I only have about 5 months left here down South before moving on to pastures new, so I am eagerly using each and every opportunity to see as much of London as I possibly can. My dear friend E. – a converted Londonphile – and I stayed in Travelodge Bank (great location but very noisy!) from Thursday night until Halloween Monday. As usual, I was in charge of the itinerary and the first BIG attraction we visited was the famous Tower of London.
On our way to The Tower we spontaneously decided to climb over 300 steps of the Monument. I was a bit short of breath – I had a very mild Covid ‘cold’ recently – but I was glad we did it because the views were superb even on a cloudy, moody morning.
We always stop at St Dunstan’s ruined church – it’s a tradition – and this time was no different. There were people there dressed as Starks and Targaryens from GoT/House of the Dragon as well as a handsome couple being photographed in their wedding gear. I stayed out of their way…This is such an atmospheric place and it’s very, very popular among the Instagram crowd. It gets locked up at night, so no chance for a spooky visit after dark, sadly…
I was sooo excited to see the Tower of London! It turned out to be very busy. I feel that too many tickets are sold/booked per day. Also, no one seemed to pay any attention to our timed slot so we could have gone in much earlier! We had to wait an hour for the Yeoman tour (one was overcrowded, another one after that cancelled), but we used that time to wander around and see what was what. What seemed like a 2 hour wait to see the Crown Jewels, soon became a longest queue I’ve ever seen (and I remember Communism when people desperately queued for everything, for hours or even days) and E. refused to join it. I can’t really blame her. There was also a long-ish queue to the torture ‘rooms’, and we skipped it too. One could say we did not see the two most important bits but we took that Yeoman tour which was very entertaining and funny, we went into every other tower and chamber that was open to public, we saw the famous ravens (in cages, due to the Avian flue), and of course we went to the Chapel and the White Tower. I tried to absorb as many historic facts and stories as I could, overwhelming as it was…All in all, I loved the whole experience, and since I could not see everything on one day, I want to go again next spring, as early in the morning as possible and do the queueing myself 🙂 We were there for 3.5 hours, walking non-stop and we felt a bit knackered afterwards. Definitely a day trip, this one, and I’d bring some energy snacks as the food/drinks options are rather limited.
The views towards the Tower Bridge, The Shard and the City are pretty cool!
Below: our Yeoman who informed us that he was from the North East and English was not his first language 🙂 THE queue and the armoury inside the White Tower.
Next stop: Dickens Inn pub in St Katharine’s Docks, literally 5 min walk from the Tower Bridge. A quiet oasis, at least at 3 in the afternoon. Looks very cool outside and inside, a pint of cider was “only” £5.80, food service quick and efficient – we ordered with our phones, which seems to be more and more common these days. No need to wait forever for someone to bring the menu, take an order or bring a bill. A bit impersonal, yes, but time saving and practical.
All the calories from the pub grub had to be burned so I took E. for a stroll along Thames, towards Rotherhithe. I discovered that stretch of the Thames Path by accident, several months ago. It is associated with the Mayflower ship carrying the Pilgrims in 1620 and with dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada, who dedicated their lives to the poorest of the poor inhabiting the infamous London slums of Bermondsey in the early XXth century.
