London

 

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  See more from: London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Germany.



As soon as we arrived, we jumped on one of the ubiquitous double decker buses and sat in the front seats on the second level.

From there, we clearly noticed when we passed the original Twinnings Tea House, established in 1716...the parent of the now-enormous tea company.

 



We got off the bus when we arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral, a beautiful facility built in the 1600s which - happily - survived WW2 without significant bomb damage.

This picture is taken from the Millineum Bridge from across the Thames River.

 



We were not allowed to take photos inside the cathedral, so this picture is courtesy of Google from a person who used his camera inside the cathedral without regard for the rules...for whom I am grateful.

St. Paul's is supposed to be a church, but seemed to have next to nothing to do with Jesus. Here is a 9 foot high statue of Admiral Nelson that is inside the main sanctuary, with (apparently) the goddess Athena telling his story to some small children.

Remember that, after you click on the image to the left, you can zoom in on the inscription beneath the statue by using the [ctrl plus] key combo. I will quote a portion: "...to record his spendid and unparallelled achievements, during a life spent in the service of his country, and terminated in the moment of victory by a glorious death in the memorable action off Cape Trafalgar...."

There was a similar 9-foot statue of General Cornwallis, whose major achievement was to lose the American Revolutionary War to a bunch of farmers. However, the inscription at the base of his statue just spoken generally about what an outstanding individual he was. Apparently, Cornwallis had some 18th century spin-doctors on his team.

I was intrigued at another 9 foot statue, which was of a lieutenant, whose name I didn't recognize, who "fought galliantly in a single-ship battle against a French frigate that was significantly larger and better armed than the British ship." As I say, there seemed to be virtually nothing about Jesus in this church.

(Once you finish with your zoomed-in picture in your browser, hit [ctrl zero] to return your browser back to the default viewing-size.)

 



In light of the statuary of pagan deities and military heroes in St. Paul's, I found the comparison striking - as I walked toward the Millineum Bridge - to see the Salvation Army's international headquarters, which was on the same road. Though you cannot see it in this picture, there is a quote on the glass of the Salvation Army building: "And Jesus said, 'I am the light of the world'."

St. Paul's is about the glories of England. The Salvation Army is about the glory of God.

 



Go downstairs in St. Paul's and you get to the holy of holies: Nelson's tomb.

 



Deb and I climbed up a series of spiraling staircases, 527 steps in all, to get to the top of the dome. From here we had a lovely view of all of London.

After climbing back down those 527 stairs, I found that if I stood still for a moment, my quads started to tremble, and my legs wanted to fold up on me. I started to feel bad about that, until I realized that when we got to the platform at the top, there was nobody else there who was our age. Indeed, besides us, the oldest people there looked no older than 35. So that made me feel a little bit better.

On this trip, we walked between 3 and 6 hours each day we were in England/France/Italy. We were surely more fit at the end of the trip than at the beginning.

Until the 1960s, it was illegal to build a building taller than St. Paul's in London.

 



From the double decker bus, we observed this shop where the awning advertises food, butcher, wine & books. I was sorry not to have had the chance to walk in and see how they made all those different offerings work together.

During one of our walks, we went through the theatre district, where we had the option to see a musical stage production of Mel Brook's "Young Frankenstein". Had we been planning to stay for longer in London, I surely would have wanted to see it.

 



St. Pancras Station - named after a 14 year old boy who converted to Christianity, and would not renounce his faith...and so was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 304 A.D. - is a simply enormous building, complete with polished marble columns. It is a hub that links trains to all of Britain, as well as the high-speed train we took under the English Channel to get to Paris ("the Chunnel").

This station was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in London, and across the street from King's Cross Station, which provides subway services inside London.

No matter where we went in London, we always ended up back at King's Cross at the end of the day.

 



King's Cross Station is, of course, where Harry Potter always caught the train for Hogwarts from Platform 9 ¾. There was a one hour lineup of people waiting to get their pictures taken. We passed on that, and went straight in to pick Debbie out a wand at Olivander's.

