Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Cold Boat to Greenwich...and Back

It was awfully cold last Friday morning. Heavy frost, you see. Don't let the bright skies fool you. The temperature was in the low single digits and for some reason this was the day we'd chosen to take the boat ride to Greenwich. Our plan was to give Benedict a treat and take him out of school for the day, but his school foiled our plans: Acton High had already planned a day for teacher meetings that Friday and there would be no school anyway.
So be it. We had to be down at Westminster Pier by 10am for the boat, and while we waited Benedict took this picture of Erika holding up the London Eye, which is across the river from Westminster. Well done.
Our boat was a bit late to the dock. In fact, we were a bit worried that it might not show up. Here it comes, the County Hall framed behind it. This used to be the headquarters for the Greater London Council until it was abolished by Thatcher's government in the mid eighties. Today a couple of hotels, restaurants,a the London Aquarium occupy the space. A ship's crew member told us that it took them longer this morning because conditions were 'slippery'.

Here's a good view of Westminster and Big Ben as we're pulling away from the dock. We were the only representatives of SU on this trip, though there were about 40 or so students from other American colleges on this trip. SU students, according to Erika, were reluctant to fraternize with other students. Something about their eagerness in imbibing a bit too strenously in the pubs. Having now seen these students, I can't say that I blame their reluctance. Some of the young ladies were dressed as London tarts rather than wholesome midwestern girls. Tsk, tsk. The big city has despoiled them.
Floating down the river one gets a different experience of the city. There are wharfs (I didn't know this, but 'wharf' stands for 'wharehouse at river front'), and soon we drifted past expensive river front apartments worth millions of pounds.
Notice in this picture how much of the wooden piers you can see. It's about 11am and the tide is out. By the time we return about 5 hours later the tide will be in and cover up those piers.
This is Canary Wharf, London's new financial centre. For now and until the Shard is completed in central London, the tall building is the tallest in England. Recall we were there a couple of weeks ago when we visited the Port of London museum. That was the place that was devoid of people on a chilly and drizzly Sunday afternoon. Perhaps part of the explanation may be that thousands of  people working in these buildings lost their job since the financial crisis hit.
This is museum is at the Old Naval College in Greenwich and is a good starting off point for our visit, giving some background and history of Greenwich. There are many fun hands-on activities, and we were distracted to the point of forgetting about why we made the trip. Here I believe I'm wearing the Admiral hat and Benedict is modeling the Captain hat. Or perhaps the other way round. Greenwich once had one of the royal palaces, King Henry VIII's favorite in fact.
The term is close to coming to an end and we'll soon be departing, and these cups summarize Erika's view on the situation.
We walked through the village of Greenwich to the observatory which is on a hill in the middle of a park. In this photo the Queen's House, which we visited later and rushed through the galleries filled with maritime paintings, is in the foreground, the excellent maritime museum next to it, and the Old Naval College, is right behind. Beyond the Thames is Canary Wharf.
The spiky building in the distance is the O2 Arena. The Lakers played the Timberwolves there a couple of weeks ago, and Federer beat Nadal in the ATP World Tour Tennis Finals under its dome on Sunday. The place also hosts major concerts, such as Benedict's favorite performer, Justin Bieber (NOT!!!).
A look back at Central London. The Gerkin is easy to spot, the building that looks like a cigar. St. Paul, which used to dominate the skyline before the onslaught of skyscrapers, can barely be seen in the the left third of the photo.
The Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The Prime Meridian, otherwise known as 0 degrees longitude. Benedict has a foot in both eastern  and western hemispheres while Erika is in the East (Hark! Yon sun of my life doth rise!) while I'm in the West (Alas, I liveth now in the sunset of mine years.). There is a terrific exhibit on time and time keeping and includes the fascinating story of the development of an accurate clock for keeping track of time on the seas. This was of immeasurable importance because temporal accuracy was necessary to determine the longitude of ships at sea. The way to determine longitude was to set the ship's clock to a set point on land that would be associated with a determinate time. By international agreement this set point became Greenwich's Prime Meridian--0 degrees longitude--and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) the determinate time. By comparing the local time at sea with the GMT, as indicated by the ship's clock, navigators can determine the ship's longitude. Every hour of difference between GMT and the ship's clock indicated a difference of 15 degrees longitude from Greenwich's Prime Meridian. Without an accurate clock on board ship, calculations could be off several degrees and several hundred miles. So one could see the importance of accurate time pieces on the ships. Pendulum clocks had become very accurate, but they didn't work well on ships rolling on ocean waves. Details of who developed the first highly accurate non-pedulum clock and how he did it are here. The clocks are in an exhibit at the observatory, as well as time pieces from throughout history. The observatory also has terrific astronomy exhibits as well.

The Old Naval College is now the campus of the University of Greenwich. Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul's Cathedral's architect, designed the buildings. He also designed the observatory. He must have been a very busy man.
Construction of the site for the fastest clipper ships of its day will be completed in time for the London Olympic games. It's near the Thames shore and looks like it will be fantastic.

The five hours we spent in Greenwich was much too short. We never explored the maritime museum, though we had a bite to eat in its cafe. It looks spectacular. At least two days are required to explore Greenwich. But our boat was heading back to Westminster at 4pm and we had to be on it.

It was dark by the time we got back to Westminster. The sun set about the time the boat shoved off from Greenwich at 4pm. Twilight lasted for about half an hour, and then darkness. It was still cold.

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