It was our last week in London and we still hadn’t seen two of the city’s iconic sites so we hooked up with City Wonders for a guided tour of the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Here’s the thing; I’m usually loathe to hire a guide but lately we’ve been feeling as though we’re missing out and, when we have had a guide, our experiences have been much richer for it.

Marc, our guide for this tour, was a Blue Badge Guide which means that he had to earn that flashy blue I’m-a-tour-guide button hanging around his neck. In fact, it turns out that he had to study for two years in order to get his certification and thus the great honour of having people like us follow him around asking the same questions over and over and over and over and over again.

Works great for us though because:

  1. We didn’t have to do the studying.
  2. We didn’t have to do any research before visiting these historic landmarks.
  3. We could trust the answers he gave to our inane questions – he didn’t have to make up the answers because he actually knows the answers!

Our day started early as we had the chance to witness the Key Ceremony where the Yeoman Warders and Palace Guards officially unlock the gates to the fortress. It is, of course, now a ceremonial ritual – I mean, they don’t actually rely only on that gate to keep those Crown Jewels safe, right?

Once the Tower was officially open we could enter deeper into the grounds. Historically the site was a palace; a stronghold of power and economy before becoming a prison, and the site of several executions,  later on in its evolution. Of course I kind of knew all of this but Marc brought it all to life as he spewed dates and names and stories to catch us up on all our lagging high school history lessons. A welcome refresher indeed.

Besides being the home to many a history lesson and ghost story, the Tower also houses the Crown Jewels. It was an impressive display of artifacts and royal regalia that has been used for centuries and is still used by the monarchy today. Seeing the pieces (no photographs allowed) and reading their stories brings to life those television images of the Queen carrying the sceptre or of the newest Prince George being baptized.
After getting our fill of gruesome history, a look at armour throughout the ages, and visiting the on-site ravens (who, legend says, must remain or the Crown will fall), we walked along the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Now, we’ve seen our share of churches this summer so St. Paul’s Cathedral is not one we probably would have visited were it not part of the tour. Having Marc explain the history, the architecture, and the main players did make a difference though; he described its building, pointed out where the decorations deviate from the original vision, and took us back to World War I when the Cathedral was one of the only buildings remaining in London as its residents kept it safe during the Blitz.

My favorite part, though, was climbing to the top of the dome. The views of London were outstanding and worth the somewhat strenuous climb to get there.

olympus-digital-camera-652We were lucky to be able to stay in London so long and to see so much. It’s a city that I really enjoy and could see spending a ton more time exploring all the neighborhoods (and all the neighborhood pubs!) but, OMG IS IT EXPENSIVE!! Really expensive. Like make me sick to my stomach expensive. We may return one day but we’ll have to be dragging a bag-o-money when we do.
Until then we’re off to a warmer, and more affordable, corner of the world.