Greenwich — A Mean Time!

We’ve tried every jet lag cure. It doesn’t seem to matter what we do, the first few days in a place seven or eight time zones aways hurts. Sleepless nights. Afternoons of overwhelming exhaustion. And while our better-living-through-chemistry philosophy leads us to take sleeping pills, we still aren’t at our best those first few days.

So knowing that our safari in Zimbabwe was truly a once in a lifetime trip, we didn’t want to miss a beat. And a four day layover in London — a place we had been to several times before — seemed a great way to get over jet lag before an eleven hour flight, due South, with only one time zone change. Plus we had seen most of the sights we absolutely wanted to see in London. Now we could browse leisurely. Well, part of the plan worked.

London in those last days of September and first days of October was perfect! Sunny weather, but cool temperatures. Perfect for walking. And we walked. 24 miles in the first two and a half days.

Seeing Greenwich had been on our list before, but it always got missed. This time we hopped the boat at Westminster and enjoyed the views on the way to Greenwich, the birthplace of Henry VIII and his three children. We had anticipated taking the 90 minute tour (greenwhichtours.co.uk 8£) and then taking the Tube back to London for more sights. Didn’t happen. Once we started the tour we realized there was more to see and do than we could accomplish in one day.

We lucked out. Just the three of us signed up for the tour so we got essentially a private tour of the Old Royal Naval College, it’s chapel and the prime meridian as well as the park grounds. While tourists may consider Greenwich to be a second rate tourist site, it was the birth place of Henry VII, Henry VIII, and the remaining Tudors monarchs. As a palace it fell out of favor when Henry VIII divorced wife #1 and was marginally used until Charles II decided to build a riverfront palace on the site. He demolished the original building and started on his grand palace, only to be thwarted as Parliament flexed its control of the purse strings and England’s constitutional monarchy began to emerge. Charles incomplete building sat largely unused until William and Mary decided to build a home for the multitude of British infirm sailors. They donated the land and convinced renowned London architect Christopher Wren to design a home.

Later this became the Old Royal Naval College Today the buildings house a university and art college. We did a quick stop in the Royal chapel where the pattern on the marble floor mimics the rope on Restoration era ships.

And then began the long climb to the observatory and prime meridian. Wonderful views of the Thames and newer parts of London.

And we took the usual tourist pictures of us straddling the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

After the tour concluded we decided we could not do all three museums. We opted to skip the Royal Observatory — tough choice— and focus on the other two. Even then we were rushed as we went through the Maritime Museum. We focused in on the Napoleanic era and Lord Nelson’s triumphs with quick spin through Great Britain’s maritime history in the Pacific.

Our last stop of the day was the restored Cutty Sark. It had a $15 entrance fee, but being members of the National Trust brought that cost down for us to $10 a person. Well worth it. This ship, often referred to the fastest sailing cargo ship (although there were multiple races and Cutty Sark didn’t win them all), had a crew of just two dozen. The exhibit is exceptionally well done.

On the advice of our guide, we walked across the Thames — through a pedestrian tunnel build in the early 1900’s so worked could get to London’s docks and warehouses and not be dependent upon the ferrymen that charged exorbitantly. A little spooky to be under the river, particularly when we reached the end that had been repaired after bomb damage at the end of the German bombing of London.

So the bottom line? Greenwich is definitely a first rate sight. (By the way, the term first rate is a British naval term and refers to the size of the ship. Nothing wrong with being second or third rate; you’re just smaller)

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