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Day 2 - June 6, 2010 - London - Across From The Tower Of London

By Peter W. Damisch, General Naturalist & Cartographer

Coordinates: 51° 30'N and 0° 05’W
Weather: Overcast but warm and the threatened showers did not occur!
Air Temperature: +21o C (71o F)
Wind: 7 Km/hour
Pressure: 1018 Hpa

The Prince Albert II has been having a grand time in the wonderful city of London, truly one of the great capitals of the world. Our central location makes it unbelievably easy to depart the ship and go on walk about to view some of the treasures of the city. I simply love London and am always excited to visit, as there are so many options to choose from when touring about: fascinating history, great walks, beautiful art galleries and superb restaurants.

Today, many of our guests chose to explore the city on their own, selecting an itinerary that was perfect for them. However, most opted to participate in our full-day tour of Greenwich. Silversea had arranged for a private vessel to pick us up directly from our dock, then proceed slightly up river towards London Bridge before turning around to pass under the famous Tower Bridge.

Our onboard guide was truly outstanding and she provided a great running commentary regarding the history and architecture of the areas that we passed by while cruising down the Thames River towards our destination. Along the way, we could observe what a tremendous transition had occurred over the years; from old and often abandoned warehouses in the past to the current generation of beautiful new homes, flats and condos that now line the river. In addition, there is now a vibrant ferry service, similar to the London Underground, that now operates all along the river banks.

We also passed by the famous Millennium Dome before arriving at our destination: the docks alongside what was the former Royal Naval Hospital, then converted to Naval School and which is now the University of Greenwich. These magnificent buildings were primarily designed by Christopher Wren who expanded upon a palace built for Charles II on a site that was once one of the palaces utilized by Henry VIII and where his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, both future Queens, were born.

In the background between the two, tall domes of the Royal Naval College I could see one of my favorite places, the Royal Greenwich Observatory sited quite grandly on the hill overlooking Greenwich Park. Upon disembarkation from our private ferry, we had multiple choices including the opportunity to explore on our own, especially the local Greenwich Market. Another possible path was to tour the wide range of exhibits at the National Maritime Museum. Given the tremendous span of British involvement with the sea made that option quite attractive for some as well as myself.

However, I chose to assist the tour through the lovely Greenwich Park, site of a former Royal Estate, then up the hill to visit the Royal Naval Observatory. Of course this is the site of the 0 degree / Greenwich Meridian line where it is said time starts every day and where you can stand with one foot in the Western Hemisphere and the other in the Eastern. There is also a superbly organized museum that covers the history of scientific research, telescopes and astronomy very well. Of particular interest was a special wing dedicated to the development of accurate time keeping, especially the work done by John Harrison who successfully dedicated his entire life to creating the first clocks in the world capable of maintaining proper time at sea. This was a scientific revolution, which allowed a safer exploration of the world by ships at sea.

A special lunch for us had been arranged at the Royal Naval College and it provided us with a perfect example of solid English fare for a Sunday afternoon: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding with potatoes, carrots and gravy. Along with a glass of wine, coffee and cheesecake and cream for dessert, it was a perfect way to celebrate this spectacular day in the United Kingdom.

After our repast, we picked up a special guide for a private tour of the absolutely stunning Royal Chapel, which dates back to the 1700s. It is located under one of the two main domes, which were set apart such that the Queen would have an unobstructed view of the river from her palace, one of the first Palladian buildings ever constructed. The interior decoration of the chapel, ceiling vaulting and imposing painting behind the altar always takes my breath away.

We next walked over to the other dome, which contains the exquisite Painted Hall, another truly awe-inspiring interior whose immense painted ceilings and walls show vast allegorical scenes that I always felt give the structure an artistic linkage to the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It was also the location where Admiral Lord Nelson’s body lay in state after he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar.

All too soon we had to walk down the beautiful and quiet tree-lined paths of the college/university towards the Greenwich Visitor’s Centre, which provides a wonderful historical overview of the area. I was particularly intrigued by the exhibits concerning the relatively recent archeological excavations that brought forth many wonderful Tudor artifacts from Henry VIII’s former palace.

In order to provide even that much more variety, our Silversea group took a bus tour back to our Prince Albert II, allowing us the chance to view other portions of the city under the broad-ranging tutelage of our knowledgeable guide.

All of us had a bit of time available to explore a bit more of London or relax on board in the Panorama Lounge before our official Safety and Lifeboat Drill which was conducted just before departure. Of course one big thrill was to observe the Prince Albert II turn around in the Thames then have the Tower Bridge open just for us by pre-arrangement, something that is not often done. Many guests stayed on deck as our expedition ship cruised down the lovely Thames at the end of the day, observing the beauty of London and the English countryside, an activity that could then be continued while dining in our onboard restaurant with windows that provide a 270-degree panorama of our surroundings.

If it sounds like everyone, including myself, had a grand day in London, then I’ve properly been able to convey how special it was. Now we’re off to sea and to see additional wonders of the British Isles.

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