Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lively London


Tuesday was a bleh day due to my tooth and ear. I visited a doctor (well, nurse practitioner) who couldn't see any infections, but there was a lot of earwax. The rest of the day included doing laundry.

Wednesday I returned to the St Paul's area of London. My main plan for the day was a tour of the watchmakers guild museum led by the curator. I arrived well before the start time so I checked out a few other places to fill in the time. I started with the guild hall art gallery, which had a few nice pieces, and tucked away in the basement were the remains of the London colosseum, which were found when they were renovating the building. After the gallery I went into the guild church, which is small, and has some nice stain glass windows. Along one of the wall the stained glass was the coat of arms of various commonwealth nations.

I then walked a block or two to the London museum, and resumed my exploration with the Roman section, and then through the medieval section. This brought me to the time for the tour, so I walked back to the watchmakers guild museum.

The tour started out with about half a dozen people, and by the end there were about 15 people there. The museum was a tightly packed room full of cabinets interspersed with larger clocks. The collection of watches goes back several centuries, as does the collection itself, though not at that location. Initially the collection was kept in a trunk stored at the tavern the guild met at. The earliest acquisitions were from shortly after the guild was formed in 1631.

The curator was Sir someone or other, and I'm pretty sure this is the most contact I've had with someone who has been knighted.

Thursday was a big ticket item, the Tower of London. I bluffed my way through for a student discount, but it was still pricey at fourteen and a half pounds (not so expensive compared to most of Europe, but since so many things were free in London, it stands out). It was definitely well worth it though.

I entered the tower about 5 minutes before a demonstration of the different defenses used back in the day was about to begin. This was held on a grassy area that used to be the moat. It was quite entertaining. I got picked out by one of the presenters to be the lord of the crowd, which mostly involved crying "havoc" every now and then. I did not know the original significance of the word before then and now the line "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war" has more meaning than just sounding cool. After the havoc section of the demonstration, there was a kind of trebuchet, but instead of having a big rock as a counterweight, there are a few ropes that people pull on to send things flying. I wanted to have a go, but since I'd already had some fun crying havoc, I thought I should let others have the fun. But not enough people volunteered, so I decided what the hell and volunteered. They had a few targets set up, but a dodgy batch of water balloons meant all we hit was the crowd as the balloons exploded in mid air.

After the fun with siege engines, I went on a tour led by a yeoman warder of the tower. The tour took in the main sections of the tower, but left the ones with interesting collections inside for later. The tour finished in the tower chapel, where there are many corpses buried that lack skulls.200905289166.JPG

After the tour I went into the building that houses the crown jewels. The first room contained seats for each of the kings and queens of England back to a bit before William the Conqueror. Each chair had the names and arms of a monarch in order. It was interesting to see the progression of how the arms changed over the centuries. The next few rooms showed videos detailing the various items that make up the crown jewels, and one showing them in use during the coronation of QEII. It was a bit surprising to me, as someone who has only known the queen as a nice old lady, to find out that she looked pretty good back in the day. Then it was onto the jewels which were in cases with travelators on both sides to stop people looking at them for too long. Then it was through the vault where the jewels are kept at night which has doors that are about a foot thick.

The next building I explored was a corner of the tower and contained a collection of lesser crowns, most those of queens over the last two hundred years. Then it was onto the exciting stuff, weapons. In the central keep there was a display of arms and armour that belonged to Henry VIII. The armour makes his girth as a function of time quite clear. His collection of swords and armour were quite impressive.

