Saturday, January 5, 2013

Welcome to 2013: London Trip #3 and a Notts NYE

It's 2013 which means we have less than seven months remaining before moving back - that's only 28 weekends left - no more room for lazy Sundays.  We must keep exploring!  

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan the year "2013" in terms of reading and writing it.  It just looks awkward, no symmetry or evenness.  Now I didn't think of this myself, but I read that 2013 is the first year since 1987 where there are 4 different integers.  I was just a youngster then, so it's a brave new world, indeed.

Nonetheless, it will be a great year of new experiences, and I look forward to every moment.  I turn 30 in a few weeks, so it's high time I start thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

This weekend, however, will be pretty low key.  I dropped off Kerry at Manchester airport a few days ago for her flight back to Indiana to visit family and friends.  One advantage of not working is that you can travel after the holidays when prices drop 30%.  She has promised me to take pictures and write at least one post about her experiences!  In the meantime I'm just going grind through the next two weeks to research and save up for some trips we are planning this spring.  That said, I thought I'd spend a few minutes to document the tail end of the holiday break, since it was a doozy.

We planned a budget day trip to London on Dec 29 - the itenerary was to catch the 6 am train from Derby to put us into London at 7:30.  Tour some free attractions and mueseums, grab a lunch, then catch the return train at 4:30 to be home for dinner.  Unfortunately there was a derailment which meant we had to take the bus to Leicester, hop on a later train, and get into London around 9.  Feeling entitled, I went to the ticket counter to try to argue my case to change my return train to a later  time - there's a train every half hour, but cost goes up for these high demand times.  However, since I bought our tickets at the discount "no refund" rate, everyone was generally unhelpful and just kept passing the buck.  Having burned another 30 minutes walking around St. Pancras, I cut my losses.  We topped up our Oyster cards and made our way to Greenwich.

"Weel done, Cutty-sark! And in an instant all was dark."
As usual, I don't find out much about a place until after I visit.  So, I just read the Scottish poem Tam o' Shanter, from which the clipper ship was named.  "Cutty sark" is Scots for what is essentially a shirt that is too small for the wearer.  In the poem, a man is riding his horse drunk when he stumbles on a bunch of dancing witches.  He hides and watches the witch Nannie dancing in her skimpy shirt, until he can't contain himself and shouts out "Well Done!" giving away his hiding spot.  Basically this poem from 1791 was the inspiration for the movie Porky's.  

Anyway, Cutty Sark started out shipping tea from China, sailing around Africa.  After the Suez canal opened, steam ships were more cost effective so it switched to running wool shipments from Austraila, where it was popular for its speedy delivery. You can guess what its figurehead was...

Not much support there, Nannie
We did not pay to go inside the Cutty Sark exhibit since there were plenty of free things yet to see, so wandered around the grounds of the Royal Naval College for a bit.  We got to try on some jousting armor, which doesn't make much sense to have at a college, but as a Purdue engineer what do I know?  The school used to be a hospital for naval veterans, so that's probably a good reason why it has the museum/tourist attraction aspect to it.

From the college we strolled to the Royal Observatory, again sticking to the portions which did not require admission fees.  The work done here in the 18th century is beyond impressive.  I have a casual interest in both astronomy and maritime history, and here is where it all ties together.  I apologize in advance if the next few paragraphs get a bit nerdy.

Ships needed a way to know their location in the open sea using the stars as reference, and thanks to the hard work from gents like Flamsteed (born in Derby), Halley, and Bradley, among others, they figured it out here.  It's only fair that we recognize this place as the modern datum of time (Greenwich Mean Time) and space (Prime Meridian, 0 deg longitude).   In the end it's all relative, isn't it?  This line is determined by the location of the transit telescope which tracks star positions, so it's as good as any.  Certain things just work better when we're all using the same reference point.

You know, I just read that NASA is looking into the possibility sending a robot out to snare an astroid and put it into orbit around the moon so astronauts can "safely" practice landing on it.  Reference.  I wonder what Sir George Airy would think of that?

Bradley's original meridian was used for 134 years, it's 20 milliseconds off from the current meridian, which moved when Airy upgraded the transit telescope in the 19th century, and everyone had to buy new maps.

An early copy (2nd edition?) of Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica on display.  Flamsteed got a lot of help from Newton in the early days of the Observatory, but they had a big falling out because Newton and Halley published Flamsteed's star records without his approval.  Flamsteed went out and bought all the copies and burned them.  Newton and Halley were buddy-buddy, so as head of the Royal Society, I can't help but think Newton played a role in getting Halley the spot as successor to Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal.
After a fascinating time at the observatory, we wandered over to the National Maritime Muesum for a quick walkthrough.  This was an unscheduled detour, but I just couldn't resist.  You know with my wife away, I should go back again and take my time.  

After we grabbed a quick lunch near the Greenwich Market at Noodle Time (I was pleasantly surprised), we headed back to central London for our final stop, the British Museum.

Weather was less than perfect, so going to a free museum was a popular option on this day.
I should have called it a loss and spent more time in Greenwich.  By the time we arrived at the museum, we had less than an hour before we needed to get back to the train station!  We didn't even have time to listen to Rick Steve's complete audio tour which only covers the most popular highlights of the museum, haha.  Oh well, we did make the best of it, and I was blown away by the artifacts here.  Seriously old stuff, and I was able to appreciate what we did see thanks to the audio tour.   We caught the highlights from the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek sections of the museum.

I don't know why I'm putting pictures here because the internet is littered with them.  But more than anything, appreciate the crowds which rivaled Birmingham's Christmas market minus the drunkeness.

The ego of Ramesses II
Assyrians were badass tough guys; they were all into hunting lions and not too friendly to strangers

A Greek vase for drinking parties, depicting drunk saytrs doing their version of keg "stands".  And you thought the Cutty Sark name story was raunchy.

The museum is pretty close to St. Pancras station, so we walked to catch our train.  I was happy to do so, as you see interesting bits of London you'd miss spending all the transit time underground.   This way you get a feel for the city as a whole, instead of feeling like you're a whack-a-mole.  And to see St. Pancras from the outside was a nice surprise, you might mistake it for a cathedral.

St. Pancras at night
Moving along to New Year's Eve, we attended a house party with our friends from the gym. A huge shoutout goes to Athalie, for hosting and putting on a really fun night and letting us crash in a spare room.  The celebration had a Disney theme, so I bought a Mickey mask that made me look creepy.  Kerry had a Minnie mouse ears headband.  I ended up in a monkey suit at some point later in the evening.  Te night got progressively more interesting from there, with many details escaping me at the moment.  Nothing to be ashamed of however, it was relatively tame compared to the stories behind the ancient Greek vases or 18th century Scottish poetry.

Not sure what Disney character I am, but Happy New Year anyway!


  1. Nice post! Bad luck about the derailment... why does this country have such problems with transportation?

  2. Hah, it was unlucky. Often we find ourselves saying "you get what you pay for" when this kind of stuff happens. I should take an Amtrak train when we return to the states just to see how it compares.

  3. Not sure if you are planning any more day trips, but it might be worth springing for a later return. The flex tickets are steep though - that's too bad. Nice highlight tour at least!