I’ve spent some time doing the tourist thing, but this time in my home city and it’s all because of a young Indonesian boy I met on a bus.
Late last year as I was making my way back to civilisation after volcano trekking through east Java a delightful young man full of life and wonder sat next to me on a bus. ‘I love European History’, he told me. ‘Uh huh’, oh shit I thought. We had the best chat but sadly many of his questions about The Tower of London, The London Dungeons and The Houses of Parliament, were all left unanswered. I’d never been and I felt pretty inadequate. I have all these historical places on my doorstep and I couldn’t tell him anything about them. So lesson learned, it was time to rectify things.
First stop the London Dungeons. We love our gruesome history and it’s all Black Death, Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, capital punishment and Guy Fawkes. Led through the dungeons by wannabe stage actors all in character, ‘apples and pears guv’nor’, we went on an underground tour of London’s history. It’s all very interactive and as we got taken to be beheaded, it felt incredibly poignant that only days before James Foley had lost his head in what feels like a medieval act. Since then of course there have been more. I couldn’t shake the thought of this heroic man, lying there in his orange get-up, head placed on his body.
We spent a couple of hours taking in all the horrors of London’s history. It sounded like a pretty murky place to live in ‘the olden days’. I wonder if in a few hundred years time, the dungeons will have a 1950 – 2015 tour that takes people back to recessions, depressions, foot & mouth, bird flu, multiple murders, Dennis Nilsen’s killing spree, the London riots, gang culture, terrorism and the IRA and 7,7 bombings. I’m guessing our predecessors will look on these times with a similar amount of horror. It just shows how grim you can make the past look if you focus on the negatives.
Then The London Eye. I’ve seen a few of these on my travels, city based ferris wheels. Singapore’s was perhaps the most impressive with its laser beam light show but it can’t compete with the little pieces of history the London Eye has on display. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are just a stone’s throw away. I remember when it was being built and then wondering when it was going to go fast. I hadn’t quite grasped it was a sightseeing tour and fully expected it to speed up once everyone was on. Luckily, I’d realised its point all these years on and as far as sightseeing goes I love being up high in a glass capsule with a birds-eye view.
Final stop of the day was The Tower of London, home of the Crown Jewels. What a time to visit as we were greeted with a sea of ceramic red poppies, spilling out as far as the eye could see. What an absolutely wonderful idea to take the symbol of our remembered war veterans and turn it into a monumental work of art and in turn a stunning, modern, memorial.
My list of London landmarks to visit is nowhere near ticked off but I’ve made a start. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in many of the art galleries over the years but I have multiple museums to check out, and a Houses of Parliament tour. My travels have taught me how to look at your own city as a tourist and not to take for granted all you have on your doorstep. Go out and explore so you don’t end up having an embarrassing chat on a bus where you know very little about your own beautiful country.
So there’s only one thing left to do now. Get me back to Indonesia, hunt down that boy and answer all those questions I just couldn’t answer for him before.