Day Number 2+
So our trip to London could not be done in a day. The first day saw us utilizing our London Pass to great effect. However, we were somewhat limited by the included tour bus tickets. The key here is to not limit ourselves on the second day. Instead, the very first thing we did on Day 2 was to go to the Bayswater Tube station and buy three full day unlimited tube passes. We were no longer slaves to the fickle whims of the Big Bus.
Now armed with the ability to go anywhere, anytime, we made for Westminster Bank to catch the Thames River cruise down to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. Now why, you may ask, would anybody want to go there. Well, first, it was included in the London Pass, and that should be enough of an explanation right there. Second, the Royal Observatory is the home of the Prime Meridian. Again, you might ask, why would you care about that. And the answer would be that the reason the British Empire was so great, was precisely because of the Prime Meridian, along with a whole bunch of really cool clocks.
Greenwich and the Royal Observatory
Greenwich is a pleasant little village on the far east side of London. When you get off the river cruise boat, the first thing you see is the last surviving clipper ship, the Cutty Sark. Now my dad and I enjoy a scotch cocktail called a rust nail which is made with 3 parts scotch and one part Drambuie. Our go-to scotch for this drink is Cutty Sark, so this had a certain religious factor to it. The next thing to see is the British Maritime Museum which is free to the public (much to the disdain of our London Pass), but is none-the-less a pretty cool place to explore. Afterward, we scaled a serious hill to get to the Royal Observatory. When you get there, you’ll be winded, but you’ll find out why the Brits were such hot-shots on seven seas.
You see the problem was longitude. Every sailor worth his salt could tell you in what latitude you were, but nobody knew what the longitude was. You could be anywhere around the world at 42-degrees north longitude (where Pittsburgh is, btw), but not have a clue where you where, in Pittsburgh or Tokyo. The only way to figure that out was to know what time it was, and then measure the time relative to some fixed point (hint, hint, the Prime Meridian), and then, you could tell exactly where you were without the benefit of GPS. The only way to do this was to have a clock that could keep accurate time for a long sea voyage, complete with big waves and other things that would make your grandfather’s clock throw up. They ran a contest to see who could come up with such a clock, and offered a prize of 100,000 pounds which in mid 1800s money is about a gazillion dollars today.
So some dude did this, claimed the prize, and made Britannia the Queen of the Oceans, and himself quite rich in the process. He also got to call himself the Astronomer Royal, so how cool is that?
Also located at Greenwich is the Thames Flood Barrier. The Thames is a tidal river who’s floods can be predicted. The Londoners were sick and tired of cleaning up after floods that they knew were coming, so they spent a butt-load of cash to build this barrier that can be raised to keep the flood waters out. Engineers appreciate things like this.
Next, on to the tube and quick trip for lunch at Camden Market.
So there are several “markets” around the city. Two of the most famous are Covent Gardens and Camden Market. We have been to the markets at Convent Gardens previously so we decided to go to Camden Town which is north of the city. They have converted old brick buildings into hundreds of market stalls that literally sell everything. The place was packed. We found a pub with an open table and had fish and chips along with a couple of pints of the local ale. Max then went on a quest to find a rock and roll t-shirtshop which everyone had heard of, but no one could quite direct us to. In the end, we found a similar place and he scored a couple of band t-shirts. Personally, I think Covent Gardens is a classier place, but Camden Town was certainly lively.
Next, since we promised Max’s teachers that the trip would be educational, we tubed off to the British Museum.
The British Museum
We didn’t give ourselves much time and arrived at the museum about 20 minutes before closing time. Admittance to the museum is actually free which makes it somewhat a unique attraction in the UK. We decided to do a focused tour and see as much cool stuff as we could before they tossed us out.
Since the British Empire at one time owned most of the world, it should be no surprise that the British Museum contains most of the worlds great artifacts. They seemed to be particularly interested in carting back most of Egypt for “safe keeping” with mummies (including King Tut), and miles of stonework containing hyroglifics. On other floors there is ancient Greek, and Phoenician writing, which everyone figured probably meant something, but nobody could quite figure out. Until they found the Rosetta Stone. This thing is the Little Orphan Annie magic decoder ring for ancient writing. I think the author was trying to communicate a chicken pot pie recipe and took the time to write it in three languages, ancient Egyptian (using both hyroglifics and another script), and ancient Greek. Since the modern Greeks could read ancient Greek, the stone became the key to unlocking the writings of Ancient Egypt. Which is pretty darn cool.
After getting booted from museum, we went across the street to the Museum Tavern. You have to love the UK. There are pubs everywhere. This one is extra special as it is about the only place I know in London that keeps my favorite beer on tap. Theakson Old and Peculiar is a Yorkshire Ale brewed way up in northeast England. You can sometimes find it in bottles, even in the US. However, it is tough to find in casks. This pub has it, and I quaffed a few in my time, and did so on this occasion. Max, however, was bummed. He had hoped that we would get to see the Beatles Abbey Road Studios, but it was already dark and I had to have my beer. So we let him pick place for us to have dinner. It turns out that there was a Hard Rock Cafe about a mile away and we walked it. Over both days in London, we logged about 25 miles walking. After dinner, Denise made sure we took a taxi back to the hotel.
Abbey Road – Afterward
Max was sullen about missing out on Abbey Road, so I told him that we could get up bright and early (teenagers HATE that) and take the tube to St. John’s Wood. From the station it is a short walk to the iconic zebra crossing. This made Max quite happy, and put a nice topper on our 2+ days in London.
We got back to the hotel, and took a car to Heathrow where we picked up a hire car and headed north.
Well I hope you enjoyed our two-day-plus London visit.
Some notable take aways
- London Pass – we probably would’ve spent $300 per person in entry fees over two days
- All-day Tube Pass – the Underground is fast and convenient. And it goes virtually everywhere
- Covent Gardens instead of Camden Town
- Watch the time of year as it got dark early on us. Hence our early morning trip to Abbey Road.