From the outside, the Tower of London just looks like a giant, old castle, nothing special. Even walking up to the gate you get that creepy feeling that castles seem to emit. You walk down a path on one side of the Tower and see old cannons and statues, not really giving you much of a good feeling. But when you turn the corner and enter the courtyard, the mood changes. There are bright colored buildings and people crowding around statues and exhibits, which doesn’t feel creepy at all. It makes you feel like you have walked into a close community because not only do people congregate in the square, but all of the buildings line the space, closing you in for safety. The London guardsmen have two posts at the Tower of London, one outside of the Crown Jewels exhibit and another by the exit. Every now and then you can see them marching in a line in front of their posts, disproving the theory that guardsmen aren’t real people. They have to stretch their legs too! When you exit back down the same path, it suddenly seems less creepy because of what you have just seen inside.
On our free day, Mandi and I decided we were going to run all over the place. We started by going back to the Globe theatre hoping to be able to get into a tour (because we couldn’t the previous day). I really wanted to get in today because 1) I gave a presentation on the Globe yesterday and wasn’t let in and 2) what theatre kid goes to London and doesn’t see the place where Shakespeare wrote and found inspiration?! Granted, it has been rebuilt twice, but the current Globe is as close to an exact replica as we can have (because of course back then they didn’t have plumbing, and I’m sure we would all rather bathrooms over outhouses). Upon arrival we come to find that tours have ended for the day due to a matinee performance of Measure for Measure…in Russian.
After that disappointment we decided to go back to the Buckingham Palace area and explore a bit. Do not believe everything you see in movies, folks, the guards do not stand outside of the gates for you to harass and take pictures with. They actually stand behind the gate; maybe fifty yards back at the actual palace entrance. They also do not wear the bearskins (the fuzzy black hats) at the palace. If you want to see the kind of guardsman you’d find in a cheesy American movie, go to the Tower of London. Beware, though. If you cross that rope fence to try and get closer, they will move and restrain you. Is it worth trying to find out what they do? No. They have guns.
That night, Mandi and I went to see Mamma Mia! I’d only seen the movie version, so I wasn’t sure how different it would be onstage. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too far off. The stage version had more musical numbers than the film did, though that’s not surprising because it has been around much, much longer. Even though we were sitting in the back, we could feel the energy pouring off of the stage and into the audience. This was a completely different experience than watching the film in a movie theater because you are in the story as opposed to just observing it. The man sitting on the other side of Mandi didn’t speak a word of English, yet sang every word along with the cast in that very language. This shows how far theatre can spread because this show has not been translated into his language, yet this man didn’t miss a word. Movies would be translated for convenience and marketing, but even sitting in the back of the audience, we heard a dozen different languages from the people surrounding us, yet they still went to see an English show. Whether they speak English or not, I couldn’t exactly tell you. What I can tell you is that they enjoyed the show either way. I did not hear a single complaint (in English, anyway) about the show when we walked out, and people flocked to the merchandise stand. A few even bought things already, they just wanted more!
The food in London is… interesting. You always hear the stereotype of “fat, lazy Americans,” and now I can see why. First off, most of them walk or take the Tube (their subway) everywhere, meaning they get more exercise everyday than most Americans. Secondly, they eat much, much healthier. We found these food places called “EAT” and “Pret” that look similar to grocery stores, but they are really fast food places. The difference between their fast food places and ours is insane. You walk into an EAT or a Pret and you can grab a number of different sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, soup, or small desserts or bags of chips. They have the same foods we do for the most part; they just portion and pair them differently to make healthier options. For example, a chicken salad sandwich in the states is chopped chicken breasts mixed with mayo (and sometimes other things). In London, it is sliced chicken with lettuce and tomato, maybe enough mayo to spread across one piece of bread with little excess. This is disappointing at first, but intriguing after that. I looked mainly at the sandwiches and discovered that many of them had pesto in them, and many were vegetarian. If the sandwiches had meat on them, they weren’t overstuffed like you see in American commercials for lunch meats. For us, these may not be appealing or filling, but they are healthier options that reflect an all-around healthier culture.