 



Our hotel in London was a converted collection of row houses, right out of C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, with enormous high ceilings and a chestnut tree in a park across the street. Here is a picture of our room from the outside:

These homes, when used as homes, were enormously narrow - only 20 feet or so - but 4 stories high. When they chose to convert several homes into a single hotel, they punched a doorway through the walls to connect the houses. We were in room 201 in "House 14" (counting from the intersection where the row of houses originally began). We connected between houses through this hall. Digory and Polly, of course, connected between houses via the attic.

 



London has the most interesting architecture of any city I have ever visited. In the background here is "the Shard" - the tallest building in London, reminiscent of a shard of ice or glass.

London businesses - from the 1700s to the present - have had enough spare cash in the kitty to provide themselves with really interesting buildings. In a very real sense, the wealth of the world has flowed into London for the last 2 or 3 centuries. Here are a selection of photos of buildings that impressed me, taken with better quality cameras than my cellphone.

 



From the observation deck at the top of the Shard, here is the HMS Belfast, a museum ship that is permanently moored in the Thames.

 



Debbie and I walked down early to Buckingham Palace, to enjoy the sunny day, and to be in position to see the changing of the guard. This was thoroughly enjoyable.

 



Once again, my cellphone's camera was not really up to the challenge. So here are some photos that are representative of what we saw.

Remember, you can click on any image to see a larger version of it.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting was that the set of guards in the black, modern uniforms had their own marching band that played tunes at 130 beats per minute. The band in the bearskin hats were marching and playing at 120 beats a minute. You could often hear both bands playing at the same time, coming in from different directions. It was reminiscent of a Charles Ives composition that simulates two bands approaching each other.

 



We had a lovely time visiting the Tower Bridge, so called because it is built right next to the ancient fortress called the Tower of London. We took an elevator up one of these towers, and were able to walk aross one of the high-bridges, and then come back along the other.

Each of the upper level pedestrian bridges had a section with a glass floor and a ceiling of mirrors, so you could take a picture of yourself from high above the traffic. Walking across the glass floor was a bit dizzying...which of course made it a fun thing to do.

 



The Tower of London is a fortress that was built in 1066, as part of the Norman conquest of England. The most interesting thing about it, to us, was that it houses the Crown Jewels of Britain.

 



The Crown Jewels, similar to those we saw in Paris, Venice, and Germany, are in large part an effort to communicate how very rich England was. A similar motive to why people today purchase Jaguars: not so much that it is a better car than a Chevy or Toyota...but that it shows you have a bucket load of money.

Set into the British crown are enormous emeralds, and a diamond that weighs 3 ounces, and is an inch in diameter

 



One piece in the royal collection is a solid gold punchbowl, sized to hold 144 bottles of wine.

 



I am not much into pilgrimages, but I must say that I was moved by the trip to Greenwich Observatory, upon which a lot of navigational history is centered. This was the location where British astronomers and mathemeticians established where 0° longitude was, and world time, whence we get GMT: Greenwich Mean Time. The observatory is surrounded by a large, public park.

 



On the wall outside the observatory is one of the first electric clocks in the world, which displayed GMT to the public, in a 24 hour format. Beneath it are found the standard lengths of the yard and the foot, as defined by the scientists at the observatory.

We take standard lengths for granted today, but it was an innovation for the government to establish a standard length for the yard, for instance. Prior to that standard being established, fabric makers could sell either more or less fabric to a customer, each claiming to sell "by the yard".

 



It became standard at ports around the world to provide time balls that were visible from the harbor, which ships could use to set their chronometers just as they left port.

(See below for more on the Cutty Sark, the clipper ship in the foreground of this photo.)

The dropping ball in Times Square, New York, which we see on New Year's Eve, is a direct descendant of the Greenwich time ball.

 



Pins were provided upon which you could rest a stick. You whittled the stick down until it fit precisely between the outer guides. You then could take that stick back to your home town, and use it as a standard to make other sticks of standard length. You could use all these measures, with the various sticks for them, to help you calibrate a yard stick with a good bit of precision, at least down to the level of 3" lengths.

 



The line Debbie is standing on is the traditional demarcation of precisely 0° longitude. Debbie's right foot is in the western hemisphere, while her left foot is in the eastern.

 



HOWEVER, Debbie is not precisly at 0° 00' 00.0" in a GPS-enabled world.

