held an exhibit of many different items, including some of the famous sets of armor and gifts that were presented to the monarchy by important visitors. I very much enjoyed seeing all of the oddities that have been given as gifts throughout the ages.

After a short ride on the English subway system (also known as “The Tube”) I went to the British Library. There we spent considerable time in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, an exhibit that contained original manuscripts from many different famous authors and musicians. One of my favorite pieces was an original copy of Beowulf from the early 1300’s, as well as the original score of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It was absolutely incredible to see pieces of music that had actually been written by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and many others! It was a very emotional moment for me and I actually had to keep myself from becoming a weeping mess. I loved every second of that exhibit and could’ve spent hours just in that one room, but I wanted to see the British Museum and I knew that it closed soon. So I ran over there and only had enough time to see some of the Egyptian exhibit and the Rosetta Stone, but it was worth it. The Rosetta Stone was much more beautiful than I expected, so that made the experience even more worth while.

I ended my night by getting some dinner with friends in the Covent Gardens, which was a very busy place on a Saturday night. We luckily got a table at a nice outdoor cafĂ© and enjoyed a very tasty meal. After that we went to see Big Ben and the London Eye at night, which was a beautiful scene. I loved seeing one of the most iconic sights of London with all of the lights shining on it. I can’t think of a better way to end what was a great free day in London and I am excited to have more time to see some of the rest of the things that I couldn’t fit into today’s sight-seeing plan.

Tower Bridge

Three Bridges: Trevor, Greg, and Tower

The Tower of London
Dr. ABC and Dr. Saylor

On the tube to the British Library

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