Alright so now to the meatier parts of the journey and the main culprit for why it took so long to edit these photos – because it was so photogenic I couldn’t stop taking pictures at every turn: the Tower of London.
Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, it’s better known for its adapted purpose – that of a prison – for which it was used until 1952 to hold the infamous Kray twins.
The Tower is, however, so much more than that: the safe for the Crown Jewels, the home of the Royal Mint, a (slightly historically inaccurate) armoury, and the final resting place of Anne Boleyn (who is said to still haunt her chapel grave with severed head beneath her arm).
These things and many more we learned once we were taken under the wing of the resident Yeoman. We were lucky enough to arrive only five minutes before the start of his guided tour and waited in a huddle against the bitter January wind.
Even though it was still pretty early in the morning, it ended up being crammed with tourists. I made the mental note that if this is what it’s like during the off-season, I must avoid visiting tourist hotspots in the summer like the plague.
And speaking of the plague, how weird to finally be in the city where the Black Plague actually ran rampant!! …but I digress. Here are pictures I took of other tourists taking pictures, simply because I enjoy the metaphysical life.
Before long the Yeoman came along and ushered us into the walls of the Tower.
Once we were gathered round, blowing into our hands for warmth, he began explaining the long history of the Tower and his place in it; for as long as the Tower has existed, there has been a Yeoman living there.
He is no exception. His position as Yeoman has had him living in the Tower for over a decade.
“How cool is that to be living inside history?!” thought Marta-the-nerd.
For an hour he led us around the grounds, enlightening us about the various personages and customs of the Tower. He pointed out the ravens which are such a fixture of the grounds that should they all die or fly away, it would symbolize not only the fall of the English monarchy but of Britain itself. Thus their wings are all clipped.
He also brought up the supposed double murder of 12-year-old King Edward V and his 10-year-old brother Richard, which is suspected to have been done by King Richard III in the Tower itself. (A juicy historical conspiracy, although one eye-rolled upon by Ricky the history graduate, so my own belief in the truth of this is somewhat withheld).
Soon after we were brought into the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula where we had to take off our hats and were at last able to warm up. It being my first time in a European religious sanctum, I have to say I was pretty awed by all that marble.
As the Tower acted as an execution grounds for quite some time, they happened to execute some pretty famous people along the way. The Chapel became the burial site to quite a few of those whose lives were ended on the premises: besides Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Thomas Cromwell, and Thomas More are all interned beneath the elaborately laid floors.
Alas, that is where our tour with the Yeoman ended. But we still had plenty to see on our own.
The Crown Jewels were next on our hit list, although you poor folk on the internet shan’t see them through my lens as no photos were allowed to be taken. Just believe me when I say, holy diamonds.
Here’s Moriarty wearing some in place of my would-be photos.
We skipped the menagerie buildings (because of course the Crown had a menagerie of exotic animals brought to them) but were satisfied by the wire mesh sculptures of lions, elephants, polar bears, and baboons set up all over the Tower to illustrate their presence anyway.
Afterward was a much more photographically lucrative excursion to the White Tower, the central block in which an elaborate armoury has been displayed to impress visitors for centuries.
We did learn, however, that the actual armour itself is often historically inaccurate for the time periods they are claimed to have come from. Essentially this armoury was originally conceived to amaze rather than chronologically educate.
But that was fine by me, and I went along snapping pictures faster than Henry VIII sent his wives to the chopping block.
The many suits of armour eventually gave way to impressive weapons displays, including many gifts given by foreign kings, queens, emperors, and chiefs such as samurai warrior garb and a First Nations headdress.
I also happened to come across a perfectly steampunk pistol that I couldn’t help but snap a picture of for posterity.
We ended up taking so long in the White Tower that it was time to head out by the time we finished.
Our last venture, however, was in running in to see the torture chamber – sadly a lot less interesting that it sounded, as there was only three torture devices in the tiny room (gosh, where was the variety in torture those days?).
All in all though, it was a super fantastic amazing experience and I basically nerded out the whole time. One of the most wonderful things about London, as I came to learn increasingly in my weekend there, is the history.
I’d never seen anything so old before in my life that would connect me to humans 1000 years ago, yet there I was walking around in it – seeing the medieval manuscripts firsthand that I studied images and translations of in my Middle English classes. It was absolutely surreal and completely unforgettable. The best possible introduction to Europe I could have hoped for, and it just left me craving more.
And luckily more there is to come! My adventures weren’t half over yet.
Stay tuned for the Tower Bridge next…
For the all the London adventures, check out the links below!