One last notch for our London tourist belt – the Tower. I’m primed for it after reading Rutherfurd’s London, but also amazed by it. Today it lives in a background of skyscrapers, which only emphasize its squat, broad nature. The walls were high in the 12th century. Today, they look like Lego projects.
We anticipated crowds and chose a Monday to try for a lower attendance. I don’t think it exists. As usual during the week, crowds of schoolchildren everywhere – most of them way too young to really appreciate anything except the armored horses. Our London Pass put us right at the front of the entrance and later, my cane got us right into the crown jewels. We can’t complain about wasted time.
We arrived on the Tube – a short walk and you are within the precincts of the Tower, which sits directly on the north bank of the Thames, a bit east of St. Paul’s. As blocky and Lego-ish as the Tower, but with fanciful turrets, the Tower Bridge spans from the side of the Tower across the Thames to the wharf district. The Bridge was built in the late 1800's and is currently closed to vehicular traffic as they rebuild the roadway.
The Tower is really a fort that encloses many buildings. We head to the White Tower upon arrival – the oldest complete building in the compound. It dates from the 11th century and was the castle royal from the time of William the Conqueror. We joined a short tour of the royal apartment and chapel. What a sharp contrast to the size and magnificence of Westminster Palace, Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court. Huge collection of arms and armor. Other than that, the royal apartment is unfurnished and Spartan. The only real changes made over the centuries is the addition of high windows added under the direction of Christopher Wren.
Our nice guide led us right down to the crown jewel display and to the front of the line. You glide past these beauties on a moving walkway. There is a step behind the walkway where you can stand and stare – because these are stare-worthy--more beautiful than the jewels of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. If you watch the mini-series, The Crown, you will see all of them, plus lots of the royal every day tiaras and jewels, up close and personal.
Then we wandered around, visited the Bloody Tower, where out-of-favor folks were stashed for weeks or years. The “graffiti” prisoners carved in the walls is interesting. Overall, better than a prison cell, but likely cold, damp and dark. Only one prisoner is said to have escaped – a cardinal who treated his guards to a feast with lots of wine and stashed himself into an empty barrel to be rolled out with the trash. In the area where Anne Boleyn lost her head, there is a crystal pillow in a small enclosure – a crystal head would be more memorable.
As we left the Tower enclosure, we climbed onto Tower Bridge to walk across, 300 stairs to the pedestrian overpass. All manageable and fun to stand “over the Thames” on the glass floor with a marvelous view of London.
The wharf district on the south side has been renovated with upmarket stores, restaurants and offices. Our last day in London, so we treated ourselves to an extravagant lunch at Butler’s Wharf Chophouse. Delicious – the kidneys in Ed’s steak and kidney pie melted in your mouth. And the pie was prepared the authentic way, steamed, not baked.
We made our way leisurely back to the apartment. Norah returned later in the afternoon, festooned with shopping bags, as she paid her last homage to the London stores. Then, we packed…