Day 30 of 80 — Tower

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 30 : Tower

“Is that the Tower of London?”
“No, that’s Big Ben”
“Oh, okay. Oh wait, is this the Tower then?”
“No, that’s the Shard”.

I don’t blame tourists for being confused. There are many things in London that look more like a tower than the actual Tower of London indeed.

“It’s all part of our scheme to confuse visitors”, I tell them to make them at ease. What we call the Tower of London is actually a collection of towers and looks like a medieval castle.

It’s big and ominous, it’s fascinating and brilliant. It has stood through almost 1000 years of London history. And it is so very typical of London’s strange architectural mix, a constant juxtaposition of the very old and the very new.

One day, a friend invited me to the Ceremony of the Keys, a 700-year-old ceremony that takes place every night at the Tower. Tickets are free, but always sold out — you usually have to book over a year in advance. My friend had been organised thus, and had invited me to join him.

We arrived at the Tower at 9.30pm as instructed and were welcomed by a Yeoman Warder who explained how the ceremony would work. He lined us up out of the way. From there we watched guards ceremoniously lock the door to the Tower. But on their way back, they were stopped by a sentry:

“Halt, who comes there?”
“The keys.”
“Whose keys?”
“Queen Elizabeth’s keys.”
“Pass then, all’s well.”

Following our Yeoman Warder guide’s humorous silent instructions, we then walked to the Tower’s innermost ward, by what is called the White Tower. A solitary bugle played a heart-breaking melody by the beautifully illuminated Tower. It felt like we had been transported to a different dimension, a different era, centuries ago. Or so it would have felt if it wasn’t for the modern City skyscrapers that we can see just outside the Tower’s wall.

The ceremony came to an end: the Tower of London is officially locked for the night. But we still had to get out…

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