My friend Nikki called this morning so we could set a time and place to meet tonight near Liverpool Street station. We went down to breakfast around 9:30. Continental, just rolls, croissants, tiny glasses for the juice. I called another friend to set up a coffee date at 4 in a café on Queensway behind the hotel.
We caught the tube to the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House (see separate review). It's raining but not cold, however it makes it very muggy in the underground. We got off at Temple and walked along the embankment which would have been very pretty if it hadn't been raining.
We were in the Courtauld about an hour and a half, maybe 2. It was a lovely gallery in a lovely building and we were going to have lunch in the café there but it was too full. We went out along the Strand but by now the rain is coming down in buckets! We ducked into a small bookshop to get out of it but it didn't let up. We walked a bit further, trying to avoid the puddles and playing bob and weave with everyone else's umbrellas. Across the road I saw a sign for a restaurant that had a sign offering a hot and cold buffet lunch for £5.50! We had the buffet and a large pot of tea each to warm up. There was a lovely poached salmon on the buffet with veggies and rice. We stayed and had a leisurely lunch, dried off and warmed up.
Once we were done we killed a bit of time in Covent Garden and then, as it was coming up on four, we bolted for a bank machine and caught a taxi and were only 10 minutes late. We met Barb in Café Verdi and had a lovely visit. We talked right up until it was time to leave to catch the tube back west to Liverpool St. and meet Dave and Nikki.
The weather by this time has started to clear up a bit so we were hopeful. Came out in a massive crowd in the train station but found Nikki. ! We waited a few minutes for Dave to arrive then left the station. Just as we came out, it started to thunder and lightening but it didn't rain hard. We walked to a bar, dragged a table to a quiet corner and got settled in for a drink. Later another walk through the dark and quiet City to Pizza Express in the Barbican complex. It was modern, clean, quiet and the thin crust pizza was quite good. We walked to the St. Paul's underground and wow! There's St. Paul's in all it's magnificence lit up!
We arrived back at the hotel about 10:30 and our train tickets had arrived, having been posted by a friend in Manchester. The envelope looked like it had been through the wars! We found out later that the post office had a signature from the hotel received the day before we arrived and the envelope must have been mislaid at the hotel! One more mark against it. Tomorrow we go to Greenwich. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative.
Took awhile to get to sleep. Partly caffeine and partly a succession of beeping horns outside. We overslept so got a late start. We took the tube to Tower hill where we had a gawp at the Tower of London across from the tube station before finding our way to the DLR train. There was recorded commentary on the train as we passed through the stops in the deep east end of London, the old Dock areas on the Thames and we heard all about the history of each section we passed through.
We didn't get off at the stop the guide recommended, thinking we would be closer to the Royal Observatory end of Greenwich park. We decided to start at the Observatory at the top and work our way down. There was, we discovered later, a shuttle bus that takes you up from either the first DLR stop or an information center. Doh.
We walked from the second stop in the general direction of the park and soon figured we were heading the wrong way so changed direction. We started up a side street and I do mean up! It was called Point Hill. Fairly steep and winding and lined with shops and houses and an old school. It was quite pretty even if it was a bit of a tough climb. Luckily, it wasn't raining though overcast and there was a breeze. At the top we were faced with flat greenspace. Which way now?
The Observatory was somewhere on the top of the hill and that's where we were. We see a house called "Ranger House" and a sign about an exhibition of paintings by a French Artist. The house isn't on the little map we have. There was a groundskeeper and he directed us down a path. We made a stop at a café in Greenwich park, bought ice cream and looked at the view for a few minutes but the wind on the hill was chilly. Into the Royal Observatory complex, paid the admission. (Note, admission is now free for the Royal Observatory, Queen's House and Maritime Museum) The first thing we looked at was the Camera Obscura. That is in a darkened room and there's a reflection off a mirror in the ceiling projected to a white surface on a table. You can see all the area surrounding the observatory down the hill to the river and town, magnified. Very neat! The mirror revolves so you get a 360 degree look around you.
We started looking through the displays in Flamsteed House where the first Royal Astonomer lived. The Observatory was set up in 1675 under the patronage of Charles II in order to find out how to measure longitude. There was a succession of astronomers each with a larger telescope than the last, but instead of measuring the moon and stars, a clock maker, Harrison, discovered the best way to do it was to use a clock and measure it in minutes and seconds, how far away you are from the "home" or 0 longitude. This "home" was eventually established as Greenwich and after a bit of a political fight with several other places, Greenwich was established as the Prime Meridian, the beginning of time and space, as it were.
This we learned from a fellow in costume who led us around the courtyard describing the history. Every day a big aluminum red-painted ball is dropped from the turret of Flamsteed House at 1 p.m. and has done since the Meridian was established and all could set their watches and clocks by it before sailing. If you missed it, you were "not on the ball". We went back to see the rest of the displays including Harrison's clocks before checking out the gift shop for postcards.
Our feet aching and energy flagging, we trudged down the hill and went to a pub right by the park gate entrance. We decided to skip the Queen's House go to the Fan Museum because we wanted to take a riverboat back to the center of London and the last one left at 5. It was almost 3:30 by the time we had our pint and lunch.
I had wanted to go to the Fan Museum once I discovered its existence. There was only the two of us in the museum which is in an old house not too far from Greenwich park. We started off with a taped commentary but Carole had trouble with hers and I found it way too slow. The museum showed a number of fan leaf art that would be folded and put on a fan. There were some framed and you could see the folds and then the edges were painted into form a square picture. There were different styles of them and upstairs in two rooms was a special exhibit of jeweled fans, absolutely exquisite!
Down to the pier, what a busy little spot! Had we got there earlier I guess we would have seen more but what we did see was really interesting! The ride down the river was about 40 minutes to Waterloo pier. Good view of the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and London eye. We walked across Westminster Bridge and walked down by the Houses of Parliament in time to hear Big Ben Bong! Got to Westminster underground which was really modern. Had a bit of a wait for the train and then, once on, managed to push out of the crowded train before the doors closed at our stop. We trudged down Queensway looking for a restaurant. We ended up having minestrone soup and a sandwich in Café Verde where we had had coffee with Barb yesterday. Back to the hotel about 8:30 and puttered around, watched tv and chilled out.