After we returned, very tired, from our day trips to Stratford and Oxford, we had scheduled two final days in London to soak up everything the city had to offer. Thursday morning was gray and so, so cold. We hopped on the Tube to get to our first sight of the day: the Tower of London.
The Tower was founded in 1066 when the Normans invaded England. The White Tower (below) was constructed in 1078. This one building is more than 700 years older than our entire country, and it seemed that was the common theme of every place we visited!
The Tower has been used as everything from a palace to a zoo, a royal mint to a place of torture and execution. It’s sort of an eery place to visit, and the weather definitely didn’t make things any more cheerful. This is the place where Anne Boleyn was executed and the place where the crown jewels are kept. It’s sort of a mixed bag!
We took our time walking through the various exhibits, and we visited the crown jewels, which were beautiful and amazing. Most of the crown jewels were melted down during the 1650s and 60s when Oliver Cromwell and his supporters overthrew the monarchy and beheaded Charles I. That’s a huge shame, because the original crown jewels probably contained pieces dating back to Edward the Confessor in the 11th century.
The crown jewels now only date back to 1661. That’s still 115 years before America was founded. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, or I’d post them for you! There’s a lot of security in place to protect the crown jewels, but even still you’re allowed to step right up to the glass and gaze at them!
Fun Fact: During WWII, the jewels were hidden in a location that has still never been disclosed.
Our last stop before lunch was a visit with the Tower ravens.
The ravens were the thing about the Tower that stuck with me the most after my first visit here, and seeing them again was fascinating. Legend has it that if there are no ravens at the Tower, the White Tower will crumble and the kingdom will fall. To make sure that doesn’t happen, the monarchy now keeps ravens on the grounds of the Tower at all times, and they even have their own keeper. Their wings are clipped so they can’t fly, but they are allowed to roam the grounds. They’re pretty large birds, and there are signs posted warning tourists that they might bite.
After we left the tower we stopped nearby to get lunch and heard the unmistakable sound of a Southern accent from the people standing in line behind us. We struck up a conversation with them and learned that they are missionaries from America in Thailand. They were stopping in London on their way home for a furlough. What’s neat is that a team from my church here in the states had visited them in Thailand to put on a women’s retreat! Talk about a small world!
After lunch we braved the rain to visit the Tower Bridge exhibit. We climbed up to the top of the observation deck and looked out a very scary glass floor down to the Thames.
Full disclosure, we definitely rode in an elevator up to the top. Our feet hurt too much for stairs.
After that, we were determined to visit two more touristy London sights: Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, and 221b Baker Street, home of everyone’s favorite consulting detective.
First off, we visited King’s Cross, which is, without a doubt, the most beautiful train station I’ve ever seen.
If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you know that the Hogwarts Express leaves King’s Cross from Platform 9 3/4, and the HP brand has capitalized on this bit of trivia by installing a photo area and two gift shops nearby. The line for an official photo was ridiculously long, so I contented myself with a picture of the sign and a trip to the gift shop.
Next stop, Hogwarts.
Actually, next stop, Baker Street. There was also quite a crowd outside of 221b, so we paused for some photos and, yes, a visit to the gift shop.
After these last two stops we went back to the hotel for a brief rest. We had time to freshen up and eat a snack before we hopped back on the Tube and made our last stop of the night in the West End.
We saw Les Miserables, and it was phenomenal. I saw this show the last time I was in London, and even though I know it would probably be wise to branch out and see other things, it was so spectacular in 2011 that I had to see it again. The theatre was so intimate and the sets, costumes and orchestra were all wonderful. The best part was being able to sit closer to the stage and watch the actors perform. Their voices were so strong and just plain lovely. I read Les Mis the Fall after I got home from Oxford, and seeing the show combined with my newfound love of the book made it more meaningful. Of all the shows I’ve seen performed live, this one is the best–Les Mis in London is just something special.
It was hard to believe that this was our second-to-last night in London! We were wiped when we got back to the hotel, and there was still a lot on the list to see before we boarded the plane for home.