Day Four: In which things go better than anticipated

Today, in order to keep myself off my feet as much as possible and avoid the self-detrimental stupidity I might otherwise indulge in, I do something completely alien to me, as least where these research trips are concerned:

I sleep in.

If this were a normal day, I would wake at 7 or 7:30, dress, sort myself out for the day, take advantage of the hostel breakfast (included in my room price), and then busy myself — probably by walking around Westminster some more — until the Bank of England Museum opens at 10. But that would be dumb, and I recognize that. So I go back to sleep after my new roommates demonstrate their ignorance of hostel etiquette (blow-drying your hair in the room? Seriously?), wake up again at 10, and roll out soon after.

First stop, Boots, where I pick up some specially-designed plasters for my blisters. (They stick way better than moleskin, and do seem to be helping.) Then I grab breakfast and munch it on my (determinedly slow) way to the Bank of England Museum — which proceeds to eat more of my time than expected, even though I’m ignoring half of it, so I hurry through the later bits and then head for London Bridge, the nearest river pier to me.

But I get there with enough time to spare that I decide to press my luck: I go back to Tower Bridge, where I’m referred to their offices, where I meet with the exhibition manager, who arranges for me to visit the monument at 9 a.m. on Saturday. WIN. Except that now I’m running out of time to get to Greenwich.

Race back across the bridge, back past the Tower, onto the pier there. The boat service I’ve chosen caters to commuters, not tourists; once we’re clear of the Tower area, that thing starts booking it to Canary Wharf. This is my first good view of the Isle of Dogs: I was there last year, for the Museum in Docklands, but you can only see it properly from the river. (Not actually an island, I should mention. It’s the peninsula sticking out into that big bend in the Thames. Very easy to spot in aerial shots of London, and also where they stage their ill-fated attempt to retake England in 28 Weeks Later.) From there, it’s just a few stops down and across the river, and I’m in Greenwich.

. . . where there are men lounging around on the grass in old-fashioned military and naval costumes.

I have no idea what’s going on here. That’s the Royal Naval College, and there are tents and lunch trucks and construction all over, but I’m barely going to be on time for my appointment as it is, and <weeps> I have to move on. (Nor do I get very good pictures, since there’s really no way to do it that doesn’t blatantly translate to O HAI CAN I DROOL ON YOU. khet_tcheba, I’m sorry.)

The Royal Observatory’s at the top of a steep hill, and commands a truly splendid view. There’s construction here, too — there’s construction everywhere, more than usual; I suspect the Olympics have something to do with that — and mobs of people, but my contact meets me with a stack of papers the likes of which I haven’t seen since Hampton Court, showing plan and cross-section views of the Observatory in my period, and sketches of the exterior, and it’s all fabulously useful. The Octagon Room is lovely — even if it’s not where Flamsteed did most of his actual work — and I get to see Halley’s own quadrant, though it dates to his own days as Astronomer Royal, after he’d done his work on the comet. (Most of the data on that came from Flamsteed anyway.)

The last question I ask of my guide is how to find the cafe, as I have missed lunch entirely in all the rushing around. Why, oh why, can we not get elderflower soda in the States? Anyway. Thus fortified, I go back inside, peruse the shop, and take a second look at the exhibits, now that I’m oriented. Don’t make it through all of them before the place closes down, but that’s okay; I’ll be back here tomorrow.

When I go back down the hill to the Naval College, sadly, the men in uniform have vanished. But I do find a sign that explains their presence: it seems Fox UK is filming Gulliver’s Travels. So Khet, the awesome ankle-length red coat I saw? Coming soon to a theatre near you.

My dinner dilemma: not hungry now, but food is more available here than in the City. I solve this in Greenwich Market, picking up a container of chicken teriyaki, which I can take on the boat and eat (you guessed it) on the steps of St. Paul’s. On the way upriver, I repeat 2007’s hypothermic adventures in miniature (the river wind is cold when we get going), because I can sit on the back deck, and ladies and gentlemen, the tide is low.

If you can guess why that made me cackle in glee, you’ve been spending way too much time with my particular brand of insanity.

Shooting from the river gives me a good angle on several landmarks. The walled-up water entrance to the Traitor’s Gate is one I didn’t expect but should have, and I get a nice shot of that with the Tower, and one of the Steelyard, and dammit there are barges in the way. If the Walbrook’s outflow is where I think, it’s hidden behind several tons of steel as I pass. Blast. But then we pass between the two Blackfriars briges, and VICTORY IS MINE, FOR I HAVE FOUND THE FLEET.

