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(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

London is apparently a place that I see slowly (and infrequently-it’s been almost ten years since I’ve stepped into even Heathrow). When I was at Oxford for a summer, each trip to London involved doing only one thing a day: a West End show, Sherlock Holmes house, the V&A (to be fair that would take all day), a show at the Globe, and an afternoon out to Hampton Court. So it was unsurprising to me that when I had a day to layover in London after Morocco, I focused on one thing: the Tower of London. To be more accurate, I was determined to see the amazing “Tower of London Remembers” Poppy display.

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(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

To recognize the 888,246 who died during World War I, which began 100 years ago this year, one ceramic, handmade poppy was planted in the moat or around the Tower to commemorate each death. The result was stunning. After November 11, they began taking the poppies down, and when I arrived on November 23, there were only a few left. Still, it was amazing to watch the volunteers disassemble the poppies and prepare them for shipping to those who had bought them. In the United States, World War I is overlooked, with most people fluent only on the details of World War II. There is only one museum for World War I in the U.S. In Britain, however, the first World War is very much in everyone’s memory. It changed the social landscape of Britain and continental Europe as well as beginning “modern warfare.”

Thinking about WWI while touring the Tower of London gave an interesting perspective. My dad and I have had a lot of discussions about mustard gas and other chemical warfare that occurred during WWI, but stepping into the torture chamber at the Tower underscored that war has never been genteel.

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(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

The most recognizable photo of the Tower is the White Tower, which holds the famous Line of Kings (previous Kings’ armor and that of their horses), so I was pleasantly surprised to realize how many different architectural styles there were throughout the fortress.

It is said that the Tower will be safe unless the ravens ever leave it, which made me realize this was the first time I had ever heard of ravens being a good omen. Maybe I watched Sleeping Beauty too many times.

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(c) 2014 Kathryn Pharr

I strongly recommend taking one of the Yeoman Wanders tours; this is not just because I am a big fan of Yeoman of the Guard. It was interesting to learn that the Tower minted money at one point. Seeing the “Royal Beasts” saddened me as I thought about what harsh conditions those animals endured to get to England and how unlikely it was they were to have been properly cared for. I did tour the crown jewels, but I preferred the detailed embroidery of the Supertunica (a robe of gold cloth), which contained symbols of Scotland, England, and Wales.

If you are spending an afternoon at the Tower, make time for the All Hallows Church next door. It’s the oldest church in London and has an active congregation. It also has a cafe after a bloodythirsty afternoon or you can find some nice restaurants nearby and right on the Thames.

Another recommendation is where I stayed near Bayswater: the Grand Royale, a beautiful Edwardian building with reasonable hotel rates (especially at Bookings.com).

 

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