I've been out roaming around London - especially Christmas London needless to say. Can you believe I still haven't been to St James's Park? My favourite place in London! Maybe I can fix that tomorrow. It's all about minimizing the walking which is a different way of travel for me - normally it is the exact opposite. It's certainly a different kind of trip but I am here and it's all good. I am certainly glad I am traveling solo as I could not keep up with anyone else (and would probably injure myself even more trying) and they would be fed up with me!
Thursday December 8th I stayed in until mid afternoon and headed out as I had a 5 p.m. ticket to visit the Sky Garden. A must if you are ever in London! You need to book ahead...spaces don't open until about three weeks before. I was lucky to snag a ticket in a lesser time frame probably because I was just one. It's directly opposite the Shard but is FREE. This was my third time but with a twist as it was my first visit after dark. Firstly however I wandered through Leadenhall Market - there has been a market on this spot since the 14th century. The current structure dates from 1881 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones. It is absolutely gorgeous. And today it actually had people in it! Normally I stroll through on weekends when it is completely dead as it's only open Monday to Friday to cater to the workers in the City. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.
I then got terribly misplaced trying to find my way to the Walkie Talkie building (I don't even know it's full name...you will see a picture of this later in the post). I've only been there twice before...duh...after asking two people I finally found my way. I was able to say "hi" and blow a kiss to my favourite modern building in London - St Mary Axe but better known as "the Gherkin".
When I presented my ticket they asked for Photo ID and I went to grab my drivers license and realized it was in a pocket in my purse from the other night. The passport? Back at Claudia's. Luckily she accepted my Saskatchewan health card with no picture. Up the elevator and glittering London was there waiting for me.
Tower of London - all the lights at the bottom are beside the skating rink.
Photos aren't that great as the reflections from the Christmas trees affected things as well as the fact I am not a good nighttime photographer!!!
Reading my ticket to The Ceremony of the Keys it stated I needed to show Photo ID. I could not face braving canceled trains and crowded tube journeys back and forth to retrieve it from Streatham so I dithered whether I would even attempt it or not.
In the meantime I took two buses to get to Trafalgar Square right in rush hour. On the bright side the first bus was one of the old Routemasters which was fun. Except I can't "jump" on and off the back anymore as I did back in the day.
Trafalgar Square with St Martins in the Fields church in the background.
I had a bite to eat and then headed out on the tube to Tower Hill to take my chances. As it turned out there was no problem. The Beefeaters there certainly have a sense of humour I will say that. The one I asked teased me and said "nope go home" and when he saw my face he laughed and said "of course you can come in". No one was asked for their ID.
While waiting I took some photos of the ice rink and the pretty reflections that were on the walls of the Tower.
We were then gathered to attend the ceremony which is basically the locking of the Tower of London with all the bells and whistles. This ceremony has been done every night for some 700 years when the current king (whose name escapes me) found Traiters gate unlocked and was most perturbed. When told that the Tower was not locked he ordered locks to be made and it to be locked every night. Here is a blurb from Wikpedia:
Probably the best known such ceremony is the one that takes place every night at the Tower of London, and has done so in some form or another since the 14th century. At exactly 9.53pm, the Chief Yeoman Warder, dressed in Tudor Watchcoat, meets the military escort, made up of members of the Tower of London Guard. Together, the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Yeoman Warder 'Watchman' secure the main gates of the Tower. Upon their return down Water Lane, the party is halted by the sentry and challenged to identify themselves:
- Sentry: "Halt! Who comes there?"
- Chief Warder: "The keys."
- Sentry: "Whose keys?"
- Chief Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's keys." (identifying the keys as being those of Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch)
- Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All is well."
Following this, the party makes its way through the Bloody Tower Archway into the fortress, where they halt at the bottom of the Broadwalk Steps. On the top of the Stairs, under the command of their officer, the Tower Guard present arms and the Chief Warder raises his hat, proclaiming:
- Chief Warder: "God preserve Queen Elizabeth."
- Sentry: "Amen!"
He then takes the keys to the Queen's House for safekeeping, while the Last Post is sounded.
As with many events of ceremony in the United Kingdom, it takes some significant outside influence to interrupt the Ceremony of the Keys. The one time when the ceremony was interrupted was during the Second World War, when there was an air raid on London, and a number of incendiary bombs fell on the old Victorian guardroom just as the Chief Yeoman Warder and the escort were coming through the Bloody Tower archway. The shock and the noise of the bombs falling blew over the escort and the Chief Yeoman Warder, but they stood up, dusted themselves down, and carried on. The Tower holds a letter from the Officer of the Guard apologising to King George VI that the ceremony was late, along with a reply from the King which says that the officer is not to be punished as the delay was due to enemy action.
I had seen this ceremony previously in 1997 with my friend Pat but after that length of time it was certainly time to go again. It was short but so worth it. We were told to turn off our mobile phones but of course there is always one who thinks 1) rules don't apply to them or 2) they are too important to turn their mobile off for fifteen minutes. Yes, someone got a text message or call announced by a croaking frog right in the middle of the beautiful Last Post. (which Kevin specifically said was to him the most poignant part of the ceremony as he had served and thought of his fallen comrades during this time) When the beautiful ceremony was over Kevin (who had a terrific sense of humour by the way - our bags were searched before we went in. Not for weapons he insisted but for chocolate!) said we were to follow him. Like I said always one..who started wandering off and gave some stupid excuse when Kevin said "and where are you going". Humans! Sometimes I think we are the ones who should be extinct. Luckily no one (that I know of) attempted a photo as photography is strictly forbidden and Kevin made it perfectly clear it was.
I really enjoyed this ceremony. The first time we applied by mail and got tickets back. Now you can apply online but be warned it needs to be 8 to 9 months ahead of time. I applied for this when coming here for Christmas was just an idea. It is free although there is a small service charge. If you want to see the ceremony on line search for it on you tube - looks like a few people managed to sneak a video and went in the summer when it was still light. I loved being inside the Tower after dark.
The next morning it was off to Borough Market with Claudia and her mum. Neither of them had been there before.
This is where I buy my tea (some of it that is)... I will swoop in for the kill before I leave in February.
Claudia and her mum headed back and after a flat white coffee in the coffee shop of Southwark Cathedral I started my walk along the Southbank. It was slow and I know a lot of benches along the way on a first name basis but it was a good walk.
The tall building on the right is the Walkie Talkie building (because it looks like one with the aerial sticking up) Overlooking London Bridge.
Southwark Cathedral beside Borough Market
The Globe theatre
Christmas markets were positioned all along the South Bank of the river.
I cheated and used "sunset" mode even though the sunset was just beginning - but thought it was pretty impressive so had to share!
I made it to Westminster bridge and the hordes of tourists. Yikes. Got the tube to Victoria and then finally was able to get a train back here to Streatham.
Strikes are decimating the rail system in the south of the country. Half of next week will see NO trains whatsoever in this area as both drivers AND conductors are going out. Sheer chaos! I will be in Belgium for some of this and luckily have a back up plan of bus and tube to get to St Pancras station on Tuesday.
And now back to bed for a nap!!!