The wonderful thing about having people visit is that it pushes me to get out and do the things that have been on my list, but I haven’t gotten around to actually doing. Greenwich is one of those places and I was delighted that Charlotte and Craig wanted to go there while in London. Even luckier we had gorgeous weather throughout the entire day. Charlotte, with the help of Rick Steve’s, planned our trip starting with a boat ride down the Thames (something else that had been on my to-do list).
If you’ve never done a boat tour in London, you totally should. |t’s beautiful, relaxing, and a great way to see a number of things. And if you have an Oyster card with a Travelcard you can get a discount for the boat. Who doesn’t love a discount? The boat ride itself was absolutely gorgeous and the people running the boat were very informative about what we were seeing. The pointed out the big landmarks like the Shard and Tower Bridge (in the picture below) but also tiny pubs, wharfs, and old buildings. An added bonus for me was that the boat’s bar was selling Lemon Fanta, which is my favorite. Needless to say, I arrived in Greenwich really happy and excited for a day of touring.
We started our site seeing by taking a tour of Cutty Sark. The ship was a tea clipper – meaning it was very fast and most of its cargo was tea. Until steam ships came along and ruined everything, then the Cutty Sark was mostly out of the tea business and instead transported things like wool and pianos. Something I found cool, was that this large boat had a crew of about 20 people and most of the space was taken up by their cargo.
The exhibits inside the boat were very well done. Not only were there the traditional objects in cases, but they had multi-sensory exhibits as well. Seriously, there were things you could watch, touch, listen to, and even smell. They had cute interactives for kids too, like a white top hat so they could dress up like Cutty Sark owner John Willis, and tiny mops so kids could swab the deck.
We were even able to see the bunks and fancy captains quarters. The captain had tons more space, much nicer accommodations, and even a big couch. Another cool effect of the visit is that we could walk through the cafe, which is located under the boat. The bottom of the boat is covered in Muntz metal, which is a nice almost golden color and helps keep off barnacles, and also be speedy.
But a trip to Greenwich is really all about the views. From the deck of the ship we could see into London. In the picture below you can see the Shard and faintly the London Eye. And that little glass roofed dome is an entryway to a tunnel that goes under the Thames. We walked under it later, which was somewhat thrilling even though it just looked like transferring lines at King’s Cross.
After leaving Cutty Sark, it was time for lunch. We thought we wanted to go to a pub since it was a bit breezy, but we decided to walk through Greenwich Market first. We changed our minds immediately. Half of the market was full of food stalls and everything looked and smelled amazing. We all may have gone overboard. But really, who can judge? Charlotte and Craig each got a steak sandwich smothered with gorgeous bubbling sharp cheddar cheese, and they got a scotch egg, and a churro with chocolate. Ryan and I shared empanadas, arancini, steamed chicken buns, and one of those steak sandwiches. We parked ourselves in the sunshine on the grass and had a picnic that blew us all away.
After lunch, it was time for more views and site seeing. We walked through the Old Royal Naval College and looked at the Chapel and Painted Hall. The painted hall was impressive, and I thought it was amusing that the columns are painted to look like they are fluted, without actually being fluted. We read that the Painted Hall was meant to be a dining hall for the Navy Hospital, but that someone decided it was too grand for such a plain use.
Next up was the Maritime Museum before tackling the hill and walking up to the observatory. The museum has lots of nice objects, models of boats, and space to wander and relax. In the photo below, are three of my favorite objects. On the left is a wampum belt, which was used in certain Native American communities and it was used as currency, in trade, and to record information. I like the wampum belt largely because of the novel, New York, where that kind of belt is an important fixture to the story. In the middle is a Toby jug – which basically means it’s a mug that’s in the shape of a man’s face, or a man sitting. I just found it sort of adorable and amusing. And finally, the ships in the painting had holes in their sails from cannons. I liked that the museum had arranged a cannon across from the painting because it looks like that cannon made the holes in the painting.
Out of professional curiosity, I made Ryan check out the children’s area with me. On the walls they had phrases we use that come from maritime use – like high and dry or chock-a-block – with the origins of those phrases. They also ha a cannon ball you can lift and that was fun and surprisingly difficult. After a little rest lying in the grass, we made the steep hike up the observatory. The view from up there is beautiful, and it is the one you see in the photo at the top of this post. We had bought tickets to go inside and Charlotte and I got th giggles over the name John Flamsteed. Why, I don’t know, but we kept saying things like “I bet John Flamsteed would…” and “John Flamsteed would be appalled” and other nonsense phrases.
In reality, John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal and we got to tour his house. In fact, you can see Charlotte looking through a telescope in his famous octagon room designed by Christopher Wren. Spoiler alert: when you look through the telescope you see a tiny 1980’s style image of Saturn.
The paintings hung on the wall above Charlotte also gave me the giggles. Those men sticking their toes out as if to show off new shoes amused me. I think maybe a full day of touring was getting to us. At the top of John Flamsteed’s house is a red ball that drops at 1:00pm. It’s meant to help sailors at sea gauge the time. And finally, those dolphins are a sundial and Craig checked and they were pretty accurate.
However, one of the main attraction at Greenwich is the Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian is longitude 0°, it separates the Eastern and Western hemispheres, and unlike the equator it’s arbitrary. The current prime meridian (which I’m standing across in the photo below on the right) was defined by George Airy in 1851. Before that, the meridian line was like 30 feet over and defined by James Bradley (and I’m standing across that one in the photo below on the left). The switch happened in 1851 because of the location of the Airy Transit Circle, the premiere telescope at the time. The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian of the World in 1884 during the International Meridian Conference where delegates voted on the issue.
You can go see the Prime Meridian for free but you have to wait in a long line. If you buy tickets into the observatory, you can take a picture with the Prime Meridian and a pretty sculpture, but you also have to wait in a line (albeit a shorter one). And then if you buy tickets but don’t want to wait in line, you can stand on the Meridian not in front of the statue. That’s what we did. Well as you can see I stood on both versions of the line. I think I prefer Bradley’s, but only because I’m standing in a funny pose.