Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach. WARNING: This post contains no scientific content of any kind, just a story of our travels.
So we made it to London, a place that up ’til now I’ve only known through family stories, and books and song lyrics, viz:
Your old man took her diamonds and tiaras by the score
Now she gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge any more.
The Rolling Stones
So it’s great fun to actually see some of the places I’d only heard of. We’re staying in New Cross, south of Stepney. It’s great, kind of a low-budget district, lots of Africans live here so it feels down home. Today, we walked to the London downtown area along the Thames, here’s a 180° panorama I took looking both ways along the river.
(Click any photo to embiggen.)
It was kind of sad to see the river, thought, because what in my mind was still a huge artery of global commerce with wharves on both sides now has very little traffic, and that mostly tour boats. My great-grandfather sailed the world from England, so the Thames was his main highway, filled with adventurers, freebooters, slavers, whalers, scurve-dogs, freighters, pirates, and both high- and low-budget swabbies of all kinds … all gone now, but it’s still a lovely river.
From there, we walked along the river to the Tower Bridge:
Dang … if that kind of crazy skyline doesn’t inspire a man, nothing will. We crossed the river, and walked around the Tower of London, which isn’t a tower at all, false advertising if you ask me. From there, we wandered over to see Big Ben. Now that sucker should be called the Tower of London by my lights, I hadn’t realized it was so … well, in a word, “big” …
Then on to the Westminster Cathedral, home of the royal nuptials, lovely stone filigree, stained glass, and such.
From there we went and spent an absolutely delightful afternoon at the British Museum, looking at, well, everything that British explorers managed to plunder over the last five centuries or so, which adds up to a big pile of impressive loot. It was one of the most well-organized and pleasant museums I’ve been in.
Now, I like to ask people what surprised them the most about their travels. Some years ago a friend of mine from the Solomon Islands went to London for the first time. When she got back, I asked what had surprised her the most … she said “They have white people sweeping the streets!”
In any case, for me, the surprises so far have been:
1. The juxtaposition of the old and the new. Along the riverside, I saw new concrete poured around exposed stonework that was likely there 400 years ago.
2. Raw antiquity. The publican said “this is a fairly new pub, built in the late 1700′s” … the oldest building in Sonoma County (where I live in California) is from about 1870, and because of that it’s a state historical monument. Here, it would be considered a new building.
3. People of unexpected colors and appearances speaking English, not with the accent of their home countries, but with a broad British accent.
4. The British Museum actually thinks that there were people who were native to the Americas, they call them “Native Americans”. I guess the Brits didn’t get the news … as far as anyone knows, not a one of them is native to the Americas, they were all early Asian immigrants.
5. The Brits do love their bricks. Yellow brick, red brick, brown and black bricks, if the anti-neutron bomb made every brick in London vanish, there wouldn’t be one building left.
6. The occasional need for an “English-to-English” translation app for my iPhone … as GBS remarked, two countries separated by a common language.
7. According to the statuary in the British Museum, most of the Romans had tertiary syphilis that destroyed their noses, as you can see in this photo I took today:
Tomorrow I have to good fortune of a lunch meeting with Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. We’re here in London through Thursday, then off to Stonhenge, then Bath, then ???.
The other good news is that I got a UK sim card for my phone, so for the duration of our UK travels you can reach me at 074 4838 1774.
My best to all, thanks for everyone’s comments, keep the travel suggestions coming.