The Tower of London

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The Tower of London.

When it is mentioned normally two (or three depending on how you count them) things jump to a person’s mind. The Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy and the sight of grisly tortures and executions.

As is the case with most historical places the above is both true and false. First the Jewels…and a True fact!

True: The new Crown Jewels are housed in one area of the Tower of London and are usually open to viewing by the public. I say ‘new’ because all of the Jewels are ‘modern’ in that they were all made after 1660. When the people of Britain temporarily abolished the monarchy in 1649, following the execution of Charles the I, all of the Crown Jewels at the time were melted down, the gold and silver turned into coins and the jewels disposed of in various ways. When the monarchy was re-established they made new Jewels which are still used today by Queen Elizabeth the II and will be used by future monarchs during the coronations and other ceremonies.

Now Jewels are nice and all but…I kind of suspect that a lot of people are more morbidly curious about the second of my statements then the first. So on to the torture!

True AND False: The Tower was used as a prison, a torture chamber and as an execution ground.

Now here is where things get a bit muddled and fact and fiction tend to get all tangled up. If there is one thing I have noticed about people it is that, somewhere deep down inside, we are all fascinated by these kinds of subjects. As a result they can get blown out of proportion and made…bigger than they really are.

The Tower was used as all of the above but it was also a fortress meant to protect the city of London, it was a place where merchants set up markets, the monarchy used it as their base of power for quite some time and it is still occupied today. Many of the staff who work at the Tower in various positions also live there.

Norman the Conqueror built the White Tower (see photo above) in 1066. By building his fortress over the River Thames he could control and protect the capital city of London. Between the 11th and the 16th centuries a whole complex of buildings grew up around the White Tower, creating what we now call the ‘Tower of London’. It became a main symbol of the monarchy as it housed the royal family at times, the Mint, a storage place for the royal records, and the housing point for a garrison meant to both defend and suppress the population of London.

The bloody history of the Tower first rose up in the rumor of the “Princes of the Tower” which was further immortalized in William Shakespeare’s play “Richard the III”. In the early 1480s Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, were the only surviving children of Edward the IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. Despite the weighty titles the two boys were only 12 and 9 at the time and, while the younger Edward’s claim on the throne was debated, they were placed in the care of their uncle, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Once Edward’s claim to the throne was secured Duke Richard housed the boys in the Tower of London, supposedly while waiting for the coronation. Only the boys disappeared and Richard took the throne himself, becoming King Richard the III of England.

As the boys were never found it was rumored that Richard had murdered them both in order to claim the throne. While Shakespeare went with that theory himself in his play (therefore securing it as ‘fact’ in the minds of anyone who has read his play all the way up to modern times) it has never been proven. In fact there were several suspects at the time. In light of the recent discovery of a skeleton that is widely suspected (and almost proven) to be Richard the III’s skeleton, there has been some discussion on re-examining the disappearance to see what else might turn up.

In 1674 workmen found a box containing two small skeletons buried near the White Tower. This find gave further weight to the idea that the princes were in fact murdered (Since other rumors had cropped up that they’d escaped the Tower). Though it could not be proven that these were the bodies of the missing princes King Charles II had them re-buried in Westminster Abbey, thus adding a new twist to a very old mystery.

That was the first incident that led to the Tower’s more dubious modern reputation. But it really started with Henry VIII, his spilt from the Roman Catholic Church, his use of the Tower as a place to imprison his opponents and where two of his wives were executed.

While the basement of the Tower, being an active center of the monarchy, was regularly used to house prisoners and gather information from them, this function became more prominent during the religious upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries as the Catholic and Protestant churches began a long, monarchy-fueled battle for dominance in England. During this time the basement of the Tower became infamous as a torture area for priests, sympathizers to either side and anyone else that the government had grounds to view as ‘suspicious’. In fact you can still visit the Tower of London today and enter one area that has torture devices set up where you can learn about them. Expect a bit of a line though…it’s a place that draws the morbidly curious to it.

But the real question here is often about the executions that took place on Tower Green toward the center of the Tower of London.

The fact of the matter is that only a handful of executions actually took place on Tower Green. Most of them were public affairs, taking place some ways from the Tower on Tower Hill. However at times (roughly around seven according to most records) an execution was too politically sensitive to take place in public or they might decide to afford some privacy to the condemned. The latter most commonly was granted to female prisoners of high status.

