Where Time Begins... Greenwich, London
Photo by Adam Darell.
Rome is very much my adopted city, but I spend a lot of time at my house in London too.
London is a vast multi-cultural city – a global financial centre as well home to West End musicals and the Arts, with some of the world’s best museums, most of which are free to visit. The identity of this urban metropolis is pretty hard to pin down; but thanks to some quintessential branding you know you’re in London when you see the black cabs, the red double decker busses, Big Ben and of course the old red phone booths!
London is really a series of big towns stitched together. Each pocket of London has its own “vibe” and character. You have the grand and gleaming white Portland stone buildings of Mayfair – with the famous hotels like the Ritz and the gentleman’s clubs, Buckingham Palace is just opposite with a stroll through Green Park. Right next to Mayfair, are the cobbled streets and nooks and crannies around Soho and Covent Garden interspersed with the glitzy theatres of the West End. Then you have trendy East London with the diversity of cultures and cuisines that line Brick Lane and its environs around Shoreditch and Hackney. Of course, there’s the City and Canary Wharf with its skyscrapers – like the Gherkin, the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie. And yet in the midst of all these monuments to modernity, stands the Tower of London built by William the Conqueror after his invasion in 1066. Made famous as a place of imprisonment, torture and death during Tudor times – two of Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded on Tower Green. So in that sense and rather like Rome, history and modernity nestle side by side here – indeed London was founded by the Romans who called it Londinium, making it one of the most ancient and multi-layered cities in Europe.
Nowhere in London is the contrast of modern times and history more evident than when you visit Greenwich. The Home of Time and England’s Naval history – and it just so happens to be where I live too! Greenwich lies south of the Thames, directly opposite the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf. It has one of London’s most beautiful parks, is home to the Old Royal Naval College whose architects include Sir Christopher Wren, Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh. The painted hall and Chapel have been described as England’s answer to the Sistine Chapel. You might recognize the buildings as the big battle set from the movie Les Miserables with Anne Hathaway, and the beautifully restored nineteenth century ship, the fastest Tea Clipper of the Seven Seas, the Cutty Sark.
Everything is very close together in Greenwich – it is easily do-able in a day or even an afternoon. The covered market sits between the Cutty Sark and the Naval College; perfect for taking a pit stop to wander around the stalls of gifts and vintage clothing. It is also one of the best food markets in London! Filled with dishes from all over the world – the smells are mouth wateringly good, and the prices excellent for London.
There are lots of fabulous Gastro Pubs like the Kind Richard III on Royal Hill or the Trafalgar, which overlooks the river and has incredible views out to the city and the Naval College, as well as lots of tea, cake and coffee shops. Greenwich can feel like a quaint seaside village, but don’t be fooled, those houses don’t come cheap these days. Back in the day, fat old King Henry VIII had a grand palace at Greenwich (it has since been replaced by the Royal Naval College) and used to go hunting in the park. Indeed the Isle of Dogs is so named because that is where he kenneled his hounds – on hunting days they would be boated across the river! These days you can walk through a tunnel, which feels little like Davy Jones’s Locker! It takes you underneath the Thames to reach the Isle of Dogs. It gives you a glorious view of the old buildings of the Naval College, Chapel, Queen’s House, the Park and the Royal Observatory.
Greenwich Park overlooks it all. It is one of London’s oldest and most beautiful parks with outstanding views across the river of the city’s skyline. You can also stand on the Prime Meridian Line, where East meets West, the home of Greenwich Mean Time which revolutionized sea travel. At night time you can see a green laser light marking it out. The planetarium is a fascinating place to visit – helping you makes sense of our place in the Universe! There is even an aptly themed nautical shop – the first one next to the Meridian Line that proudly calls itself “the first shop in the world”!
Getting to Greenwich is very easy – you can take the Docklands Light Railway (the DLR) which takes you from Bank, through the docklands and Canary Wharf and you want to alight at the Cutty Sark stop. Trains go from Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge and take just 15 minutes…. Or the more adventurous route is taking a boat along the River Thames of course!