As it turns out - quite incredibly, I think - the British astronomers were able to determine the location of 0° within a millimeter, using astronomical techniques. These involve measuring the precise angle of stars above the horizontal at particular times - where horizontal was defined by a bowl of liquid mercury.

The issue, as we now know, is that a line heading straight down, perpendicular to the surface of that bowl of mercury, does not go through the exact center of the earth, 6,378,000 meters away. Rather, that line misses the center of the earth by 104 meters. This is because there is some particularly dense mass of rock/minerals near Greenwich which skews the direction of gravity in that area. Basically, that bowl of mercury is tilted, ever so slightly.

GPS is defined in terms NOT of local gravity, but in terms of the true center of the earth. So the location of the true 0° 00' 00.0" is 104 meters to the east of the line in the courtyard of the Observatory, out in a meadow. Debbie and I located this point as we walked, watching the GPS on my phone. We got to the point where our location was 0° 0.001' East, and one more step showed us being at 0° 0.001 West. We split the difference, and Deb took my picture.

So here I am, standing on the ACTUAL prime meridian of the world.

A bit of navigational trivia: most of the Caribbean islands are the tips of enormous volcanos, poking their tips out of the ocean. The enormous mass of these volcanos tips the direction of local gravity as you get close, and causes the surface of the ocean to tip sideways, ever so slightly. So if you are determining your position by sextant, your position may appear a mile or more away from your actual GPS position.

But on a dark night, as you steer to port, it is important for you to know whether your navigational charts were developed pre-or-post GPS. If you have charts that were based on sextant measurements and you are using your GPS to navigate, you may run aground...not because your GPS is wrong, but because your chart is offset.

When Debbie and I were last in the British Virgin Islands, our boat was tied up to a dock, and our GPS showed us as being parked on shore, 100 meters inland.

All of the BVI charts are based on measurements that are over 100 years old...and the islands, as charted, are offset 100 meters too far north.

 



People sometimes think that the age of exploration is over, and that there is nothing new to discover. But Debbie and I discovered in a meadow, all on our own, an unmarked location that no 19th century British Explorer knew existed: the actual prime meridian of the world.

To commemorate our pioneering discovery, I got a t-shirt.

 



Along with standing on the prime meridian of the world, the other highlight of the visit to the Greenwich Observatory Museum was seeing the actual four timepieces that John Harrison made back in the 1700s, as he tried (and eventually succeeded) to solve the problem of accurate time at sea...a gigantic achievement in the history of navigation. Click on this image and you will go to another page that has close up pictures of each of these amazing clocks.

 



On the 10 minute walk from the Observatory back to the Thames River, we pased a warning to beware of Humped Pelicans. Alas, I saw not even one humped pelican.

After returning home, I found I could click here for an explanation.


Thames River Trivia: People in Britain pronounce this as the "Tems" River. But linguistic history shows that Brits used to pronounce the "TH" at the beginning of the word, just as in the word "think". The issue was that King George III was born in Germany and - like so many Germans - was unable to pronounce a "TH" sound. So he pronounced it "Tems".

Now, the King's English is not necessarily GOOD English, but it IS the English spoken by the king. The heart of the British class system is that you always suck up to those who are further up the hierarchy than you. Of course, the King is at the top of the list. So soon EVERYbody was calling it the "Tems River".

But the colonies, which have preserved the form of the Queen's English - that is, Queen Elizabeth the First - never got the word on the George III innovation. So to this day, there is a Thames River in Connecticut where "Thames" is pronounced as Shakespeare would have pronounced it: with the "TH".

 



The Cutty Sark was one of the fastest clipper ships ever built...originally used in the tea trade from Hong Kong to London. It was removed from the water, and a museum built around it.

It carries 32 sails and 11 miles of rigging.

You can have a snack beneath the hull if you wish.

 



Westminster Abbey was a nice enough visit, as long as one focused primarily on the medieval architecture. But as a church, it left me cold. The Abbey seems renowned mostly for the people who are buried there, including a number of famous atheists, including Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. The building seems to have no more to do with Jesus or the worship of God than does St. Paul's Cathedral.

  See more from: London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Germany.