La La London! Day 2
I'm back! This time I've got Kitchen Nightmares on in the background and I am ready to write!
Day 2 was a Friday, with perfect weather once again. We started our mornings with some coffee from a hole-in-the-wall cafe next to the hotel, before taking off for the Tower of London. It was so easy to get there and we hopped the tube and merrily made our way. There was plenty of signage and once you exited from below, and you couldn't miss the towers.
The Tower of London was Nick's one MUST DO activity. I found it quite easy to purchase tickets online. Because we are both students, I purchased tickets at the 'concession' price of £17.70 online. If you buy tickets online, the price is discounted and you just print them at home! The regular price of tix online is £22.70. It's definitely a bit expensive, but well worth it!
Before you go into the tower entrance, it's worth strolling down to the docks for a look at the right. You can see Tower Bridge and boy, was it lovely to look at in the sunshine! Poor Nick, he's always my model for photos.
As you make your way into the Tower, they check your bags, but it was quick to get inside and we hopped right into the start of a tour. In the entrance, you will immediately see large gate on the right. This gate is known as "Traitors Gate". Now the history bits are not my strong suit, but apparently this gate used to be a water gate in which prisoners would enter the tower. This was during the years of the Tudors.
Within the Tower grounds, free tours are available to everyone by the Beefeaters. These guides are ceremonial guards of the tower and very informed about the history of the tower. Our guide was so funny and very personable! I am usually one to just wander around without a tour, but I actually enjoyed this one a lot. It wasn't too long, and highlighted many things you could explore some more on your own. These tours start every thirty minutes, right in the entrance. You can't miss it!
Most of the tour takes place in the main courtyard of grounds. Every part of the grounds is beautiful and unique. On one side you've got the towers while on the other you have some typical Tudor style buildings. There are nooks and crannies that catch the corner of your eye, especially when cloaked in shadows early in the morning. I love the funky trees throughout because they were so barren, yet large and looming.
Just walking around, you really get a sense of the grandeur nature. The grounds are big and there is so much history embedded in the walls. Literally. Not only did people live here, but they were also imprisoned here which is so interesting to me! Nick loves history and I couldn't help but chuckle at his silence and sharp brow as we listened to the tour guide, totally lost in thought. This place certainly gave him plenty to think about!
My favourite part of the free Beefeater tour (still chuckling about 'Beefeater') was when we were granted entrance into the chapel. The formal name of this place is The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. This chapel is fascinating because several very interesting people/prisoners are buried there. The Beefeater talked a lot about Anne Boleyn, who was the second wife of King Henry VIII, one of the most notorious English monarchs. Anne Bolelyn was executed (beheaded) as part of the drama with Henry and his many wives. Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey were also wives of Henry and they are buried in the chapel as well. What a complex, kind of gross, guy Henry VIII was!
The chapel is small, but beautiful. Some of you probably know that I have a love and absolute fascination for church interiors despite being a fierce atheist. The walls of this chapel hold so much within them and is full of small details. You only get about twenty minutes in the chapel, in order to accommodate the free tour groups. I could have spent another twenty minutes to be honest. It was honestly a bit dreamy of an atmosphere, with the natural light shining through, and quiet air. Perhaps I was just swept up in a "recently engaged" aura. CHEESY.
The tour ended with the chapel and immediately Nick was ready to run to one of the prisoners towers. It was so neat and gave me a chill down my spine. When you walk in, you are greeted with a tall stand that talks about famous people who were once housed in the Beauchamp Tower. You then make your way some dizzying stairs to be greeted with several writings on the wall. It's obvious the carvings were centuries old and very important. You could get really close and try to decipher the fading graffiti on the walls. This tower was used to house the more important prisoners such as Edmund and Arthur Poole.
My favourite part about going into the Beauchamp Tower was the school group up top! Because it was Friday, the premises were flooding with school groups but I loved it. Kids are so funny and to see their joy at learning all this history was awesome. If you would rather not be surrounded by school groups of very excited children, you might want to visit the Tower of London on a weekend.
After exploring this tower, we went straight for the crown jewels. The crown jewels can be seen with your regular ticket, so you do not have to pay anything extra to get in. They are well worth checking out. You cannot take photos inside, which seems reasonable to me considering what they are housing in there! When you walk into this exhibit, it is very immersive. The lighting is dark, and everything sparkles in the cases. With each astounding treasure you get a history of what the jewels are used for. You even get an opportunity to watch the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II.
There are a lot of jewels within. It's interesting...going into the exhibit I was excited to see the riches. But then, after making it through the whole thing I felt sick. It was so extravagant and I couldn't help but think about all of the means in which those treasures were acquired, some of which were probably not so nice. However, I'm glad I went in and appreciated the surprise perspective thrown on me throughout. The size of the African diamond alone absolutely blew my mind... More about the jewels can be found here.
After the crown jewels, you can explore the medieval palace. Inside these three parts of the grounds you can view the displays of the Line of Kings and all of the armoury. You weave in and out looking at all the old battle gear and ceremonial armour. It's a lot. The display horses are massive very cool to explore. There are also a lot of swords, a cool Japanese gift to the monarchy, and another very private chapel.
