Contrary to popular belief, Tower bridge is not London bridge. London bridge is an ordinary-looking bridge that was built in 1973, and is walking distance from borough market. Tower bridge on the other hand is located at Tower hill tube station and is painted in white, blue and red for Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee in 1977. And because it spans across the River thames, it's extremely windy and cold during winter (there's a Starbucks on the lower south side of the Thames if you need to grab your cuppa warm joe to bear the chills).
Tower of London
I was right on time for the Yeoman Warder Tour – a hilarious hour-long tour of the Tower’s highlights – packed with stories of blood and gore and equal doses of hilarity. Learnt a ton! I dutifully stopped by the bling first. This is the kind of structure I wish every chronological museum had to aid dimwits like me. A regular channel to walk through with just one side of display without artifacts being all over the place. Anyway. The bling did not disappoint! The Cullinan diamond (the largest in the world, from Africa) sat pretty in the Monarch’s Scepter with a Cross (the others being Scepter with a Dove and the Orb with a Cross), and the Cullinan II was in the Imperial State Crown (the one used for State Ceremonies). The Koh-i-Noor sits in King Edward II’s crown, still used today as the official coronation crown. I was quite impressed with how close one could get to the actual working jewels and regalia on display. Sparkle took on a whole new meaning, much like what it meant in fairy land when I was seven and the world was still filled with wonder. I ambled along next to the Fusilier’s Museum, much of which I did not follow, except that it was a military regiment in the Tower. I then headed to the White Tower, the first Tower built in this swarming fortress, to the Royal Armories Display. Along with the military prowess dating back to Henry VIII, the architecture of the preserved Tower was dark and dreary and gave it a certain “First Tower” air. I then meandered along the Wall Walk, taking in a few small tower sights. As I strolled out of the Tower of London, I ran smack into a postcard view of the Tower Bridge. Phew. You pretty, pretty thing. I took my classic walk across the bridge and gawked up close at the architecture.
Taking the tube down to London bridge, Borough market is definitely one of the places in London that I miss greatly for it's wide range of gourmet treats and alluring carts of delicacies (missing the Banoffee pie immensely, if only R could pack it back from London). I'm no food connoisseur myself, but even if you're full from lunch, you can always score some free samples before making your purchase decision or get nuggets of trivia from the friendly store owners.
William Shakespeare is one of the most recognizable names across the globe, so it comes as no surprise that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a recreation of the playwright’s original London theatre, is one of the city’s most popular attractions. There is something so magical about standing beneath the stage of The Globe, and the fact that the theatre only dates back to 1997 doesn’t seem to matter. After meeting with the group, we were taken to the pit- the area directly below the stage that functioned as the cheap seats back in Shakespeare’s hey-day. (Although there were of course no seats, standing room only, which remains today.) This was my favorite part of the visit, as standing under such a famous stage really made the imagination run wild. The entire theatre was built without modern tools, using the same designs and materials that were used in the original buildings. There were two Globe Theatres before the current one actually. The first was built in 1599 but was destroyed by fire after an accident involving a cannon on the stage. (I’d hate to be the guy behind that one.) The second was built in 1614, but closed and destroyed by the Puritans- our guide called them ‘the boring people’. It wasn’t until an American actor by the name of Sam Wanamaker, brought his dream of re-creating The Globe Theatre to London in 1970, that the third theatre was built. He envisioned visitor’s coming to the Globe, and watching the same plays that Shakespeare put on, in the same ways. For that reason, microphones are still not used in the theatre- the incredible acoustics enable an audience to hear a pin drop, even when filled to capacity. These details are still very evident as you take in the stage, from the same type of trap-door that was used back in 1599, to the beautiful murals adorning the stage ceiling. There are lights installed for the night shows, but these do not light up the stage in any fashion- and only function to ensure that the actors and people of the audience can
The Horniman At Hays
We then headed down to The Horniman at Hay's for classic british fish'n chips and tea - perfect for the English winter. It's along Queen's walk and beside the River thames and was pretty popular so I was quite surprised that we managed to walk in and get a table for 6 almost immediately. The serving was generous but the food was not as great as expected.
St John Bakery
The pleasure doesn't come in a finer form than food: in particular, a plump, warm custard doughnut from the St John bakery in Bermondsey is a must. I'd call this patch around the Malty Street the food mecca of the new Borough Market. The tantalizing sign of pig seems promising and is worth your money. Under the bridge arches near Tower Hill - St Johns serves the best sourdough, mince pies, and, more than anything, those heavenly Eccles Cakes with caramel-burnt bottoms, a filling generous enough even by New Russians’ standard, drunk with soaked raisins – seemed to be waiting there for me. You will love the atmosphere of this warehouse like place.
Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
If you were a poor woman in 19th century London, the healthcare system was something to be avoided. Until 1846 there was no anesthetic, so you would put your hope on the speed of your surgeon if something brought you to the operating table. You can probably imagine that a surgery such as an amputation would not have been a pleasant ordeal. If you were fortunate enough not to have went into shock and died, the procedure itself would probably be enough to scar you for life. The women who were operated on in the small operating theatre on St. Thomas Street, nestled in the rooftop above an ancient church, are now long gone. Their ghosts have disappeared with renovations through time, and the memories of these women have vanished with their loved ones. The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret serves as a memoriam as much as an educational tool on pre-modern medicine. While there is no reflection into the individuals who once came to this spot looking for a miracle, you can’t help but wonder about them as you look through the surgical tools and medicines used to treat ailments during the time. The Old Operating Theatre has been on my London to-do list for some time. It was just as quirky as I had hoped with stuffed alligators, human skeletons, and recipes for ‘Snailwater’ haphazardly strewn across various displays in the attic room. As the operating theatre is located in the old herb garret of St. Thomas Church, the experience is magnified by displays of the herbs and plants and miracle cures that the apothecary once stored there.