Monday, June 18, 2018

Towers, Tiaras and Tribulations

After trying to get to The Monument (The Monument to commemorate the Great Fire of London) and getting a bit lost - because who hasn't misplaced a 202 foot tall monument? we saw directional signs and headed toward the Tower of London.

I was sad to have missed the Monument, and more, felt a bit naked without my tiara. But perhaps there would be a tiara for sale, er, on offer, at one of the Tower gift shops...?

History was just about reaching out and clubbing us over the heads.  All Hallows wasn't open when we passed it, but I figured, maybe we'd get a peek inside on the way back.

In the USA, our oldest buildings date back to the 1600's, not the 600's.

Another view of All Hallows Church. London is full of historical building cheek by jowl with modern ones.


And there it was, the Tower, right there being all ancient and shit.



First, a potty stop at the public restrooms before entering.

Only, that loo required MONEY. We hadn't yet picked up any British money, having used our passes for the trains and buses to travel to our Airbnb, and a credit card at the pub on our first night.

Luckily, I'd spotted an ATM after we passed All Hallows. Pounds secured.

Only, the loos required COINS, not bills. Eventually, change was obtained, and the business was completed. (Pay toilets usually cost anywhere from 10p to 10p.)



Confession time: I had seen many photos of the White Tower, one of the oldest buildings in the Tower complex. I thought that "White Tower" was singular, that one of the Towers was THE White Tower, and the other three towers that were part of the building were, I don't know, towers-in-waiting or something. I didn't realize that the whole building was "The White Tower."

Saw this on the way in,  on the Western side, but my map and book offer no clues. Little help?

You gotta love merry olde England. The extravagant and eye-catching clothes, the big wild hair...



Okay, that was the 1980's. Let's go back even further...

Waterloo Barracks, where the Crown Jewels are on display.

Waterloo Barracks, Beefeater Guards
So, Plan A had been that I was going to bring my tiara - the one that won the poll - for a match-up with the Crown Jewels. And then in the flurry of catching my Lyft I left it behind.

Also, we discovered that there was absolutely no photography allowed inside the building. So even if I'd been wearing my tiara, there would've been no opportunity for a matchup.

The tiara I MEANT to bring, vs. St. Edward's Crown of 1661
Okay, Elizabeth's crown has more bling to it.
Everything was old, or seemed old.

Even the posts reek of history
Exit side of the White Tower. Yes, it was under construction/reconstruction. This was to become a
familiar sight in London, wraps like these to contain dust from projects.

Luckily there were some modern conveniences within the Tower buildings, like benches.

This was hugely important because my gimpy feet (Morton's neuroma + plantar fasciitis) were killing me, and I needed to sit, frequently. (There were also free toilets once inside the complex, if also longish lines for them.)

Inside the Tower.

So knights are supposed to slay dragons... But this one was pretty cute. If you zoom in, you can see that he is entirely made up of weapons and armor, and he's perched on what I sincerely hope are fake barrels of gunpowder.




View of Tower Bridge and the Thames from inside the Tower.

Of course, I had to visit the (approximate) spot where Anne Boleyn, and two other queens (Jane Grey, the Nine-Day Queen, and Katherine Howard) were beheaded, along with other members of the nobility, and some other people. Not all at the same time.
Execution site memorial
Yes, that's a glass faux pillow
Historically, wooden execution blocks were not furnished with pillows
The poem on the base:

Gentle visitor pause awhile
where you stand death cut away the light of many days
here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life
may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage
under these restless skies

The whole idea of death by beheading both fascinates me and creeps me out. Like, some theories say you can still think for a few seconds, after they separate your head from your body. How do you greet your death with equanimity, being alive one moment, and knowing you will be dead in another? They say Katherine Howard asked for a block in her chamber, so she could practice putting her head on it. Anne Boleyn made a joke in black humor, "I have heard the executioner is very good. And I have a little neck."

We all meet death, but few of us have to meet death via execution, these days.


There were several exhibits of torture instruments and stories that are not for the squeamish.


Then there's the two Princes, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, who went into the Tower in 1483, following the death of their father, Edward IV, at the direction of their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester. Richard would subsequently claim the throne, claiming that Edward's marriage to the boys' mother was invalid, and the boys (then about twelve and nine years old) were illegitimate.

After the coronation of Richard III, the boys disappeared. Some stories say they were murdered by a henchman of Richard's and temporarily buried under a staircase - perhaps THIS staircase, below, where the bodies of two children were found. Other stories suggest one or both boys might have been moved elsewhere for safekeeping, and then... murdered? Grew up elsewhere? Several men claiming to be one of the Princes turned up during the reign of Henry VII. We may never know for sure...

We don't know if the bones discovered here were of Edward and Richard.
We do know that so many of the staircases in these old castles were super narrow and winding like this one.

A peek at the inside of "Traitors Gate," where many of the Tower's prisoners, including Anne Boleyn, were brought inside via boat. [Insert spooky narrator voice: Never to leave alive, bwahahaha!]

Traitors' Gate entrance, from the inside.
Even now, it is chilling and creepy AF.

So, our plan was to leave the Tower and head up to The Natural Kitchen to meet my friend Taron. Only about a 15 minute walk.

But, I had been unable to contact her to confirm after leaving the flat. The WiFi I had counted on finding at the Tower, wasn't there.

And then our road was entirely blocked. I thought the word passed from the crowd (I took this photo on my tippytoes) was that the soldiers were there to shoot swans for the sovereign. Poor swans!

We did get word (it was now 12:45) that the road would be closed until 1:30. This was not going to work for a 1:00 lunch rendez-vous; we'd be almost an hour late.


I later found that they were there not to shoot swans, but to fire a 62 gun salute, in honor of the Queen's birthday, at 1:00 pm. Three volleys of 21 guns, I believe.

So we began limping walking around the Tower complex, the long way. Taking breaks. Skirting the fences and roadblocks materials that were being put up for the London marathon, which was the next day. Listening to them firing off the guns, and seeing the smoke rise in the air. Me fretting that we were keeping my blogger friend, Taron, waiting.

But eventually we arrived, only about 15 minutes late, had a delicious lunch (my leftovers became my dinner that evening) and enjoyed a great visit with my longtime friend.

The gift shop at the place that hosts the Crown Jewels did not have any facsimiles or tiaras on offer, but they did have this sparkly T-shirt, and the great little book I picked up. I haven't yet gone out wearing my tiara and T-shirt, but I will.


There are more Tower stories, other photos, and yes, ravens were present (mind you don't sit in the raven scat) and squawking, but I don't want to turn this post into a book.

Have you been to the Tower of London?

What tips or tricks can you share for a visit like this?