London by boat

Trip Start Jun 17, 2013
Trip End Jul 20, 2013

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Today, we explored London via boat on the Thames. To get the best view, we sat up on the uncovered upper deck and it was unbelievably hot.  Can't complain – it has to be better than cold, drizzly weather which we had a taste of earlier.  We started at Westminster pier and went to Greenwich and then returned, being a couple of hours cruise.  Here the Westminster Bridge is rather low and stops bigger ships going any further up river.  The bridge is painted predominantly green, the same colour as the leather seats in the House of Commons which is on the side of the  House of Parliament nearest the bridge. This is in contrast to Lambeth Bridge which is red, the same colour as the seats in the House of Lords and is on the opposite end of the Houses of Parliament. On the whole of the River Thames there is something like 200 bridges.  We will only see a few, but certainly the most famous.  We saw Cleopatra’s Needle.  Part of a pair, although the needles are genuine Ancient Egyptian obelisks, they are misnomers, as they have no particular connection with Cleopatra, and were already over a thousand years old in her lifetime. This one stands about 21 metres high on the Victoria Embankment and is inscribed with hieroglyphs.  It was originally erected in Egypt around 1450 BC., but was toppled some time later. It was presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan in commemoration of the victories of Lord Nelson (he pops up again) at the Battle of the Nile, but was only finally erected here in 1878.  Cleopatra's Needle is flanked by two faux-Egyptian sphinxes cast from bronze that bear hieroglyphic inscriptions.   These Sphinxes appear to be looking at the Needle rather than guarding it. This is due to the Sphinxes' improper or backwards installation. There are lion’s heads all along the embankment which indicate the height of the river and if flooding is likely, there are gates further down the Thames which close off the River – Thames Barrier.  The river has a tidal height of approx. 7 metres – high like ours in Mackay.   We saw the famous Savoy Hotel and the old building which once housed The City of London School.  On the front of the building are statues of Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Newton and Sir Thomas More, the first four emphasising the schools literary and scientific traditions, the last being a religious martyr.  We could see the new building of the school and St Paul’s Cathedral.  We went under Waterloo Bridge – the "ladies bridge" - so named as it was rebuilt after being bombed during WW2, mostly by women.  Then under the old Blackfriers Bridges – one a railway bridge where the pylons from the old steam train days still stand.  The Millennium Foot Bridge was crowded, modern and stable – unlike when it was first opened for the millennium.  It wobbled under the weight of people and had to close for redesign.  Then we went under London Bridge which is a non- event, down to the most impressive of bridges – The Tower Bridge.  The Tower Bridge, (built 1886 – 1894) is a suspension bridge and has become the iconic symbol of London. The bridge's present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The central span is split into two equal bascules or leaves, which can be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The bascules, weighing over 1,000 tons each, are counterbalanced to minimise the force required and allow raising in five minutes.  The two side-spans are suspension bridges, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge's upper walkways.  There was a huge cruise ship on the river which had passed through the bridge overnight.  The bascules are raised around 1000 times a year.  We could now see the other side of The Tower of London  from the river.  Further downstream. The pub, “Prospect of Whitby”, Canary Pier, new Olympic stadium and the Isle of Dogs were pointed out.   We arrived at Greenwich where the British clipper, “The Cutty Sark” was the most obvious feature.  She was one of the last tea clippers to be built as sailing ships gave way to steam.  She spent only a few years on the tea trade before turning to the trade in wool from Australia, where she held the record time to Britain for ten years.  Greenwich is notable for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian (0 longitude) and  Greenwich Mean Time.  We could see a large dome which is the entrance to the foot tunnel and on the hill, the former Royal Observatory where the Prime Meridian passes through.  On the way back, on the opposite bank, we saw the Mayflower pub.  It is close to where the Mayflower ship was fitted out and the Pilgrim Fathers set sail, arriving in America as the first permanent European settlers in 1620.  We sailed past lots of old docks and warehouses where you could imagine the stories of Charles Dickens  and then past the “Golden Hind”, an English Galleon which circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake.  A modern reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, named "Shakespeare’s Globe", is on the site of the original theatre, near the Tate Modern Art Building.  The OXO Tower stands out, as once housing the manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes.  The two modern icons along the river are the London Eye and The Shard.  The London Eye or Millennium Wheel is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank, opened on New Year’s Eve 1999.  This was the best advantage point to look over London, until it was superseded by the 245-metre observation deck on the 72nd floor of The Shard, which opened to the public in February 2013.  The Shard looks like a shard of glass and is 95-storey.  Very hot and bothered, we caught a taxi and were going to go back to the hotel, but decided to go to Windsor castle and Runnymede.  The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror (He pops up again too – a busy man), to protect Norman dominance around the outskirts of London. Windsor Castle was used as a refuge for the royal family during the bombing campaigns of the Second World War and is the Queen's preferred weekend home. Runnymede is a very pretty water meadow alongside the River Thames in Surrey, just over 32 km west of central London. It is notable in democracy and human rights for its association with the sealing of the Magna Carta, in 1215 by King John. The Magna Carta had an impact on common and constitutional law as well as political representation also affecting the development of parliament.  The cabbie was very good and persisted until we found the area where the Magna Carta was signed.  I went to take photos and when I got back, Graham is in the driver’s seat of the cab!!  He then let Graham drive his cab around the park – hilarious!!!  We had an ice-cream and next to the shop was the pillar marking the event.  On the pillar it has inscribed “In these Meads on 15th June 1215, King John at the instance of Deputies from the whole community of the Realm, granted the Great Charter the earliest of constitutional documents where under ancient and cherished customs were confirmed, abuses redressed and the administration of justice facilitated new provisions formulated for the preservation of peace and every individual perpetually secured in the free enjoyment of his life and property.”  I was pleased we had found it.  We booked in to see Mama Mia and Top Hat.  We enjoyed both musicals very much.    
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