Miraculously, we both wake without effect from the celebrations of yesterday. I did wonder, after that second martini, if there’d be a price to pay. Today zips along at a very different pace, visiting the borough of Greenwich, nestled into the bank of the Thames. An educational, multicultural bus ride later, we’re there.
Greenwich has a surprisingly long history – home to a royal palace in the late 1400s, it’s the birthplace of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
More widely known for being the point of the Greenwich meridian line, it’s also been home to a Royal Hospital for men who served in the Royal Navy (1684 – 1869) and then a Royal Naval College (1873 – 1998) training over 27,000 men and women.
Today it houses the University of Greenwich and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, as evidenced by a steady stream of warm up scales – it’s exam time. But we’re here to see the star attraction – the incredible baroque ceiling of the Royal Hospital’s dining room.
Painted over a 19 year timeline, the work of James Thornhill, it’s considered London’s answer to the Sistine Chapel. It’s truly magnificent, an ode to its royal sponsors, William III and Mary II, the might of the Royal Navy, and the power of the seas on which they sailed. There’s even a benefactor’s board, outlining the various amounts donated by the power brokers of the day.
We learn the intricacies of the various scenes, set with over 200 allegories and subtle political commentary, through our wonderful guide, who we have, rather pleasingly, all to ourselves.
Tour over, we pop into the Chapel with its glorious pale blue and ivory ceilings. Design ed by James Stuart, a contemporary of Wedgewood’s, their influence on each other is clear.
We also see the skittles alley, built from old ships’ cast offs, the main entertainment for recuperating sailors.
Another guide explains that they’d initially built a library, but hadn’t quite countered on the rather salient issue of illiteracy. Chillingly, prior to skittles, this room was once the surgery – we can clearly see the indents in the stone sills, where surgical tools were sharpened.
There’s nothing to make you appreciate living in modern times more, than a glimpse into medical practices of yesteryear.
It’s an enormous site, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who interestingly did not charge a fee for his twenty years work on the project. There’s also an homage to Lord Nelson – his body lay in state in the Painted Hall where over 30,000 people came to pay their respects,
an impressive set of Water Gates, the official “royal” entry points to Greenwich and a rather lovely view through to the Queen’s House, across the way.
So much to see and very worth the time to visit.
Later, we pop into the heart of Greenwich which features many nautical themed pubs and shops as well as the Cutty Sark museum, the last remaining tea clipper.For a change of pace, we take the Thames River bus back into London.It races along with great views of the river bank, the Tower of Londonand London Bridge. It’s a great way to travel – no traffic jams, views aplenty and each time the boat takes off, it roars like a jet engine. And you get to exercise your core balancing to get that perfect shot!It’s been a long day. We had intended a stop at the British Museum in the late afternoon, but instead settle for a drink in a typical London pub then make the trek home. One thing about London, there’s no shortage of things to do.