London Log: Day 3 - Tower, Tower Bridge, Tate Modern, Southwark, Victoria and Albert, and Kensington
Tuesday, July 19
Tuesday was about three "T's" in a row: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Tate Modern!
We woke up but not quite as early this day. We took the 27 minute Tube to Tower Hill. We looked at a section of what remains of the original Roman Wall of the city of Londinium. Then we waited for All Hallows Church by the Tower to open. We saw an older gentleman coming toward us with tea in his hand and keys around his neck, and we knew he was the man to watch. He opened up the church, and we had it all to ourselves for half an hour. It was probably my favorite part of the day. What a rich history. There was a lovely little crypt museum at the bottom. William Penn was baptized and John Quincy Adams was married in this church. It has some of an original Roman floor! What I loved was some time of quiet reflection in the church before the busy day started in earnest.
After this, we went to wait in line for the Tower of London, and guess who was first in line? The Weavers! We had the sweetest little family of four from Hong Kong behind us, and they pulled out their Rick Steves: London book so I had to pull out mine, and we laughed! They got it off of Amazon, but they did not know about his show! So I enlightened them. :) The Tower opened, and we used our London Pass for the first time without a hitch. (I had read on TripAdvisor that they had to enter in your numbers, and it was a pain and did not save you time, but that is a very old post because now they just use phones and scan your code on your mobile app, simple!) We headed straight for the Crown Jewels via Jean Southworth's excellent advice, and guess who was first in line? The Weavers. Actually, there was no line and we rolled right in and were amazed. That is an amazingly impressive display of gold and jewels! The woman in the exhibit was super friendly and explained about the world's largest cut diamond that I had missed on my first go around, and she told us that we were more than welcome to go back through the exhibit. So, we did! WOW! It was better the second time. These jewels were definitely the HIGHLIGHT of the Tower of London!
After this we walked on the second half of the Tower Wall. There were many towers that had held prisoners, and that was interesting! We also learned about how they did warfare from the defensive towers.
After this, we waited out at the moat for the Beefeater Tour. He was so cute. He said that health and safety was making him take all of us out of the sun and into the church. There were far more people than the church could hold, and he was not walking us around. I am not sure what a Beefeater Tour should look like, but the church was echoing and hot, and I could barely understand what he was saying. So, we exited after fifteen minutes and went on to other things like the White Tower.
The White Tower contained many, many stairs. I am thinking it is good we did London young. I don't think it would be easy doing this as a retired person! I especially enjoyed seeing how King Henry VIII's armor got bigger and bigger as he aged! It was many floors of displays. I got a bit overwhelmed with all of the displays.
After this, we went to the Bloody Tower where there were replicas of what they did for torture. They said that torture was not as common in Britain.
We also went to the Beauchamp Tower where they housed Very Important Prisoners. The walls were covered with messages-graffiti carved into the stone by the many prisoners. Each was numbered, and I am glad Rick's book gave highlights of the ones to watch. The last enemy of the state imprisoned there was Nazi Rudolf Hess who parachuted into a field, held for four days in the Tower in 1941, and was later given a life sentence.
The most sobering spot was the scaffold site in the Tower Green. Whenever I have seen it depicted in movies, it has always looked smaller and more enclosed, but this is a wide spot where I am sure was filled with people. Just makes me said, especially for Anne Boleyn, whose only crime was not bearing a son and falling out of Henry VIII's favor.
After this, it was on to the Tower Bridge Experience. Rick doesn't really give this credit, but we loved it. The walkways have see-through glass sections, and that was so scary! The most touching part of the day was when the worker there took my hand to help we walk on top without fear! The other touching thing were the elementary school kids who walked hand in hand bravely and the one boy who just could not do it, and they did not make him do it. It was so sweet!
We thought it might be too hot to do the Bankside Walk recommended in Rick's book so we thought we would just walk along the river, but it ended up curving away from the river and into the Borough Market and Neal's Yard Dairy anyway! I saw a huge line and thought, "Oh no! 'Rick Steves effect,' but the people were all waiting in line for ice cream next store (It was 92 at that time.)! I walked in to a friendly man offering me goat cheese and cherries and a warm and wonderful smile on a hot summer day! (Have I mentioned that I love the British?) That was so fun and the only well air-conditioned place we walked into that day! We sampled all sorts of cheeses and bought some for our breakfast the next morning. English cheese is amazing, by the way! One last thing, we also saw "Nancy's Steps" near the London Bridge where Nancy sealed her fate in Oliver Twist! There is a whole Charles Dickens free audiotour online, but it was just too hot to walk farther into that end of town.