There is also a whole floor that is very interactive. You can see a white model of the tower grounds that shows you all the important areas for battle and defenses. Young ones can run around and press all the buttons, pretend to fire arrows at knights and explore a replica cannon. There is also a bizarre looking dragon sculpture and some heads hanging out. I had a brief moment of Game of Thrones throwbacks running though my head. I was also really impressed with the swords! They are so much bigger than I thought in real life. They certainly looked deadly.
After exploring all the top floors of the medieval tower, you have the opportunity to make your way to the basement. In this part of the building is where more prisoners were kept back in the old days and you can look at load of guns and more weapons and stuff. The walls down there are unbelievably thick and you really get a sense of the impenetrability of the whole place.
By this time, we had been at the Tower of London for THREE hours, and we probably still missed some stuff! If you're really into the monarchy, history, and architecture, I highly recommend that you give yourself enough time to wander through here. It was absolutely amazing. My takeaway thoughts are that this place was dope, it was worth the cost, but I wouldn't feel the need to come back again. Nick also kindly pointed out that all the exhibits were very "we never tortured anyone" but I expected that from him!
Right across from the tower is a Wagamama, which is my FAVOURITE chain for some pad thai. It's always delicious, reliable and with great service. One thing I noticed while we were in London is that the service in cafes and restaurants was amazing. I ordered pork dumplings and veggie pad thai. Nick ordered the famous chicken korma. It was a perfect lunch as we had a great view, it was affordable (we are broke as heck, after all) and we didn't have to look very far for a meal that hit the spot. If you need something quick, casual and yummy, perhaps wander over to the Wagamama next door. I should have taken a picture! I never take pictures of food when I should!
After lunch, I really wanted to go to the Tate Modern and get a walk in considering how lovely the weather was. We routed out a 30 minute walk that would let us sight see and get to the museum too. Nick decided we should cross over the Tower Bridge and I was so delighted that we did! It was cool. I have a hard time finding the words to describe how photogenic this city is.
After we crossed the bridge we continued to wander. I didn't need to check my Google maps very often because London quickly becomes easy to navigate. It's similar to Dublin in that having a river running through it somehow makes it a lot easier to remember where you are, and find your way.
On our way to the Tate Modern, we stumbled upon the Borough Market and holy crap did we wish we had a lighter lunch. I suddenly felt like I was in a different world. I was surrounded in an instant by so many smells and sounds of a great food market. There was something for everyone and the market itself was gorgeous.
Again, this city is a photographer's dream. My amateur efforts do not do London justice. The borough market would be a great spot for a casual first date in the city. It's on the Southbank of the River Thames and there is plenty to do nearby.
We also found Shakespeare's Globe! I don't really know much about Shakespeare as I always had the high school English teachers who chose to abandon the standard curriculum and go rogue. Apparently, shows still go on at the Globe and there is an exhibition dedicated to the man himself.
From the Southbank, you can also see that bridge that Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters ruined in the 7th Harry Potter Movie which I appreciated when we reached it.
The Southbank area itself is gorgeous. There was some great street art, gorgeous, nonsensical alleys, and oodles of adorable kids running around. One thing I really like about London is that at no single point did I feel uncomfortably crowded when out in public. This is a stark difference in comparison to Dublin's Grafton Street where you just might be suffocated by a pack of tourists looking at some bro on a really tall unicycle juggling his life away. It was a pleasant change and really stuck with me when I left.
After our perfect walk over the river and down the bank, we finally made it to the Tate. This is a well known modern museum and it's located in what looks like an old industrial building of some sort. To put it simply, it looks modern. It is free to visit, however they suggest a donation. Like the National Gallery, if you're here for only a few days I would recommend having a few works of art in your head that you really want to see and hunt them down. You'll feel satisfied after the end of the weekend and get a feel for what rooms you want to explore next time. One thing I find when travelling is that I often go into a gallery and then nearly shit myself at the collection, having not realised that some of the most incredible pieces are housed inside. Then I wonder, what else have I missed?!
For my first visit, I was most keen to see the big Rothko paintings within and boy did I leave satisfied. Being surrounded by these vast and daunting works of art in the dimly lit room had me overwhelmed with some sort of vibe. I probably stared at them for a good hour. I also loved the Monet and Pollock pieces.
One of the best things about the Tate is the tenth floor. It's free to go up and the view of the city is incredible, especially since it doesn't cost you anything that you cannot afford. A friend of mine recommend we do this instead of the London Eye and I am SO GLAD we did. She was completely right. I pathetically tried to take a boatload of selfies with Nick and failed big time.
Isn't the view incredible? It was worth every second in the very packed elevator.
After we gathered in the views, we crossed the bridge in Harry Potter and made our way to Blackfriars Station so we could hop back to the hotel before going out on the town. Overall, I was really impressed with everything we did on this day, even though we only technically went two places!
My takeaways from Day 2 are that this city is awesome, beautiful and easy. The diverse food options are appreciated, and it's nice to have a bit more space when exploring. Later that night, we partied in Soho and I chipped my tooth but the barman was really nice when he booted us out, LOL. I have no regrets about anything on Day 2. Day 3 perhaps...
Some things I would want to do next time:
- Visit the Old Operating Theatre Museum...I love the gory and gross old surgeons stuff and it was in the neighbourhood. However, there's always next time!
- Visit the Tate Modern once more!
Stay tuned for my next post on Days 3 and 4!