A fall trip to London would be smashing. Europe’s largest city has enough to keep tourists busy for months. But, what if you only have time to visit one site? Which would it be? Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, the British Museum or the Tower of London? I’d pick the Tower of London and in fact, highly recommend returning on every trip. Sounds trite but the UNESCO World Heritage site truly offers something of significance for most everyone.
Want history and architecture? William the Conqueror began work on the Tower shortly after he won his crown in 1066 . That’s nearly a thousand years ago. He wanted to protect his important London base. Over the centuries, the stronghold evolved into a symbol of English royalty.
Today, visitors find a complex of castles, fortifications, courtyards and buildings including the famous White Tower started back in 1078. The legendary Bloody Tower held two imprisoned princes, sons of Edward IV, who were likely murdered by Richard III. Stroll around to the former scaffold grounds where notorious beheadings took place, including those of Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Moore.
Bird lovers enjoy the ravens who are guaranteed to be on the Tower Green. Legend says the kingdom will fall if they desert the property. Shh, the ravens wings are clipped.
The fortress acted not just as a royal residence and prison, but as a treasury and armory. Now a fantastic assemblage of medieval weapons and royal armor are exhibited. Those interested in religion are drawn to the simple Chapel of St. John, the oldest church in London, and a fine example of Norman architecture.
The Crown Jewels are securely stored in the Jewel House underground. They attract a line of visitors waiting to ogle over the vast collection of priceless gems and royal regalia.
Photographers shoot the view of Tower Bridge, seen from the edge of The Water Gate, better known as Traitor’s Gate. Queens Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth 1, entered it as prisoners. And no visit to London is complete without a snapshot of the flamboyantly costumed Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders. They guard the Castle grounds and give lively tours.
The Tower is London is, in my opinion, the city’s best landmark and its location is ideal for anyone looking for hotels in London city centre. The subway offers easy access via the Tower Hill stop. Even if time is short, don’t miss this historic and enthralling site.
The US National Park Service protects and promotes nearly 400 sites. At most locations visitors pay an admission fee. However, entrance to Independence Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania remains free. That’s a good deal because the Park includes numerous attractions like Carpenter’s Hall, Franklin Court, Federal Reserve Bank, the Liberty Bell and the famed Independence Hall. Who can complain?
But, then again, shouldn’t tourists pay at least a nominal fee?
Recently I visited with my two grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, and their parents. We started at the Visitors Center where we obtained complimentary timed tickets for a tour inside the legendary center. These vouchers are available on a daily basis and prevent time wasted queuing in line.
Prior to our scheduled entry, we cleared security and entered a holding room. Now trust me, I’m a big fan of the National Park System and have never been disappointed with the value of a visit anywhere. However, on this particular occasion, the Park Ranger acting as our guide was either having a very bad day or felt the need to control others. Her opening 10-minute history lesson fell flat (as did her jokes) and many of the tourists became restless and fidgety. She would periodically stop her oratory and scold the “rude” guests, threatening to expel them. I personally felt uneasy and not particularly proud of this introduction, especially to foreign travelers.
The presence of a screen at the front of the room begged for a slide show, power point presentation or a short video. I’m sure one of these would have captivated the audience’s attention far better.
Once we entered the former Pennsylvania State House, we received another disjointed speech concerning the historical events that took place in the area. Unfortunately a group of East Indian tourists continued to talk amongst themselves- likely trying to interpret the saga. Our Ranger walked back to them and actually forced the group to leave the building. She returned and we scurried across the hall.
We arrived at the signers room, the meeting spot where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and eventually signed. Sadly, our guide’s presentation just wasn’t captivating or compelling . The grandkids weren’t able to grasp the explanation and most of the visitors seemed disconcerted. Sorry NPS– No deal. My overall impression was disappointment; surely passion can be portrayed at to the birthplace of the United States. I regrettably discourage an inside visit for children younger than 8 or 10 years.
Eventually the tour moved to the second floor and only then did I feel I was actually exploring the structure. The ascent and descent of the magnificent, wide staircase gave me the sense of traveling back in time. My footsteps were pounding the floorboards traversed by our Founding Fathers. This interaction was what I came for, to feel the history within the walls, not just stare at a roped-off room full of chairs.
