Aye, it be the White Tower, matey! (No, I have no idea why I'm suddenly talking like a Cornwall pirate. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time.)
The original tower dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, believe it or not.
We took a tour of the Tower and its environs, guided by this Yeoman Warder (former RAF = quality!) who was both very informative and very funny. Behind his hat you can just see the corner of the cages which hold the Tower ravens. We looked at them later and pondered why any one of them might be like a writing-desk, as we had seen examples of both pretty recently.
This fine fellow in a splendid bearskin hat was on guard duty. No, we did not harass him; he had an important job to do. (Besides, would you annoy anyone holding that particular loaded weapon? Didn't think so.)
I wish I could show you pictures of the Crown Jewels, but we were not allowed to photograph them (I was most astounded by the huge Cullinan diamond in the scepter -- not so much that it was a big diamond, but that it appeared flawless to the naked eye. Good heavens). Likewise the royal plate, including the Grand Punch Bowl, which we were tickled to learn could hold 144 bottles of wine, and which could easily double as the most luxurious kiddy pool in the world.
This rather mournful little monument honors all the royals and other persons of title who were privately executed inside the Tower grounds over the centuries.
It's the Hall of Horses! Actually, when it's all finished it will display examples of armor, horse armor and weaponry over the centuries. Several of the wooden horses displayed here were carved by famous artists, including Grinling Gibbons.
Tower Bridge! (No, it is not London Bridge; that one looks different.)
The infamous Traitors' Gate. Yes, it was the original Watergate.
We were somewhat amused by the name of this French bakery chain.
"What shall we call our new eatery, Henri?"
"Let us call it -- Paul."
But despite all the subliminal advertising...
...we weren't really hungry yet. So we wandered out of the Tower environs to see what else we might discover.
Behold the Gherkin. As you can see, they were workin' on the Gherkin.
Across the street was the Tower Hill Memorial in Trinity Square Garden, commemorating the lives of the merchant Navy men and fishermen forever lost at sea during the world wars. For a nation with a modest population, England lost many, many brave men who worked to keep supply lines open throughout the wars.
From here we continued on toward Westminster Abbey, taking loads of photos of Parliament and of Big Ben.
Hmm, it's twenty to 4.
A statue of Winston Churchill, looking characteristically crusty, stood in the square across from the Parliament buildings.
As usual, wherever you find government, you will find protesters.
Ah well. On to Westminster Abbey.
I don't think I'd realized just how huge this edifice was.
The archway of the main entrance.
Detail above the main entrance.
We could not take any photos inside Westminster itself, though we caught quite a few other tourists surreptitiously doing just that. (Must be nice to know the rules apply to everyone but you.) Being an English literature geek, I spent quite a bit of time around Poets' Corner. We also happened to be there at about the right time to attend Evensong, so we did.
On our way out of Westminster we caught sight of this wreath, and wondered who had left it there.
From there we crossed Westminster Bridge on foot to pick up our tickets for the London Eye. Yes, it's a glorified Ferris wheel ride, but it does give some beautiful views of the city and it also gave me a chance to sit down since at that point my feet were complaining.
We are on the London Eye...
...and my eye is on London.
Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges below.
I can see Parliament from here!
Not to mention Westminster Bridge.
Our fellow passengers on the Eye. Say hello, fellow passengers!
We went back across Westminster Bridge...
...where Big Ben was busy looking spectacular at night. (Not shown: Peter Pan's fly-by.)
Managed to find an ATM, then went to Wagamama (which at that point was very well received since we hadn't eaten anything since breakfast). Back home with happy tummies and tired bodies, and now I'm typing this, so you must be up to date!
Tomorrow: adventures in driving on the