London and Wales, 2009 Home Previous Day Next Day

Day 3: Monday, Sep. 21
...Bus and Boat Tour, and Greenwich Observatory

On Monday Winston had to go to work, and Jennifer and I decided to take the Big Bus tour around the London sights. The tickets included access to the City Cruises tours of the Thames as well. First I walked next door to Simply Food, a division of the Marks & Spencer stores, which sells groceries and some ready-to-eat foods. I got the hot porridge (tasted like creamy oatmeal) and some fresh nectarines to eat with it. Jennifer and I had coffee in the hotel, and we walked a few blocks up the street to an ATM that Winston had recommended. Getting some British Pounds Sterling was easy, as my debit card had the required 4-digit numeric PIN. I liked the way the different values of the bills are different sizes (larger bill = worth more). The smallest bill was a 5-pound note, supplemented by 1- and 2-pound coins. I carried around more coins than I'm used to, but they were handy when paying for small items.

We rode the double-decker Big Bus east and got off at Tower Hill, near the Tower of London. It was lunch time by then, and I satisfied a craving for fish-and-chips at a cafe nearby. One of the piers for the City Cruises boats was there too, and we hit the Tower of London gift shop while waiting for the next one.

The next boat eastward (toward the English Channel) included a captain who worked hard for his tips, pointing out many little historic pubs and noteworthy buildings. The Thames waterfront has been significantly upgraded in recent years. It now has many upscale apartments and commercial buildings, and looks ready to welcome visitors to the 2012 Olympics which will be held just to the north of this part of the river.

We got off when the boat reached Greenwich, so we could see the Greenwich Observatory: interesting in its own right and also the defining point of the Prime Meridian...the zero longitude from which all other longitudes are measured. The Observatory was quite a hike, uphill, from the dock...but it was worth it. The trip back down was much faster, and we got on the next boat west up the Thames. Passing the dock at the Tower of London, we continued west to the Westminster Pier. After looking around the area a little, and noting that my camera battery indicator was flashing red, we decided to take the Tube back to the hotel.

When Winston returned from work he checked out some restaurants online, and we decided to go to Quotidien nearby–a place that emphasized organic food. As you'd expect in a large city, there was an amazing variety of restaurants with all kinds of food available.

On the way back from the ATM on Fleet Street Monday morning, Jennifer wanted to duck into a little side street to see St. Bride's church close up. This is one of many Christopher Wren creations in London, and though not wide it is second only to St. Paul's Cathedral in the height of his churches. It's tiered tower is said to be the inspiration for tiered wedding cakes.
There are two main bus tour companies, and both stopped right outside our hotel. We went with this one, the Big Bus Company. It's also known as the Big Red Bus tour because the buses are big, and red.
We crossed the Thames on the nondescript London Bridge, and took a picture of the much more interesting Tower Bridge (completed in 1894, it was designed to look much older).
After crossing back over the Thames on the Tower Bridge, we passed the Tower of London (which we toured later in the week).
We stopped for lunch at a diner in the shadow of the Tower of London. My fish and chips with a Guinness wait for me to take this picture of Jennifer having a spot of tea with her ham and cheese.
After browsing the Tower of London gift shop, we went down to the pier to catch the City Cruises boat tour.
We opted for the open-air seats up top, although it was a bit breezy. We left the Tower Pier and headed for the Tower Bridge.
On the way, we passed the Tower of London (actually a large enclave with several distinct towers).
Going under the Tower Bridge, we could see a variety of "old" details. The core structure is concrete and steel. The upper connections between the towers are walkways, and the lower connection is a bascule bridge (that is, it splits in the middle and each side moves up toward a tower, when necessary to let a tall ship pass).
The captain pointed out many famous or quirky pubs along the way. The small white building in the center of this picture is the Mayflower pub. The ship Mayflower left with the Pilgrims from near here, and the Mayflower's captain returned and is buried nearby.
We got off the tour boat at the Greenwich pier, intending to take a short walk to the Greenwich Observatory. The signage wasn't terribly helpful (we had similar difficulties throughout the UK) and we went considerably out of our way. We did get to go through Greenwich University and the Trinity College of Music, where Harry Potter would have felt at home. Finally we got this close, and saw that the rest of the way was uphill. The picture doesn't reflect how steep the hill seemed as we ascended.
Near the top of the hill we could look back down toward the Thames (slightly visible at the extreme right of this picture).
Finally we reached the observatory. I checked my watch against the unique 24-hour clock. "Greenwich Mean Time" is the world-wide standard time to which all other time zones are relative.
Beneath the clock are these replicas of standard british measures. The pegs projecting out from the plaque enable one to place a foot between the "One Foot" stops, or rest an arm between the "British Yard" stops.
This is the outside of the Camera Obscura. Inside is a small very dark room with a small hole on one wall, an overhead mirror, and a flat table. Light enters through the pin hole, is focused and reflected by the mirror, and ends on the table as an enlarged image of the scene outside.
The center of this sculpture marks the Prime Meridian, 0 degrees longitude. The half of the world west of here is the Western Hemisphere, and the half of the world to the east is the Eastern Hemisphere. Half a world away, its counterpart is the International Date Line.
The old building housing the observatory is now a museum, and has a variety of old telescopes and other exhibits.

Back on the boat, we headed west, up-river. This time we relaxed on the lower deck.

The sailing ship on the shore is a replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hinde.

We continue west past the Tower Pier where we first got on the cruise, and sailed under the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian-only bridge created for the 2000 Millennium celebrations.

The Millennium Bridge wobbled terribly when people first started walking on it, and it had to be closed. Apparently it was sufficiently strong to take the weight of many people, but not sufficiently braced for the cumulative sideways component of many pedestrian footsteps. Additional bracing is now in place, and when we walked on it later in the week it didn't move a bit.

That's St. Paul's Cathedral in the background, of course, which means that the north end of the bridge was also close to our hotel.

Continuing the cruise, we passed "Cleopatra's Needle." This has nothing to do with Cleopatra, and in fact was already a thousand years old when Cleopatra was born. It was presented by Egypt to the UK in 1819, transported to England in 1877, and finally erected in 1878. It has a twin in New York City.
It was getting darker as we cruised past the Tower of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Strictly speaking, Big Ben is the name of the largest bell in the tower, and the Houses of Parliament are known as the Palace of Westminster.
This statue is of Boudica. A Brittonic or Welsh queen, she led a revolt against the Romans in about 60 AD. Tens of thousands of people died in the ultimately unsuccessful fighting, but she is still remembered as a symbol of a powerful woman.
After going back to the hotel and going with Winston to a nearby organic restaurant, we walked back to the hotel, guided as usual by the seemingly ever-present dome of the nearby St. Paul's Cathedral.