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The Best Tourist Attraction in London: The Tower

September 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Tower of London

A fall trip to London would be smashing. Europe’s largest city has enough to keep tourists busy for months.  But, what if you only have time to visit one site? Which would it be?  Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, the British Museum or the Tower of London?  I’d pick the Tower of London and in fact, highly recommend returning on every trip. Sounds trite but the UNESCO World Heritage site truly offers something of significance for most everyone.

Want history and architecture? William the Conqueror began work on the Tower shortly after he won his crown in 1066 . That’s nearly a thousand years ago.  He wanted to protect his important London base. Over the centuries, the stronghold evolved into a symbol of English royalty.

Today, visitors find a complex of castles, fortifications, courtyards and buildings including the famous White Tower started back in 1078. The legendary Bloody Tower held two imprisoned princes, sons of Edward IV, who were likely murdered by Richard III. Stroll around to the former scaffold grounds where notorious beheadings took place, including those of Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Moore.

Scaffold Site

Bird lovers enjoy the ravens who are guaranteed to be on the Tower Green. Legend says the kingdom will fall if they desert the property. Shh, the ravens wings are clipped.

The fortress acted not just as a royal residence and prison, but as a treasury and armory. Now a fantastic assemblage of medieval weapons and royal armor are exhibited. Those interested in religion are drawn to the simple Chapel of St. John, the oldest church in London, and a fine example of Norman architecture.

The Crown Jewels are securely stored in the Jewel House underground. They attract a line of visitors waiting to ogle over the vast collection of priceless gems and royal regalia.

Photographers shoot the view of Tower Bridge, seen from the  edge of The Water Gate, better known as Traitor’s Gate. Queens Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth 1, entered it as prisoners.  And no visit to London is complete without a snapshot of the flamboyantly costumed Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders. They guard the Castle grounds and give lively tours.

The Tower is London is, in my opinion, the city’s best landmark and its location is ideal for anyone looking for hotels in London city centre. The subway offers easy access via the Tower Hill stop. Even if time is short, don’t miss this historic and enthralling site.

A quizzical look from a Yeoman Warder

Discovering the Legend of Auburn’s War Eagle

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off on Discovering the Legend of Auburn’s War Eagle 

At The Raptor Center

The War Eagle Flies

When I moved to Florida in ’97, a neighbor asked, “Are you a gator or a dawg?”  Having no idea what the reference meant, I simply replied, “A dog,” since I owned a lovable golden retriever.  Only later did I realize he was talking college football and mascots– a sport ranking legendary in Florida.

Over the years I have learned to read referee’s signals; move my arms in the Florida gator chomp; met Uga –the University of Georgia’s bulldog; toured the Bear Bryant football museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and attended the Gator Bowl- held in my hometown of Jacksonville.

But, I’ve never had a special allegiance to any of these SEC (Southeastern Conference) schools until now.  My daughter enrolled as a freshman at Auburn University (class of 2014) so I’ve become a Tiger fan. I’ve also mastered the phrase, “War Eagle,” the battle cry or greeting used when meeting a student or alumnae.

How did Auburn come to have two animal symbols, particularly a War Eagle?

I discovered the answer when I visited the Southeastern Raptor Center on Auburn’s Veterinary School campus.  Or did I?  Numerous myths surround the iconic eagle at AU, but the most popular seems to be the one dating back to the Civil War.

According to printed legend published in 1960 in the Auburn Plainsman:

A soldier from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor of a bloody battle. Stumbling across the battlefield, he found a wounded young eagle, kept it and nursed the bird back to health. Several years later the soldier, a former Auburn student, returned to college as a faculty member, bringing the bird with him. For years both were a familiar sight on campus and at events. On the day of Auburn’s first football game in 1892 against the University of Georgia, the aged eagle broke away from his master during the game and began to circle the field, exciting the fans. But at the end of the game, with Auburn victorious, the eagle fell to the ground and died.

Reminds me of the story of the runner, Pheidippides, the messenger who ran back and forth to Sparta (150 miles) and was then sent from Marathon to Athens (25 miles) to tell of the great victory. He completed then run, then died.

The first documented live eagle on campus arrived in November 1930. He was a golden eagle who swooped down on a flock of turkeys and became entangled in vines. Some individuals including cheerleaders DeWit Stier and Harry “Happy” Davis helped care for the rescued bird. They put it in a cage and took it to the Auburn football game against the University of South Carolina on Thanksgiving Day.

Nova returns to his trainer

Auburn, having not won a Southern Conference game in four seasons, was expected to lose. However, the Tigers managed a 25-7 victory over the Gamecocks. The student body could only conclude that the eagle’s presence on the sidelines was responsible for the victory.

The legend seems to continue today. A lady seated in the stadium said, “If the eagle sweeps over the crowd, Auburn will win.”  If the eagle flies directly to the trainer and its food stationed on the 50 yard line, well… victory is not guaranteed.

