Greenwich Mean (Whine and Complain) Time

You can get to know a place by climbing a tall thing (or riding one) and looking down, by visiting the grocery store, or by taking a boat ride. In Paris, we rode the Batobus; in London, we rode a boat down the river to Greenwich to visit the Royal Observatory. The boys sat a table drawing elaborate diagrams of imaginary subway systems, while Tony and I enjoyed the ride and took some pictures of sights we’ll visit another time:

There’s no way to capture how beautiful Greenwich was on this day — one camera isn’t big enough to embrace the wide, wide lawns sweeping up from the river to the Royal Observatory, the fragrant, blooming chestnut trees, the blue blue sky, the delicate gardens of lavender and roses winding around iron fences. Also, there’s no way to convey — in words or pictures — how distracted I was by the supreme whining of travel-weary Eli, who by this point is subsisting (not well, clearly) on peanuts and ice cream, and flagging whenever a walk exceeds one block. We jolly him along with scavenger hunts and games of I Spy, or take turns carrying him. I joke at one point that as soon as we start to walk anywhere, he seems to get out his complaint book and page through it, looking for the appropriate grievance. He tells me he has lost his happy book, and I’m dejected, second-guessing this entire ambitious journey, but then he continues that he has a happy book, a laughter book, a silly book, a crying book, a screaming book, a whimpering book… And as the list gets longer and sillier, we both start to laugh and the moment is redeemed.

The walk and the whining have made us miss Greenwich’s big daily event–the big red ball that drops down a short spire on the roof of the Royal Observatory to mark 1 PM–but we take a picture of it anyway:

We order lunch at a cafe at the top of the hill, and laugh about the most polite Keep Off the Grass sign we’ve ever seen:

Then we enter the observatory to look at the Prime Meridian of the World:

and take the obligatory picture of the boys straddling the meridian line:

The building is full of clocks and sextants and telescopes and other navigational equipment which is a little bit over the boys’ heads (it’s frankly over my head) but it’s cool to look at, and maybe we can come back in a few years and it will all make more sense to us.

We stop briefly in the Queen’s House, simply because I want to see the Tulip Stairs. I’m not allowed to take a picture, but others have:

Isn’t it pretty?

And then we go to the National Maritime Museum, which has just enough good, hands-on activities (like a ship’s radio and a boat simulator) to keep everybody happy for well over an hour.

Our walk to the train station is interrupted by a huge thunderstorm — the kind where the thunder is so close and loud it makes you jump; the kind my children have never encountered in San Francisco — and we take shelter in the lobby of a drugstore, buy a few packs of HobNobs, and pass the time, feeling grateful that we hadn’t planned to take the boat back to London. The shop owner eventually, apologetically, asks us to leave (it’s closing time) but not before giving us a cast-off umbrella from the back. We accept it gratefully and make our way to the train station.

Back in our hotel, the boys and I settle in for the evening while Tony scouts Gerrard Street’s dozens of Chinese restaurants to find us some take-out for dinner; it takes him a while to find one that doesn’t scatter pork bits in everything, and the boys don’t love it (we wind up rinsing all the sauce off the broccoli and green beans), but the meal comes with about five pounds of rice, so not even the pickiest child goes hungry at the end of our long day.

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