This morning, I started my day out right- seated in front of the telly, watching Premier League football, and enjoying a bowl of Weetabix, and some Starbucks-esque coffee. All three of those things remind me of England, so I am very much in the mood to blog about London today.
Day two of my 2013 trip to London was a slightly grey and rather windy Friday; it proved to be a chilly one as well, but the cold was nothing that couldn’t be remedied by a nice cappuccino! We started out by visiting the Tower of London, a must-see attraction for tourists to the capital. I had been to the Tower before, but that was about ten years ago, so there was much that I didn’t remember about it.
The view meeting our eyes upon exiting the Tube: the ancient Tower of London and the brand new Shard
Tower Bridge just beyond the main gate of the Tower
As we made our way into the Tower, I heard the sound of rotors and looked up to see a military helicopter! This immediately made me extremely suspicious- whenever I see anything military-related, I wonder what is going on. In this case, my suspicion was magnified because I had heard previously that Tower Bridge was scheduled to be raised at about eleven that morning. Most vessels on the Thames can pass beneath the Bridge’s central span, so it is only raised occasionally for the rare vessel that is too tall. This made me wonder what kind of vessel we might be seeing that morning- I was hoping that it would be a navy ship instead of a civilian one.
Military chopper over the Tower- I’m not sure what it was, but suspect it might be an Aerospatiale SA 330 Puma belonging to the RAF
At around 10:30, I heard yet more noise from the sky, and for the next half-hour there were a couple news helicopters circling directly above us. Of course, this made me nearly paranoid about what might be going on, and I made sure that we were stationed on the battlements in view of Tower Bridge by eleven o’clock.
News chopper visible over the spires of the White Tower
Finally, the bridge’s span began to raise up and a tugboat appeared beneath it. That was a promising sign, and after a moment a slender grey bow slid into view. I was ecstatic, as my suspicions had been confirmed! It was a navy vessel that was passing through! I watched in gleeful amazement as an elegant long ship cruised slowly through the water, accompanied by two tugboats and a Police boat. The sight was so beautiful- the ship’s sailors stood at attention along the port deck as she passed the HMS Belfast, and the crowds around us were nearly as enthralled as I was by the unique sight we were witnessing.
My first glimpse of the beautiful navy vessel
Upon watching BBC News that evening, I found out that this ship was carrying soil from World War One battlefields to London in preparation for the WWI centenary. And after returning home, a quick check on the Internet revealed that the ship is a frigate of the Belgian Navy- named the Louise-Marie, she was laid down in 1985 in the Netherlands and purchased by Belgium in 2005. As you can see from the photographs, she is not an exceptionally gigantic ship, displacing 2,800 tonnes and measuring 400 feet long, but she is very elegant and I was delighted to see her. What a serendipitous turn of events- if we had not visited the Tower that very morning, then we would not have seen this fabulous spectacle!
The Louise-Marie, on her way along the Thames
The Tower of London is full of history, being built between 1078 (for the central White Tower) and 1399. The architecture is magnificent, featuring both hefty Medieval stonework and idyllic wood-framed buildings like the one over Traitor’s Gate.
Medieval corridor in the Tower. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs
Traitor’s Gate, from inside the Tower. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs
View of inside the Tower walls, taken from the battlements
One of the most impressive areas of the Tower for me was King Edward I’s bedchamber, recreated in modern times in St. Thomas’ Tower. It was sumptuously decorated, with painted walls and a four-poster bed- truly a room fit for royalty. This was close to a beautiful chapel where, in May 1471, Henry VI was reportedly murdered as he knelt in prayer.
The regal and luxurious bedchamber of Edward I
Tower Green was another memorable site- bordered by the picturesque Beefeaters’ residences, it was difficult to imagine that this pretty section of lawn was the spot of numerous executions. Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and Catherine Howard were all beheaded here by the notorious Henry VIII.
Beefeaters’ residences overlooking Tower Green. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs
One of the Tower Ravens on Tower Green. According to legend, if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall. Image courtesy of Colleen Jacobs
We toured the White Tower fairly briefly, because of some very large and obnoxious crowds of students. I was, however, impressed by the displays of armour and weaponry which are housed in this Tower; I saw everything from Henry VIII’s suit of armour to modern-day firearms like the P90. I wish I could have taken some pictures of all the weapons, but unfortunately my earlier enthusiasm in documenting the Louise-Marie‘s journey had drained the batteries in my camera!
The imposing White Tower
The Tower of London really is a fascinating and memorable attraction. We sincerely enjoyed our morning there, as it was it was both exciting and informative. Two more features that I want to highlight before closing are the food and the Crown Jewels. We ate lunch at the New Armouries Café, which had an unexpectedly extensive spread. It had several self-serve counters which featured sandwiches, soups, curries, cakes, biscuits, and even a carvery- you simply choose whatever you want, and then pay for what you’ve chosen. Our lunch really was nothing short of incredible!
And the Crown Jewels were, just as they had been ten years before, stunning. Seeing such a magnificent and valuable collection of diamonds, gold, and jewels is an experience like no other. I am awed enough when I browse sites like those of Van Cleef & Arpels or Bulgari online, so seeing such a lovely, extensive, and historic collection as the Crown Jewels is really quite unbelievable. It was hard for me to take in the physical magnificence, incredible history, and monetary value of the Jewels. You don’t know how shiny and eye-catching something can be until you have seen the Crown Jewels- they glitter with an almost impossible sheen, like living stars.
The Imperial State Crown. This photo is not even a shadow of the real thing. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to CSvBibra
If you’re in London, don’t pass up a chance to visit the Tower of London! In the off-season (such as November, when we were there), it’s not very crowded at all, and you can browse most areas at your leisure. Plus, its central location affords great views of many other London landmarks, like Tower Bridge, the HMS Belfast, the Shard, the Gherkin, and London City Hall. It is a place full of history, that will definitely give you many happy memories- that’s what it’s given me!