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So about three weeks ago, my sister and I took the trip of a lifetime: we went to London. My love affair with London has lasted since at least age 12, so I was over the moon about being there. (We were constantly having feelings of, “Holy crap, I can’t believe we’re here!” the entire week.) I thought I’d share just a bit of what we did and saw, for the benefit of those among my readers who have never been. London is a lovely, vibrant city, and I definitely believe London is a must-see for anyone with a love for history and modern culture (and especially a mix of the two).

(There’s more under the cut, but before I get to that, here’s a video from Will and Kate’s South Pacific Adventure in which we find out that Kate’s up for anything and Will can be a bit of a dork. Your future King, people of the Commonwealth realms…)

Me at Heathrow Airport. Photo by my sister.

We arrived late Monday morning and after getting ourselves checked in with the tour company*, we took the Tube to our first stop: Her Majesty’s Palace and Fortress the Tower of London. As you know from my past posts, I adore Anne Boleyn and consider Lady Jane Grey my personal heroine; both were executed within the Tower and are buried in the Tower’s chapel – so you could probably guess (correctly) that this was going to be very special for me.

The Tower of London, seen from Tower Hill. Photo by me.

We were taken around the Tower by our Yeoman Warder tour guide, Jim, who told us many of the stories of the Tower and the people who lived and/or were imprisoned there.** Of course, most of the people who visit the Tower go because they’re interested in stories of prisoners, torture, executions (most of which took place at Tower Hill, which is now across the street), and generally bloody tales, so that’s what the tours focus on. We were also fortunate to see the Ceremony of the Word, which takes place every day at 3 PM and involves getting the after-hours password from the Governor of the Tower, march right in front of our tour group! The tour ends in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where most of the executed prisoners are buried. It might have been jet lag, or it might have been the fact that I was less than ten feet from the graves of two of the most important women in my life, but I began to cry as soon as I entered the sad little chapel.

The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains). Photo by me.

After the tour, we wandered around many of the towers (the Tower of London complex is composed of about 20 towers), climbed quite a few cramped spiral staircases, and saw all manner of medieval artifacts including Henry VIII’s suit of armor, two ceremonial swords belonging to Henry V that were taller than me by almost half, and a recreation of the medieval palace (the White Tower was a royal residence until around the early 1300s). We also saw the Jewel House, which is where the Crown Jewels are kept. We saw all sorts of gold, silver, and bejeweled items such as what is used and displayed during a coronation: St. Edward’s Crown – used at the moment of crowning – and the Imperial State Crown– seen on the Queen every year when she attends the State Opening of Parliament. According to the figure we were told at the Tower, we saw something like 20,000 diamonds and precious stones.

The Jewel House at the Tower’s Waterloo Barracks. Photo by me.

We headed back to the hotel shortly after we left the Tower; by the time we got to bed, we had been up for about 28 hours straight – anyone who has taken a long-haul flight knows that sleep is a luxury few can manage – and we were dead on our feet. Next up: a very royal Tuesday.

Me and Jim, our Yeoman Warder tour guide. Photo by my sister.

These statues were all over the Tower, and we decided to have some fun. Photo by my sister.

*We booked our trip with Contiki Tours, which got us a hotel room and travel passes for getting around the city; our tour was entirely self-directed apart from our guided day trip.
**One such story is of the Duke of Monmouth, who was gruesomely beheaded for his role in the Monmouth Rebellion, after which the story goes that he had his head sewn back onto his corpse so his portrait could be painted. (Despite the fact that the Yeoman Warders must be unbelievably well-versed in Tower history, they often tell tourists stories that are just that: stories. Then again, they’re all former military and tour guides, not historians who have oodles of time to read primary sources. If you visit, though, you should probably take their stories with a grain or two of salt.)