For August 5 we had a bit different way of getting around, to get to Greenwich, which requires a bit of planning. We took a cab to Slough (rhymes with "sow") and did the following. Fortunately a 2-day rail pass is relatively inexpensive, and if lost by one of your children is easily replaced:
- First Great Western RR towards Paddington Station [20 min]
- Walk to Paddington tube [8 min]
- Paddington Underground, take Bakerloo Line towards Elephant & Castle [5 min]
- Baker Street Underground, take Jubilee Line towards Stratford Underground [15 min]
- Canary Wharf, Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich [10 min].
What we did do that was different is that me and the boys got off at Island Garden stop of the Docklands RR, and walked across the Thames. I don't mean like Jesus (or Chance, the gardener) but there is a Victorial-era tunnel under the Thames. We met at the Cutty Sark station near Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Mean Time.
One item to mention that was an amazing source of frustration was one could have a GPS in one hand, an iPhone with Google Maps in t'other, standing in front of an area map sign clearly showing where you were and where the Docklands RR station was and therefore easily how to get there (it's over that way behind yonder building). Yet some family members and relatives still insist on flagging down a random securityesque person (who of course says "blimey, it's over tha' way behind the building, squire"). Said encounter also requires the requisite "we used to live in England story." Now each of these delays are not great in and unto themselves, but I am reminded of the parable of a mountain that was reduced to a plain, because visitors took a handful of earth each day for centuries, if you catch my obtuse drift.
On to the University of Greenwich grounds, home to the Royal Naval Hospital's Painted Chapel. This was originally built to house injured sailors, but when completed a long time ago it was so beautiful as to become a paid attraction.
We walked past the National Maritime Museum, but we did not have time to go in. I did miss my pre-emptive attempt to approach the guard for a perfunctory "is this the way to the Observatory" (all the while surrounded by 9-foot signs pointing to what looked like an observatory on a nearby hilltop) thereby preventing my father-in-law from doing the same.
We then went to the Observatory to see the Prime Meridian, which is actually more amazing than it sounds. What was also amazing was the fuc... er, tourists that would simply ignore a long line waiting to take pictures, and jump to the front. Mostly Spaniards, but we'll speak of that later. Some tried to jump in front of us, and they seemed quite insulted at my attempts to speak to them in their native gibberish ("that's the line over there, el lino, la linee, la ligna, la cucaracha waitino" but I never said I was fluent).
After the Observatory, we walked back to the train station to head over to Big Ben. One of the other things I had to do - as master herder - was to keep distractions to a minimal and keep us on schedule. I know some of those on this trip did not like that, but my job was not to be liked but to get us from points A to B to C in the allotted time. As with guards, my in-laws have a fascinating attraction to the canus genus that borders on the pathological. I mean if I see a dog I think to myself "there's a dog." I might say to the owner, "nice dog." But to some people it becomes a discussion of lifetime dog ownership. As with the guards, this discourse may only take 2-3 minutes, but at 1-4 guards and 5-7 dogs per hour (DPH?) this can be an appreciable delay.
As two dogs approached in Greenwich Park, I (and my kids) saw them before my father-in-law. I hissed the order "distract him now" but they looked at me with blank stares, so I quickly asked "what kind of tree is this?" In a scene worthy of Hogan's Heroes, as my father-in-law turned to his left to face the tree, the dogs passed behind him to his right. My kids and I had to hold our laughter, as it was truly one o the funniest things we had ever seen.
We stopped in at a pub to have a snack, and a drink. What happened was very funny, as my father-in-law had what we call an exploding beer glass. He bumped it with his elbow, not hard enough to knock it over, and it exploded in shards of glass; probably due to a hidden stress fracture. No one injured and electronics (which got splashed) apparently none the worse.
We then went back to the other side of the Thames, to see Big Ben, Westminster, Parliment and several other buildings. We were supposed to meet my sister-in-law (as she went in to London by herself once she awoke around noon) but even the breathtakingly simple task of "meet at Charing Cross at time X" was beyond her, as for quite a while she did not know where she was. As I promised I will not dwell on the details and frustration of waiting for over 1/2 hour with two hungry kids, but suffice to say if a trip like this happens again (very unlikely) she will have to be "chipped" or otherwise equipped with a GPS tracking device.
We returned late around 9, just in time to hit the hotel bar for water and beer.