My last day in London was sad for me; I felt like there wasn’t nearly enough time for me to do accomplish anywhere close to what I wanted to see. On the other hand, one of the very reasons why I planned my trip to be short in Europe’s most expensive city was because I wanted there to be something left of my bank account when I get back, so in that sense, it was probably best that I did get out with the clothes on my back. But regardless, I viewed the sights like a condemned man looking about before going to the gallows. An exaggeration of course; America isn’t that bad, but from an architectural and historical sense, it might as well still be the colonies. Great Britain is where it’s at.

My day started with an unintended long walk (I seem to have had several unintentional trips throughout these weeks) because the Underground pass they sold me at the Generator didn’t start working until “off peak” hours, which means after 9:30. I wanted to get to the Tower of London before the masses of tourists and their screaming children swamped it, though, so I decided to walk the mile and a half through the back alleys of London and along the Thames. I enjoy taking in the sights during a walk as any tourist in London might, but my legs were still killing me from last night so they certainly weren’t at their peak performance.

The Tower of London, manned by the severe-looking Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters, as they’ve been nicknamed) is almost 900 years old. The most famous components are the ancient central building, the White Tower, which was created by William the Conqueror of Normandy in the 1100’s, and the (in)famous Bloody Tower. The Bloody Tower got its name because it’s where two princes were supposedly murdered by their uncle, Richard III to prevent the elder of the child princes, Henry V, from taking over after their father’s death. Other such notable names are Anne Boleyn and Walter Raleigh the explorer. And that’s only within the tower walls; there’s a grassy knoll outside the hill where the gallows once stood. Many thousands of people were “punished” there over the centuries, often partially strangulated, drawn, quartered, and then had their heads mounted on a pike over the South Gate of the old London Bridge. William Wallace was the first to receive such preferential treatment, but many others would follow.

The Beefeaters were excellent guides, a perfect combination of militaristic sternness, barking orders at the immense tour group of over a hundred people that I was part of (that’s what happens when it was the first tour of the day and it’s free) and amusing commentary and explanations. They got their nickname for their job in medieval days of having to test the king’s food before he ate it, but I don’t think they have to do that anymore. Our particular guide was particularly gruff; I think he frightened a few of the small children on the tour. I don’t know why parents bring their small children to a place like the Tower of London, considering its morbid history. I highly doubt that most kids understood what was going on. I mean, I’ll be honest – I doubt I would have at that age either.

The problem with the tour however was that it ran a little long, and I didn’t have time to go and see the Changing of the Guard. I used this newfound extra time to continue looking at the exhibits, but I am my father’s son – meaning that I made it to the London Eye with only minutes to spare before my ride went up (meaning no offense to you, dad). Looking out across the 60 square miles of London into the distance, I could have sworn I saw the Eiffel Tower, but the guide assured us it was only a transmission tower at the edge of London. Since the wheel is right on the edge of the curve of the Thames, it provided great views both to the east river and the south. It was a little short though, and our guide talked very quickly. I’m not sure if it was quite worth the £16 but I guess it was good for a one-time experience.

After the observation wheel, I stopped by Parliament (and St. Steven’s Tower, in which the bell nicknamed “Big Ben” is housed) and chatted with some English antiwar protesters that were staked out outside. I talked with them for awhile about the UK antiwar movement, exchanged websites and emails, and continued on to Buckingham Palace. I was disappointed to see that there weren’t any of the famous cue-tip guards, only the guards that actually look like they can kill you in moments, instead of being comical. I grabbed some lunch from the Sherlock Holmes cafe (located in the Northumberland Hotel, which appears in several Holmes novels) and spent the last few hours on the south banks of the Thames, over the Tower Bridge (the one that poor idiot, Fergie, was dancing on during the music video for “London Bridge) and then back over the Millennium Bridge that the tour went past the previous day.

I figured that I had better get some sleep, what with my plane leaving at 8:30 in the morning. I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning and figured I’d reap the consequences later, but I didn’t have any problems this morning when I woke up. For that matter, the whole Tube ride was an uneventful hour-long ride that I slept through most of the way.

As the plane left the runway, and London vanished under its famous layer of fog as we sped towards the rising sun (now that’s cliché), I pressed my face against the glass and watched the cars shrink below. I know that I’ll be back soon.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
-Samuel Johnson