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Friday, May 20, 2016

Ceremony of the Keys

This must be my week for British tradition because last night we ventured over to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys, the traditional locking of the Tower that has happened in the same manner, every single day, for over 700 years!
This is not a well known opportunity which is crazy because it costs £1 to book your spot online. That is the cheapest entertainment going in London, trust me! The catch is that there are limited spaces each night and it can take up to 6 months to get your spot reserved. I had forgotten all about this until a friend mentioned it the other day. I quickly jumped on the website and lo and behold, last night still had a few tickets available! The only ones available through January of 2017! So I jumped on them and I am so glad that I did.
For one thing, we hadn't been over to the eastern area of London at all. We had visited the Tower of London back in 1999, our first summer in Europe! Also, when we've been out at night in London, it's mainly been in the West End for shows and we haven't taken time to see the city lights and buildings lit after dark. It's a gorgeous area of town to say the least. The mixture of old and new, towering buildings made with lots of glass next to classic pubs with names like the Hung, Drawn and Quartered made for a wonderful stroll. And then of course, there's the Tower itself. Big, beautifully lit at night, with the iconic Tower Bridge glistening over the Thames. We were having a great time and hadn't even gotten to the main event!
At 9.30 p.m. one of the yeoman, a.k.a. Beefeaters, greeted us at the gate and gave us some information. Photography inside is strictly prohibited which in the end is a good idea. It would ruin the pomp if people were clamoring around trying to get a shot and besides that, the Queen doesn't want the ceremony photographed. Walking through the Tower gates was pretty great. Special to be inside with few people just taking it all in. Our Beefeater guide was hilarious, knowledgeable and really enjoyable to listen to. He was spewing forth great bits of history. Turns out, a mere 480 years earlier, on May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was killed in that very spot.
But true to form, the ceremony itself, which takes about 15 minutes, was filled with precision, form, beauty, tradition, and of course, pomp. It is perfectly timed so that the bugle that is played to signal that the Tower is secured corresponds perfectly with the clock chiming 10.00 p.m.
After the ceremony is finished, the Yeoman answered any and all questions that we had, including the obvious one, how do we get out now that the Tower is locked! Turns out there's a smaller door that can be opened embedded within the large Tower gates.
This was truly one of the best things we've done whilst being here this year. Get on the website, click here, and figure out how to embed it into your stay in London! The visit to the Tower of London during the day for the tours, to see the crown jewels, to enjoy the history is worthwhile but that's a £25 ticket. While you can't wander around whilst enjoying this ceremony, you do get an up front and close experience of a bit of a history and it is a thrill to be there after hours in a small group.