My first full day here in London and I did what I always try to do when I get to a new city – go on a free walking tour.

I’ve always praised free walking tours as they’re a great way to learn about the city and country and get a good layout of the land.

Now, normally you just show up for the tour but this company had an online signup form to put your name on a list.

I saw the form and thought, nah, I’m just gonna show up.

Of course today was Saturday which meant alot of people signed up for the tour.

Like, alot of people!

Normally a walking tour attracts a dozen people, maybe a couple of dozen but this one had about 100 people.

About a quarter of them went on the Spanish version tour but that still left about 80 people for the English tour.

Even with two tour guides that still made for a couple big groups of 40.

I showed up and was told they were “sold out” and I was told to wait to the side and my name would be put on a waiting list.

Naturally my name didn’t get called so I just snuck myself into the group and went along anyway.

Just how exactly is a “free” walking tour sold out anyway?

Anyway, on to the tour.

Our tour guide, Andy, is actually a war historian.   He’s studied it and actually goes to former battle sites to learn and to teach.

This, of course, meant that we were treated to several stories about different battles and wars that the British have taken part in over several centuries.

And we learnt about the different kings and queens and heroes and villains.

The downside was that with all these stories the tour dragged from the usual two hours to three hours.

I find that two hours is the perfect time for a walking tour as after that time I tend to tune out and want to leave.

Anyway, here’s a couple of stories from the tour…

A stiff drink

The Battle of Trafalgar and the story of Horatio Nelson is a great story of military tactics and heroism.

It also gave us the origin of the saying “a stiff drink”.

Horatio Nelson, the commander of the Royal Navy, was killed in battle a far way from home.   So far away that it would take almost a month to bring his body back to England for a hero’s burial.

With few ways to preserve his body for that long they finally put it in a barrel marked with a big “N” and filled it with brandy.

When the ship arrived a month later to much fanfare, they unloaded the barrel only to find it was much lighter than before.

After opening it up they discovered the brandy was all gone as the sailors had periodically drilled into it to get drunk.

Yes, they drank brandy from a barrel containing a dead man.

And, hence, the saying “having a stiff drink”

An heir and a spare

Poor King Henry VIII.   All he wanted was a son to keep the line of succession.

His first wife who has married to for over 20 years only gave him a daughter and that just wouldn’t do.

Time to find a new wife…

Divorce wasn’t an option because it didn’t allow him to remarry so he had it annulled instead.

Not so easy as the head of the Catholic church, the Pope, turned down his request.   So, King Henry introduced religious reform and made himself the head of Catholicism and granted himself an annulment.

Wife number two, Anne Boleyn, promised him a son but also couldn’t deliver.

To make matters worse she was sneaking around the king’s back and was soon charged with adultery.

And because the crime was against the king her charge was upgraded to treason.

Off with her head!

Time to find a new wife…

King Henry’s third wife did, in fact, give him a son Edward but she died only 12 days later.

Well, at least the king now had an heir!

But, you know what’s better than an heir?   An heir and a spare.

So, Henry needed another son.

Time to find a new wife…

Marriage number four was a marriage of convenience to a German woman.   They hated each other and it wasn’t long before the king had another annulment.

Time to find a new wife…

King Henry’s fifth wife was a young girl at just 17.   By now Henry was fat and slovenly and not quite what a girl at 17 was hoping for.

So she had an affair with a young boy.

Off with her head!

Time to find a new wife…

And that brings us to King Henry’s sixth wife who ended up outliving him.

In the end, there was never a spare and Edward would one day become king.

Big Ben

Did you know that Big Ben isn’t actually officially the name of the clock that tourists flock to here in London?

I didn’t.

As was pointed out a couple times in the tour, the Brits aren’t too original in naming things.   They see a green field and say hey “Green Field Plaza”.

So, naturally this big tower with a clock in it was named “Clock Tower”.

It was actually renamed recently in 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee and is known officially known as “Elizabeth Tower”.

So why is it called Big Ben then?

Well, the 16 tonne main bell in the tower was cast by a man named Sir Benjamin Hall.

His nickname?   Big Ben.

London, England, United Kingdom, UK, Euro Trip 2017, Trip Journal
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