Various Points of Interest

My European Experience #5

Glad to finally have time to write for the Shield again! And, thus, here’s the long, long overdue fifth installment of me rambling about various parts of a trip I took to Europe a good eight-and-a-half months ago. Enjoy. Or don’t. I can’t control your emotions.

The London Eye, Sponsored by Coca-Cola

At first, the Eye seemed like nothing more than a large tourist trap to myself and my family. It had all the makings of it, with a sponsorship of a large soda company, big flashing red lights, offers to buy over-the-top expensive photos (even though portable cameras do indeed exist), and the whole nine yards. However, I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, and at least experience the ride for myself. After a bit of persuading, I was able to convince my parental unit to let me get tickets for it, and, I have to say, it exceeded all my expectations.

The ride takes about thirty minutes start-to-finish, which, at first, seemed a bit long for a glorified Ferris wheel ride. However, once actually on the ride, I never once felt that it was too slow, or that it was dragging along. I chose to ride it at night, just before it closed, and it provided a spectacular view of the entire London skyline. You are given a map of sorts, that points out where to look to see various buildings in the night sky. Since London is such a spread-out city, the skyline stretches as far as the Eye (pun definitely intended) can see, and therefore you are occupied the whole ride just trying to pick out all of the landmarks. My personal favorite part of the experience was seeing the centuries-old buildings, such as the Tower of London, featured in the same skyline as cutting-edge, modern buildings like the Shard and the Gherkin (yes, that is its real name).

The Tower of London  

As I said in the last entry, the Tower is quite ancient, dating back to its founding almost a millennium ago in 1066. The Tower was among the landmarks I had decided I wanted to see almost as soon as I knew I was going to England. The entire experience was fantastic, as well as educational, which seemed to be summed up as fought y for the throne, won,was decapitated; lather, rinse, repeat. We were led on a tour of the entire ground, led by a man known as a Beefeater (again, real name), who clearly loved his British history.

The tour started with the Beefeater giving a general background to what everyone would be witnessing, and then getting on with the tour. We visited some gardens, saw the sites of various decapitations, and got to marvel in the architecture of the various towers and living quarters of kings and queens gone by. We then visited a room filled with loads of old armor, some dating back to Henry VI’s reign. There were chest plates, suits of chainmail armor, plenty of swords and other sharp objects, flails, boots, even horse armor. In short, every form of armor imaginable was there in some shape or form. Then came by far the most exciting part: seeing the crown jewels, and plenty of old kings’ and queens’ jewelry. The room was set up as a long branching hallway, with glittering golden objects down the sides of the whole hallway, culminating in the display of the crown jewels themselves. They were spectacular to see, and after seeing different replications and pictures of jewels similar to them, it was amazing to finally see the real deal.

The Köln (Cologne) Cathedral

The Cologne Cathedral was one of my personal favorite attractions in Germany, given its history, size, and just being all-around interesting. The Cathedral itself was built starting in 1248, although work was halted in 1473, leaving the cathedral unfinished all the way until 1880. It is a massive structure, and being there, you can easily see why construction took as long as it did. The cathedral itself is still in impeccable condition, despite being surrounded on all sides by a modern, urban setting.

Inside the cathedral is a truly breathtaking display of art, with tall walls entirely of painted glass and a highly decorated ceiling complete with large arches dropping down. The cathedral has plenty of large, old church organs that seem to bring out the sheer size of the cathedral. It has long rows of pews, culminating in a beautifully decorated altar. Unfortunately, I was not able to experience Mass at the cathedral, so I wasn’t able to see it in its full glory.

The cathedral has an interesting history as well, leading up to World War II. When Cologne was being heavily bombed during the war, almost all buildings in the inner part of the city were reduced to rubble. However, the cathedral still remained standing, suffering only minor damage. It was interesting to see pictures of the cathedral at this time, as it truly was surrounded by rubble on all sides.

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