While I won’t go into grisly details of the executions all of the ones at the Tower were beheading by sword or by axe. Among the rather short list of victims were two of the wives of Henry the VIII: His second wife Ann Boleyn, and his fifth wife Catherine Howard. Jane Seymour, the Nine Day Queen, was executed there as well. The three of the other four recorded deaths at Tower Green were also related to the Tudor reign. Margaret Pole was an ally of Henry the VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon and so convicted of treason following Anne’s fall from grace. Jane Boleyen (Who gave damning evidence against her sister-in-law Anne Bolyen) had encouraged the dalliances of Catherine Howard and was executed right after Catherine. Richard Duvereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth the I who later turned against her, was executed for treason following a failed rebellion. The only remembered execution at Tower Green that was not connected to the Tudor reign was William Hastings who was executed in connection with the Princes of the Tower and King Richard III’s rise to power.

So, as can be seen above, despite the hype there really were not that many deaths officially at the Tower. Most of them were some distance away in London proper on Tower Hill. Still the intrigue lives on since most of the victims were women and several were quite young with tragic histories. Artists and fiction writers have heavily romanticized these histories over the years, adding to the allure.

At almost a thousand years old the Tower is one of the oldest still-standing structures of power in the world. With its age comes a long, dramatic, bloody and exciting history that continues to intrigue people. Whether people come because they’re history buffs, they’re fascinated with the Royal families of England, or they’ve just watched a lot of episodes of shows like “Tudors” and “Reign”, they want to see the places were so many moments in history happened.

Also we are generally fascinated by that which lies outside of our culturally-appointed comfort zones so, rather like moths, we are drawn in by the tragic histories and tales that fill the Tower. We want to see these places for ourselves, to stand on the stones and try to imagine back into the past, so far back that we have no authentic frame of reference for it, and try to imagine a time when these grisly matters were a fact of existence rather than something viewed through the lens of a story.

Deep down inside we all know that the world is so much older than we are—that it has gone on for ages long before our distant ancestors lived and it will keep spinning on in some form for years into the future. We just want some small proof of that. And, standing on grounds surrounded by buildings that date back to the 11th century at their oldest, we find a piece of that proof.

And that keeps us coming back.

I hope if you’re ever in the area that you’ll stop by the Tower! It’s quite amazing , well worth the visit and the wait to get in should there be a line! It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site along with being one of the palaces of England. More information about visiting the Tower and its history can be found on the Tower’s website: www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon\ . Have great adventures until the next time we meet!

Return and Photos from London, England

-Blows off the dust- Well…this hiatus was slightly longer then I had expected it to be. A week-long trip to London came and after jetlag passed work began in earnest. A laptop that had been hauled to London with the plan to make daily updates became unused when the wifi would only work on my phone so those updates were done on Facebook. I also found out that the Facebook account I did have linked to this site is not operating correctly so I will look into that the first chance that I get. I am also working on an ‘fan’ page on Facebook that will not require friending or anything like that.

Still there is no real excuse for my long silence so, instead of rambling on, I shall offer you photos from my trip to London. More, including many from the Victoria & Albert Museum, will be uploaded onto my Flickr account which is linked here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129436660@N06/ That site will be updated around May 10th so, at moment, there are no London photos on that account.

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Hurrican Ridge

Hurrican Ridge

Hurricane Ridge. That’s a pretty dramatic name isn’t it? Especially for a site in the Pacific Northwest where we’re not exactly known for our hurricane season. Still the name, for a viewing area in the Olympic National Park, does have a basis. Olympic National Park is situated in the Olympic Mountains, the range that runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean. As the first of two mountain ranges in Washington the Olympics take the brunt of the bad winter weather that blows in from the ocean. In fact this mountain range is the reason that Seattle enjoys such temperate weather—we are in the rain shadow of the Olympics. We also back up against the Cascades so, with two ranges on either side of us, the worst of the weather bounces from the Olympics across to the Cascades and passes right over us. On a side note this weather movement is also why Eastern Washington is much drier than Western Washington—most of the precipitation that starts in the Olympics is gone by the time a weather system gets to the far side of the Cascades.

