Coordinates: 51° 30' N & 0° 04’ W
Weather: Gorgeous and sunny throughout
Temperature: 26o C (80o F)
In the dark hours of the early morning, the Prince Albert II entered the estuary of one of the most historically significant river systems in the world, The River Thames. With coffee and croissants in hand we slowly gathered on the foredeck outside the Observation Lounge as day broke. We passed through the artistic-looking tidal flood control gates of the Thames Barrier, the structures resembling the bows of ships standing on end. Cruising in on the rising tide, (a tide, by the way, that can change the river’s water level by as much as seven metres within London proper), we verily shot through the barriers as though hurling down a river – in spite of the fact that we were actually heading “up-stream”.
The beautiful grounds and historic buildings of the Greenwich National Maritime Museum hove into view as a pair of tufted ducks flew right over the ship. All along the way onlookers in bathrooms and pajamas stood on their posh apartment balconies ogling us, and we them, as we took in the diverse scenes along the river in a lovely early morning light. The original names of the quayside warehouses, within which the apartments had been constructed, as well as some of the old cranes, were still intact. Tugboats pushed or dragged barges burdened with sediments or shipping containers and low-slung and long high-speed catamarans maneuvered deftly about. Stewards graciously provisioned us with glasses of champagne and fresh victuals in the form of still-warm pastries.
By 8:00 am, right after the gates rose specifically for our vessel, Prince Albert II passed beneath the magnificent Tower Bridge. The scene was remarkable, the structure both aesthetically pleasing as well as a fine feat of engineering, and for some of us, it felt like a modest passage through history. A combination suspension and Bascule Bridge, and one of the most significant of all of London’s icons, The Tower Bridge was splendid. Almost immediately after that we came alongside the HMS Belfast, the historical town class light cruiser, now a museum. After a tremendous 15-day journey throughout an incredible part of the world, and having covered 1,544 nautical miles, our good ship moored one more time and our maritime travels were over.
Within a short time we took a local small ferry across the river to the north bank where we went our separate ways to explore the cities of London and Westminster. Among the myriad attractions to visit in the area were the many museums and gardens, monuments and statuary, historical edifices, sprawling verdant parks, and bustling shopping districts. Some took the Tube, others the open double-decker “step-on/step-off” buses, some made another river cruise, and many explored on foot. The place was thronged with tourists from all over the world. The poor guards at Buckingham Palace must have been a bit warm in their heavy red tunics and ‘bearskins’ - perhaps preferring instead to be in ‘bare skins’ – though they marched and stomped stoically as onlookers gazed.
After a day of exploration where at best we merely scratched the surface of ‘things to do in London’, the majority of us spent much of the evening theatrically engaged, at the musical Mama Mia or Chicago. The shows were pulsating with exuberant song and dance and were a great pleasure to watch. The tour guides on our coaches told us some of the city’s many tales as our drivers deftly wove their way through the traffic of a still-hopping cityscape. Safely back on board, we tucked in for one more night on our temporary floating home.