SEVERAL years ago, when I was still in university, I made a trip to London and was there for a week.
I initially came to visit my brother, who was studying there but after realising that he was sneaking me into his all-boys dorm (a fact he “forgot” to mention!) and that his classes were from 10am to 10pm, I decided to take things into my own hands and explore the city by myself.
I had only dreamt about London before that trip — the history that paved its streets, the monuments that casually dotted around the modern buildings and the palaces that stood out in grand majesty.
I had read, watched and thought about London all my life and it was finally my turn to discover the city.
But I wanted to stay as far away as I could from all the typical shopping spots and shopping activities.
I don’t mean any disrespect because people obviously travel for different reasons but I feel really frustrated when people come to England and all they do is shop! There is so much right under their noses that they’re missing out.
During my solo trip I was determined to see everything. EVERYTHING!
I bought a London Pass — a pass that you can buy for multiple days that will get you into most of the attractions for a much cheaper price. They also provided me with a guidebook and travel pass for six days. It was a steal!
There are three places I recommend that you check out the next time you’re in London.
GOTHIC CHURCH ABBEY
The first is undoubtedly Westminster Abbey. It’s just a skip and hop away from Big Ben, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.
I loved Westminster more than I thought I would. I didn’t know what to expect. Westminster Abbey is a gothic church abbey that holds a huge place in British history, being the place for burials, coronations and royal weddings (Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge were married there).
It is a small town for famous dead people underneath tonnes and tonnes of stone. Statues and memorials for royal families, scientists, heroes, poets and anyone who is important enough to be someone in British society are all housed in Westminster Abbey.
I saw Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Shakespeare’s tombs (stepped on is more like it but I did so respectfully!)
The entire abbey is full of gothic art, plaques and really fancy-looking candle sticks. One of my favourite books is Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follet, and it’s an entire novel about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England. If you’re looking for a good read, I recommend this book.
Wandering around the abbey reminded me of the characters in Pillars Of The Earth and how crazy it was to even think that something so beautiful was built without modern technology. I enjoy appreciating old workmanship. #nerd.
TOUR WITH A BEEFEATER
Perhaps it was the lack of my knowledge on British history but I didn’t know that the Tower of London wasn’t just ONE tower. It is a fortress of many gorgeous stone buildings. I was so overwhelmed by how many buildings there were but I was saved by a beefeater!
Most people don’t know what a beefeater is but would have most probably seen them before. I was lucky enough to be on a tour with Barry, one of the many ex-military servicemen who is now a Yeoman.
A Yeoman is also known as a beefeater, because hundreds of years ago a king would pay his guards (the Yeomen) with money and beef in exchange for the protection they gave him. The name “beefeater” supposedly came from this story. The beefeaters have been conducting tours at the Tower of London since the Victorian Era. They are full of stories and I spent almost three hours just following Barry around the fortress. I’m pretty sure he was tired of me and my questions by the end of it.
Barry showed us around the fortress, told us about the legendary beheadings, prisoners and how all the waste (read: human waste) was washed out into the sea towards France but then doubled back and stunk the Tower of London for years.
I saw the gate where Anne Boleyn came through when she was accused of treason. I saw the place where her head rolled off and where her body is now. Yes, I just Tudor-ed you, hahaha!
The Tower of London should definitely be on your pitstop the next time you’re in the city.
But one of my favourite spots to visit was a cave. Yes, a cave.
I hopped onto a train to Chislehurst and visited Chislehurst Caves. I’ve always been fascinated by how the English survived air raids during World War II. So when I learnt about Chislehurst Caves, I was not going to pass up a chance to see it. The caves were entirely man-made in the 13th century and were used as chalk and flint mines up till the 19th century.
We walked into the caves with nothing but a little flashlight each (I was on a tour with four other people, and generally it is not a good idea to go into a cave with four strangers but I was so excited I didn’t really care!) and walked through the dark cool interior.
During World War II, 15,000 people lived in these caves to protect themselves from the air raids. They even rigged it up with electricity! After the war, the caves became more of an iconic entertainment venue. David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd all performed in the caves.
If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you’d be pleased to know that they also filmed an episode of the show there. I even saw the glitter that they used. It was still there!
This is why I love London so much. When you step away from High Street, you can find yourself immersed in a piece of history, standing exactly where something important happened. I love London because it allows my imagination to run wild and still keep my mind rooted in appreciating the history that has helped shape the world we live in today.
Journalism graduate Iman Azman continues to navigate her way through the creative industry as a member of the duck group’s marketing team. Here, she muses about her work, finding balance in life and shares what it’s like diving in headfirst into new experiences and opportunities. Follow her journey on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/iman_azman/