After this we made our way to the Tate Modern. This is the most visited modern art gallery in the world! They just opened a new wing. I found the layout really confusing, especially if you want to see specific pieces. We looked for the Cezanne and Matisse, but it was to no avail. We asked a worker, and he said that they were part of the collection but were not on display. He suggested the Courtauld Gallery, and we are going there on Wednesday! The good thing about the new wing is the 10th floor viewing balcony! Amazing new view of the Thames and the city. All in all, we were a bit underwhelmed. We are not big modern art kind of people, but the massive structure made of old radios was sort of cool. :)
After this, we got back on track by going to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We walked across the Millenium Pedestrian Bridge to a Tube station on the other side, but it was very hot, and we know that it has been recommended that we take at least one cab ride, and it was hot! The good news: we had a great cabbie who was the same age as George and also lived with his "Mum" while he worked in the city during the week and went home to his wife on the week-end (What is a week-end? Quoting Violet Crawley, but I digress) like George does! :) It was a delightful ride, but the bad news is that most London cabs do not have air-conditioning! Who knew?
We arrived at the Victoria and Albert and had the free Cream Tea offered with the London Pass. What a delightful room to drink tea! The whole museum architecture itself it amazing. I was not as keen on going to this one, but I liked it very much! We saw the casket of the remains of St. Thomas Becket, Da Vinci's sketchbook, The Boar and Bear Tapestry, Tippoo's Tiger, and a copy of Michelangelo's David. It is huge, but there was not= fig leaf behind it as Rick suggested. Did they take it away?
The Islamic Art room was closed for renovation though, but that is OK. My favorite part of this museum was the large, dimly lit room devoted to Raphael's Tapestry Cartoons depicting scenes from Acts (appealing to my Bible nerd tendencies). We sat on a bench and just took it all in. It was a delightful calm moment for us. As we sat there, we realized we could probably make it to Kensington Palace before they closed. I was not sure of the last admission time. So we were taking a risk, but it was not that far with most of it being through the shade of Kensington Gardens. We hoofed it, but the guard said it was closed. I said, "When is your last admission time." He said, "5:00 pm," and George chimed in that it was 4:57 pm. He said, "Do you have a London Pass?" I said, "Yes," and he let us come in. (Have I mentioned that I think English people are really nice, friendly, and very helpful?)
Then the attendant kindly told us how to use our last hour most efficiently, and it was great. They will be closing down the King's Apartments for renovation in the near future so I am glad we got in there and saw how they lived. We really liked the "Victoria Revealed" part because we have seen two movies on the life of Queen Victoria, and I kept seeing Victoria Hamilton and Emily Blunt in my mind as I walked through the rooms!
After this, we strolled over to The Orangery (Queen Anne had this built in 1704 in order to grow citrus.) and into the gardens near the buildings that are closed off to the public after closing. We made this just in time to hear that all was closing. Whew!
We walked home and stopped by Harrod's to see the Diana memorial and look at the Food Court. Amazing! There were so many rich Saudi women there too.
We walked home via 65 Eaton Place (of Upstairs, Downstairs infamy) and saw it was under renovation and had scaffolding all over it! Of well, all the residences look exactly the same so it was not hard for us to imagine visiting the Bellamys! (Or would we have been visiting Rose and Hudson downstairs?) After this, we stopped in Victoria for some healthy dinner after failing to find Italian food. I had a scrumptious Salmon Superfood Salad, and George had Moroccan meatballs.
We watched the British news (so interesting to hear their perspective of the Republican National Convention) and a competition to find a child genius in England. Fascinating.
We fell fast asleep in no time. (Could we possibly be tired after today?)
7.3 miles and inside walking! (I added 2.7 miles because of all the difference places and Tower of London was LOTS of walking on the grounds!)