Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Rivers and boats: messing around in Greenwich

We spent the afternoon in nearby Greenwich last Sunday. We had decided to sign up for membership of 'Royal Greenwich Museums' - at £75 for annual family membership, it would be rude not too! This includes free entry for 2 adults and 2 children to the fee-charging bits of the National Maritime Museum (NMM), the new Cutty Sark atop the conservatory, the now-gated and ticketed Royal Observatory and the Planetarium (we love the shows here), as well as a few other bits and bobs.

Before that, as we entered the park-side entrance to the NMM, I saw for the first time Turner prize winner Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' (2010) which had previously been displayed on the 'fourth plinth' at Trafalgar Square. I hadn't realised what a large piece it was. It was a shame it sat on so a high plinth as I could see the work, and those textile sails, closely enough. It's a very fitting piece though for the maritime content of its new setting, but also bringing modernity and complexity with its questions about empire and multiculturalism.

We had a quick sail around the new exhibition, opened by the Queen last month, 'Royal River - Power, Pageantry and the Thames' (until 9 Sept 2012). Yes, it's the exhibition curated by the controversial David Starkey. Anyone taking young children around museums and galleries will know that you can only ever have a cursory glance around, leaving half-read labels and tantalisingly barely scrutinised pieces in your wake. Sure, it all starts off well, 'children's activity trail' in hand, but descends soon enough into 'I'm tired/want the loo/hungry/bored'. We didn't do too badly though. The children were familiar with some of the monarchs and scenes depicted because, contrary to popular belief, primary schools (well, theirs at any rate) do cover 'kings and queens'.

I'd heard some criticisms that the exhibition is a bit of a 'rag bag', lacking cohesion, with some unexplained departures from the river theme (e.g. Anne Boylen's music book?). A critic suggested on Late Night Review that it would have been more apt to have a 'people's river' exhibition. Maybe so, but there was enough to keep this amateur amused, and even enough to make me want to go back and go round properly plus the audio guide and minus the children!

Then it was off to hunt food for a late lunch. Everywhere was packed, with waiting time for tables, on this Bank holiday weekend. So I admit that, after a short wait, we ended up at one of the much-criticised new food outlets on the new Greenwich pier. There are 3-4 of them, the usual chains, all looking identical (photo left). Where did all these people eat before these outlets were here?

It was too cold (in May!) to sit out on the first-floor terrace, with what must be wonderful views, but from the stairwell of the restaurant I managed to get this vantage point photo of the new Cutty Sark, on top of its new glass sea-wave. The newly-refurbed Cutty Sark was opened by the Queen on 25 April, a horribly rainy and windy day. We're saving the pleasure of visiting inside for when we can do it justice - it's now £12 a ticket, though of course free to members.

After lunch we ambled along the river and saw HMS Ocean which had recently docked at Greenwich. The 'Royal Greenwich' website gives this info about the ship:

"HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames at Greenwich during the Games and will act as a helicopter landing platform and logistics hub in support of maritime and air security operations.
In addition, HMS Ocean will provide accommodation for 400 Royal Marines and Sailors who will be part of the Venue Security Force for nearby Greenwich Park.
In support of the national defence exercise, HMS Ocean will be moored off Greenwich from 4 to 15 May."

The day after we visited, an Open Day was held for Greenwich residents, with boats transfers. That would have been very exciting, especially for my son, who was recently enthralled by cruising past the HMS Belfast.

It was time to race back to the car park before our four-hour ticket ran out, especially as we had parked in the place behind the Ibis Hotel, where it was an eye-watering £2.50 an hour!

It was a lovely day - despite visiting frequently, there always seems something new to do at Greenwich - we're lucky to live so nearby.

No comments: