Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Visit to the Tower of London

Almost two years after my last post, I am finally back, and I hope to continue and be more consistent in writing about my travels in this blog. I know I still have to finish my Australia series but for the mean time, I wanted to share about the most recent places I've been to given the changes in my life. Because as of last August 2014, I have temporarily moved to the UK to pursue my MBA studies.

(Gasps!) Yes, one of my greatest dreams of going to Europe has finally come true.

So going a bit back to the topic at hand, it is currently summer here in the UK (meaning more time to explore). Since I would be meeting my highs school friend in London, I decided to combine some sightseeing as well.

Loving the medieval feel at the Tower of London
My classmates in the MBA have mentioned that going to the Tower of London is a must-do while you are here, so given the opportunity, I decided to book my ticket in advance and consequently avoided the long queues and wasted time.

By visiting the official website of the Tower of London I was able to see its opening and closing times, including the link to purchase the tickets. As a student, I was entitled to a discount and purchased the ticket for GBP16 versus the GBP21 as an adult. I also decided to purchase an audio guide since I tend to appreciate the place and the history more as opposed to just roaming around by myself. This cost an additional GBP3 with the discount already included.

I arrived at the place at around 2 PM by taking the tube and getting off  at the Tower Hill Station. This gave me three and a half hours to explore the place. Personally, I think I should have gone a bit earlier especially since I chose to also take part of the Yeoman Warder guided tours. If you are pressed for time however, I would suggest that you just take the Yeoman Warder guided tour (which is free), without the audio guide and then just select the areas of interest you wouldn't want to miss out on such as visiting the Crown Jewels.

Our Yeoman Warder Tour Guide 
The Yeoman Warder guided tour starts every 30 minutes from 10 AM, with its last tour at 3:30 PM. The tour I joined was the one at 2:30 PM and the meeting place was at the main entrance. I wasn't able to join initially since I already got my audio guide and I was not allowed to bring it outside. So I had to wait for the tour to enter the main grounds and I had to content myself with enjoying the good weather and the surroundings for the mean time. The tour was estimated to last for 45 minutes.

Soon enough, the tour entered the main grounds and I had the privilege to learn more about the history of the place. As a fan of historical novels, it was certainly a treat for me to hear about what actually happened in the place I was currently standing and looking at. The tales were not for the faint of heart but it was delivered quite well by the Yeoman Warder (a.k.a. Beefeater), with a bit of humor on the side.

There were plenty of people who stopped by to join in the tour and I would recommend that you stay close to the Beefeater to properly hear his stories.

Our first stop was at the Traitor's Gate wherein he regaled us with tales about imprisonments and executions of kings and queens from centuries past.

Traitor's Gate
 We then proceeded at the steps near the White Tower although I wasn't able to focus that much on the tales this time because I was a bit far away to properly hear and I was too distracted from soaking up the sights. For the tour, we didn't go inside the White Tower but we can choose to do so once the tour has ended.

The White Tower

The Tower Bridge
We then had another stop near the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula wherein I also took the time to take some much needed selfies (hahaha, after all, what trip isn't complete without taking one?)

Normally, the Chapel of St. Peter is not open to visitors unless you are part of the Yeoman Warder tour or it is already during the last hour of the opening hours. We were also advised not to take pictures out of respect and courtesy inside the Chapel.

I learned that three queens of England and two saints were actually buried inside the Church (wouldn't want to be left alone there!).

The tour then concluded inside the Church and I was free to explore some more. Plus, we were also given a tip to view the Crown Jewels from 4:30 PM to 4:45 PM to avoid the long queues because apparently, this is the time when all the children start heading home.

 I decided to finally make use of the audio guide and I had about five stories to choose from in which I can also play in any order.

A lady from those times

Inside the grounds, there was also an opportunity to hear about the improvements that have been made to the Tower and these were told by people in costume such as the lady on the picture above.

I also decided to go inside the White Tower wherein I was exposed to a great exhibition of the famous armours.

My knight in Shining Armour?

Feels like I'm in the Set from a medieval movie
I finished going around the White Tower at around 4:30 PM, which was just in time for me to finally visit the Crown Jewels.

For me, the main highlight of my visit to the Tower of London was viewing the Crown Jewels and it certainly did not disappoint. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside although I did see one man who attempted to take a video but was stopped by the guards. No words can express the feeling of seeing the Crown Jewels. I was just in pure awe and amazed by all the glitter and sparkle of the jewels. It was my first time to see a 500 carat diamond that just grabs your attention and makes your mind go blank.

Where the Crown Jewels can be seen

My last picture before going in
No wonder that the Queen's Guard are stationed right outside the building. I actually admire how they are able to remain still and focused, just like a living statue despite the number of tourists taking their pictures. Although don't get too close or go beyond the set border because they won't hesitate to scream "Stand back!" from hard-headed tourists (something I witnessed first-hand). When they start stomping around, that's already a first warning that you are getting too close.

I wasn't able to explore every nook and cranny of the place so I wouldn't mind going back some other time if given the chance.

I would also like to witness the Ceremony of the Keys, which is a long practiced tradition of locking up the tower. Again, no photography is allowed but I believe there are some things you just have to experience for yourself, and you tend to appreciate them even more.

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