April 16, 2009

Imperial War Museum and HMS Belfast

We spent the morning recovering from our day off (yesterday was a total day off with a walk through the Royal Landscape somewhere between Virginia Water and Windsor, in which we walked across the Queen's Polo Ground and saw a robot lawnmower and lots of daffodils and forgot our camera). The afternoon was dedicated to London's war monuments: The wicked cool Imperial War Museum and the mostly wicked cool but not as cool as an overnight on the USS Hornet HMS Belfast.

It was another fine day--overcast and a little dreary, but warmish with a hint of sprinkles on the air. We wandered off to the local train station, a short distance from our hostess' house, and had a grand time on the platform for the two minutes before the train to London arrived.

On the train, I listened to a spritely young beauty yap on her cell phone with her mate about how awful the rain was (it had shed a few drops on the windows but nothing I'd actually call RAIN) and whether they had their umbrellas (which I think she called a bully, but I wasn't quite sure). Anyway, a short ride in to Waterloo station and a quick cab ride (for the kids; I'd have walked) later, we were at the Imperial War Museum.

Now, we'd heard this would be impressive. You walk in, and there are Spitfires and biplanes hanging from the ceiling, and four or five tanks facing you with six different artillery pieces between them. A couple of mini subs and a jeep and a lorry round out the lot, making for a very impressive and engaging entry room indeed.

Although our hostess had to chat with the handyman in the morning about fire alarms and light bulbs, she joined us partway through our tour. The museum has a number of wonderful features. The cafe is one of them, though I would not include the steak and kidney pie among its recommended fare. It was too crowded, but once we found some seats it was pleasant enough. The staff certainly were quite nice and helpful.

The museum itself has this terrific "trench experience" exhibit downstairs where you can walk through a mock WWI trench. It's not muddy or cold, of course, but for those with a good imagination and a little academic background on WWI, it is a moving experience. Very well done and well worth the $0 admission. (Yes, it's free! They ask you to buy a museum guide for 3.50 pounds, which we did, but it's otherwise free.) They also have this terrific 1940s era house inside the museum. We happened to be walking behind an older gentleman who had been about 8 or 9 years old when the Blitz started, and he seemed giddy with memories and eager to share his thoughts. The whole museum was striking, from the dramatic display of firepower on entry to the gripping human drama illustrated in the Cold War exhibit and evacuee section. I did not see the Holocaust exhibit because I was in charge of the younguns, but the ladies did see it and were impressed with the quality of the exhibit.

(Speaking of the ladies, here they are in front of their preferred vehicle for hitting the high street shops on a leisurely Saturday morning. Then there are Maria and I in front of the Jeep and truck outside the cafe.)

After the Imperial War Museum (which, if you hadn't figured it out, I highly recommend), we continued our little boy day by visiting the HMS Belfast, a Cruiser class ship from WWII that is a docked museum near Tower Bridge. We had a good time finding the Northern Line of the Tube, wandering up and down about 300 steps (only slightly fewer than the Warwick Castle offers in their towers) and up and down through an open air market of questionable repute. Find it we did, however, and we boarded the Tube at the Elephant & Castle stop for the London Bridge stop.

Once there, we had a good time viewing the ship. It's certainly a fun time for anyone interested in military history, particularly WWII or naval military. It was a little smaller and less impressive to our boys than the USS Hornet aircraft carrier we've spent a few overnighters on. But it is very well done, with excellent descriptions and a top notch self-guided tour. I thrilled to see the inside of a big-gun turret and the magazine room below it, and the boys loved the boiler rooms and engine rooms. We also enjoyed inspecting the AAA guns on the side, and then seeing them from above from the upper decks. All in all, another site worth seeing.

The train ride back from Waterloo Station was uneventful, followed by a pleasant dinner out at a local restaurant with too much wine, which will account for any typos you see in this blog post.


jjdebenedictis said...

"Brolly", dude. An umbrella is a "brolly". :-D

JaneyV said...

You could certainly bully someone with a brolly if you put your mind to it I guess.

Next time you go and visit war stuff can you take my husband with you. He would have loved this day out.

Aniket Thakkar said...

lol on jjdebenedictis Comment!! :-)

Now, I am so jealous Pete... I've been wanting to travel somewhere.. anywhere for so long now.

Great pics...

PJD said...

Jane, the war museum is just a hop skip and jump south of Southbank Centre. I'm just sayin'.

JJdb, thanks for the translation. It would have been nice to have a translator in Paris, but I think sometimes it's more necessary here in the London area.

Aniket, I hope you do get to travel soon. I love watching my kids experience new places--it helps me see those things with new eyes again, even if I'd been there before.

fairyhedgehog said...

It's so much fun seeing these places through your eyes. I have to admit I've never been to the Queen's Polo Ground. You certainly are making the most of your stay.

jjdebenedictis said...

When we were in Paris earlier this year, someone asked my husband to take their picture, and he said--he actually said--out loud and everything, "Un, deux, trois, fromage!"

Yeah, I'm really sure we passed as locals.

(Translation: "One, two, three, cheese!"

Belinda said...

If you're ever in Kalamazoo, MI, there's a super cool air zoo with all sorts of planes. It was cool, but not $10 cool IMHO. But could be that I'm a girl. :-)

scott davidson said...

Wow. Fantastic monster there. The urbanity monster striding forth, as it does in most cities of the world. Nice hand-drawn banner too. Something like this image, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-7Z9RQ8 , by French painter Fernand L├ęger, maybe effective painted large on a wall too, acknowledged as a copy of course. It can be seen at wahooart.com and a canvas print of it can be ordered from there.