So that was your Washington weather lesson for the day! Now back to Hurricane Ridge! Given the information above the name of the Ridge actually starts to become a bit clearer—it is regularly subjected to winter storms which include hurricane-force winds—in some of the storms the wind-speed has been recorded at a high point of 86 miles per hour!

You would never know this to visit on a sunny day though–when the weather is clear the Ridge offers some of the best views in Washington! The starting point for the road is in Port Angeles, which sits right on the Pacific Ocean. Do not be fooled by the weather down in town and take it as an accurate representation of what is going on up at the Ridge. At just short of a mile above sea level the Ridge rises above the fogs that routinely closes in around Port Angeles. Often there is clear skies up there if it’s just the usual daily fog—though fog at the foot of the mountain can ruin some of the viewing chances up top.

In fact the Ridge is so high, 5,242 feet above sea-level, that it is safely in the sub-alpine zone. This mean that you’ll have new types of weather and conditions to face as you head up Hurricane Ridge Road to the summit. At any time of the year it’d be a good idea to check on the Olympic Park website or at the ranger station at the foot of the road before you make the drive up. Rock slides or avalanches can block the road at any time of the year and also, depending on the season and current weather conditions, tire chains might be needed to make it up the road. In these upper levels of the Olympic National Park snow can come at any time of the year and many of the hiking trails keep snow on them into July!

Once you make it up the road though, on a sunny day, the views are amazing. I nabbed a few photos while I was up there (You can see them below) but my day was a bit hazy. On a very clear day you should be able to see Mount Olympus, one of the most elusive mountains in Washington State—mostly because it’s rather short compared to some of the bigger ones and it’s out to the west beyond the Seattle/Tacoma area where most people look around for mountains.

If you are into hiking, Hurricane Ridge is a jumping-off point for a whole variety of hikes, from short ones on wheelchair-accessible paved paths to much more challenging ones that only the fittest hiker would want to attempt. More information on the trails and current conditions can be found in the Visitor Center located right at the Ridge. That’s also where you can find a very interesting informative display about the history, geology, ecology and environment of the park. You can find a gift shop and snack bar on the lower level near to the information desk.

I could go on for a good bit longer but, honestly, the majesty of the Ridge and its scenery are best experienced in person. Consider my photos as an appetizer course and then make plans to head out that way yourself! The majesty of the Olympic Mountains must be experienced in person to truly understand why they have awed Humans since people first began to strike inward from the Pacific Ocean.

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The Moore Theater

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What exactly does it mean to offer your theater to ‘legitimate shows’? According to Mr. Webster the definition of ‘legitimate’ that applies to this context is “relating to plays acted by professional actors but not including revues, burlesques, or some forms of musical comedy”.

Now why did this matter?

I’m not sure if this sign was part of the original Moore Theatre’s design or added at some point during the theatre’s 108-year history but in 1907, when the Moore opened, theatre did not always have the best of reputations. While being one of the main forms of public entertainment there were many types of shows performed on stages and some were less respectable than others. Bawdy comedies, vaudeville performances, burlesques (at this point in history more song-and-dance shows then the strip teases they became), and dance hall performances painted a wide and varied picture of the ‘stage’ in many peoples minds. Some legitimate theatres, eager to distance themselves from these scandalous groups, actually advertised themselves more as lecture halls then performance venues. To that end they could calm the fears of the more reserved and conservatives members of society which would ensure that they stayed in business.

The Moore is the oldest still-operating theatre in Seattle. As the sign promises it does offer real stage shows along with the mentioned concerts and other types of entertainment. When it opened it catered to Seattle’s elite though, like many theatre venues, it was sorely hit by the changing times and almost closed its doors permanently during the 1970s before a huge innovation saved it…but more on that turn of events in a moment.

The Moore had a long and (rather) glorious run before the 1970s came about. In its first decade it was the home of the Seattle Symphony, and such performers as Ethel Barrymore, and the Marx Brothers graced their stage along with presentations of several Shakespeare plays and “Madame Butterfly”.

