Moved to my new hotel today. It was raining this morning, and I was still kind of tired, so I decided that, instead of walking the 40 minutes or so back to the tube station1, I’d pay for a cab. This was an important lesson: the money I saved by staying farther away than I had intended was eaten by the cost of the cab. I should have just picked a closer, if more expensive, hotel.
I was, of course, way too early to check in. In fact, I arrived in the middle of what seemed to be half of Germany checking out and storing their bags. But they cleared, and I got my bag stored until later, and then I headed off to the tube station in my rain jacket and very fancy hat to get my sightseeing ticket validated.
That happened to be at Trafalgar Square.
After looking around a bit, I found the place I needed and got my ticket validated. Then, I got on the tour. We saw a whole bunch of cool stuff but, as usual, it’s very hard to get a good picture from the top of a moving tour bus. I did get one that I liked.
I got off the bus at the Tower of London, which is one of the main things I wanted to see on this trip. I spent about four hours there, looking at stuff, and I didn’t even get in to see the Crown Jewels – the lineup for that tower was very, very2 long. The Tower is fascinating; it is actually a tiny little village inside the walls. There are about thirty-five Yeoman Warders3 who live in the Tower with their wives and children, plus the Royal Fusiliers who are garrisoned at the headquarters here. In total, there are about 130 people who live on the site.
If you go to the Tower, make sure that you take one of the Yeoman Warder guided tours. That’ll show you what you want to spend more time on, and give you a bunch of cool history.
There were some other interesting exhibits around, too:
Now, despite the bloody reputation of the Tower of London, only six people were ever executed within the Tower grounds. The other 2000 or so were merely imprisoned there, and were marched out an up Tower Hill for their executions.
Aside from being a royal residence, and a fortress, and a prison, and the royal mint, the Tower was also, for a time, a royal zoo. They had loads of fun stuff, like lions and elephants and a room full of monkeys running around loose that you could go play with4. There are sculptures of a lot of the animals, seemingly made of chicken wire, around the place.
The only living animals still kept at the tower5 are the Tower ravens. Legend says that if the ravens leave the tower, England will fall. The ravens even have a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster who looks after them.
I walked the walls of the Tower, as well, and got some very nice views of London.
Then, seeing as it was almost five, I went and checked into my hotel for real, and spent a couple of hours getting my photo software working and uploading my pictures, before heading back to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys.
They don’t allow photographs or recordings for the ceremony, and I can understand why. It’s the oldest military tradition of it’s kind in the world, having been conducted every day for about seven hundred years. It was delayed only once, during WWII, when bombs were dropped on the Tower during the ceremony. After the Warders had helped their injured comrades and put out the fire, they continued with the ceremony, and the next day, sent a letter of apology to the king. The king said he understood, and that the Warders were not to blame because it was enemy action, but that he expected the ceremony to never be late again.
It was kind of moving to be present for the tradition, and everyone was nicely quiet and respectful as the situation warranted. At the end, we were told that all the names of attendees at the ceremony had their names recorded in a big, red book, so that they became part of the history of the ceremony. And that’s just cool.
Then, back home to do up this post, and now, because it’s after midnight, to bed.
Lots to see and do tomorrow.