I’m convinced God invented the iPhone sleep timer just for this stay in the hostel. My sleep playlist has certainly come in handy; I managed to sleep through the snoring, through the warmth, through the people coming into the room at late hours — and through my alarm. Oops-a-daisy.
Clare tapped me to wake up at 8:30 a.m., which sucked for her because she wanted to run earlier but meant that I finally got a good night’s sleep. A whole eight hours! Praise the Lord! Bite me, jet lag. We ate breakfast and got caught up on the world’s affairs (Seriously, Suarez? Go, Crosby! Oh, Lebron.). Then we got ready for the day — Clare thinks I take too long; she’s probably right, but don’t tell her that.
Our first stop was the Tower of London, which I thought I remembered pretty well from our 2005 visit. I had certain things down pat, but I totally spaced on other things. I remembered the basics — Traitor’s Gate, the Crown Jewels, the disappearance (aka murder) of the two little boys — but I totally screwed up the layout and what the Tower actually looked like.
It’s pretty darn impressive!
I don’t know if I forgot or just never knew how many precautions were taken when the Tower was built to ensure it couldn’t be breached. And it wasn’t! However, parts of it were destroyed by the German blitz attack in World War II. Guess the builders weren’t predicting that kind of attack.
It’s pretty crazy to think about the history of this amazing place. It’s seeped in it. I’ve always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn, even though she was largely disliked by the Brits at the time, so seeing where she spent her final days and actually being old enough to understand and process everything was pretty cool. It really makes me want to watch The Tudors from start to finish.
While I knew about the Princes of the Tower and Queen Elizabeth I’s imprisonment, I had forgotten about the other royal beheadings that took place there (Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Boleyn), as well as the fact that Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned and died there. It’s amazing to think about all the important people in Britain’s history that have wandered around the Tower. I can only imagine the spectres that must walk around at night.
Even crazier were the Crown Jewels. Holy guacamole, Batman! I’m pretty sure there are diamonds in there that are as big as my head. I’d totally try to steal something if it wasn’t for that pesky task of having to break in to a secure fortress that was built to keep out armies… (If anyone is reading this from Scotland Yard, I’m totally kidding. Mostly.)
It was also crazy to learn that the yeoman who give the tours and perform other duties at the Tower are required to live there. The gates of the Tower get locked at 12 a.m., and the yeomen aren’t allowed to leave. Interestingly enough, part of the requirement of being a yeoman is having served in some branch of the British Army. Ours was a part of the Royal Marines.
We left the tower around 2:30 p.m. and walked across the London Bridge, where I kept humming “London Bridge is falling down,” to Clare’s annoyance.
Next, we decided to head over to Borough Market, which is kind of like a farmer’s market but with more meats and meals for sale and fewer fruits and veggies. It was adorable and a fun piece of the city. Clare and I decided to order a pie and mash from a food truck kind of thing, and it was delicious. Who says the Brits don’t have good food?
We then made our way to the National Gallery, where I got to satisfy my inner Art History nerd. I got to put on my best museum guide voice and pretend like I knew what I was talking about — even if Clare didn’t want to listen.
After studying Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait,” it was awe-inspiring to see it in person. Fun facts: the mirror in the back is believed to show van Eyck himself and the the dog represents fidelity and loyalty.
It was such an incredible experience to spend time among the works of Monet, Degas, Titian, Raphael, Manet, Van Gogh, da Vinci, Turner, Vermeer, Rubens and Michelangelo, among others. I could have spent hours just wandering around. And I probably would have, if I hadn’t somehow messed up my knee.
For the past few months, stairs have bothered my knee, and, at the Tower, as I was walking down some stairs, something just felt really, really off and uncomfortable. So, at the National Gallery, I had to stop and sit on benches to look at the artwork when things got too bad.
Fingers crossed that the knee thing isn’t anything serious. It’d be a bit challenging trying to hobble around Europe.
My knee was also the reason I had a mini panic attack when Clare and I got separated. We miscommunicated, and she thought my knee was bothering me to the point that I wanted to leave. She walked ahead of me and thought I was behind her. Without realizing she was leaving, I stopped to look at a painting, looked up — and she was gone.
It wasn’t all bad, though! Looking for her, I managed to find a wing that I had previously missed, and it was filled with Monet’s works, including one of his waterlilies.
Once we found (and blamed) each other, we stepped outside and marveled at some street performers who had set up shop. They were suspended over the ground, looking as if they were floating on air. I think I’m just going to join up their troupe and stay in London for a bit. Who needs a college degree when I can hang outside the National Gallery and float for a living?
Dinner was a pretty simple affair (after Clare and I finally picked a place), and Clare got herself the fish and chips she so wanted. Surprise, surprise, I ordered a burger. And a beer. It’s nice, this whole don’t-have-to-be-21-to-drink thing. The bartender recommended the Old Speckled Hen, and I liked it! Going back to the U.S. as a mere 20-year-old is going to be so hard.
Tomorrow is our last day in London, and we have a lot we want to do! We’re planning to hit up the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but, right now, that kind of depends on how my knee holds up.
Plus, we’re trying to find a spot for High Tea (thanks to our Mom, Clare and I both are addicted to tea and have never even actually tried coffee). Oh, and there’s this little thing called a FOOTBALL GAME (see, I’m learning!) between the U.S. and Germany, so we’ll certainly make sure we find a good place to watch.
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
Maybe we’ll watch it at the hostel with that gigantic German crowd of students. Or, maybe not…
Looking forward to tomorrow and a great final day in my favorite European city thus far!
More photos from today: