London. From Buckingham Palace, we start walking back through Saint James Park. The sun is shining through the white puffs of clouds, a rarity for England. Long legged birds fly over the pond, letting their feet skim the surface before starting their hunt for fish. Weeping willows surround the water, dipping their fingers in. Steve and I walk at a leisurely pace, pointing out details in the beautiful scenery we have found ourselves in. This is in direct contrast to how our day started, rushing to get ready to go downtown for the changing of the guards ceremony, which ended up not being worth the rush. But now, we have all day to do as we please, and so decide to head towards The Tower of London and site-see along the way.
We find ourselves on Birdcage Street. I pause to check our London A-Z guide and find that we are not far from Westminster Abbey. Due to my studies as an English major, the bells in my memory sing this is an important church with loads of historical significance! We walk the half-mile down and find ourselves in front of an enormous castle-like building. London is a city swimming in the past amongst buoys of the present. Majestic old world buildings sit among modern skyscrapers. I lose myself in admiration for this city.
Upon closer inspection of a plaque in front, I realize that this castle is actually the church we have been seeking out. I imagine the fairytale weddings and royal functions that surely must go on in this place, although normal people attend their weekly mass here as well. Over time, they have probably let the magnitude of this castle-church escape them; but I stare in absolute awe. Why was I imagining a tiny four-poster church? This masterpiece is quite the opposite of my expectations.
We continue on our journey towards the Tower of London and come across some curiosities that I didn’t imagine finding in London. Egyptian obelisks litter the walkways every mile or so. What are ancient Egyptian artifacts doing in the middle of London? One thing I remember from my studies of Egyptian culture is that they really frown upon removing historical artifacts from their land. Of course, the museums back in Chicago, and I’m sure all over the world, acquired Egyptian artifacts, so I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked. However, in Chicago they are not planted right in the middle of the city streets. Curious.
We walk over the Westminster Bridge and north along the South Bank. The London Eye watches over us as we consult our guide and continue on our quest for the Tower of London. It is funny that we have made this our mission when neither of us has ever heard of The Tower of London, nor really understand exactly what it is. Our guidebook is pretty vague in its description, only saying it is a must-see.
We follow the Thames River past three more bridges. We have probably walked at least five miles today and it’s only early afternoon. Whenever I mention that maybe we should grab a cab, Steve says “it can’t be too much further.” I get it; everything in this city is uber-expensive, and I’m sure the cabs aren’t much different. Anyways, it is amazing to see all that London has to offer on our own personal walking tour. Our route takes us up Clink Street, a very old-English looking alleyway. I imagine Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats, Shelley, Austen, and all the great British writers perusing these streets. The past is coming alive for me, especially in this part of town.
We come upon The Clink Prison Museum.
“Only 10 pounds each. Want to check it out?” Steve asks, pointing to the red and black sign overhead.
“Sure. Looks interesting,” I say with a shrug and a smile. Our first cheesy tourist attraction in the old world.
We pay the fee and enter. The museum is filled with gory items and interesting facts. A wooden plaque explains the term the clink started in this very prison, coined from the sound of the blacksmiths hammering the shackles shut around the prisoners’ extremities. I stare, a little shell-shocked, at many devices used to torture inmates and keep them suffering throughout their stay. It’s ludicrous to compare this to our current prison system back in the states, where inmates have unalienable rights, are fed proper meals, and basically have their room and board paid for by tax-payers. Organ music follows us as we walk along the cobblestone flooring. I slip shackles around Steve’s wrists and pretend to punish him (because I’m sure he will deserve it at some point during this trip). We laugh carelessly in this morbid, haunted place. Surely, these prison-ghosts have a sense of humor. We finish our self-tour and continue on down the alleyway back towards the Thames. The Thames has become our north star; if we just follow it up, we will find our destination.
Suddenly, I realize that my legs have become jello, my lower back feels like it was on the rack for a few days, and my purse is making a red indent in my shoulder. It occurs to me that we have probably walked close to ten miles at this point. I stop and do some quick yoga stretches, lifting each leg and grabbing it from behind, and switch my bag to the other shoulder. The show must go on.
London Bridge is now to our left. It is a very unassuming structure. If we hadn’t been following our guidebook map that lays out all the historical landmarks, I wouldn’t have even known we were passing the famous subject of a creepy children’s lullaby. However, looking past London Bridge, we see another bridge with two majestic towers in the distance. Could that be the Tower of London? Have we found our mecca?
The closer we get, the more awe-inspired we become. I forget about my body pains. Our guidebook was right; this is indeed a must see. Undeniably, this is the most beautiful bridge I have ever laid eyes on. We reach the base and walk the spiral staircase up to the platform. As we walk across, we stare up at the sturdy, impressive towers. It’s hard to believe that this bridge was built almost 130 years ago.
When I manage to pull my eyes away from the elegant towers, I look across the bridge to find a humungous, sand-colored castle; a real, authentic fortress complete with multiple towers and impressive walls. I consult the guidebook and figure out that what we are standing on is Tower Bridge and what has caught my eye is the one, the only, Tower of London.
We have arrived.