The Moore was bought by the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit right after the first World War ended. They kept it as their main base until 1927. That was when they built their own theatre (now closed) several blocks away. At that point the Moore went up for lease and it was rented by Cecilia Schultz, a premotor of different arts in Seattle. She used the theater for a wide variety of events ranging from musical performances to lectures by Robert Ripley. After she retired in 1949 the Moore was rented mainly by different religious revivals and other smaller events.

Another short run of glory began in 1954 when Hugh Becket, the manager of the freshly-closed Seattle Metropolitan Theatre, took over the Moore and continued his business of booking and hosting plays and performances. Still it did not last long and The Moore was back to renting itself out and struggling to stay ahead of newer theatres and the afore-mentioned rise of the cinema within a few years. By the 1970s the theatre was on the ropes even though it had been added to the historic registry of Seattle in 1974.

As they say though adaptation is the key to survival.

In 1975 two Canadians, Darryl MacDonald and Dan Ireland, took on the theatre and transformed it into a cinema house. They meant to use it as a home for Hollywood revivals and foreign films but in 1976 the Moore, now called the Moore Egyptian, became the home to the first annual Seattle International Film Festival. As SIFF went on to become one of the most successful film festivals in America it moved its headquarters first to a theatre on Capital Hill and then to another building at City Center in Seattle. Ten years later the Moore (dropping “Egyptian” from the title as that went to the new SIFF theatre In Capital Hill) was again without tenants and reverted to being an event-to-event rental again.

In 1992 Ida Cole, an alumna of Microsoft, and her non-profit organization, The Seattle Landmark Association (Which would later become the Seattle Theatre Group), leased the property from its long-time owner George Toulouse. His ownership was the main reason behind the theatre surviving so long with its historical architecture mainly intact.

Now the Moore Theatre, the Seattle Theatre Group still leasing it from the Toulouse family, has returned to its roots as a venue for dynamic entertainment. They have incorporated all of the new additions that have been added over the years which allows which allows them to use the space for all kinds of events, from bands giving concerts to dance troupes and stage actors performing on stage along with using it as a movie theatre.

The Moore Theatre is a true survivor story. In an era when cities across the United States are losing so many of their historic buildings it’s comforting to know that a few of them manage to hang on through dedicated supporters and sheer persistence. Let’s hope we start hearing more success stories like the Moore in the years to come!

Dictionary cited from: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legtimate

Information about the Moore Theatre gathered from www.historylink.org , Wikipedia.org , and http://www.stgpresents.org/moore

Pike Place Market

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This iconic sign, at the foot of Pike Street, is the marker for one of Seattle’s oldest and most iconic sights. Still Pike Market’s beginnings were very humble and born out of a utilitarian purpose.

In the late 1800s Seattle’s population began to blow up—between 1890 and 1900 Seattle’s population grew by almost forty thousand heads to end up at 82,000 people by the end of the decade. All of these people created a huge demand for the fresh fruits and produce that was grown by the farmers surrounding the city. Initially they brought their goods to Seattle and sold them to the wholesalers located on Western Avenue who, in turn, sold them to the public. As you can imagine under this system only the wholesalers were turning any kind of profit. The farmers were usually loosing money or, if they were lucky, they were breaking even. The residents of the city had little control over the prices and where forced to pay whatever the wholesalers charged.

By 1907 the situation was becoming critical—farmers were growing increasingly poorer and citizens were frustrated by continually being gouged for staples. Finally, in the summer of that year, Seattle City Councilman Thomas Revelle brought up the idea of creating a public farmers market that would allow citizens and farmers to meet face-to-face and push the wholesalers to the side. Pike Market opened to the public on August 17th, 1907 with eight farmers showing their wares. By the end of the first day 10,000 citizens had descended on the market had cleaned them all out. Within a week seventy wagons were gathering daily to sell their wares and the number of vendors, and buyers, has only gone up since then.

Now in 2015 on any daily of the week, at any time of year, you can find around one hundred farmers, one-hundred-and-ninety craftsmen, and two hundred businesses all sharing their wares at the Market. On the lower floors of the Market you can find the stores and the upper street-level is where you can find the farmers and craftsmen along with the famous fish markets. The restaurants that have helped to make Pike Market famous are spread throughout the whole area. This is also the area where, if you’re a coffee fan, you’ll find the original Starbucks store. Running along the upper level of the Market is Post Alley where a variety of restaurants and comedy clubs can be found along with the Gum Wall.

