As my month in Eton and Windsor drew to a close I stepped up my sightseeing. If you’re a traveler, you know that tension between, “I want to see it all; I may never be here again!” and “I want to savor and enjoy my moments here; I may never be here again.” This was a time for the former.
My friend Julie had never been to England, hadn’t traveled internationally in years, and that had mostly been on tours. I figured she’d be nervous arriving at Heathrow—jet lagged, disoriented, tired, and excited—I always am.
So I met her there, in the “Love Actually” arrivals hall.
Ingrid had met me at Schiphol in May. Maki had met me in Addis Ababa in June. Lynn was there when I arrived at Heathrow from Ethiopia. It’s nice to see a familiar face at the airport. I don’t mind traveling alone, for the most part, but it feels a little sad to arrive and have no one waving to greet me.
Julie’s flight was delayed so I watched people arriving—scanning the waiting crowd for a familiar face, then lighting up with a smile when they spotted their spouse or friend or business associate—waving, then shaking hands or kissing and hugging. It was an endorphin boost, just watching.
Julie’s arrival gave me a push to re-see some old favorites. We spent a day at the Tower of London. I hadn’t been there for 30 years. Based on binge watching The Tudors and reading Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, I knew just enough to probably misinform Julie so she would possibly be laughed at if she quoted me.
Afterwards, we did one of my favorite London activities, the boat ride to Greenwich. It’s a cheap way to see the city from the river; we left from Tower Hill but you can start at Westminster or even further beyond for all I know. It had been raining all day so the thought of sitting inside under a clear Plexiglas canopy appealed. It only costs £10 for the round trip, and there are so many boats plying the Thames that it’s not necessary to book in advance for a specific time.
We waited in line with a couple Tajikistan who were honeymooning. They had flown in via Moscow that day. They were spending two days in London, taking a day trip to Oxford, then flying to Edinburgh for two days, from whence they would work their way back home via Paris and Prague. Good thing they were young and had lots of stamina.
It takes less than an hour to get to Greenwich. We passed under bridge after bridge and stopped at multiple piers on either side to let people board or disembark. I always look forward to gliding under Tower Bridge, splendid even in the rain.
There’s a lot to see in Greenwich, but I always tack my visit onto the end of a day so everything is closed when I arrive.
There is the Cutty Sark, which is not just a brand of whisky. The original 147-year-old ship can be toured but I’ve never done so. It’s the last surviving clipper ship in the world.
Greenwich is home to the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, still used as the standard time zone reference. If you have ever planned a trip somewhere outside of your own time zone, you have likely seen “GMT + 4” or whatever to indicate the local time.
There is also the Royal Naval Museum which I’m sure is fascinating but which I’ve never seen, and a wonderful covered market which is always just closing down when I arrive.
Note to self: Plan a day in Greenwich next time.
On the return boat ride we got distracted by a drunk guy who wanted us to guess his nationality, which turned out to be Polish. This may have triggered a few stereotypes in me.
We missed our stop and got off at the next one. The Pole got off and followed us. It was deserted and dark. I was debating whether to scream when he came abreast of us, gave us directions to the nearest tube station, and stumbled away.