After this I made a circuit of complex visiting spots I wanted to see in the short time I had left before closing. This included the execution spot of VIPs like Mary, Queen of Scots, the tower ravens, the tower walls, and some other bits that just seemed old. I did like the metal sculptures of soldiers defending the walls spread around the place. I left the tower just before it closed for the day and crossed the road to the spot where public executions were held, which was next to the memorial for the merchant marine. To end the day I walked back along the Thames to Canary Wharf for the evening.200905289181.JPG

Friday I headed out to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory and home of Greenwich Mean Time. It was a short walk from the DLR station. I first explored the Maritime museum, which was interesting, but nothing outstanding. Then it was up to the observatory. I stood with my feet across the prime meridian, and then went into the museum. There were various observation rooms, and of course a collection of clocks, the highlight of which were the Harrison clocks which solved the longitude problem. Very impressive. The watchmakers guild museum had a few of Harrison's lesser pieces, but to see these was fantastic. There were also a few telescopes that were used by royal astronomers over the years, which were the basis for the different prime meridians over the years (the line itself is based on the location of the observatory's main telescope, and has shifted a few times as new telescopes were installed). The view from the hill the observatory is atop is rather nice.200905299222.JPG

I went back down the hill to an art gallery that is housed in a building that was originally a royal palace, and then became a school for orphans of sailors in the royal navy. The art, of course, had a maritime theme. The person at the front desk insisted that I get a ticket, despite the fact that admission was free.

On my way back I walked to where the Cutty Sark is, but due to restoration work I could not see it. I then walked along the Thames to Canary Wharf, but as I got close to my destination it became clear that I was on the wrong side of the river, and the nearest bridges were back at Greenwich or at the Tower of London, neither of which appealed too much. I instead headed to a nearby tube station , but along the way remembered with dread that the station was one of these along the closed east city line. I managed to catch a bus to a working tube station, and eventually made it back to Canary Wharf on the right side of the river.

Saturday was another road trip, though a much shorter one than the previous weekend. Andrea, JP and I went out to Salisbury. We got to the town around 1ish, and began by getting lunch. We then went in search of the tourist office to better plan things. Along the way we saw some street performers doing some sort of upper class twit act which was rather amusing. At the tourist office we found out that there was a festival going on, and we tried to get tickets to a show called "Daleks Stole My Doctor Who Scarf", but alas it was sold out. We then made our way to Salisbury Cathedral, which is the possessor of one of the tallest spires in England, a nice baptismal font, excellent stained glass windows, and a Magna Carta. I did try to read it, but the writing is incredibly small and styles have changed a bit since those days.

Then it was onto the reason why everyone goes to Salisbury, Stonehenge. It was a lot smaller than I expected. The audioguide was saying how difficult it was to build, and then said it was built at around the same time as the pyramids, which I think most would agree are much more impressive. We circled around the stones taking lots of photos. Near the heelstone, JP noticed something attached to the fence we thought was a geocache. After Stonehenge closed we walked along the fence to the object, and when there seemed to be little chance of being noticed, tried to take it off the fence. This was a bit tricky and at one stage involved the use of an umbrella after it was dropped and landed a little out of reach. The object was a slightly cut up beer can, and we were beguiled to find a piece of photographic paper inside it with some curves on it and what might have been stonehenge on a horizon. Later investigation led us to conclude that the contraption was a long exposure pin hole camera.200905309293.JPG

We then spent a little while playing with Andrea's remote controlled helicopter in a field across the road from Stonehenge, but there was too much wind for a controlled flight. On the way back to London we stopped in at Andrea's brother's place to drop off some stuff, and ended up playing some Wii Fit and MarioKart and getting Indian takeout for dinner that was pretty good.

Sunday was an easy going day. The morning was mostly spent planning a visit to Scotland. In the afternoon I visited Camden market which is an interesting place. I saw a lot of cool t-shirts, and had thought of buying one or two, but after buying some trick cards, a book (Godel, Escher, Bach) and Monty Python Fluxx, I decided my budget couldn't stand much more spending that afternoon. I also skipped the chance to buy some juggling clubs for much the same reason. Catching a train back was complicated by the fact that to reduce crowding, they don't let people catch the train at Camden Station on Sunday afternoons, so I had to walk to the next station to catch the train.

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