It, er, isn’t much to look at. A mossy, unadorned arch in a dirty river wall. But if I don’t get to go spelunking next year, when I come back for the Victorian book, this is the closest I’ll ever come to seeing that black river.

(It’s my own special obsession. Just let it pass.)

Dinner on the steps of St. Paul’s, with yet more photos — okay, yes, Wren has made me love his cathedral, even though I prefer Gothic architecture in general. Then, capitalizing on the benefit brought by the plasters I applied this morning, it’s up Shoe Lane to Holborn, and thence to the squares I missed yesterday: Red Lion, Russell, and Bloomsbury, and that’s the lot. Any others that existed in 1757 either have vanished since, or I don’t know about them. Red Lion’s park charms me, which takes me by surprise, given that the plot point I’m setting here is morally objectionable to my 21st century mind. Russell Square has a garden I wish I had the energy to explore, as it’s probably the best-landscaped thing I’ve seen this trip outside of Hyde Park’s rose garden. But my feet are sore, if not nearly so blister-hurty as before, so instead it’s a quick nip over to smile at the exterior of the British Museum (and to fix its location in my head) before heading home via Bloomsbury and Chancery Lane (a street I’ve missed until now, not because it was out of period, but just because I’d never had reason to go that way).

I didn’t have high hopes for today, when I went to sleep last night. But this has turned out far better than I feared, and there are some good things on the horizon for the back half of this trip.

0 Responses to “Day Four: In which things go better than anticipated”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    In addition to the filming, the Naval College are also doing Tudor tours at present (
    I always think visitors see London far more clearly than locals. Your account reminds me of how I am when I’m in Paris. I’m always looking for the past there.

    • kniedzw

      I think that’s a good analysis of any city, really. I lived in the Boston area for two and a half decades, and the only reason I saw as much of the historical locations as I did is because of school trips. While in Indiana for four years and change, I didn’t ever see the race track, and I only saw the circle that gave “Circle City” its name because I happened to wander through there for a convention. Meanwhile, in the four days and I were in Rome, we saw an obscene number of landmarks.

      Of course, in Rome, nearly every street corner has historical significance. It’s the difference between two and a half millennia of history and three centuries, I suppose.

      • la_marquise_de_

        Rome is its own category. And yet the locals seem to see the traffic problems over the landmarks. And use the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination as a cat sanctuary-cum-roundabout.
        The only place I’ve ever been where the residents seemed to be as aware of their city as the visitors is Chicago. Is this because of it’s relative newness, I wonder, or is there something about the way Chicagoans are educated about their home?

    • Marie Brennan

      You see different things. I know very well that I’m all but blind to the people in London (or any other city I visit); you need much longer-term familiarity to see the social patterns of a place.

  2. aswego

    Thanks for yet another installment of your adventures!

    As for the elderflower soda, this might not be quite the same as what you had, but perhaps try elderflower syrup + sparkling water? D’arbo’s is pretty tasty, even if it can’t quite match homemade. 😉

    • Marie Brennan

      Ooooh! It isn’t so much that I need the soda as, elderflower is tasty in general, and I wish it were a flavor used over here. But I may buy some for myself.

  3. anghara

    I am MONUMENTALLY jealous, yes, blisters and all…

    PS – when you get back and “Ashes” is hugely imminent or even In The Stores, can I interview you on my blog…?

  4. eclectician

    Elder is very much a european thing, and much of it, even there, is foraged. Blame it on the uneducated public palate here, and the mass distrust of anything wild.

    We’ve been thinking of going to Fresh Pond to forage some.

    You’ve seen my posts about eating in London, I hope? The only piece of advice I have for you, as far as budget eating goes, is EAT (the chain).

    • la_marquise_de_

      Small restaurants off the main drag in London Chinatown are often good value, too. As is Tokyo Diner, just down from Gerard Street (also Chinatown).

    • Marie Brennan

      The bigger issue this year, since my budget is not so tight, is simply finding food after about 6:30 p.m., without having to hike very far for it. It’s the major downside of staying in the City . . . .

  5. myladyswardrobe

    Try Elderflower Fritters – its pancake batter (the crepe kind) which you make a pancake and then add sugar and the head of the elderflower.

    Problem is, you need to know what Eldeflower is. I have it growing outside my back door! Lots of Elderflower fritters this summer!

    Oh – and I’ll echo the D’Arbo Elderflower syrup. Can be used on icecream, pancakes or watered down for Elderflower cordial. It is the best you can find and better than the fizzy Elderflower you have been drinking. I prefer it unfizzy personally.

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