Saturday, December 10, 2016

An ancient ceremony at the Tower and a walk along the river

Well today is a "rest day" and just as well.  My cold has made itself well known today and that's all I will say about it.  I don't plan to leave the house except maybe to get us all a Chinese takeaway later.  I've got lots to keep me occupied. Firstly, getting a blog post done!!

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 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,[1][2] 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!!!  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A photo exhibit, a Nutcracker and a Christmas market

Well I'm  just back from the launderette.  I didn't really need to do laundry just yet but knew I would have no time this weekend.   I'm heading out later this afternoon as I will be doing a night time visit to the Sky Garden and then attending the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London later tonight.
Tuesday was a busy day.  I left here not knowing what to expect on the trains but everything worked out well for me - for others I heard about not so much...The Southern train conductors here are on strike Tuesday to Thursday due to the fact that they are eliminating the conductors' jobs on trains and it's a safety issue.  While I acknowledge their right to strike it couldn't have come at a worse time with all the run up to Christmas (which is why they are doing it now) and next week the drivers plan to go as well which will be even more chaotic.  My friend Judi was due to come up yesterday to stay over but needless to say due to the strike she couldn't make it as trains in her area were canceled.

Anyway I digress (as usual).  My first port of call was the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.  This is something I never miss if I am here when it is on - it usually runs October until March although last year it was extended until May.  First however I had to admire the skating rink - need I add Christmas music was booming out.  I love Christmas music! I had to stay until they played something I didn't like - which was a while!

The interior of the museum..spectacular!!!

One of my heroes...Charles Darwin!  Someday I hope to visit his home outside London although not this time.  It's a PITA (work that one out) to get to in the winter as public transport is not the greatest then.

The wildlife exhibition was fantastic as always...much better than last year's.  Just so you know I tried taking photos of the postcards I bought so I could post them here but they turned out awful.

And this was the scene as I left...I must admit I stood for a while just admiring this  for a long time....(and listening to music!)

The weather here in London has been great but don't worry I know that will change....

Then it was off to Trafalgar Square again because I just can't get enough of it.  I haven't made it to St James's Park yet - unbelievable but true.  I will get there soon though!!! I wandered around the Covent Garden and Seven Dials area looking in shops and trying to decide what I wanted to eat.

Someone vandalized one of the lions...or else it was a pretty big pigeon.

Tree in Covent Garden

I finally settled on Franco Manca a chain in London that makes the best sourdough crust Napoli pizza.  Yum!!

The beautiful Royal Opera House - always a thrill to attend something here.  I had cheap seats (although here that's not very cheap!) of course as I go to so many events that is all I can afford.  However I did have a bird's eye view and I loved every minute of it.  I try and see this beautiful ballet every year wherever I am in the world and I think this was the best one ever.  I have seen it here before but not for a while.

Beautiful!!!  I am so glad I went and would love to see it again but no Laurie you just can't afford it. (if you could see my schedule for December, January and February you would understand why)

 I sat beside a lovely older lady who was attending with her daughter who for lack of a better word was a bit of a whack job.  Obviously a hard core ballet fan and she was helping to conduct the orchestra as well and yelling as well as flapping her hands around.  Crazier than me at a Paul McCartney concert so were are talking bat shit crazy.  And one of those who knew everything about everything and a bit snotty.  I thought to myself if you are such an expert and a snob why aren't you down in the stalls?  Ah well.  No harm done and as one who doesn't do "normal" I can't say much! I floated back here on a cloud.

Yesterday (Wednesday the 7th) I had no plans made as was leaving it open for Judi's visit so Claudia suggested Kingston.  Good choice!  I love Kingston Upon Thames - it's by the river with all the chain stores as well as independent shops and markets.  The bus ride there was long but I got to see parts of London I hadn't seen before.  To my surprise and delight there was a Christmas market on so I loitered around there quite a bit - okay between that and the river for most of the day.  I did buy some more Christmas cards (for next year!) at the local church which had a huge selection of charity cards. And I sat by the river... a lot.  Pouting a bit I must admit...wishing I could be walking along the Thames.  Next time!  However I have actually walked past there already so there was a bit of pride there as well.  I have walked 35 miles of the 180 mile path - only 145 more to go.  Piece of cake!

A barge all ready for Christmas!!!

Notice the skeleton with the Santa hat on?  I was so busy looking at all the figures on top I didn't notice it at first!!!

Swans everywhere!!!

Yes I had a "cheesewurst" and it was delicious - and of course a mulled wine on the side.  I guess this market was my consolation prize for missing out on Birmingham.

All Saints Church where I bought the Christmas cards.

The sausage guy!

All in all it was a great day out and I hope to go back to Kingston again before going home. I missed getting a picture of the Coronation Stone - well didn't even know it existed as well as missed getting a good shot of the Clattern bridge which is the oldest bridge in England. (1293)  Lots of history there as well as some great shops.  It beats shopping on Oxford Street anyday!!!!  But next time I will take the train!