London – September 2002

London – September 2002
London is a lively and exciting city. Usually this is a wonderful thing but occasionally there is an overwhelming urge to escape. Rather than fumbling through the free newspapers in search of last minute travel bargains, just hop on public transport and explore the outskirts of the city.

Greenwich, for example is just 16 minutes from central London but it feels like it is a world away. Nestled on the south bank of the Thames, Greenwich is one of the most historic areas in a city where almost every blade of grass has some sort of historical significance. Nearly every corner of the village has a museum or tourist exhibit dedicated to an aspect of Greenwich’s history. The good news is that most of them are free.

The Sites

Royal Observatory Greenwich
Tel: 020 8858 4422
020 8312 6565 (24-hour info line)
Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm, closed 24-26 December.
Admission: Free, planetarium shows at an extra charge of £4

Not only is the Royal Observatory the home of time but also one of the best views in all of London. High on a hilltop it provides a breathtaking panoramic view from the Millennium Dome on one side all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral on the other.

On most days of the week, crowds of tourists from all over the world cram themselves in the compact grounds of the observatory to get a glimpse of the place where all time begins and ends. Since it was defined in 1884, the Prime Meridian has been the division between eastern and western hemispheres and the starting point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In addition to the meridian the Royal Observatory also features museums highlighting the history of astronomy and time keeping.

While there is disabled access to the observatory, the staircases in the preserved buildings mean there are limitations. The meridian is fully accessible. However, asking a member of staff to open the side gate is advised as the main entrance has a slight step down.

The luscious green surrounding the observatory makes up Greenwich Park, the oldest Royal Park. There have been deer in the parks since the 15th century and they are still there. Walking away from the observatory and past a small restaurant the entrance to the wilderness, as it is known, is just before the park gates. Most visitors don’t know this entrance is there, making it all the more peaceful. Having a bag of peanuts on hand is essential because the wilderness is crawling with friendly squirrels that are used to being fed by visitors. Following the tree lined paths it doesn’t take long to find the deer. Remembering this is London may be considerably more difficult.

National Maritime Museum
Greenwich, London SE10 9NF
Tel: 020 8858 4422
020 8312 6565 (24-hour info line)
Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm, closed 24-26 December.
Admission: Free

Opened to the public by King George VI in 1937, the grand white buildings of the National Maritime Museum have undergone quite a facelift over the past few years. In 1999 the development of the museum was completed and the museum was relaunched. The high, all glass ceiling that greets visitors as they enter the new Neptune Court portion of the building certainly creates a distinct feeling of freshness that is reflected throughout the new exhibits.

While the museum is able to boast the world’s largest maritime historical reference library, plenty of hands-on exhibits ensure it has more to offer than just book based learning. The All Hands exhibit allows visitors to try their hand at learning Morse Code and flag signalling while The Bridge exhibit gives users the chance to steer a Viking ship into port through the use of a boat simulator. Either of these exhibits is quite capable of transforming groups of travel weary adults into giggling children.

Disabled travellers have access to all floors of the museum by way of elevators at either side of building. Special tours for those with impaired vision or hearing are available with prior arrangement.

Cutty Sark
Tel: 020 8858 3445
Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm, closed 24-26 December.
Admission: Adults £3.90, Children £2.90, Families £9.70

The British are passionate about tea. While very few still have high tea it remains the drink of the masses. At one point in history tea was one of the most expensive commodities known to the world. Huge ships were built with the sole purpose of importing it from China. The best known and most romanticized of all the tea clipper ships was the Cutty Sark.

Since the 1950’s the Cutty Sark has been in dry dock in Greenwich making the tall masts visible throughout the town. The museum held within the Cutty Sark includes a display of the elaborate figureheads from merchant ships and depictions of the conditions the crews would have lived in. While, the museum isn’t free the entrance fees go toward the much-needed restoration of the historic ship.

The Shopping
Bargain bookstores share the streets with designer clothing shops to create a unique shopping atmosphere. However, it is really the markets that make Greenwich stand out from other parts of London.

Greenwich Market
King William Walk, Greenwich
Hours: Thursday: 9:00am – 5:00pm; Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday: 9:30am – 5:30pm

Passing through the columned entrance and onto the cobblestone flooring of Greenwich Market truly feels like taking a trip back in time. The market has been in its current location for over 200 years but there has been a market of one form or another in Greenwich for over 1,000 years. Where in the past farmers would gather to sell their livestock and produce, over 160 stalls selling arts and crafts and second hand goods now stand. Clothing and other normal market staples are on display but so are the glass sculptures of Volkswagen Beetles and the hand carved picture frames.

Summer weekends are by far the busiest. Their publicity department refer to these time periods as bustling but anyone with even the slightest touch of Claustrophobia may find wall-to-wall bodies a better description. Crowds are thinner in winter months but so are the numbers of stalls. Regardless of how many stalls there are, the building itself is worth seeing.

The success of the crafts market has seen other markets emerge. Up the hill, past the Natwest bank, an antique market sells furniture and other must haves for serious antique collectors. For those with less spare change there is a bric-a-brac market on the other side of the Ibis Hotel.

The Food
Mexican, Chinese, French, traditional British and the normal burger chains; Greenwich has something for every palate. However, after many trips to Greenwich there is one restaurant that stands out for both taste and affordability:

Noodle Time
10 Nelson Road
Tel: 020 8293 5263

Across the street from the exit of Greenwich Market, Noodle Time is the perfect place for a meal after a hard day’s shopping. For as little as for £3.90, the orange clad waiters serve up huge plates of delicious noodles. The placemats are menus and order forms rolled into one. Simply fill in what you want and hand it to a waiter. Prices at Noodle Time are per meal rather than per dish so a gut busting meal will cost less than an appetizer at most central London restaurants.

The Journey
Getting to Greenwich from central London is easier than it has ever been. Located in zone four, a one day travel card is all that is needed to get to Greenwich.

By Train: Regular train service runs from Charing Cross and London into Greenwich rail station. From the station, walk down the hill past the Ibis Hotel and into the village.

By Docklands Light Railway (DLR): From central London the first stop will be Greenwich station but stay on because the next station, Cutty Sark Gardens, is right next to the Cutty Sark.

By Bus: The 188 bus goes from central London into Greenwich.

By Tube: Don’t be fooled by the tube map. Even though there is a station called North Greenwich it is actually at the Millennium Dome, which is miles away from the real Greenwich. Get the tube to a DLR station instead and get off at Cutty Sark Gardens.