Travels with Dick and Karen

London, Part 2

Thames River Trip to the Barrier and Greenwich

For a variety of reasons, we wanted to visit Greenwich, the site of the Royal Observatory and (ex-)home of "Greenwich Mean Time" (GMT), the historical master clock from which all time zones refer. We took this trip relatively early in our stay and think it helped to give us an over-all view of the city.

We also wanted to see the Thames Flood Barrier, which is a ways seaward of Greenwich. One of the boat services included a loop out there, so we chose the "wet route".


We started out at Harrod's, picking up ham and cheese croissants for lunch. Then we walked to the Westminster pier to check out the boats. There are a number of options, but only TRS (Thames River Services) included the Barrier. A coupon and Senior Discounts halved the price.

Westminster Pier is located "across the street" from Parliament. At least three lines service that pier, so there was a bit of confusion as to (a) which ticket window (b) which floating dock (c) which vessel but the staff was good at guiding us to our boat, the Mercia. As we pulled out the competition's boat (in photo) was also loading. We headed down stream.


The London Eye across the water looks like a giant bicycle wheel. It takes 30 minutes to make one rotation.

The large building was once the London County Hall, the home of London's elected government. It's gone kind'a "down market" these days. It now holds the London Aquarium, the London Dungeon, an amusement arcade and Shrek's Adventure!

Our boat had a delightful live guide/commentator/"cultural interpreter" on boat. He probably would not have called the drift from governmental to amusements "down market".

We sailed on...


On the north bank we see Cleopatra's needle. Originally erected in Luxor circa 1500 BC (1000 years before Cleo was born), it was a present from the Viceroy of Egypt in 1819. It took until 1878 to get it erected. There are similar obelisks in Paris and New York. The bronze Sphinxes at the base are English, not Egyptian.

The R.S. Hispaniola is a permantently-moored restaurant. No, it doesn't have a mast. That's a support of the Jubilee Footbridge, which parallels the railroad bridge. The building behind is Charing Cross Station.

Notice the greenish scum area/line on the wall of the river. That's the normal tidal range ("with boat for scale"). More on that later.

The new Millenium Footbridge with St. Paul's Cathedral in the background. london
The low building with the tall square-topped tower is the Tate Modern Art Museum. It's in a converted power station (see part 3). The twisted shorter tower to its right is its new wing, to be opened in July 2016. london

A bit further downstream is the replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

(tide is very low: the river level will be almost to the top of the wall on the way back)


Londoners have nicknames for their modern buildings: their tallest is called "The Shard".

A replica of the Golden Hind is docked between modern office buildings. The Golden Hind was the first English ship to sail around the world under Sir Francis Drake. london

As we approach The Tower Bridge, we first encounter the HMS Belfast in the foreground. We'll see the bridge again from the Tower of London in part 3

We appreciated the skill of our boat's captain as he tied-up to the pier with the current running so fast (and very little leeway between our stern and a bridge piling). london
We sailed past a variety of Southbank businesses in older buildings. Notice that they are all brick. London learned to require stone and brick through many bad fires. The replica Globe Theatre is the first building to be allowed a thached roof in nearly 400 years. london
Our guide said this is pub from which the Pilgrims left for America. london
We pass Greenwich (we'll be coming back and disembarking). london
and the old Royal Naval College london
... and go down among the docklands with all its new buildings. 80,000 new housing units are going in. The boat's guide had quite a bit to say about their astronomical (that's not the word he used) pricing. london
He also had a few words about the O2 arena, a Teflon coated fiberglass "tent" left over from the Olympics held aloft by the yellow masts. We remember the phrasing as "the world's most expensive usually empty tent". It's now an occasional concert venue. london
No, that's not an industrial accident, it's Art. london
The Thames Barrier comes into view london
As we pass between the stations we see the great wheel that rotates to bring up the barrier. Our guide mentioned that there was a record high tide earlier in the day, so that the barriers had been closed earlier that morning. london
Here's a section that had not yet been dropped again. Dick speculated that it was being worked on ("See the crane?"). london

We turn and go back through the barrier stations to Greenwich. Our boat, the Mercia, is tied to the London Rose because the dock was entirely occupied when we arrived. So we disembarked through the London Rose to the dock, assisted by a helpful crew member.

The Cutty Sark is beached and on display but we didn't take the tour. It was one of the last, and fastest, clipper ships developed for shipping tea from China. london
We went through the small city-run naval museum and then admired the ship in a bottle. The Naval College houses another far larger museum. london
Then we turned and climbed the hill behind the Naval College... london the Royal Observatory london
Today was the day Mercury would cross the face of the sun. Unfortunately it was cloudy. Even if it hadn't been, we wouldn't have been able to see the main telescope due to the transit of Mercury scheduling. We would have had to pre-book months in advance. london

Greenwich has two historic buildings: this is Flamsteed House, the one that monitors the "central meridian" and established the "meridian line" that marks the boundary between the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth. The red ball drops daily at 1 pm to continue its job as a public time standard. (er, make that "dropped", since it's currently damaged due to a weather event)

There were many amateur telecopes sprinkled around the site trying to show Mercury to visitors, but they were equally disappointed by the clouds.


So we toured the grounds and met other historic telescopes outside.
The battered iron cylinder beyond Karen is all that remains of William Herschel's 1780's 40-foot long reflecting telescope. Its mirror is now at the Science Museum.


The second historic building is the Royal Observatory itself.

The dome now covers the "Endeavour Room" a rentable space featuring a large round conference table. The building also houses a museum, a gift shop, an auditorium and photo gallery, and a cafe. The terrace at the exit of the cafe honors Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.


You've heard of Greenwich mean time? The break in the fence above Karen's head was it: point 0 for longitude and GMT. At night the observatory sends out a green laser beam to mark it.

However ... with the advent of the GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO satellite navigation systems, the agreed-upon "zero line" has been shifted 102.5 meters to the east. So this highly-marked line, although historically accurate, is no longer truly "zero". But even the new zero is a moving target.... continental drift shifts it about 2.5 centimeters (one inch) further east every year. Fame is so fleeting...

Back on the boat again, we head home. The weather had turned to rain. The tug out the window shows the waves we were experiencing. All along the river the water was higher. The dimmer light and pitching of our boat blurred most of this trip's photos. london

Among the few changes we see on the return trip: the National Geographic Explorer ship had tied up alongside the HMS Belfast. That's still The Shard standing beyond them.

We docked at Westminster pier again. Due to the rain we took our first bus trip ... home.


Part 3: To the Tower

1: Local area 2: Thames river trip 3: To the Tower 4: Canal to Soho 5: Further afield by rail: Reading, Kew
6: Chelsea Gardens
7: More Museum To Iceland  

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all text and images copyright Karen and Dick Seymour 2016,
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