I woke up on Sunday to a truly London day. Blustery, grey, with the hint of showers to come. Today was the lunar new year, so I made my way over to Chinatown to check out the festivities. I arrived just as the parade was kicking off. Tons of people came out to enjoy the show, and a large crowd pointed me in the right direction as I explored the venue. There was a cool area of shops and kiosks in Trafalgar Square, but it appeared blocked off and looked like you needed tickets to enter, so I satisfied myself by observing dancers and decorations from the outside.
After some time I decided I’d had enough of the crowds, so I hopped back on the underground (against a growing crowd in the subway station near the festivities), bound for Greenwich. I made my way there after a few transfers, and found myself at the University near the main park there. I spent a little time exploring the campus but didn’t linger too long before hiking uphill to my first destination, the Royal Observatory. There, I learned about the history of celestial studies in London, primarily driven by the need for accurate navigation overseas. Early astronomers were tasked with providing star charts to ships to facilitate accurate localization without the assistance of landmarks.
Early on, they were able to determine how far they’d traveled North or South, but knowing how far they’d gone East or West proved more difficult. Because the Earth is rotating, the stars shift in position through the course of the night. Due to this it is imperative that one has an accurate measure of time. Unfortunately back then the only clocks with any reasonable accuracy relied on a pendulum and were therefore useless at sea due to the swinging of the ship. The museum detailed a history of timekeeping and its relation to astronomy.
I saw one of the IMAX shows at the planetarium. This was not your “watered down” IMAX that you see films in today, but rather the huge projection dome where the entire ceiling is a massive curved display. I loved those films growing up, and seeing the night sky in this format took me back to those earlier experiences.
I saw the Prime Meridian and learned it was just the line drawn out by the major telescope at the Royal Observatory (which of course is pointing North-South). I learned that the line had moved arbitrarily when a new telescope was installed. I thought this was interesting to highlight just how arbitrary the line really is.
Eventually I turned down the hill and made my way towards the National Maritime Museum. The museum details history of the British fleet and naval power, detailing some historic battles, trade routes, and the cultural impact the sea has had on the British people. Upstairs in the museum there is a huge map with nautical elevations plotted out. There, children were taking part in another Chinese New Year celebration with a ribbon dancing lesson. They were fun to watch and everyone was enjoying themselves. I left the map area to check out a few more exhibits before getting back on public transit towards the city center.
I got off at the train station to catch a ride to the airport. Before I left I took a brief detour to see the Monument of the Great Fire of London. It was raining so I did not stay long, but the imposing column seemed appropriate in that weather as a memorial to the victims of the fire.
I slept on the bus ride to the airport. It was good that I did, because we did not get back to our apartments in Stuttgart until a little before midnight, and I had work the next day. I was tired, but it would not be long until my next adventure. Until then,
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,