On a very rainy day we met a London Walkss guide at the London Tower for a trip to Greenwich. These days the tower moat is decorated with thousands of poppies, one for every British soldier who died in World War I. An Impressive sight. We boarded a ship and sailed under the Tower Bridge. The river was a busy place when ships were smaller and their goods did not come in containers, but for many years now the Thames is the least used river flowing through a big city. All the warehouses and docks were left to crumble and only in the 1980's did gentrification begin. The three bedroom condos we sailed past go for over $2,000,000 these days. The lack of activity has caused the water of the Thames to become clean once again, aided by the flushing action of the tide.
Back in the day Greenwich was a royal town. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born there. The current buildings collectively called the Palace of Placencia, that loom as you sail toward the dock are relatively new. There were designed to be royal palaces, but the court moved on. The public spaces are huge and beautifully decorated. The Great Hall which came to house the naval hospital took the James Thornhill 25 years to paint in the tromp l'oeil style, which made the decor look as baroque as the Palace of Versailles on plain flat walls. He was working on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral at the same time.
Of course, Greenwich is world famous for Greenwich Mean Time; the time zones start here. At the time that the sun never set on the British Empire, naval navigation was a huge challenge, especially when it came to determining longitude. Sailors noticed the relative positions of the stars and constellations and determined that they were always in the same spot at the same time in the same place. If the variable of time could be determined, sky viewings could determine relative position. At the Greenwich Observatory a tower was built with a red ball on it that fell down at exactly 1pm GMT. Ships would synchronize their clocks with the falling of the ball before they left town and everyone knew where they were. Then they realized that most of the maps and charts that they were using were over 200 years old and also in need of a major update. Because we are the tourists that we are, we hiked up the hill to the observatory to stand with our feet on both sides of the meridian line.
This was the first day since we have been here when it poured all day. Perhaps it's a signal that it's time to move on.