"View from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich" by Georgia Hesse

BATW Vice President Georgia Hesse‘s recent column, A Sense of Travel…with Georgia Hesse, for the Foreign Travel Club eNewsletter featured the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England:
“View from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich”
Guess what the most important city in the world may be in this 21st century: 1. Washington, D.C.; 2. Paris; 3. London; 4. Beijing;  5.Greenwich.
And, the winner is… #5, Greenwich, a medium-sized English town (pop. 23,000) just 5.1 miles southeast of London’s Westminster Pier as the Thames River rolls.
At least it seems so when you stand there at Longitude Zero (0° 0′ 0″) where time begins, just as it has since Oct. 22, 1884. Astraddle the Prime Meridian of Earth, you are in the eastern and the western hemispheres at the same time. Every place in the world is measured by its angle from the metal strip that runs through the courtyard of the Greenwich Royal Observatory. (An analogous thrill is stepping over the International Date Line on the Fijian island of Taveuni with one leg in today and the other in tomorrow.)









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Prime Meridien
A visitor stands astride the Prime Meridien with a foot in each hemisphere.



 
 
 
Astraddle the Greenwich Mean Time Line
Until the 19th century, clocks in various countries and even towns ticked their individual times away ungoverned by a 24-hour clock. “The world was in a very big mix-up,” wrote Dr. Avraham Ariel in “Plotting the Globe” (Praeger Publishers, 2006). “People had lots of prime meridians. Earlier in Europe there were 20 prime meridians. The Russians had two or three, the Spanish had their own and so on.”
With the expansion of railroads, communications, and international trade in the 1850s and ’60s, setting a standard for global time seemed essential. So in 1884 at the behest of the American President Charles A. Arthur, 41 delegates from 25 nations gathered in Washington to figure it all out. At the end of a quarrelsome summit, Greenwich won, perhaps because 72% of the world’s shipping depended upon sea charts using that port as a meridian. The vote was 22 to 1, with San Domingo (later Haiti) against and France abstaining. (France relied on its own meridian until 1911 and that’s still there, running through Paris’ Observatory and walked upon by time-conscious tourists.)
World Time Zone Map by Color
Still, inconsistencies abound. The Trans-Siberian Main Railroad runs for 5,867 miles through 11 time zones from Moscow to the portof Nakhodka beyond Vladivostok (a clickety-clack of eight days) while keeping its trains on Moscow time. Although the Rossiya train reaches Irkutsk at 02:33 on the timetable, it’s really 07:33 local time. This unsettles some travelers.
In 2007, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, shifted his country back by half an hour. China and India use single time zones although each country stretches across several hours. France and Spain should be on the same time as the United Kingdom, according to Dr. Rebekah Higgitt, curator of the history of science and technology at the Royal Observatory, “…but it is more convenient to be in sync with those they are attached to by land.”
Even the usually tidy United States fiddles around with its clock faces. There are six time zones: Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern plus those of Alaska and Hawaii. However, Rapid City,South Dakota, lives on Mountain Standard Time while the state’s capital, Pierre (pronounced Pier), is at home in Central.
Another curious aberration is Daylight Saving Time, which some people celebrate and others abhore. Daylight Saving is not observed by Arizona except on the Navajo Indian Reservation, which stretches over parts of three states. In Britain and most of Western Europe, Daylight Saving Time is known as Summer Time, a terminology that suits spellings to languages: l’heure été in French, for example.
In May, 2007, the Royal Observatory site was excitingly redeveloped to include a splendid planetarium, astronomy and time galleries and an education center.
The Observatory, remarkable as it is, constitutes only part of the cultural adventure that is Greenwich.In 1997, Maritime Greenwich was awarded the status of a World Heritage Site that includes other scientific and artistic triumphs: the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, the fastest sailing vessel of her day, and more.
Captain James Cook Monument in National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum: Opened to the public by King George VI in 1937 (with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, in tow), its collections comprise about 2.48 million items, the most important in the long history of Britain at sea. Its British portraits collection is second in size only to that of the National Portrait Gallery in London. It displays maps, manuscripts, ship models, navigational instruments, and owns the world’s largest maritime historical reference library: 100,000 volumes.
A Time Ball Sits atop the Octagon Room at the Flamsteed House
Also a part of the Maritime Museum is Flamsteed House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Precisely at 12:55 p.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) daily, the red Time Ball rises up its mast, reaching the top at 12:58. Exactly at 1 p.m., the ball drops, signaling passing ships, expectant adults, and restless children looking the other way that the world has again turned. It has been so since 1833.









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Tulip Staircase, Queen's House, Greenwich
Tulip Staircase, Queen's House, Greenwich



 
 
 
Tulip Staircase
Queen’s House: Another entity of the Maritime Museum, this perfectly proportioned Palladian house was designed in 1616 by Inigo Jones and offers many of the aforementioned portraits, including Canaletto’s view of the Old Royal Naval College in a scene nearly unchanged since the 18th century. The residence was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I (first Stuart monarch). It is worth a visit if all you see is the fabulous Tulip Staircase before you faint in admiration. (It boasts a ghost.)
Painted Hall Old Royal Naval College
Old Royal Naval College: It sits on the spot of the Tudor palace where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born. Admiral Horatio Nelson lay at state in its magnificent Painted Hall after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1812.
Cutty Sark: The world’s sole surviving clipper ship (212 feet), which brought tea from China to a thirsty England, was closed to the public for a conservation project in 2006. She will be reopened in time for the London Olympic Games and H.M. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Gipsy Moth Pub
Gipsy Moth Pub: Named for the 54-foot ketch that Sir Francis Chichester raced ’round the globe from August, 1966, to May, 1967, this is a smashing space in which to read the story of the Gipsy Moth IV, now on display at Cowes, Isle of Wight. Salute the glorious days when Britain ruled the seas and much of our planet. Sip a perfectly mixed Hendricks gin and tonic or a cool pint in the garden.
Or, says the publican, “Unwind with one of our legendary Sunday roasts, as good if not better than Mum’s – and fill up on fluffy Yorkshires, tender meats, real roasties and proper gravy.”
It’s about time.
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