We just took our last trip to London. We’ve been to London so many times that I’ve lost track of what number trip this is. There is just so much to do and see in London that we could have lived there for our 2 year secondment and still not seen everything. We took one last trip there this past weekend with our friends Megan and Hamish (of Greece and Brugge fame) and stayed in a colleague’s apartment, where we stayed previously on our trip to London with Jeff and Kerry. The apartment is located on the east side of London, and there is actually free street parking on the weekend, so we all carpooled down on Friday evening after work.
We arrived too late on Friday to do anything, although I had been hoping to make it to Tate Modern which closes late on Fridays at 10pm. Don’t worry, we made it the next day. Since we were too late to see any sights, and pretty exhausted from a long work week and traffic-filled drive, we simply ordered some high-quality Peri Peri chicken and stayed in.
We got up reasonably early on Saturday with the goal of exploring Greenwich. We decided to take a boat out to Greenwich, and it turned out to be a great idea. There was no queue, the boat had a top deck and an enclosed viewing section on the bottom deck to stay warm and dry, and there was continual commentary about the sites that we passed. This wasn’t just the standard, dry, pre-recorded commentary; instead, there was an actual guy talking about the sites as they went by, telling which pubs were the best, pointing out where Gandolph lives, and giving some general history and facts about the Thames river. Overall, he was a very entertaining guide, and the boat ride was probably the best sightseeing boat trip we’ve had in all of our journeys across Europe.
Once we arrived in Greenwich, our first stop was the Cutty Sark. This is the only surviving tea clipper in the world, except, I don’t really understand how they can claim that as a fact since it actually burned down a few years ago. They have restored the ship and it is now a major tourist attraction. We admired from the outside, and even went in the gift store, but ultimately decided not to tour the ship. Since we had toured the SS Great Britain in Bristol, and the Vasa in Stockholm, we decided that this couldn’t be any better than those and gave it a miss.
Fun Fact: the Cutty Sark is named after a poem written by Burns. This is interesting because we saw the ship on January 25th, which is Burns night, a night where the Scottish poet is celebrated across the UK by drinking whiskey, eating haggis, neeps and tatties (rutabaga and potatoes), and reciting Burns’ poems. We did none of these, but at least we saw the Cutty Sark.
The main reason for our trip to Greenwich was to see the Prime Meridian Line. I know you can see this at multiple places around the UK, but we went to the location inside the Royal Observatory. We bought the Astro ticket, which included admission to the Planetarium. I thought both of these sites were very interesting and worth the trip out to Greenwich. Luckily, we had nice weather that Saturday morning: it wasn’t too cold and the sun was shining as we walked past the National Maritime museum and through Greenwich park to reach the Royal Observatory.
Once inside the the Royal Observatory, we headed straight for the Prime Meridian line, the place where time is zero (in a way)! There was a very short queue to take pictures at it, which I guess is due to the fact that we were there in January. Some of the brochures showed pictures of the queue wrapping around the courtyard!
After checking out the Royal Observatory exhibits, which mainly consisted of old clocks and how to keep time while at sea, and watching the ball drop, we headed over to the Planetarium. We had tickets to the show “Undiscovered Worlds” and it turned out to be fantastic. It was all about how we are discovering new “exoplanets”, i.e. planets outside our solar system, every year, and how we can determine if they can sustain life as we know it. I thought it was a really interesting show, but Doug slept through most of it (seriously).
After the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, we decided to refuel with some traditional pies and mash. This is a very typical British meal, so we are trying to get our fill before we head back. I’m not going to do a food collage for this post since we didn’t have too many meals, so I’ll just go ahead and put the food pics in as I go.
Since we didn’t make it to the Tate Modern the night before, we decided to head over there. The place was packed. The guys didn’t want to be there, so we said we would drop them off at the top-floor bar and then check out the exhibits and come back to get them. Too bad the bar was completely full, with a huge queue to get a drink. I have no idea if the museum is normally that packed, or if there was some special event, but it was madness. The bar had a really nice view of the Millenium Footbridge (coming up next) over the Thames river. That view was the best part of the museum. The exhibits were awful. I guess we just don’t appreciate modern art, but nobody in our group thought it was good. A lot of the art seems like it could have been done by anyone without any skill or thought required. Maybe we just aren’t understanding the meaning behind it, but it was extremely disappointing.
