June 6, 2014
London. We have arrived. I stare at the castle in front of me, which is surrounded by large green trees, a wooden drawbridge, and an encircling moat, sans alligators. I can’t help but imagine attending a renaissance faire in this space. The irony does not escape me.
We buy our tickets and enter by the inner ward, eager to start exploring. Since we arrived so late, we only have a few hours to look around. Immediately, I notice these strange trees standing tall and proud in the courtyard. They look to be of the Dr. Seuss persuasion.
We circle up the stone steps so that we can walk along the outside wall. Steve leads the way to a steep, spiral staircase that advances down into a small room lit only by sun coming in the single barred window. On closer examination, we see that there are symbols and names carved into the wall. Some of the writing is under glass. We read a plaque that states this to be the prisoners’ quarters. It’s insane to imagine inmates, stuck here for God knows how long, passing the time by carving figures into the stone cell.
We make our way into a chamber and, for the second time today, I am faced with devices of torture: manacles for securing, “the rack” for stretching, and “the scavenger’s daughter” for compressing. All of these things would definitely be towards the bottom on my “How I’d Like to Go” list. I shudder. Continuing on our self tour, we find a museum filled with handmade armor for men, women, children, and even animals. Sitting among the metal armor and chainmail are old important documents and other artifacts under glass. As we walk over the bumpy path through the tower, I stop at a window overlooking Tower Bridge and am again struck with appreciation.
Back in the courtyard, we consult the map.
“Wait a second,” Steve says, pointing to a symbol on the map. “Crown Jewels? Like the Crown Jewels?”
“Whoa,” I breathe. “How did we not know about the Tower of London?”
We make our way to a tower with a guard, in all his glory and a stone-cold look upon his face, standing in front. As I snap a picture, Steve does the classic pose with the same stoic face. As we switch roles of photographer and model, I wonder what goes through the guards’ minds as people pose in front of them all day. They are not supposed to break a smile, and I’m sure some people really, really try to put on a show.
As we enter through a large wooden door to the right of the guard, I notice a sign with an encircled slashed-through camera, like a no-smoking sign but more threatening. No picture taking of the precious Crown Jewels. Got it.
The room itself seems to be encrusted in gold. We gaze at the shimmering gems behind class. Some are set in crowns and jewelry while others lay lose on velvet pillows and satin sashes. A necklace with a diamond pendant the size of my fist sits on a mannequin. Although impressive, I can only imagine the neck pain associated with wearing such a piece.
Back in the courtyard, the sun is slowly retiring. We walk along the paved path toward Raven Courtyard. Although an American poem, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” flitters into my mind. Nevermore. It has never occurred to me, before now, how gorgeously ominous ravens are, with their blue-black feathers and hidden beady eyes. I can’t help but stare silently for a few moments, not only because I have never seen a raven this close up, but because all the walking we have done is catching up to me. It is about time to start heading back to the B&B as our next adventure requires us to rise at 5am tomorrow.
“We’re young,” he says. “We can handle the walk back. It’s only seven bridges up.” I give him my you’ve gotta be kidding me look as we make our way across the drawbridge, back into the streets of London.