Breaking news: London still awesome

Tower Bridge, from our Thames cruise

It's been like 50 years since I posted here, so, uh, first off, I went to London. I know I just went to London in November, 2006, but when some friends here in DC sent out word about a trip, my initial reaction was: "I just went to London. I can't go back so soon." Then I thought about it, for all of about 30 seconds, and I decided: "Oh, I can so go back!"

So I got to take another outstanding trip to London. This time I wanted to catch the one thing I'd wanted to see last time, but had been closed — the London Transport Museum. It was closed for renovations last time, although the gift shop was open in a place in Covent Garden, so I at least wasn't deprived of Mind the Gap merchandise. The museum itself was really cool, and I'm glad I got to go and see the development of the world's first subway, from the early steam locomotives to the development of tube tunneling (and an early tube train). But there were so many out of control kids there, it was like a Lord of the Flies type situation — they were running totally wild — so that sort of took away from it.

I also wanted to see some things that I hadn't really been interested in the last time we went — a side trip to Portsmouth to see, well, everything, but namely the HMS Victory, and to Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum. Not surprisingly, none of the rest of our group had much interest in going to look at old ships, so I went to Portsmouth on the day they all went to the Tower of London, which I'd just seen. I found I felt really comfortable with moving around the UK by myself — the train system is so great and the signage everywhere is so good, it's easy to find your way.

Portsmouth didn't disappoint in the least — the Victory was worth the trip in itself. I have a ton of pictures on Flickr, so I won't go into huge amounts of detail, but I will just say that the Victory, in permanent drydock, was done up much more as a museum (albeit one where you had to duck your head on all of the decks, and that smelled of old wood) than the USS Constitution was. Which makes sense — the Constitution could sail tomorrow, if it needed to. I like that both of these ships, which each have huge historical significance, serve two different roles. But this meant that on the Victory, you got to go down to the Orlop deck and the hold — they really had much of the ship open to explore, and since it was February, they weren't running guided tours, so I got to take my time and see the whole ship at my own pace.

I wasn't quite as impressed by the National Maritime Museum — although it was good in its own right, it paled after the ships and museums of the Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth. We were actually in Greenwich briefly earlier in the trip — on Wednesday, we did a tour to Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, and Greenwich. At Greenwich, we had time only to walk the grounds of the old Royal Naval College a bit, and walk into the Painted Hall, before we took a boat cruise down the Thames back to London. Leeds Castle was impressive, particularly since it was a mix of the period furniture you'd expect, and of 1920s-era French decor. Some of it was a bit over-the-top, but still pretty cool. We stopped at Dover only long enough for photos of the white cliffs, and then on to Canterbury, where I was surprised at the size of the cathedral after others I'd seen (Westminster Abbey, Bath Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral) of similar structure.

But rather than rambling on and on, as I usually do, I thought I'd just post a link to tons and tons of pictures. Take your pick between the whole set of 500-and-some, or the highlights, which are closer to 80:

All of my England photos
Just the highlights

And yes, it was cold. Somehow, 45 degrees in London is not the same as 45 degrees here — it's a much damper, bone-chilling cold. Luckily, I took a fleece jacket in addition to my wool pea coat, and the two of them together generally kept me warm enough to be happy. Lots of ale in nice warm pubs also helped.

HMS Victory, oldest commissioned naval ship in the world

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