Daylight comes early in London. I awoke circa 3:20am and it was light out already. I coaxed myself to sleep for another hour but then I got up. I’m rooming with the sisters so I decided to sneak out and hit the gym. During my vacation, I’m trying to get in 20 minutes of sweaty cardio and sun salutations daily at least 5 times a week. Josh, my personal trainer, says daily but I’m trying not to be obsessive about it…especially because my time isn’t my own on a bus tour.
Speaking of bus tours, we left at 8am to see the city. London is split into two towns, Westminster and London. Today’s destinations were St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and London Tower.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is this amazing church that survived all the bombings during the World Wars. They are even celebrating the 100 year jubilation of the WWI with two oversized crosses made out of wreckage and painted white. I recognized the inside of Cathedral from Charles and Diana’s wedding. As our guide says, ‘lovely wedding’ but a ‘rocky marriage.‘ The Cathedral also doubles as a cemetery. Many people are buried in the crypt below spanning centuries: The Duke of Wellington to a 26 year old Captain from WWII.
Following the church tour, we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. The Queen wasn’t in town but hordes of people were hanging out in her front yard and lining the streets to see the shift change at 11:30am. Four horsed police aka bobbies stop traffic for the procession. The guards are preceded by a troupe of bagpipers. They march in unity for about a mile. It’s pretty cool. Immediately following the guard passing us, we saw Prince Charles leaving his home going in the opposite direction in his range rover with motorcycled cops and his security detail.
We spent the afternoon at London Tower. I had been past it when I was in London before but never inside it. It’s more of a campus. London Tower is the place Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other folks were imprisoned for being in opposition to the monarchy. Even Queen Elizabeth spent time in the tower during her sister Mary’s reign. Prisoners would be brought to the Tower by boat on the River Thame. The place was originally surrounded by a moat. The main castle, White Tower had its door a few stories up. The entrance was by wooden staircase. The idea being if there was a siege. The staircase would be burnt to keep the enemy out.
Bloody Tower contains the chamber upstairs where a prisoner was housed. A narrow staircase being the only way up. Below is the dungeon containing torture relics for quizzing the accused. The crowned jewels are also on display in another fortress of the Tower campus. The monarch’s crowns, swords and sabers are available for view. There are mega gold items including, a huge gold punchbowl and matching ladle. The wealthy display of goods is gawk-able. I wanted each item to have a price tag so I could see the value. I can’t possibly fathom how much money we’re talking and from centuries of royalty.
Beefeaters guard the Tower. They are dressed just like the guy on Beefeater’s Gin. To be a beefeater, you had to serve in the military for twenty years and apply. Once you are accepted, your family moves into London Tower. 300 people are currently living at London Tower. This place is rich with stories. We only stayed a couple hours and it was primarily a self-guided tour. I want to return and get the Beefeater tour. The history of the place fascinates me. One little nugget I did learn was Anne Boleyn hired her own executioner. Beheadings were often a multiple hacking experience. AB’s guy brought a sharp sword. After she made her final speech wishing KIng Henry VIII well, the guy told her to turn her head. He killed her with one swift movement. So barbaric but interesting too. There is a glass pillow dedicated to all the people who lost their life at London Tower.
Day 2 ended with a casual dinner at the hotel with the parents and the sisters. And Jenny and I had a nightcap on the 23rd floor to see the view. The bartender was from Algeria. He gave us the local scoop. London is hugely metropolitan. There are many nationalities living here. I haven’t slipped into my British accent because many of the locals aren’t speaking it. Tomorrow, we head to Stonehenge… exciting!