On our final full day in London, we hopped a Thames Clipper and headed downstream. The catamarans are so smooth on the water that even my mom had no issues, and my dad was happy as a clam out on the back deck, watching the scenery go by. He’s a WWII history buff and a font of knowledge about the Battle of Britain, but he had never been to London before. It was such fun to watch him put the buildings, the river bends, and all of the physical locations together in his mind with the stories and the historical events.
You can probably guess where we disembarked.
Greenwich is a spot I’d like to stay in at some point in the future, and explore more thoroughly. The park is lovely, I still haven’t been inside the Observatory museum to straddle the Prime Meridian (though I did straddle it on the Thames River Path in Richmond!), and there are many photographs that my camera still needs to take of the Old Royal Naval College.
I loved this very official trash can. You know you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site when even the trash cans proudly state their provenance.
We really wanted to see the Painted Hall (featured in such films as The Golden Compass and The Avengers — Google it and imagine having a dinner there), but it had been rented by some lucky organization for the day, so we headed to the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul instead.
It is gorgeous, and we were there just a few hours too early. If you look past the rope, you’ll notice that several chairs and music stands have been set up. There was a wind instrument recital taking place that very day, just after lunch, and I am guessing the acoustics in this room are fabulous. In addition, the musicians were probably top notch, considering that they would be walking over from their own leased corner of the Naval College — the part that is now the Trinity College of Music.
Though I like the above photo for its balanced presentation of the upper story arched windows, you’ve got to see the ceiling.
Beautiful. I did so want to hear the recital. But the timing wasn’t right, so we slunk out.
The outside view isn’t bad, either.
The Old Royal Naval College is surely on any architectural history student’s must-see list. It’s quite a design feat, considering what its architect had to work with (a royal command to preserve the sightline from the Queen’s House to the river) and, of course, the fact that said architect was Christopher Wren.
One of the things that most amazed my father, knowing the tremendous destruction of the London Blitz and how the German bombers used the Thames as a guide, was how many buildings didn’t get bombed out of existence. The Old Royal Naval College, with its iconic design and its location right at the edge of the water, should have been a target with a high demoralization factor. (Not to mention the fact that at that time, it was still the “Navy’s university” and was churning out trained officers for war.) In fact, it was hit twice (and another bomb landed directly across the river), but remained standing. In the nearby museum is a photograph of the Naval College at night, all lights ablaze in triumphant defiance on 30 April 1945 — the end of the 5.5-year London Blackout.
So we saw two museums, the Royal Observatory, the Old Royal Naval College, and Greenwich Park…and what do you think the highlight of the day was for my dad?
Feeding a squirrel.
While walking through the park, our group met an old lady and her husband, who were pushing a wheeled walker/cart up the hill. In the cart was a giant bag of peanuts, and the lady gave a whole handful to my dad. He poured them in his cap and offered them to the savvy squirrels who, I swear, were following that lady and her cart up the hill. The squirrels were a bit skittish at first, but Dad was persistent, and finally got one to take a nut right from his hand.
“My day is complete,” he said happily.
While I photographed and watched, I noticed a pair of Great Tits hanging out in a nearby tree, very close to my head. I asked Dad for a peanut, shelled it one-handed (I didn’t want to put away my camera and scare the birds with too much movement), and offered the two seeds on the palm of my hand. One of the birds eyed me and left, assessing the risk as too high. The other hopped from one branch to another, checking me out, and finally flitted down, landed firmly on my thumb, grabbed a seed and flew off again. I gave my dad a big grin and said, “Now MY day is complete!”
We went off to rejoin our wives, who had gotten bored waiting for us and were walking ahead, and told them of our accomplishments. “Well, guess what we saw while you were feeding birds and squirrels?” said my wife. “We saw the Time Ball drop!”
Hm. Okay, I’m kind of bummed I missed that. But feeding a Great Tit still wins.
(Click any image to embiggen.)