Whatever you believe, the Southeastern Raptor Center is a place of pride for the University.  Dr. Jimmy Milton founded it in the mid-1970’s to rehabilitate and release injured birds of prey. Over the years endowments and funding have enlarged the facility which now boasts  24 state of the art mews, a hospital, rehab building and educational center.

The Eagle has Landed

Nova, the golden eagle known as War Eagle VII and Spirit, a Bald Eagle, are trained at the Raptor Center along with other hawks, owl and vultures unable to return to the wild. The eagles continue to amaze spectators, flying free at the start of games in  Jordan-Hare Stadium. I must admit, watching Spirit soar prickled my spine. Their presence adds a unique touch to school  tradition and War Eagle history. When 90,000 fanatical fans pack in, the place rocks. And like the famous lunar  landing, when you go to Auburn’s game, you can  truly say the eagle has landed.


For anyone interested in learning more and viewing these birds up close, consider the ‘Football, Fans and Feathers’ show at the Raptor Center’s amphitheater on the Friday afternoons before Auburn home football games. Donations of $5.00 per person help support their educational programs.

Southeastern Raptor Center

1350 Raptor Road
Auburn University, AL 36849-5524

Barred Owl


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Wonders at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

September 13, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Hogwart's Castle in Orlando

Sometimes you look forward to visiting a place to the point that you’re disappointed when you finally arrive. Not so with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.  I entered Universal’s Islands of Adventure around 4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon which turned out to be advantageous timing. Hoards of hot, dreary guests were leaving as I walked in. I headed straight back through the theme park, past colorful Seuss Landing, to the 20-acre complex of Hogsmeade.

The snow capped Victorian village feels exactly like stepping into the pages of J.K. Rowling’s famous books.  The place is enchanting, even with throngs of tourists; you feel the author’s dreams and imagination come to life.  HoneyDukes candy shoppe is a luscious allure of sweets, the florists shop window contains screaming mandrake plants and the owl post office sends mail with Hogsmeade stamps.

I didn’t tarry in town, rather high-tailed it to Hogswarts Castle for “the ride.” Signage noted a waiting time of 75 minutes, but I entered the singles line which cut the queue to about 35 minutes. (Hint- families can save time using this approach as long as they don’t mind splitting up for the ride.) While waiting within the castle, visitors are entertained by talking portraits, holograms and the profound sorting hat.

I spoke with Amy from Pennsylvania and her two daughters Elizabeth and Karen. They were repeating their third ride of the day. They’d also visited the park the day before and plan to return for spring break. Needless of say this family of experts cherish all things Harry Potter.

Finally, I was ready to sit down and ride my broomstick on the Forbidden Journey. Off  I flew, up and down swooping to great heights and through narrow alley ways and castle towers. I followed Harry on his adventures, playing Quidditch, escaping from the Whomping Willow tree and immense spiders dangling down to my knees. A fire-spewing dragon roared hot breath at my face, I was squirted by plants, and saw eerie apparitions.  The fast moving thrill was the best amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden: a mix of Disney’s Space Mountain, Haunted House and 3-D Star Wars effects. Just lovely.

I exited and stopped for a Butterbeer– a frozen drink to cool down from the overwhelming heat. Yum- tastes like a cream soda, sweet butterscotch, with a frothy head of a Guinness.

Raising a mug of Butterbeer

I spent about 25 minutes standing outside Ollivander’s wand shop. Upon entering, the costumed shop owner selects one lucky lad to find a wand from the vast collection. The first two offerings were failures, certainly not meant for him, but the third attempt united the wizard and spell caster. Very well done.

I ate dinner at The Three Boomsticks Restaurant, choosing the combo plate of chicken, ribs, roasted potatoes and corn on the cob instead of the more English fish and chips. Far better than anticipated for theme park food.  I completed the meal with a Hogs Head brew, a Sam Adam’s like beer. Total cost of the meal and drink –$19.95. The quantity proved way more than I could eat.

I had a delightful ride on the Hippogriff, a roller coaster which passes by Hagrid’s cottage.  Perfect for youngsters or those who wish a tamer experience. When I was nearing The Dragon Challenge, lightening crackled and the outdoor attractions closed.  I meandered  through the village, stopping to shop on my way out of the park.  The young couple in front of me said they were visiting for the tenth time. The endearing place, built at the cost of $265 million, seems to put a spell on some folk.

In three and a half hours I had pretty well covered the Wizarding World but must confess I saw nothing else in Universal’s huge arena. That’s okay with me, this muggle wanted  to step into Hermione’s shoes and couldn’t have danced through a happier eve.

Evening descends on Hogsmeade

*************

I Disclose:

While I received a free ticket to Universal as a paid attendee at The Travel Bloggers Show in Orlando, the pass in no way encouraged this blog.  As was previously mentioned in an earlier post, I had planned to visit the park this fall. I do want to thank Universal for the special opportunity and will definitely return.

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