When I was a child, my father gave my mother a short wave radio. The transparent dial moved along a world map etched on the front of it and when listening to it, I felt connected to a world others did not have access to in pre-internet days. One station I remembered had nothing but pips until on the hour when a deep British voice would announce, “The time is 12:00 Greenwich mean time.” Today we went to visit the origin of this broadcast.
We took the Westminster Underground line to the port on the Thames for the tour boat but it took several tries to get it right because the train was diverted. The boat was very nice with a dining room with huge windows and outside deck. There was entertaining commentary along the way. We saw the Shard, a tall pointed building, the London Tower, and a replica of the ship sailed by Sir Frances Drake when he circumnavigated the world. The replica apparently has traveled around the world twice.
Once we arrived in Greenwich we walked up to the campus of the Old Royal Navel College. It was designed by Christopher Wren who is best known for designing St Paul’s Cathedral. It was originally designed to care for ailing British seamen. The school closed in 1998, but the campus is a beautiful place to visit. In the Chapel of Peter and St Paul there was a nautical theme with old wooden floors.
At the Royal Observatory, people lined up to pose on the longitudinal line marking the prime meridian. The museum was great, but way too technical for me. Years ago I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on tv and read his book, but today the information was over my head.
The Maritime Museum looked amazing, but as soon as we walked in the door, our attention was drawn to a special photography exhibit about the British seaside since the 60s. I used to spend time in Cornwall as a child with my parents and today David and I love visiting seaside locations in the UK. The only thing stopping us was an 11 pound entrance fee (14 dollars). Should we or shouldn’t we? Peering down from the museum we saw a lot of fun seaside props at the entrance and couldn’t resist.
The photographs were amazing and captured a slice of life on the seashore from each decade. The exhibit featured four celebrated British photographers. One of the best, Tony Ray Jones sadly died in his 30s. In a short documentary we watched, the other photographers who were featured said not only was it sad that Jones died so young, but no one would ever be able to find out what technique he would have used next.
The highlight of our day was a tour of The Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College. The paintings are currently being restored and to see them, you climb 67 steps up scaffolding to the ceiling. We were given headphones because there were industrial strength fans running. Our guide gave us the most informative tour I have ever experienced. He described every person painted on the ceiling from Greek gods to kings or local citizens and explained that this restoration should last 100 years. The last restoration was 60 years ago and the restorers at the time removed 15 layers of varnish that had once been used to enhance the artwork. They also repainted any missing pieces which today they will not do. Even more interesting were signatures of restorers over the past 150 years. One signed his name on the chest of Queen Mary. Today’s technique uses iodized water and micro sponges and they work inch by inch. The tours actually help pay for the restoration and we all signed a book which will become part of the archives.
Our trip back down the river was very pleasant and because it was cooler, we sat outside. We learned that a trip on the London Eye Ferris wheel is over $25 per person and for free you can go to the top of taller buildings instead and get the same view.
Tonight we went to a launderette around the corner from the hotel and ate at Franco Manca, an Italian pizza place that makes sour dough pizza. I am always taking notes for the blog and we sometimes end up with a treat from the manager. Tonight it was ice cold limoncello.
We love the neighborhood around our hotel and will definitely return here again.