Day 4: Cathedral & Castle
We’ve been in the city of London for four days, right? Well, sort of. It turns out we’ve been in “Greater London,” while the “City of London” is a particular two square-mile area in the financial district. Furthermore, it is referred to as the “square mile” thanks to the Romans, but let’s not worry about that discrepancy.
With that in mind, today’s journey brought us to the City of London (for the first time this trip) and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Designed by architect Christopher Wren, construction started in 1675 and took only 30 years to build, which is darn impressive.
The Cathedral dome has three layers – an outer dome, a hidden brick dome for structural support, and the inner dome. The fun part is visitors are allowed to walk up the 528 steps to the Dome Galleries, and take in a 360-degree view of London. Wren was also an astronomer, so the Golden Gallery (the highest) is 365 feet above the ground, representing 365 days in a year. Wren was also the first person to be buried in the crypt and is honored with an inscription on the floor of the Cathedral.
Once we made the descent back down to the cathedral floor, we joined a tour that highlighted a few key features and historical notes about the Cathedral.
Some fun facts: 1) St. Paul’s is not a Catholic Church – it’s Anglican. 2) During the Blitz, residents volunteered to help protect the church from bombings. They would hide in the upper stairs, in the dark, and if an incendiary device landed on the wood roof, they run out, grab it, and dispose of it by any means necessary. 3) In the nave, there is a 40-foot high memorial of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. It was started by artist Alfred Stevens, who promptly ran out of money, then ran out of interest, then died. Others finally completed it over 60 years – twice as long as it took to build the Cathedral itself.
After a quick walk through the crypts, we exited through the gift shop and re-emerged into the “City of London.” We grabbed a quick snack (because you’re not yourself when you’re hungry”¦ thanks, Snickers!) and proceeded through financial district to our next destination “€ The Tower of London (another World Heritage Site). The walk to the Tower of London came with a perfect vantage point of the Tower Bridge.
The Tower of London is fortress, palace, and prison all-in-one. We started with a guided tour by a Yeomen Warder named Spike. A Yeoman Warder’s full title is “Yeomen Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinar.” Yeoman Warders are known as Beefeaters, a nickname likely gained because of their higher status (and meal options) within the castle.
Still today, Yeomen Warders are also former warrant officers in the British Armed Forces with at least 22 years of service and the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. Spike regaled us with tales of fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.
As with any powerful empire, the English have a peculiar way of downplaying the long history of violence in the Tower of London. For example, ONLY seven people were beheaded on the tower grounds itself. The other 124 people were beheaded on Tower Hill, just a block north of the grounds. Totally different! Furthermore, in the BLOODY Tower, at the start of an exhibit dedicated to the torture devices used, there is a sign that reminds visitors, “torture was very rare in England” (compared to what, rainy days???).
Next up, we went to see the Crown Jewels. The line was long, which provided an opportunity for a coffee and snack from the New Armouries Cafe. We soon made it inside to see the Crown Jewels “€ which they insist are the real deal 🤔. The best part was the moving walkway to keep the crowd moving at a constant speed.
Thankfully, we escaped the Tower of London without a scratch and without purchasing any overpriced items in the gift shop. We took the tube back to Maida Vale and went to dinner at the Asian Fusion restaurant (The Banana Leaf) next door. Afterwards, we stopped by our favorite gas station/grocery store/pharmacy to stock up on supplies. This time we came armed with an official Tesco ClubCard we found on the sidewalk! Bonus!
That’s all for today. Time to relax and sleep for an early wake-up tomorrow.