I learned an important lesson last night - if you're going to join people for drinks it's best to find out when the last train back to your hotel is before the first glass. Of course, when I began at five pm I never thought that I would be still drinking wine at two in the morning, miss my train, be stranded in the streets of London till the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, the person I shared the lovely evening with was a complete gentleman who gave me his room as he left for his flight. And for those of you thinking this had anything to do with romance you couldn't be more wrong. We spoke about politics, his love for his family, the excitement he has at being a father, as he encouraged me to really take this time in my life and savor it. We also talked about how society isn't set up for people to be free-spirits and how as I meet people on this trip and tell them what I'm doing they really respond to my excitement to live as free as I can. I'm realizing that their response to me doesn't have anything to do with me, but the free-spirit within them that for a moment wakes up.
I love London! Though it feels more like an American city than anywhere else I've ever been. Well except for the fact that they have a monarchy and castles. Royalty is cool. Okay so England has a bloody history of treason, murder, and greed - for instance, the story of the Duke of Monmouth. Turns out he was in line for the throne and actually the true king at the time, but the present king didn't want to give up the thrown. So on landing on the shores of England, the Duke was imprisoned and sentenced to beheading for treason.
It was bad enough that he was going to lose his head, but his executioner - the local butcher- decided to dip into the bottle for a bit beforehand. In his inebriated state his first five tries to behead the Duke didn't quite work, so he whipped out his butcher knife and sawed through the tendons and skin. He held the head high above his head and yelled, "God save the king." The crowd cheered. As they proceeded to bring the Duke's head down to London Bridge as a warning to all others who would commit treason, they realized that this man was royalty and no one had painted his portrait. So, needing to be appropriate, they brought his head back, sewed it onto his body and proceeded to paint the picture. The things you learn when you travel.
So when you minus the blood bath, the conquering, and religious persecution the monarchy is much more romantic when you think about the crown jewels and castles. You would assume that 2868 diamonds that surround the 317-carat Star of Africa on the Imperial crown would be ostentatious. Nope, it's pretty. And a gold punch bowl that can hold 144 bottles of wine says that royalty really knows how to party. I learned all of this at the Tower of London. A castle built by William the Conqueror along the Thames River. When I travel I rarely research the places I visit. I never carry a guidebook. I like the place to open itself to me and show me what it will. I ask suggestions from the locals and friends who have visited before. When I came here I wanted to see the Crown Jewels and the National Gallery and both happened without me looking for them.
All I can say is that this trip has been better than I could've imagined and there is still so much more on the way.