The Tate Modern was so bad that it did not seem worthy of being mentioned in the title of the blog post.
In order to get back to our apartment, we needed to cross the Millennium footbridge. I initially thought this was a great opportunity because I had been wanting to walk across the footbridge, not having had the chance on any of my prior trips to London. The footbridge is most famous because its constructors forgot to analyze the natural frequency of walkers crossing the bridge (the main function of a footbridge). Therefore, when the bridge first opened, the frequency of pedestrian footsteps caused the bridge to hit its natural frequency and have a resonant lateral mode shape, or noticeable wobble. The bridge had to be closed and underwent a £5 million, 2 year renovation where dampers were added.
As we left the Tate Modern and headed toward the bridge, it started to rain. No big deal, we got out our umbrellas and continued towards the bridge. As we started up the ramp, the rain got heavier. At this point, we should have turned around. Instead, we ignorantly decided to continue on. The conditions got exponentially worse. As we were crossing, the heavens opened up and gale-force winds started pushing us to the edge. The wind was so strong that it broke all of our umbrellas. At one point I was pushed up against the railing and I really had to hold on for fear that I could be blown off the bridge. It started hailing, and thunder and lightning was all around us. I can honestly say that I have never been outside in such bad weather, much less trying to cross a footbridge that is known for being wobbly! The wind was coming in at an angle, so it was both pushing us back, and also toward the side. It made it extremely hard to progress across the bridge. Not too mention that the umbrellas were useless at stopping the rain, and at the same time making it harder to cross the bridge by acting as a kite with the wind. We were all screaming and trying to make it across, along with the rest of the pedestrians. I read in my guide book that the bridge had been designed with special aerodynamic handrails to deflect wind over people’s heads, but I think those handrails were not designed for hail, as the hail seemed to be directed straight at our faces. Somehow, we all made it across alive and took cover under the awning of a building along with all the other drenched pedestrians. We were completely soaked, from head to toe. That was definitely a lot different than the leisure picture-taking stroll across the bridge that I had imagined. In the fight to cross the bridge, I definitely couldn’t take any pictures. The one below is from Megan who snapped it just as we were getting on the bridge. The conditions got 10x worse than that.
We made it back to the apartment where luckily they had a dryer so we could throw our clothes in there. I say lucky because if we had been in a hotel we wouldn’t have had that luxury, and also because it’s not a given that you have a drying machine in a flat, as most places over here have washers but not necessarily dryers. In fact, the apartment that Doug and I live in only has a washer, and I am so ready to come back to America and have a dryer again!! #firstworldproblems
Saturday evening, we attended Monty Python’s Spamalot. We figured this would be a good, British comedy to conclude our time in the UK. And it was definitely British. It’s a good thing we’ve had two years in the UK or else I probably wouldn’t have understood half the jokes (or the accents). There were definitely still some things that I didn’t get, and Hamish was the only one in our group laughing. Overall, definitely good entertainment, and I liked the intimate feeling of the Playhouse Theatre.
Afterwards, we were all hungry and were happy to find a Mexican place, Lupita, still open and serving food. I always get excited when I find Mexican food in the UK, and I am normally disappointed. This was the case again. Although my enchiladas verdes were actually quite delicious, the overall portion size and value for money were not great. Both Hamish and Doug had to order second meals after their first meal of burritos turned out to be nothing more than a slightly larger than normal soft taco. At least my margarita was good, and was not the standard overly sugary lime drink that most places over here call a margarita.
We had a nice “lie in” (UK speak for we slept in) on Sunday, and spent most of the day exploring Brick Lane. Brick Lane is an area in east London that has been settled by the Bangledeshi community. You can find really good curry here and they also have popular markets on Sunday. We had actually already been to the Sunday Up-Market in this area on a previous trip to London, but were eager to explore other markets. Even though it was a rainy day, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the weather when we crossed the Millennium Bridge, and most of the market stalls were indoors, so we kept dry while browsing around.
After our market exploration, we headed back to the apartment, packed up, and drove back to Derby.
Overall, a great rainy last trip to London. Thanks to Megan and Hamish for making it even better!