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London, day 9: 21 September 2006

Started: 2006-09-26 20:43:57

Submitted: 2006-09-26 21:06:00

Visibility: World-readable

0815 BST 21 September 2006

Proposed itinerary:

  1. Circle/District line to Tower Hill. Purchase Tower of London tickets at kiosk at tube station.
  2. Tower of London. Rick Steves has tour on page 226. Allow several hours.
  3. Tower Bridge experience, not far away. Climb the bridge, and see the Victorian engineering works.
  4. Back on the north side of the river, at St. Katherine's Pier, take Thames River Services boat downstream to Thames Barrier and Greenwich. Boats to barrier leave at 11:20, 12:20, 13:20, 14:20, and 15:20. £4.65 with travelcard.
  5. Greenwich highlights:
    1. Cutty Sark -- £4; maybe a bit expensive?
    2. Greenwich Foot Tunnel -- built 1899-1902
    3. Old Royal Navy College
    4. National Maritime Museum, includes gallery on Lord Nelson, including the uniform he wore at Trafalgar.
    5. Old Royal Observatory -- ball drops at 13:00; we probably won't get there by then.

Weather: High of 26°C; warm, sunny, light wind.

1920 BST 21 September 2006

197 Blackfriars Rd -- building in Southwark that I photographed Saturday evening.

1150 BST 23 September 2006

Currently en route to Heathrow (and the newly-reopened terminal 4 tube stop) via the Piccadilly line, after nine fantastic days in London.

On Thursday, we were able to execute the plan as written with minimal difficulty. The Tower of London wasn't as thronged by tourists as we had expected (or feared); we got a yeoman wardman tour ("beefeater"), who pointed out the sights and history of the castle, built by William the Conquerer in 1078 and used by British monarch ever since. We saw a collection of royal weapons, including Henry VIII's armor with a very large cylindrical codpiece. We saw the crown jewels, which were shiny. Still not convinced it was worth what we paid for it...

Scottish Beefeater at the Tower of London
Scottish Beefeater at the Tower of London

Next was the Tower Bridge, which was harder to get into than one would expect -- the main entrance to the special bridge tour was under construction, and the alternate entrance was poorly labeled. For a modest fee, we climbed to the top of the north-west tour, saw a video reconstructing the bridge's history, and got to walk on the slightly-wobbly upper walkways high above the Thames and the draw bridge sections. My camera batteries finally gave out on the walkway; Nikon saw fit to not provide me with a dual-voltage battery charger, so I charged at home and hoped for the best -- which wasn't great, but it was better than I feared.

Isle of Dogs from the Tower Bridge
Isle of Dogs from the Tower Bridge

After the walkways, we took the lift down the south-east tower and walked to the Engine Room, the Victorian-era engineering works that provided the power to lift the bridge, using steam power to compress water and lift the counterbalanced bridge sections. Very impressive. (These days the bridge is operated electrically, and ships wishing to pass must provide twenty-four hours notice and a specific time slot.)

They took our picture in front of a green screen at the beginning of the tour and offered to sell it to us at non-cheap tourist prices, matted on top of a photo of the bridge. We passed. (This sounds like my very bad idea for a video depicting a series of fake tourist photos -- the random family group stays the same, but the tourist locales behind them (Tour Bridge, Big Ben, Mount Rushmore, Golden Gate Bridge, etc) slide across the background like a slide show. The tourists should shift slightly between each snapshot.)

1240 BST 23 September 2006

Currently in departures at Heathrow Terminal 4, waiting to be allowed to check into my flight, which doesn't leave for another 3 hours.

After the Tower Bridge, the next item on our itinerary was a boat ride to Greenwich. We paid cash for our ticket and waiting on the sunny dock for the right boat to arrive. When it did, we boarded for the trip downstream to Greenwich, passing trendy condos and warehouse-to-condo conversions, past the Isle of Dogs and its iconic banking skyscrapers, and docked at Greenwich. We stayed on for the cruise further down-river, up the other side of the Isle of Dogs, past the white elephant formerly known as the Millennium Dome, and finally to the Thames Barrier. One of the gates was up for maintenance. We passed through the barrier and got a good look at it, and I was quite disappointed that my camera was no longer functional. (The thought crossed my mind to look for a camera store that could sell me a UK voltage charger, but I didn't think it would be worth it for tomorrow only. (I may have been able to bring my single-voltage US charger after all; our hotel room included a US power jack, but it wasn't entirely obvious that it was, in fact, the correct voltage.))

We sailed back through the barrier and returned to Greenwich. We walked through the Old Navy College and found the National Maritime Museum. It was 1600, and we had only an hour before everything closed at 1700. We found the Nelson exhibit, saw the uniform he was wearing when he commanded the Royal Navy to a decisive victory at Trafalgar (with the fatal bullet hole clearly visible), and other artifacts from the battle, the Royal Navy circa 1805, and Nelson's life. The most impressive exhibit was an interactive situation display showing the fleet action that day. The 3-meter by 3-meter table had the animated display projected onto it from above, and one could point at ships to display more detailed information. It was the modern equivalent of Honor Harrington's holo tank. I was impressed.

As the museum closed, we swung through the gift shop and saw £3 plastic figures of Lord Nelson but managed to avoid buying any.

1420 BST 23 September 2006

Now waiting for departure at Starbucks inside security.

After the National Maritime Museum closed, we hiked up the hill to the south to the Royal Observatory, 0°, through which the Prime Meridian runs. The observatory was closed, but we could look through the gate and see the gate -- which (oddly enough) didn't line up with 0° according to my GPS. There wasn't much to see, so we headed back down the hill, went through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the north bank of the Thames. The tunnel was built in 1092 and is part of a national bicycle network. Cyclists are supposed to walk their bikes through the tunnel, but most coasted while balancing on only one peddle -- which was a bit disconcerting in the narrow tunnel, especially with tourists on foot who couldn't figure out that the signs instructed one to keep to the left.

On the north side of the tunnel, we took the lift up and found the nearest tube stop -- actually a Docklands Light Railway stop. We rode north to catch the Jubilee line at Canary Wharf, which was completely mobbed by investment bankers leaving their day jobs. The tube cars were full through Southwark, where we got off to find supper.

My brilliant theory was to find food along the trendy strip of restaurants on The Cut. We passed Tas, where we ate on Saturday night, and ate at Paradiso, an Italian restaurant with good quasi-American mushroom pizza.

Our next stop was Piccadilly Circus, where we tried and mostly failed to find worthy thank-you gifts for the friend taking care of our cats after Bitscape and Rain left. That was a bust, so we headed back to our hotel and tried to figure out what to do on our last day in London. I spent entirely too much time trying to figure out the perfect itinerary that would minimize transportation time between stops, and maximize utilization of each site's extra opening hours. The classic "traveling salesman" problem. I eventually sorted east-to-west and declared victory.

Tube trips today:

  1. Gloucester Road to Tower Hill via District.
  2. Island Gardens via DLR to Heron Quays; Canary Wharf via Jubilee to Southwark.
  3. Southwark to Green Park via Jubilee.
  4. Piccadilly Circus to Gloucester Road via Piccadilly.