Day Two

August 9th

It was terribly hot and hard to get to sleep overnight. We ate a traditional English breakfast this morning: toast, a fried egg, sausage, a tomato, and collar bacon. We walked to Victoria Station and took the Tube to Tower Hill, where we bought London Passes to beat the queues.

The Tower of London has a long and varied history. The Tower of London was built in 1078 at the command of William the Conqueror, to defend his new capital city. It originally consisted of a single tower, the White Tower (so called because it was whitewashed during the reign of Henry III). In the Middle Ages, the tower was used as a royal residence. It has also been used as a treasury, a mint, an arsenal, and a prison. The latter function became increasingly important during the reign of Henry VIII and his successors. Because of construction, we got to walk through the moat to the Middle Tower, where we met a Yeoman Warder named Stephen. The Yeoman Warders were known as “Beefeaters,” because they were given rations of beef in the 17th century. All of the Yeoman Warders are retired British servicemen. Stephen was unique, because he served in the Navy, whereas the other Warders served in the Army. He gave us a very funny, gruesome tour of the Tower of London. We saw the Byword Tower, where historically you would have had to give a password to enter the Tower. We also saw the Bell Tower. Traitor's Gate was the secret, water entrance to the Tower of London. This is where the noble prisoners were taken, to avoid riots.

We also saw Bloody Tower, where the famous Princes in the Tower (Edward V and his brother) were held and probably murdered by their uncle, Richard III. Sir Walter Raleigh also spent thirteen years in the Tower, but he got to have his own luxurious apartment and he spent his time writing a History of the World. We saw the actual Scaffold where so many people were beheaded. We also saw the Chapel Royal, where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Katherine Howard, and the Duke of Monmouth are buried.

After the tour, we wandered around the Tower and saw the Crown Jewels. They really are gorgeous, even after all of the hype. There was a huge solid gold punch bowl that was at least three feet across, as well as the Imperial Orb, lots of maces, and even more security.

We did the Wall Walk after lunch at the Tower Cafe. We saw the “Making of the Crown Jewels” exhibit. From the walls of the Tower, we also saw the Swedish Gherkin. Its modernistic design contrasted sharply with the age of the Tower. Then we saw the Changing of the Guard: three guys in enormous cattail hats stomping ludicrously around to no apparent end whatsoever. We went to Beauchamp Tower and saw all the prisoner carvings. Some were more than four inches deep in the stone. There were people wandering around in costume, and we even saw a duel. We really liked the Medieval Palace, with its enormous chandelier. To learn more about the history of the Tower of London, click here.

We learned the Legend of the Ravens: if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the fortress and England itself will fall. In a typically pragmatic, British fashion, they have solved this problem by keeping tame ravens at the Tower with clipped wings.

After waiting so long the day before to see the Tower Bridge open to let a ship pass through, we managed to catch a glimpse of it while we were on the walls of the Tower.

We wanted to make the best use of our London Passes, so we went on a cruise on the Thames. We saw Big Ben from the water. It's actually St. Stephen's Clock. Big Ben is the name of the bell, named for Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works at the time. We also saw the London Eye, the reconstructed Globe Theater, Traitor's Gate in the Tower of London from the water, Cleopatra's Needle, and the wharf where we ate dinner on Day One.

After the Catamaran Cruise, we weren't sure what to do. We decided to walk to the London Aquarium through the Embankment Gardens. We got to Big Ben just at 4:30 and heard it chime the half hour. We crossed the river on Westminster Bridge, which was very hot in the afternoon.

The London Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe, but it didn't seem that large to us. It was, however, dark and wonderfully cool. We saw tiger sharks, rays, piranhas, lots of “boring English fish,” and these neat little cuttlefish. There was no photography permitted.

We ate at a McDonald's that evening. It was basically the same as a McDonald's in America. We also bought a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and learned that cookie dough isn't a popular flavor in England.