Further Exploration Around the Park
Happily, our adventure through the Liberty Bell exhibition hall proved far superior. The kids loved seeing the crack in the bell and being close to the real thing, the symbol of freedom. Although the glass building is very modern, the Liberty Bell rests in a spot where visitors can look outside and see the steeple where it originally hung.
We also meandered through a portrait gallery in the Second National Bank. To my delight, this exhibit offered an opportunity to come face to face with priceless works of art. No barriers here; numerous paintings of our nation’s forefathers, dignitaries and other illustrious 18th century characters cram the space.
Afterward, we stopped for lunch at the Food Court (just what you’d expect) and walked a block to Franklin Court. Here we descended into an underground museum and watched the movie Ben and Me. The 1955 film remains as much a hit with today’s high-tech kids as it did years ago when my own youngsters first enjoyed it. I highly encourage viewing this 20-minute animated presentation.
We also stopped into Franklin’s printing office. And… guess who demonstrated the press? None other than our original Ranger guide from Independence Hall!! I was flabbergasted, but must admit she improved her act in the print shop. Here she gave a lively hands-on demonstration. Perhaps ink is her calling.
Lastly, we returned to the Visitors Center so Kyra and RJ could get their Junior Ranger badges. The Park employees reviewed the question and answer booklets and the children took a oath. Upon completion, they were also handed a set of Historical Park trading cards. As far as the kids were concerned, these tokens were the best deal of the day. Anyone want to trade a John Hancock for a Tom Jefferson??
According to the UNESCO World Heritage Statement of Significance: Independence Hall was declared a World Heritage Sitein 1979 as the location whereThe Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution framed in the 18th-century. It is listed for association with the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents, which have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of government.
Got house guests? Bet you have a favorite place to share with out of town visitors. During my childhood days in Arlington, Virginia, we took friends and family to Mount Vernon. When I moved near Philadelphia, the choice became the Liberty Bell or the Franklin Institute. Now that I reside in Jacksonville, Florida, I venture to nearby St. Augustine and tour a National Park site-Castillo de San Marcos.
St. Augustine, founded in 1565, holds the honor of being America’s oldest city and the fort (Castillo de San Marcos) remains the oldest fortification. Walls of coquina blocks (compressed shells) surround the bastion which has withstood numerous bombardments, sieges and hurricanes during its 335 year-old history. Each time I return, I learn something new.
Recently I invited my two oldest grandchildren, RJ, age seven and Kyra who is five, and their Mom, while they were here for Camp Lander (their holidays to Florida). RJ wanted to become a Park Service Junior Ranger, which he would report to his Boy Scout troop, and Kyra wasn’t about to be ignored.
We entered the fortress via a drawbridge through the Sally Port, the only way in and out and passed below the portcullis. We stopped at the Ranger station and the kids were given an activity book to complete and return.
The booklet included a guided tour which pointed out the important artifacts in each area. To be completely honest, I wish they gave these brochures to everyone because the information proves very helpful.
RJ and Kyra had to fill in the blanks, answer true-false questions, match pictures of objects with corresponding parts and organize steps in the proper timeline. They also had to find and ask a volunteer and a Ranger questions about their job. Lastly, they wrote their own opinion about the place.
We watched a video, inspected supply rooms used for food storage, gunpowder, cannonballs, troop quarters, and the all important “necessary”. We climbed up to the gun deck and saw canons and watchtowers, as well as enjoyed the view of the harbor.
When our self-guided tour was complete, we listened to an animated talk given by a Park Ranger in authentic Spanish dress. Then, the children submitted the completed booklets, their answers were checked and they were asked to take the Junior Ranger Pledge.
“I, (fill in name), am proud to be a National Park Service Junior Ranger. I promise to appreciate, respect, and protect all national parks. I also promise to continue learning about the landscape, plants, animals and history of these special places. I will share what I learn with my friends and family.”
The process was pretty impressive and elicited big smiles as they received their badges. I’ll take that pledge,too, if I can become a Junior Ranger.
Then, we headed off for ice cream cones! What a joy for me, as a grandparent, to share my love of history and one of my favorite destinations.
Junior Ranger programs are offered at about 286 of the 388 national parks, in collaboration with local school districts and community organizations. Go online to The Ranger Zone (http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm) to check out individual parks for information about a specific program.