Friday, May 21:  Greenwich

Hopped the Tube one stop down to Westminster and checked the prices and departure times for the two rival boat companies. Paid a pound more to leave ten minutes sooner for the hour-long trip up the river to Greenwich. Saw many of the same monuments we saw on the bus tour, along with scripted commentary. The weather was good, so the boys and I rode up on the open top.

Finally at our destination, we looked at the Cutty Sark, one of the ships that would race back from China with tea, so as to obtain the best prices for the tea since it was the first available. Also saw the Gipsy Moth, which Rick said was the first boat to be piloted solo around the world. The information sign seemed to tell a more confusing story. We followed Rick’s itinerary almost to the letter, with only minor deviations based on my previous visit in 1997. This meant we walked a bit further downstream on the Thames to the Trafalgar Tavern. Once we discerned the rules and regulations on who could eat what in which room, the adults had a good pub lunch with a great pint of bitter. The kids were less impressed with their fajitas.

The Royal Navy College has been decommissioned and is now a university, but the Chapel and “Painted Hall” are still open for free visits. A brief rain shower meant we popped out the umbrellas to dash across the opening between the buildings (the gap being created to enhance the view from the Queen’s Palace just uphill). On exiting the Painted Hall, where we had an entertaining lesson from one of the docents, David’s ultra-portable umbrella had gone AWOL. Its location is still a mystery.

The Queen’s Palace was so-so, but the National Maritime Museum was a hit. And Rick gets credit for another guidebook sale for suggesting to spend half your time in the Nelson Room. Its very interesting to see the British take on the French-England conflicts, just after spending so much time in France and Paris. Got a better understanding of the popularity of Nelson, and saw the uniform he was wearing when he was mortally wounded at Trafalgar.

Up the hill to the Royal Observatory, where we had fun and games on the Prime Meridian and gawked at the official standard measurements for a British Yard and a British Foot. (Photo 144) (Photo 145) Into the museum and we quickly cruised to the room with Harrison’s clocks, H1 through H4. These were his entries in the competition to build a clock that would keep accurate time on lengthy sea voyages, essential for determining one’s longitude. It was a competition that Harrison won, and he was eventually recognized as the legitimate winner. (For all the details, see Sobel’s entertaining Longitude.) H1 through H3 expose all their complicated inner workings, and in Robert’s words were “twice as big as my head.” Then H4 looks like just a pocket watch on steroids. Amazing. The placard called it the world’s most important timekeeper. On the way out Robert marveled at the small digital watch he got free with his Louvre Food Court dinner a week ago.

Back home to Westminster Pier, we iterated to a shop with fish and chips, first on advice from an ice-cream vendor, then from a policeman guarding the Police Headquarters with an automatic rifle. Laughing Halibut was good and oh-so-fried, but it fulfilled another checkbox. Bangers & mash, a bitter and fish & chips all in the same day. Back to the room at a reasonable hour for once and we got journals and scrapbooks caught up.