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Monday, May 15, 2000

We had a late start today. Everyone was worn out from the weekend. We got out of the hotel around 9:45 a.m.. The goal for today was to go to Greenwich. I wanted to take the boat so we took the tube to the Embankment station. Directly across the street from the tube station are the piers for the ferryboats. We just missed the 10:30 a.m. boat. It was pulling away as we purchased our tickets. So we had to wait another 30 minutes for the next boat. We had purchased return trip tickets. I don't know if this is best or not. It takes 1 hour each way on the ferry. It seems there must be a faster way to get back into the city.

The ferry is worth taking (at least one way). It is very interesting to see the city from the river. There was a crewmember that kept a running commentary going over the loudspeaker explaining and pointing out different buildings and historical landmarks.

We arrived at Greenwich around noon. The boat docks very near the Cutty Sark. I had hoped to tour it but we ran out of time. Not sure where to go and looking lost, we were approached by a lady wearing a vest stating tourist information. After asking several questions she directed us to first to see the Royal Naval Chapel and the Painted Hall before going to the National Maritime Museum. It cost a 1 to get into the chapel. It is a gorgeous building. I don't know if I would recommend spending the time/money to visit. The Painted Hall was more interesting. It is the mess hall of the college that is painted in a style that makes the walls appear to be covered in 3-D carvings. Our "information lady" came in as we entered the room and proceeded to give us a personal 20-minute tour of the room.

There is also a collection of crown jewels in the basement of the building. These are replicas. If you haven't the time to visit the Tower of London, take the time to visit the jewels here.

It was close to 1 p.m. and I wanted to watch the time ball descend over the Old Royal Observatory. The "time ball" descends precisely at 1 p.m. each day. Its original purpose was to allow a ship's captain to set his chronograph so that he could calculate his location on the open sea. So we stood in front of the Queen's House until the ball fell. My video did not come out well and it is hard to see the ball move.

Our next stop was the National Maritime Museum. This is an awesome museum. If you had the time you could spend an entire day here without exhausting all there is to do. It also has many interactive displays to keep children occupied. As we approached the ticket booth I realized I had left our Great British Heritage Passes at the hotel. We had paid $75 each for these 14-day passes. They would allow us entrance to over 500 sites across England. The entrance fee to the NMM was about 10 per person.

I explained to the person at the ticket booth hoping that they would let us in without paying. He directed me to a supervisor who had to make a phone call. I am not sure what the person on the other end of the line was saying but I did here the supervisor say, after looking at us, "Yes they do." I assume he was asked if we looked honest.

I wrote down our names, home addresses, hotel name and number, and some other pertinent information. I also promised to call the next day and give them the Heritage Pass numbers. Note: I did try to call the next day and was unable to reach anyone. The day after I called again and was able to give them the pass numbers. I was extremely thankful that they allowed us to do this. Otherwise, it would have cost us nearly $50 to enter the museum (which, would have been worth that price).

The museum is three stories high with multiple exhibits covering exploration, commercial shipping, the military, navigation, etc. etc. etc.. We visited every area of the museum. The most interesting exhibit (for me) was Huxley's banjo!

Who is Huxley? You should be ashamed! Just kidding. Huxley was a member of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1915 Expedition to Antarctica. Unfortunately, his ship was stuck in sea ice. He led his men over 800 miles of sea ice and open water in small boats. It is one of the greatest adventure stories ever - and it's true. Read "SOUTH" by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

In the NMM is the banjo that Huxley carried with him throughout this ordeal. On the face of the banjo are the signatures of the 28 men of the expedition who were led off the ice without a single fatality.

Alan and I were hungry so we stopped at the museum cafeteria for sandwiches and colas. Pat only wanted water to drink. After resting for a few minutes we decided to go to the Old Royal Observatory. In doing so we got a little lost. The best way to get there is to exit out the back of the NMM, cross the street, and take the trail. We exited out the front and it took us a few minutes to figure out which way to go.

The Old Royal Observatory is at the top of the hill behind the NMM. This observatory was the home to many famous astronomers dating back to the 1600s. It also played a prominent roll in the attempt to develop a way for sailors to determine their longitude while at sea. A very wonderful book (and a very quick read) on this subject and this observatory is "Longitude".

The astronomers of the day believed the best way to tell longitude was by the heavens. Many very complicated charts were developed that allowed an experienced sailor to determine where he was in the matter of 4 short hours. One man, John Harrison, decided the best way to determine your location was by having a clock that would travel well and keep the time very accurately (less than a second variance a day). "Longitude" is the story of Harrison's effort to build such a timepiece in the face of overwhelming obstacles placed by the leading scientist of his day. Today, several of Harrioson's timepieces are on display at the Old Royal Observatory.

It is also through Greenwich that the Prime Meridian falls. This is zero degrees longitude. To the east is the Eastern Hemisphere and to the west, well, the Western Hemisphere. There is a line drawn on the ground to indicate the meridian. So, the thing to do is to straddle the line and have your picture taken.

Now, let me warn you, the Old Royal Observatory is at the top of a very steep hill. Alan and I got ahead of Pat on the way up. But we stopped at a side trail to take some pictures and Pat got ahead of us. By the time we got to the top she had already been through most of the observatory. So she walked through again with us. Time was getting short as we had to be back at the boat by 4:00 so we did not spend a lot of time in the observatory. We quickly walked through only stopping occasionally to see various exhibits. I wish I could have spent more time here.

We hurried back down hill to the ferry. We had to go back to the hotel to get the tickets for "Phantom of the Opera". Pat had wanted me to bring them with me in the morning (and I should have) but I had left them at the hotel. This did allow us to freshen-up some before going back downtown. We arrived at the hotel around 5:30 and left by 6:00.

We took the tube to the Piccadilly stop and easily found the theater. It was still over an hour before the show began so we decided to find somewhere to eat. Alan wanted McDonalds so he went there while Pat and I went to Pret A Manger for Sandwiches. I had two egg salad sandwiches and Pat had a roast beef sandwich. The sandwiches were very good. I was on an egg salad craze as this was what I had at the National Maritime Museum cafeteria.

After eating, we went back to McDonald's to get Alan before heading to the theater. We were all dressed casually in nice shirts and jeans. I would say about half the people were dressed as we were and that the other half were dressed more formally.

Our seats were on the front row and about five seats in from the left-hand side. I love sitting close in plays as it allows you to really see the actors. Pat prefers sitting back about 10 rows. A lady and her mother were sitting next to us. We talked a good bit before the play and during the intermission. She said she had seen Phantom over 30 times and Les Miserables over 120 times! Pat said throughout the play that the lady would nudge her anytime something important was about to happen.

Phantom was great and is worth all the praise it receives. While the music is good the actual production is amazing. I was spell bound throughout the performance and it was over entirely too quickly. This was the most expensive show that we saw (about $65 per ticket) and was well worth the money.

After the show we took the tube back to Bayswater. I stopped in a small kabob shop and purchased a couple of chicken-gyro type sandwiches. I then stopped in the small neighborhood store (where I stopped nearly every night) for an orange crush. Back at the hotel after this late night snack we turned in for a good night's rest.

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