Random Observation/Comment #155: London is rich with stories that simply can’t be captured within those camera angles. The history is presented in such a hilarious way by tour guides and it adds an extra layer to the architecture and old buildings. It may be filled with many photographic opportunities, but I really suggest devoting a bit of your attention to the enthusiasm. These tours really give a nice overview and introduce the main attractions that can be explored in your personal time. It’s all outdoors walking, so be sure to dress warmly and check the weather forecasts.
As with my previous entry discussing the free Royal London Tour, I will try to give a general idea of the Old City tour main attractions with a few stories and personal opinions stuffed in between the lines.
This tour costs 10EUR normally and 8EUR for students. I thought it was a little pricy, but I personally though that the stories and pictures are worth it. The fluency of the tour guide makes me believe the tour is well rehearsed, but questions always lead the enthusiastics on tangents – these little nuggets of knowledge are what people should dig for. It’s important to ask questions, so stay curious and don’t be shy to interrupt (as long as it’s not in the middle of an exciting story). Usually, there’s always that one guy (more-so than girls) that makes random comments and really tries to stump the tour guide. As a guide for Cooper in my younger days, I find that these are the people that keep the conversation with the group stimulating. Thanks, a—hole (there’s always one).
The tour starts at 10AM by the large compass on Tower Hill train station on the District/Circle line and will last about 3 hours, ending near the Royal Courts of Justice. Starting from the compass, the tour guide will talk about the Romans and their persistency on returning to London and leaving it ruins a few hundred years ago. Next, the Tower of London is revealed as more of a castle than a tour. It’s close to 15 GBP to enter, but it was highly recommended because the tours there are accompanied by detailed descriptions and interesting stories. The Beefeaters (or the guards in this castle) are called this name from their delicious payments (I wouldn’t mind working for beef, but I would probably do more if there was a consistent supply of mashed potatoes). There will be a hilarious story about some idiots trying to break-in and steal the Crown Jewels, but the moral of this story is that King Edward is a weirdo. If you attend, you’ll see that King Edward being a weirdo is just one of those tour themes.
Walking from the Tower of London, you will see the Tower Bridge which everyone thinks is London Bridge. London Bridge is not impressive at all, but a lot of stupid Americans get it wrong and think Tower Bridge is London Bridge (like the Black Eyed Peas album cover). I’m pretty sure it would be easier if they just changed the name.
Walking along the north side of the Thames, there will be a few sewage stories about the Great Stink of London. Mental note: faucet water comes from the Thames, which used to be the main exit to the sewage system. It was not discouraged to drink the faucet water, (since Marcel, our tour guide, held a bottle of tap water that he so bravely drank throughout the tour) but I would personally not recommend it. The current filtration system that those British added as a hacky-fix sometimes overflows when it rains too much (which it usually does).
Another main attraction is the monument that commemorates the Great Fire of London, which basically destroyed London due to high winds and tightly packed buildings. It reopened around early February and you can walk up 300 steps to the top for a nice view of the city. When you come down, you will get a certificate that says you climbed it (3GBP). After 90% of the City of London was burnt down in this Great Fire, King Edward denied any sensible plans for restructuring and just rebuilt everything the way it was – thus the complicated three-way intersections and terribly confusing roads everywhere. The closely packed buildings also lead to the construction of many small pubs in narrow streets, and eventually, lost, drunken people.
Continuing, the tour passes by a pretty important bank while walking towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Apparently it runs a few stories underground and was used in the Harry Potter’s description of the Dwarven-protected gold. Reaching St. Paul’s Cathedral, the tour guide will tell you that you can attend for free for services at 5PM every day. This is better than paying, but apparently you can walk to the top and see the entire city. The government bought the air space around the cathedral so it would be illegal to build anything that blocks its beautiful view in any direction.
From the St Paul’s Cathedral, the group will follow the North side of the Thames and discuss the different bridges along its path. The famous Millennium Bridge that swayed from the synchronous lateral movement will, of course, have its own story segment. Walking west, the Blackfriars Bridge is next and then a small segment where rich lawyers live in a city within a city within a city. I think I will let the tour describe this for you. The Waterloo Bridge (a little bit further west) should be the most interesting for photographers because the view from the north end includes all of the bridges laterally and longitudinally (if that makes sense).
The last area is the Royal Courts of Justice which has the famous clock used in Harry Potter. It has wonderful architecture and is actively used for celebrity court-dates. I would recommend not talking to the celebrities because more often than not, walking out of a court house does not deem good moods. The tour ends with a very compelling story about the bombing of London in WWII. It really reflects the common-grounds in humanity that bridge gaps in poverty and class. It’s sad, yet uplifting – you’ll see.
As the tour ended at 2PM and the weather wasn’t particularly holding up well, I walked to Trafalgar square and visited the National Gallery for some artistic stimulation. I can see how some people can spend 3 or 4 hours here, but I was feeling a cold sweat from the windy walk. I wound up going back to the hostel and sleeping it off – that is, I intended to, and bumped into the Norwegian teachers. The night proceeded with some drunken adventures.
The tour was definitely worth the money and the tour guide was completely fluent and knowledgeable of the subject.
~See Lemons in a City within a City within a City