The next day, Wednesday the start of our second week, was another museum day, back to South Kensington again but this time to the Natural History Museum.
After several hours of looking around two or three floors on geology and earthquakes etc, in what I thought was the main part of the museum, we discovered that “all the good stuff” as Daniel put it was in the adjoining building which meant we had hardly started. Eventually Karen took Amy across the road to the V&A Museum for a break while Daniel and I continued at the Natural History Museum. Daniel and I went to an informative lecture on extinct birds and later when Amy and Karen arrived back we all headed to the Investigate Science Lab which was open to the general public from 2:30pm. Daniel and Amy had all the “scientists” to themselves as we were the only ones there! Daniel had a marvellous time speaking with someone about crocodiles and shark teeth while Amy was busy working on a computer learning about butterflies. At the end of the day we went on a tour through the collection of preserved animals in jars. As there were only a few others besides ourselves we were able to ask lots of questions. I was amazed at how much Daniel knew and at the animals, particularly sea animals that he could identify and discuss with the scientist who showed us around. By the way I was surprised to learn that there are some 350 scientists employed by the museum and that they have very active scientific research work going on. It was impossible to see everything so after a long day we headed back home. Daniel and I decided to return on Saturday to try to get around everything we had missed. Karen had other plans for Amy …
By Thursday we needed a day at home to recover, then on Friday we took a ferry “tour” down to Greenwich.
We enjoyed walking through Greenwich Park up to the Royal Observatory, the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line. Here is the view from the observatory:
Interestingly, the observatory was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II and was used for scientific work until the start of the 20th century when various functions started being moved to other locations. The Greenwich site now is really just there for tourists and is considered, I think, as part of the National Maritime Museum which Daniel and I raced around later in the day while Karen and Amy went to the Fan Museum. If you want to read up on the Meridian Line check out http://www.rmg.co.uk/explore/astronomy-and-time/astronomy-facts/history/the-prime-meridian-at-greenwich. It’s an imaginary line defined as 0⁰ longitude that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole. It separates the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere. Surprisingly with the advent of GPS and all the mod-in-cons in navigation the Prime Meridian Line at Greenwich has become less important and superseded, I think, by the International Reference Meridian. So the modern 0⁰ longitude is no longer the exact same position as the Greenwich Meridian Line – I pity the tourist who pays to straddle this out-of-date meridian line! After a few hours of searching on the web to try to understand this I decided I can’t quite get my head around this so I leave it for you to study … One thing I did want to know however was how exactly does 0⁰ longitude relate to GMT time? Well upon further investigation I think the answer is that in theory noon Greenwich Mean Time is the exact moment when the sun crosses the Greenwich meridian (and reaches its highest point in the sky at Greenwich). Unfortunately it turns out that the “Earth’s uneven speed in its elliptic orbit and its axial tilt” make it rarely the case that this occurs at noon and it may occur up to 16 minutes away from noon! (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwich_Mean_Timefor more details.)
Saturday was an exciting day for Amy as Karen took her out of town for her first real ballet show! Of course Daniel and I were devastated that we couldn’t afford to join them so we headed back to the museums at South Kensington. I had it pretty worked out now and knew that on exiting the tube the best coffee shop with on the right as you go out the arcade doors. Nothing like a nice cappuccino to help you through morning museum visits. Daniel’s priority was to return to the Natural History Museum to finish off the areas we had missed, particularly the marine animals. I wanted to finish of more of the Science Museum so Daniel agreed to get that out of the way first as it would only take an hour whereas his stuff would take three or four hours. Later on our way through the Natural History Museum Daniel had a long discussion with a scientist on the classification of arthropods (invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton). Eventually we got to the marine animals, by which time I was running low on energy, and Daniel proceeded to tell me about them all in more detail than I could take in. Maybe I am just getting old. In the afternoon we went to a lecture on Martian meteorite presented by a young lady working on her PhD in the field. We got to see real live (?) Martian rock – so exciting … Joking aside it was a very interesting presentation. You would think someone in such a specialised field would have trouble getting jobs later but evidently she already has had several job offers (all on Mars – sorry just joking about the location).
