London, March 2010

I haven't been in London for quite some time. (I thought that it had been a decade, with the last visit in 2000, but I actually had been there for a day in 2002. Still a long time of not-visiting, after going to London at least once a year in the preceding decade.)

One of the things you don't do when visiting a place often is looking at the tourist attractions. It's pretty much like home. You know that the tourist sights are there, but you rarely go there.

But after a prolonged absence, it seemed right to visit at least some of the attractions.

Additionally, the main reason for visiting London often had mostly vanished in the mean time. I used to go there to shop for English books and original language video tapes, which were otherwise difficult to get, but now are easily ordered over the Internet. While it's still more fun to browse a real-life bookstore, it's no longer necessary.

Which, unfortunately, also works the other way round. Since it's no longer necessary to visit a real bookstore, they have all but vanished. Almost all the big 'flagship' stores from the big chains are gone. No more "Books, etc.", no more "Waterstone's" or big "W.H.Smith" at the main shopping streets. From the book chains, only "Blackwell" still has a reasonably stocked shop at Charing Cross Road.

Ok, and then there's "Foyles". But then there's always "Foyles". It's probably akin to the Tower Ravens - if Foyles vanishes, Britain will probably be gone as well. (Even though it is slightly irritating to go through the new Foyles - there's suddenly a chance for customers to actually find specific books, which, frankly, feels weird.)

But anyway, the gist of this is: Less time in bookstores, more time outdoors.

For the first stop, I more or less picked up where I left (touristically) in March and September 2000, namely by visiting the London Eye.

Unlike the first two times, where it was cloudy or rainy, this time it was a visit with cloudless skies around sunset.

The ride was as much fun as it has been in 2000 and the sights are still great (well, it's London...), even though it has been taken over by some amusement park operator, who added a silly 3D cinema visit to the ride, which is rather mediocre and quite pointless. (Stuff like that makes sense if you don't have a real life attraction, for example to 'experience' a spaceship right or a flight on a broomstick, but when you have the real London Eye outside, it make little sense to add a pseudo-attraction, especially since it has no practical purpose, since it is not directly part of a queuing area, like on some theme park attractions, or gives some background or safety information.)

However, the real London Eye is still fun to ride.

London Eye, boarding St.Pauls, from London Eye Me on London Eye London Eye, looking west
Golden Jubilee Bridge from London Eye Golden Jubilee Bridge from London Eye Palace of Westminster, Clock Tower at sunset National Theatre, seen from London Eye
Palace of Westminster at sunset London Eye, pod at highest point during sunset Battersea Power Station seen from London Eye Palace of Westminster, Clock Tower at sunset
London Eye, structure alace of Westminster, Clock Tower at sunset London Eye from ground level, sunset London Eye from ground level, sunset

At night, it was a good opportunity to go and have a look (and snap a couple of pictures) of Tower Bridge and the Tower, which I vaguely recall having seen on my first visit to London (which was about 35 years ago), but hadn't revisited since. (And can now presumably ignore for another couple of decades.)

HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge Tower Bridge Tower (riverside) Tower

A slightly more unusual destination (and one that I had never visited before) was Battersea Power Station. It's a fairly iconic sight and well visible from large parts of London, but I never have been close to it, so. More or less based on "Why not?", I tried to go there.

It turned out that you can't. It's a construction site, so when you try to get closer to it, you see less of it than from halfway across the city. (The picture was taken by holding the camera over a wall...)

Battersea Power Station

But Battersea Park (which is next to it) is quite nice and has a fancy pagoda.

Battersea Park Peace Pagoda Battersea Park Peace Pagoda

Another place I had never visited in London was Greenwich. While I have been standing on the prime meridian in London before, it had been at the Millennium Dome and not at the place that defines it, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

So, having no bookstore to browse, I went to Greenwich.

The observatory has not only the 'baseline' for the Prime Meridian, but also used to provide standards for other measurements, such as time (after all, it is there is called Greenwich Mean Time...) and length for the public.

Shepherd Clock Shepherd Clock

The buildings that belong to the Observatory all house exhibitions. It's fairly interesting, though, how some stuff suddenly becomes more 'legendary' than others. There are a number of clocks on display in some of the buildings and most of them are, well, just old clocks. Nice to look at, some of them of historical significance, but unless you're the clock equivalent of a train spotter, only of casual interest.

But among them are the watches built by John Harrison. And since the "Longitude" book adds a story and human interest to those timepieces, they somehow become more interesting than the other clocks. (And they are all presented in identically large glass cases, which makes 'H4' seem even more remarkable (since H1-H3 are pretty large clocks and 'technical' looking, while the fourth clock is a reasonably elegant looking oversized watch and seems a bit lost in its case) and it's clearly the 'star' of the presentation, even though there's nothing that special about it.

Outside again, it was time to do what I originally came here to do: Stand on the Prime Meridian.

Prime Meridian Prime Meridian and me Prime Meridian and GMT

While the main 'photo spot' (or line) for the Prime Meridian is inside the museum area and can only be visited during opening hours, I was pleased to find there is also an old, faded marker on the outside wall and an extension of the line on the ground, so you can even take a picture if you arrive after closing time.

After hours Prime Meridian After hours Prime Meridian and me

One final look at the buildings and it was time to slowly return to London (and then home the following day).

Herstmonceux Castle, part of the Royal Observatory Royal Observatory, Greenwich View from Royal Observatory toward Millennium Dome Crowd along Prime Meridian

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