The Market is open daily from 10am to 6pm though the craftsmen and farmers usually are closed down by 4pm. Any day is a good day to stop by the Market! Have fun out there!

The Des Moines Marina

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I talk a lot about all of the neat stuff in Seattle proper but there many amazing things in the towns that surround the city. One of the prettiest places I’ve found is the Des Moines Marina, about twenty minutes south of Seattle.

Since I do not own a boat I do not use the moorage services offered by the marina but that is only one of the reasons to visit. The main reason I personally like to go is for the walk—it’s a short but gorgeous walk along the dock area before turning to follow a jetty out into the Puget Sound. I like to go down there just to catch a breath of fresh sea air and some space, along with having a nice place to walk where I can see water and boats rather than construction and cars, which seem too common in the areas that I usually trek. Plus there is something wonderfully stress relieving about just seeing a new vista once in a while.

In January I was at the Marina when I grabbed this shot. As you can see on a sunny day Mt. Rainer is visible and, if you’re looking the other way, you can also spot the Olympic mountains. If you like to look at boats this is an excellent watching spot. Along with the vessels docked at the marina, a mix of sailing yachts of various sizes and fishing boats, you can also see some of the ferries from Seattle and other sailboats moving around on the water. You’re also close enough to SeaTac airport to see planes either taking off or landing depending on the direction that the airport is flowing that day (On some days the planes take off over Des Moines and come in for landings over Seattle. Other days they switch this pattern).

Parking is free at the Marina in the marked public parking areas. Driving directions are at http://www.desmoinesmarina.com if you would like to come on down and check out the walk at the next sunny day we have! Or a rainy day…it doesn’t really matter. No matter the weather the Sound is always pretty and it is always a real treat to get out and walk along it for a bit!

The Queen Mary Tearoom

There’s nothing better in the world then a cup of tea.

Tea is my favorite beverage and I like finding tea-houses where I can enjoy a cup and some dessert or a meal. I’ve already talked about taking Afternoon Tea at the Empress in Victoria but there are many, lower-key tea rooms in Seattle perfect for a casual outing.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining my sister Lori at the Queen Mary, a tearoom up by the University of Washington. It is the oldest operating independent tearoom in the United States, opening its doors in 1988 and it is an absolutely charming establishment.

The tearoom is a small, cozy space—the tables are close together and decorated with mix-and-match teacups and flowers. A cheerful waitress will take your coats for you back into the coatroom and then, as you settle in, you’ll be given the menu. Breakfast is served from 9am until 11am. Lunch is served from 11am until 4pm, when last seating is. On the weekends last seating is at 4:30pm. You can order afternoon tea at any time that you’d like. The tea selection is vast, running the full course from the usual Back, Green and White teas into specialty teas like Oolong and Rooibos. There are many varieties to suit every taste and style.

Lori and I came up for lunch and tea on a quiet rainy afternoon in January. As we settled in to enjoy our meal and drinks we were soon in a very enjoyable conversation with the older ladies next to us. The tables were close enough that conversation could flow easily between table-mates and near-by tables, giving the room a pleasant feeling. The guests were varied—couples on dates, some people enjoying birthdays or another kind of celebration and friends out to have a fun afternoon.

After Lori and I were quite full from our amazing lunch, a salmon salad for her and a vegetable quiche for me with both a fresh vegetable salad and a fruit salad, we were given the dessert menu. After asking we found out that we could take dessert home with us and ended up picking up some macaroons for both ourselves and our family members at home.

We did not get a chance to stop at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium down the street from the tearoom but I plan on stopping by there the next time I come up. That is where they sell the tea and tea dishes. Inside of the tearoom they do have recipe books, some dishes and other items for making tea such as infusers, and toys for children, including tea sets and adorable stuffed corgis, for sale.
While the prices at the tearoom can run rather high for some budgets, they are similar to many other specialty shops in the area. If you wish to get a cup of tea and dessert it will be very reasonably priced and quite delicious (really the raspberry macaroons are mind-blowing and my family gave me good reports on the lemon and mango ones as well). It is the perfect place for a special outing with a few dear friends and you will be guaranteed a very lovely time.