Beheadings, Boats, and Bad Practices

Day: 5

Cities / Towns Visited: 1

Countries Visited: 1

Steps Taken Today: 22,863

Steps Taken Around the World: 128,010

I will assume you have gathered by now that our days started much the same and just go from there. Now after changing round the schedule to clear out most of a day and allow ourselves more time, we arrived bright and early at the Tower of London. Now, if you like history this place has it by the cartload. The central tower after which it’s named (also known as the White Tower, funnily enough because it is in fact white) would have to be the heart both of the fortress and of my attention. To stand in a castle that remains almost unaltered for almost 1000 years is incredible, doubly so considering no buildings in my home country exceed 300 years. To walk past centuries-old armour, and sit in a chapel that has been functioning since the construction of the site, gave pause for thought of all of the changes this castle has withstood. Its not just the white tower that has a rich history; the lawn just outside of it saw the beheading of two of King Henry VIII’s wives (Anne Boleyn and Jane Grey (the saddest of the two as her only crime was being a part of too powerful of a family)), their bodies also rest, unmarked, under the alter of the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, that also stands on the grounds. Under its floors also rest numerous bodies of other accused traitors of the realm, with no headstones or acknowledgement. Only the most famous are recognised now (like Saint Thomas More). To know that even the most recognised names were buried nameless and in disgrace, gives hope to all of us that feel as if we will never be remembered. Beside the church are stored the crown jewels of the British royal family, with gems like the Cullinan I, the world’s largest diamond that resides in the royal sceptre, it is hard not to be taken aback but such wealth and beauty handed down for generations. Although it is easy to be jealous of those who are born into such wealth, we must also take a moment to acknowledge that although they have great comfort and power, they lack something most of us take for granted; anonymity (a priceless gift, in and of itself). There are stories around every corner here, and below every staircase, as the case may be, such as the alleged murder of the two boy princes (Edward V and his younger brother Richard) who were most likely murdered by their uncle so that he may succeed to the throne of England, whose bones were found in a chest beneath a staircase during works on the castle. From Traitors Gate in the former moat, to the old mint, to the only remaining original Tudor style building not to be burnt down in the great fire, to the ravens who can not leave lest the tower should fall (although I will say this seems unfair as they have their wings clipped, so they are forced to stay), everything within the grounds oozes history, and drama. Come if you will, Come if you are able, this I ask of you.

By the time we escaped the captivating clutches of the tower, it was nigh on 3pm, therefore we decided to try and reach a few of the smaller attractions nearby. We began with The Old Operating Theatre Museum, which had been on my list of places to visit since I discovered its existence several months ago. With my deep love and interest of old medicine, and a fascination in what they used to believed to be the causes and effects of their methods, I stumbled (gasping slightly from the narrow spiral staircase up) headlong into the museum. Although small, it was packed with a wealth of information, and old medical equipment from the time when the location was the old St. Thomas hospital. Once I had finished gawking at the plethora of amputation saws, and the cabinet of drugs they used to think to be appropriate methods of sedation (many of which are poisonous), I moved into the most captivating area (and of course the area that lends the museum its name), one of the oldest original operating theatres in the world. It was like stepping back into the past, to a time when they didn’t know of microscopic bacteria, when they didn’t sterilise their equipment, when they reused soiled bandages, and when they rarely even washed their hands. A time when medical students watched operations like going to the theatre, but where the actors often died from their stage wounds. If I didn’t appreciate the advances of modern medicine when I walked in, I most certainly did on my exit.

Our final stop for the day was the HMS Belfast, a former royal navy vessel that served from the second world war up until the 1960’s. In hindsight we probably should have left more time for this, but with all of our days action packed, if we hadn’t done it then, we might well have missed it altogether, and I am very glad we didn’t. The ship has been preserved and set up as a museum, displaying the everyday workings of the vessel, so with audioguide at hand we delved deep into the bowels of the ship, all the way up to the bridge 9 floors above. From the kitchens to the engines, from the sick bay to damage control, and from the bridge to the boilers, there was history all around us once more. The only thing we missed was being able to go up to the gun turrets, as they had closed by the time we returned from the bridge, but despite this I left feeling much more appreciative for all of the had work the officers of the navy put in to run these massive machines, let alone do so in the throes of battle.

Our day ended with a couple of burgers from Honest Burgers near the hostel, which were adequate, but the one I was most excited about ‘The Cheese Truck (which had deep fried mozzarella, and Old Winchester cheese) had too much chipotle jam to really taste the cheese at all; a shame. Also, as most of them are these days, they were served in your usual brioche style sugar bun (the kind that melts with the burger and leaves you hungry about an hour later), call me old fashioned but I like a bun with a bit of strength to it; give me sourdough any day. Alas, these are first world problems I know.

Today was not only educational, but left me with a greater appreciation for all that I have in my life, the things we take for granted: our safety, our health, and our freedom. If we do not learn from our past, then we are doomed to repeat it, and I will endeavour never to repeat the errs of my forebears.

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On my dream trip to travel the world, taste its foods, see its wonders, and meet all the strange and beautiful people who reside here.

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