Yesterday's walking tour started at the Tower of London, so today let's back up and talk about the tower.
This won't be the cheapest stop on your trip. But it will probably be filled with the most history. A number of places have a built in optional "donation" to their admission fees. You can ask to pay for a ticket without the donation and you shouldn't get a hard time for it.
Start your day here and try to be there when the Tower opens. Ignore the itch to explore and instead go straight to the Crown Jewels. Everything I read said that the lines get super long (we're talking hours) as the day goes along. We basically walked right in so I started to doubt these reports. But after 2 hours, the line was already outside of the building wrapping through queue lines Disney style. Check your map, but once you walk under the "moat" and under the huge iron gate, it should be your second left. Just head straight for this building.
Of course you can't take pictures of the jewels. But there are coronation crowns, scepters and more. And they are still used - that's the part that amazed me the most. To think of how many hundreds of years these articles have been used and treasured, blows my mind. It really makes American history seem like a drop in the bucket. By far the best part of the exhibit is seeing the Koh-i-nur, or mountain of light, diamond that was given to Queen Victoria by India. (Disclaimer: At this point in the post, turn your engagement ring upside down before you read further so as to prevent comparison and hurting your husband's feelings.) It weighs a measly 106 carats. It is as big as your palm. AS BIG AS YOUR PALM. Just chew on that one for an hour or minute or two.
There's plenty to explore on your own at the Tower, but make sure you join a tour with a Beefeater (included in admission). Technically they are called Yeoman Warders and are responsible for looking after the castle and protecting the jewels. But they are all "retired" army men with at last 22 years service for Her Majesty. And they have to be witty....or at least able to pull off the tour script and get a few laughs from the crowd. We didn't think our guide would break out of his formal shell....but Andy figured it was worth a try....and success!
Where's Waldo? I raced the kids for front row spots - I didn't want to miss a word. Got to get my money's worth!
Before listening to the Beefeaters tour, I thought this was just a prison The site of the classic beheadings brought on by Henry VIII. And the tower did serve as the home for the last days of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. But in it's history, it's also served as a royal palace, mint, & menagerie. Not forgetting the home of the Crown Jewels. There are a number of exhibits to visit that include all kinds of artifacts. And a TON of armor from centuries of old. The best one?
There's nothing like the visual of sending off small children into battle. It was a different time....
And let's don't forget that the Tower really is most famous for the beheadings and torturing done by the monarchy. Henry the VIII may be the most famous villain, but he was only one in a long line of offenders.
We can't forget the ravens - that tradition says their departure from the Tower is an imminent sign of the collapse of the monarchy. Good thing they keep them in cages these days. Would hate for them to get away. I'm sure there's no chance that those babies wings were clipped. No chance.
Before you leave the Tower, take in just the size of it. And the mammoth amount of famous people that walked down those stone streets. And saw their last moments there. But don't get too depressed. On your way out, stop for a great view of Tower Bridge (often confused as London Bridge), and imagine the Olympic rings on top from last summer. Because I don't know what else can cure historical depression like mental images of diving and sprinting and the sound of the NBC Olympic theme song running through your head. You're welcome for that.
Don't forget your good shoes. Or your Bandaids. These roads are killer.
Imagine the moat. With alligators. And dragons. Ok, not dragons. But really - keep your eyes peeled for sculptures of the polar bear, monkeys, and lions that kept guard. For real.
Don't you just love when the old & the new meet? Welcome to modern-day London!