TEN-DAY APRIL 2001 LUTMAN-BURLINGAME LONDON TRIP
Monday, April 2, 2001. Day 4 of 12. LONDON EYE, THAMES BOAT RIDE TO GREENWICH.
BIRDER'S NOTE: No birding today.
The phone rings at 700 AM. It's the buzz, buzz, buzz of the hotel's wake-up computer, telling us that the day is breaking.
Down in the breakfast level, I decide to try for sunny-side-up, hoping for a little liquid sunshine in the center of my egg. The friendly waitress yesterday and today is from Morocco. Yes, she understands sunny-side-up. The egg comes and it's a hard center again. "Good though," to quote the new Canadian lumberjack.
It's a gorgeous day with blue sky and white clouds. Sharon and I skip our parkas, gambling that it will stay nice. I wear my standard blue jeans with long-sleeved shirt, my photographer/birder's vest (lots of pockets and handy when you're carrying all the items I am), and a light jacket. I am carrying my digital camera in the front bottom pocket, the note-taking cassette recorder in the upper left pocket of the vest. I am wearing a fanny pack around the waist, containing the day's printed material. Around my neck is the video camera.
I carry the underground pass in the upper right pocket of the vest, feeling very organized.
At 8:23 AM, we are out on the street, headed for the Underground. I say to Nancy, "The only thing for sure is that we can't take a Thames boatride because we've left our parkas behind. But anything else on our list should be OK."
Looking up, Sharon again notices the crow's nest high in one of the park trees. Having written a few postcards last night, Sharon drops them off in the mail box.
At 9:06 we are just getting to Victoria Station. Lots of people read the morning newspapers on the tube, and all of them have bits about the foot-and-mouth disease here. The new information is that they postponed the upcoming election by a month. I thought the reason was physical, that it was to prevent lots of tramping around. But Sharon says it was that the government officials are to pay attention to the hoof-and-mouth crisis rather than preparing for an election.
We exit the train and the tube and make our way over to Westminster Bridge, where we get an edge look at the London Eye. We walk across the bridge, and I get in the only line I see. It's quite short and I purchase three 9-pound tickets that say 10:00 AM. We get in another line, the end of where about 10 people at a time are loaded into each bubble. It comes our turn and on we go.
As we slowly rise, I can see the next car behind us quite clearly. A little higher and we can see Parliament House and Big Ben. Sharon and Nancy are having a great time on this 30-minute ride. It rotates so slowly that it seems like it will take an hour. A great view of County Hall can be seen directly below, a very impressive semi-circular building that is now owned by a Japanese consortium.
We complete our circuit, buy some souvenirs, recross the bridge, and the weather is spectacular. Blue skies, warm weather, a perfect day for a boatride.
We head for the Westminster Pier and buy three tickets for Greenwich, to the east. The boat arrives, and I rush on to capture three prime seats outside, near the front of the boat. It's only 10:05!
As we take off, I can see the Union Jack atop Parliament House. We head upstream for a few feet, then turn around and follow the river flow eastward. We soon cross under the Millenium Footbridge, created and opened for the millenium celebration. I have looked forward to walking across the Thames on this walking-only bridge, but we learn from the commentator that it "wibbled and wobbled as soon as it opened. City engineers studied it and got out the wibbles, but not the wobbles, and they closed it down."
"Two out of the three attractions designed for the millenium were failures," he goes on to say, referring to the Millenium Dome. This is a huge bubbled attraction that no one went to, including us. I'm not even sure what is in it.
We also pass the Tower of London to our left, and then pass underneath the wonderful Tower Bridge. I was not expecting the beautiful blue and white colors at all, and they are very distinctive.
By a little after noon, we have docked at Greenwich, walked into the little town, found the Kings Arms pub. Nancy and Sharon order their lunches at the bar, which is how pubs work. No waitress comes to your table. Rather, you order anything you want from the bar.
I am engrossed at watching the artistic talents of a girl who is hand-printing a menu with something I might call liquid chalk. The printing is like Gothic print and is impeccable. I am always in awe of things I can't do at all, like this.
Nancy asks the waitress behind the bar how far it is to the red ball location (see below), but remarkably, she has never heard of it.
We finish our meals (ham sandwich for me, ham sandwich and chips, aka french fries for Sharon, and Yorkshire pudding for Nancy), and try our hand at darts. Some of us are better than others (I stick two darts in the wall, Nancy puts one on the floor). Then we head out for the Royal Observatory.
Our objective is to see the famous red ball rise and drop, visible from the Thames, where captains have set their chronometers for a couple of hundred years (he said, uncertainly). At 5 minutes before 1:00 PM, it rises halfway up its approximately eight-foot vertical rise. Then at 2 minutes till, it goes the rest of the way. Finally, exactly at 1:00 PM, it drops. I capture this on video, calibrating the Sony's internal clock. Ah, objective completed.
Sharon had gone on ahead, birding her way up the hill to the observatory, while Nancy waited for me to use the loo.
After finishing the video, Nancy and I head up one of the routes to the top, having seen Sharon walking up this path earlier. On the way, we see an artist painting a wonderful scene, including an incredible pink-blossomed tree.
A little further up, I get my best look yet at the red ball up on the observatory.
At first we can't find Sharon, but while we were watching the ball and unknown to us, she reversed her field and came back down the hill. Sharon then saw us go up her original path, and took a short cut. So we all finally meet at the top. This is the exact location of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, if you've heard of that. Another way to say it is that it is on the opposite side of the globe as the International Dateline. Nancy and Sharon do a tug-of-war across the meridian, each trying to pull the other into her respective hemisphere. East meets West.
Walking back down off the hill, we see and hear a nice pair of nesting Winter Wrens. I want to go back to the pub and take some photos before we leave, as does Nancy. Sharon wants to go across the big grassy field to the Queen's House, so we split up. But quickly Sharon calls me over, where we watch a Mistle Thrush working the ground successfully for worms. I video tape the thrush pecking for worms just as two Magpies chase it away.
Again, Sharon and I split up and I capture a nice shot out the pub window, showing several of the distinctive glass squares with circular ripples. I continue on down to the docks after purchasing a couple of Greenwich souvenirs, and stop directly behind the Cutty Sark, one of the last sailing ships plying the China Tea routes.
Nancy and Sharon decide to try to see the local version of the Crown Jewels. A few minutes before docking, we get a new view of the photogenic London Eye. The successful third of the millenium attraction triad has been SO successful that the originally-planned three years of life before disassembling has been changed to indefinite. They also say that other, similar attractions are being planned for a few other cities all around the world.
Off the boat, we take the underground directly back to Paddington and home. There is a mother and child speaking Italian, and the boy is fun to watch. After a bit, he gets up and asks Nancy politely in English if she'd like to have a seat. We say goodbye to the little boy as we leave.
Sharon and Nancy go to the local steak house for dinner, but I opt out after sitting down with them for a minute. I pick up some grapes at a local stand and have them for dinner, while I continue working on the first email.
Sharon goes to an AA meeting at nearby St. Mary's hospital, and brings home a story or two. She reports that it was a "newcomer" meeting with mostly people sober four or five months or less. Lots of Irish, she says.
Sharon talks about making her way around the city, and someone asks her if she has a "where-to-find," which turns out to mean an AA-meeting schedule and locator.
I download the day's photos, and we look at them to cap off the evening a little later.
That's it for the day. Hope you're having fun with these.
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