This week, one of my best friends was visiting from India. As it was her first trip to London, I wanted to make sure she made the most of it.
Yes, it meant lugging around my camera and going to the tourist hotspots that I generally try and avoid – but I didn’t mind. I was more than happy to play tourist with Aanchal and show her around this great city.
We managed to sort out a private tour of the Tower of London on Remembrance Day – it couldn’t have been more ideal with the last of the 888,246 ceramic poppies being placed here on the day.
Seb, Aanchal and I were asked to be at the Tower gates for 8.30 am but luckily for us, it was only a 5 minute walk from my flat in London Bridge! Talk about convenience eh? We walked past the sea of people and poppies to get to main gate. It’s such a powerful image and something I will never forget.
The poppies form an installation called Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red by artist Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. I have seen it grow and expand with more poppies being added every day, and it was really a breathtaking sight to see it complete with all 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for every British and Commonwealth solider who died in the First World War.
We got to the main gates just in time to see the Yeoman Warders open the gates – exciting times!
Coming from an army background myself, it was great to see old traditions being maintained and nourished. The Yeoman Warder marched down towards the main gate, ‘Queens Keys’ in hand, before opening the main gates to let the people in. We had a great view of it all!
The Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters as they are more commonly known) are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They are responsible for safeguarding the British crown jewels and looking after any prisoners in the Tower.
Sounds like a great job right? I got talking to one of the Yeoman Warders who told me that they are required to have served in the armed forces with an honourable record for at least 22 years before being considered for the job – definitely not a walk in the park. And a great uniform. I absolutely loved it!
We got a closer glimpse of the keys to the Tower of London (or ‘Queens Keys’ as they are commonly referred to). Called so because they are given by the Queen to the custodians of the Tower. Pretty cool right?
After seeing the gates being opened, we spent the rest of the morning playing tourists – the Tower of London has so much to offer. Seeing the crown jewels was the favourite part of my day. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures of all those glistening jewels but they are absolutely stunning.
“If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”
Legend has it that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress so just to be on the safer side, Charles II, insisted that the ravens of the Tower should be protected and they still are. They even keep a spare in reserve just in case!
The Tower of London has played many a role in English history – it’s been an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office and the home of the Crown Jewels. What it’s most famous for though is being a prison, with many a famous execution having taken place here (including queen Anne Boleyn). You can still see signs of its prison days – carvings by prisoners on the walls of the tower and other things that are bound to drive a chill down your spine.
After taking one last picture it was time to move on and move quickly t00 – we had to get to St. Paul’s Cathedral after all!
We walked as fast as we could towards St. Paul’s Cathedral – we wanted to make sure we made it for the two minutes of silence observed in respect for the soldiers who died fighting in the world war. I lost a friend in Afghanistan last year and was very keen to make sure I made it to St.Paul’s for 11 am to join in on the remembrance service.
Before we knew it, I could see the majestic St.Paul’s appear on the river front.
And even more importantly we made it, with less than a minute to spare!
After the service, we decided to go up St.Paul’s. I have always wanted to go up to the very top and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. At 365 feet high it is still one of the tallest buildings in London and the view is to die for. We climbed up the first set of stairs up to the whispering gallery which gives you a great view of the inside of Wren’s great architecture. It gets its name from a charming quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls audible on the opposite side. Try it, it actually works!
We decided to brave it up to the very top, the golden gallery, which at 528 steps isn’t the easiest climb. But what a view it was! It is the smallest of the galleries and runs around the highest point of the outer dome. It is so strange looking down on that magnificent dome instead of the other way around – just as beautiful though.
Aanchal was loving the view!
And why not, it’s such a great view! We did pick a great day to go up St. Paul’s – it might have been windy but the sun was out and nothing could take away from that amazing view of the London skyline.
We spent a good hour or so pointing out buildings we recognized in the London skyline before it was time to head back down. After taking a few pictures of course – it’s not every day you get such a great photo-op after all!
It was such a great way to spend Remembrance Day!
Aanchal had a great day enjoying the best of what London has to offer. Seeing the completed poppy installation at the Tower of London was an surreal experience and I was really grateful to have made it to St.Paul’s for the Remembrance Day service.