Monday, September 14, 2015

An American Family in Europe: Day 18, the Tower of London

(Previously: Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey)

When my family was first planning our trip to England, I put down the Tower of London as a "must-do." But as we got into our vacation, we became increasingly tired of crowded tourist sites. We started questioning whether we should visit the very popular Tower.

Our days in England were counting down, so we went back to square one and starting reading, again, about the amazing history of the Tower of London. It became clear: We gotta do the Tower.

So here we were, on our last full day of vacation, going to the Tower of London.

At first, things didn't go smoothly. Arriving at the railway station, we found all the trains delayed from a "pedestrian on the tracks" (we would later learn it was a suicide). What was really remarkable here was that they apologized some 10 or 11 times for "late-running." (In Los Angeles, where I ride the trains, you might get one apology. At most.)

Once we finally arrived at the Tower Hill tube station, we got a glimpse of the Tower of London and naturally decided that ... it's time for lunch.  We sat and ate some burgers at a pretty park named Trinity Garden, that also, by the way, was where more than 125 people were executed in centuries past, including Sir Thomas More. We weren't even in the Tower and history was coming to meet us.

Thanks to a tip from travel writer Rick Steves, we stopped and bought our tickets at the Traders Gate store on Tower Hill -- there was no wait in line, and we saved 5 pounds. Thanks Rick!

The Tower of London is not so much a tower as it is a castle. We crossed the moat, entered the grounds, and toured some of the walls and towers.  We then doubled back to the entrance to take one of the famous tours by Beefeater guides.

Our Beefeater was good, but most importantly he was LOUD. He had to be -- our group had 200 people, a ridiculous size for a tour group (they should consider offering more tours during the busiest times for the year.)

He told us of the beheadings that happened here and the murders of the little princes in the fifteenth century, and noted the many people who are buried in the walls and floor of  the church that lies inside the Tower of London. Yep, there seems to be quite a focus on death here.

After a snack break, we toured "Bloody Tower" -- there we go again -- and then got in line to see the Crown Jewels, which are housed here. The line seemed long, but moved pretty quick and in about 35 minutes we were inside looking at jewels, sceptors and a variety of other shiny objects.

Just outside the Crown Jewels exhibit, we saw something else extraordinary -- a drinking fountain, one only a few we'd seen on this whole trip.
The "Walkie-Talkie"

We left the Tower of London and walked several blocks to a more modern tower -- the skyscraper known officially as 20 Fenchurch, but more commonly as the
"Walkie Talkie" for its distinctive shape.

We had reservations to visit the Sky Gardens, an attraction at the top of 20 Fenchurch that offers, we'd heard, a great view of London. I can't confirm that because somehow they way overbooked the place and when we arrived there was over an hour wait to get inside, even with a reservation. We bailed and headed home.

Next: Day 19, heading home

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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