After much deliberation we decided to not go to church on Sunday but rather continue with our heavy duty sightseeing schedule. After saying that I have to admit I went for a run first thing – see my blog for details. Once I arrived back home I quickly showered and ate breakfast then turned around back out the door with Karen and the kids, I think around 11am. Our aim was to take a look around the Tate Britain which we did fairly quickly, it was not as riveting as I had expected – sorry art lovers, so then we caught a bus to Trafalgar Square to go around the National Gallery. Here we are below at the Tate Britain building our art:
The National Gallery took us a few hours at, we didn’t look at everything but had a good enough flying visit. On the spur of the moment Karen and I decided we would train out to Hammersmith and Ravenscourt to try and find the place we staying back 18 years ago. On the train out to Hammersmith we got chatting to three guys, who seemed very English, asking them about the best place to get a Pub meal in Hammersmith. One of them ended up being from New Zealand having stayed in London for 2 years he was about to go back to New Zealand in July. He kindly got off the train with us as he knew Hammersmith well and he showed us around pointing out the best places to eat. Here I am caught eating again:
I vaguely recognised the Hammersmith tube station and surrounding shops although they start to all look much the same after a while with Nero Caffe’s on every corner. Dinner was nice enough, chips and burger but more filling than tasty. Next we walked along the road and found Ravenscourt Park which use to be covered with red squirrels everywhere (the red squirrels have all but disappeared since the introduction of the brown squirrels, who eat all their food). After an hour of walking around we gave up in vain on the hunt for our old apartment. Disappointed that our walk down memory lane didn’t work out, we boarded a train for our journey back home. It was yet another long day but a brilliant one all the same.
We only had two days left and so much to see. I had to own up to the fact that it was impossible to visit all the places we had wanted to see. We hadn’t yet purchased tickets to the royal palaces and gardens such as Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London and it was looking unlikely to be able to fit these in. I really wanted to take the kids to the Imperial War Museum so they could learn more about the realities of war so that was our first point of call on the Monday morning. Upon entering the museum we were bombarded with the dozens of wartime machines squeezed into the one room. A couple of the exhibits that caught my eye included the V-2 missile/rocket, the Italian human manned torpedo, and the giant German 880cm Schwere Gustav Shell. The latter was the largest gun ever made and took so long to make that it was barely used – only firing 48 rounds in action. It took some 1,500 people to administer and operate; and, up to six weeks to assemble! Sounds like a bit of a lemon to me.
Here is the V-2 and the Schwere Gustav Shell:
Apart from the machines themselves the museum took you through the experience of World War I and World War II. On one side of the floor were the displays from World War I, split into different stages and regions of the war and then with a mock up tour through a series of World War I trenches. The other side of the floor had displays on Word War II and then you could sit in a dark bunker at night during a blitz and feel a little of what it was like to be stuck in the middle of an air raid. After that you could walk around the streets and see the damage caused by the bombing. Although it was a little scary for Amy (and me) it was a sobering experience – one I would hate to have in real life. I would definitely recommend the Imperial War Museum. It was educational and much better than I had expected. After the museum we caught a tube into Bond Street so I could sort out the best way to have internet access for the next three months. Even just getting lost in the crowds along Bond Street can be quite an experience, people everywhere, loads of red double decker busses, underground stations, streets you see on the Monopoly board …
Tuesday was our final day of sightseeing and we headed to the Horniman Museum our Forest Hill way. This isn’t as full on as those in South Kensington but it had a little bit of everything especially a small Aquarium which I knew Daniel would love.
Besides I didn’t think we could handle a big museum at this stage as we were all worn out. At the museum Amy with her ape friend:
Later in the day, when we were totally stuffed, Karen dragged us into the city to check out Covent Garden.
After wandering around for what seemed like many hours (to Pete) we made our way to Leicester Square.
Karen and I recalled Leicester Square from our OE days as a fun place loads of people would hang out at and we weren’t disappointed this time either. It was fun to walk around and look at the shops and entertainers. Of course all roads lead to McDonalds so the fact that we finished our tour there is to be expected …
Wednesday was a busy day, relaxing for the kids, but Karen and I had to pack up all our gear and while Daniel did house work (yes Daniel did the house work!) I went off nervously to pick up our rental car. On the way I went to Spurgeon’s College to have a quick look around. It would have been fantastic to study there – maybe one day … I always find it stressful picking up rental cars and this time was no different except I had to wait an hour for the car to turn up. It’s a Vauxhall Insignia, nice car but much larger than I had wanted. Nice and powerful, loads of room but not a good fit on some of these roads. Our goodbye photo with Charles and Maralyn.
We had a fantastic time in London, I only wish we could have had longer yet it’s nice now to be out of the hecticity (Karen made that up, a mix of hectic and city) and in the country side.
(Week 14B-15A: Wednesday, 23 May 2012 – Wednesday, 30 May 2012)