I had been to Battersea before the grand opening and wanted to take E. there, plus we fancied a bit of shopping. It turned out that the brand new and shiny shopping mall inside the magnificent brick building of the former power station has many shops that have not yet opened fully, and some other stores we weren’t interested in – expensive watches and such! My all time favourite Uniqlo is there, but to my disappointment I couldn’t find any short sleeve Heattech tops – surely they should sell them all year round, especially when the autumn weather is so mild. E. couldn’t find any colours that suited her so that was that…We really liked the very modern area nearby, impressively regenareted by a Malaysian consortium. Makes me want to go to Malaysia; as much as I love and respect ancient monuments and historic buildings, I LOVE futuristic designs, created for modern urban needs. A penthouse there can be yours for a mere 9 million pounds 🙂
I noticed this very elegant building when we last visited London together in March, and I established it was in fact Freemasons Hall. Our kind of place to visit, for sure! The entry to the Museum is free, but the Grand Temple can be visited with the tour guide only. Needless to say, we promptly booked a tour. My knowledge on freemasonry came mostly from popular books such as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail or ‘Da Vinci Code’, although they both are more focused on the Templars. The masonic community appears to me something of a rich male networking club (to be fair, there are female branches as well). The Art Deco building is immaculate, beautifully designed and really worth seeing. And they have a very nice cafe too 🙂 The current Grand Master of The United Grand Lodge of England is no other than HRH Duke of Kent, and the past members include Winston Churchill, the late Prince Philip, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Peter Sellers. Many, many prominent politicians, artists and scientist worldwide were or are freemasons. I grew up in a fiercely catholic country and I remember the Church always hated Freemasonry, accusing them of all sorts of conspiracies. All I will say is that masonic taste for interior design is way classier – I loved the navy & gold combo – and judging from their membership list, they’re just far more interesting crowd than die-hard Catholics 😉
Having popped in quickly to a massive Waterstone’s on Picadilly, I suggested heading to Downing Street. I hoped to see Larry the cat around. It so happened that there was a huge demonstration in solidarity with that woman beaten to death in Iran recently, so poor Larry probably hid somewhere out of sight. This is a part of London that is best to be avoided on Saturday afternoon: anywhere between Big Ben, Westminster Bridge and the Southbank, especially near Waterloo station and London Bridge. I wanted to take E. to the singing lift in the Southbank Centre so we patiently made our way through the crowds. The lift was fun and E. even recorded it ‘singing’ all they way to the sixth floor 🙂
Last but not least: The Highgate Cemetary. This was the only day with a bit of rain in the morning (unlike Saturday’s t-shirt weather) but it only added to the atmosphere. Both East and West parts of this cemetary are massive. We booked an hour and a half long tour with an extremely knowledgable guide, without whom I would have missed lots of fascinating details, such as Victorian symbolism e.g. veiled urns on the tombs. Not to mention the access to the catacumbs with real coffins on shelves! One of the people in our group told everyone loudly ‘this is a George Michael’s grave’ – again, I would not have noticed, it was so plain…I remember watching ‘Careless Whisper’ on TV back in mid 80s. I would never have thought that some 35 years later I would be standing next to this Artist’s grave, in an old Victorian cemetary in that big, big city called London…Or that I would see the Karl Marx tomb. “Workers of all lands, unite” – I grew up with this phrase, believe me. And then there is a critic of Vladimir Putin, Alexander Litvinenko, murdered with Putin’s poison of choice, radioactive element Polonium, back in 2006. Malcolm McLaren is buried in the East side.
Bob the Cat, from James Bowen’s books has a lovely memorial in the Islington Green. We walked from Highate across Hampstead Heath, had a lunch in a nice Asian restaurant in Hampstead, then I took E. to St John’s at Hampstead church and graveyard (yes, more graves!), and then we hopped on the Northern line with the intention of seeing said memorial. It’s just 10 min walk from the Angel tube station. I still can’t warm to Hampstead, but I felt right at home in much more approachable Islington.
E. flew back to Dublin on Monday morning. I had a plan to go to Windsor first thing, but my backpack was too heavy for me to walk the entire Long Walk and back, so I changed my mind. Once we parted ways at Bank DLR, I went to Leicester Square (my least favourite part of London for sure…), then to Waterstone’s again to check out a very interesting book, had a nice stroll around Chinatown (gone are the days of £5 buffets…I wasn’t sure about the quality of food so had no lunch), then went to Vue cinema to see “Triangle of Sadness”. European movies can be a hit and miss…This one had very clever and funny moments, but at 2h 48 min it was too long, and since it wasn’t epic cinematography, I wouldn’t say it’s worth paying for a cinema ticket to see it.
I want that book!
E. is already planning to come back in February and do some more London trekking by herself. I’ll continue to explore it at weekends for as long as I am based here. Still so much to see and discover 🙂