I woke up to an overcast sky. Normally this isn’t the kind of weather I want but today was an exception, because I was visiting the Tower of London. A vivid blue sky is incongruous with a fortress notorious for its many atrocities: executions, murders, overcharging tourists etc.
At the main gate a uniformed and rather rotund man was giving a tour. He was, of course, one of the Yeoman Warders. Historically they are guardians of the tower, but these days their role is largely ceremonial. In practice, they now act as tour guides.
These people are wickedly humorous. Some of their best jokes:
(To American tourists) If you had paid your taxes, all this wonderful history would have been yours!
This (referring to the Traitor’s Gate) was originally named the Water Gate. So, (again, to American tourists) we had one first.
Guy Fawkes… was the only man in British history to enter Parliament with a clear agenda, and the resources to see it through. You don’t see that in government these days do you? (Not funny unless you know he was there to blow up the king!)
The tour ended in a chapel where many historical figures are buried, among which is Queen Anne Boleyn. If you’ve seen the 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl, you may remember her. I’m a history buff. It’s hard to describe the sensation when you realize that a historical person whose name you’ve heard so many times is buried right there, before your eyes, six feet under that stone. It gave me goosebumps. It made my head spin.
Then I went to see the crown jewels, the “bling” things. Photography is not allowed in the jewel house so sorry no pictures. Biggest attraction was The Star of Africa, the world’s largest diamond (530.2 carats). As the Yeoman Warder thoughtfully warned, ladies should not compare it with their engagement ring.
This is the White Tower, the main structure in the Tower of London. Built in around 1080, it’s almost a thousand years old. The weather was much better now:
It is now a museum of historical armours and weapons, notably Henry VIII’s armour. It’s difficult to take this picture in auto mode because the camera always focuses on the codpiece:
This is the gravity-operated medieval toilet:
Another armour, this one with intricate engraving:
This is where medieval kings slept:
From the bed chamber the new London City Hall can be seen. I wonder if its location is specially chosen so that the new and old government headquarters face each other, separated not just by a river but also 1000 years of history.
Even though it has become a bit touristy, the Tower of London is still an unmissible attraction, but you need to have some interest and knowledge in English history to make the best of it. Spare at least two hours.