Day 24 – Thu 19 May 2005 – Last day in the UK

My final day in London. I fly out at 2230 tonight. Left my luggage at the hotel and went to explore various museums in the Kensington High Street area. If time permits, I’ll also have a look at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. Today is overcast with passing light showers. It’s probably the worst weather I’ve had while I’ve been here. Caught the Circle Line to Kensington High Street and then walked up the long tunnel to the Natural History Museum. I also intend seeing the Science Museum, but sadly probably won’t have time to explore the Victoria and Albert.

Didn’t get around to seeing the Tower of London; maybe next time

The Natural History Museum is simply brilliant. Very well laid out and corresponds closely with my memory of my high school science curriculum in the way it is organised. (Probably no coincidence there!) It has huge numbers of exhibits organised into paleontology, biology, geology and human sciences sections.

The geology exhibits explain the ‘big picture’ of geology and geological history very well, as well as having comprehensive displays of rocks, minerals, their uses and how they are formed. The biology exhibits are divided into various phyla and families. Some exhibits appear quite old, partly as a result of the museum now having a policy of not collecting current examples of endangered species.

The animatronic T-Rex – every parent’s favourite!

The dinosaur displays are very comprehensive. They included a scary animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. As you enter down a passageway it’s actually behind and to the right of you when you emerge into a darkened room. It has a motion sensor that makes it turn its head and growl at you. It consistently plunged very noisy kids into utter, petrified silence. Every parent there wanted to take it home!

The Human Sciences section consisted of excellent displays explaining human biology from cellular, through tissue to organic level. Marvelous displays on human reproduction and growth, and of perception and learning. Lots of examples of illusions to stimulate thought about perception and reality. Rivetingly educational. Lots of school groups in attendance. All in all a magnificent learning resource. Almost makes me wish I had kids so I could take them to see it and be awestruck.

A Project Apollo Lunar Excursion Module in the Science Museum

After all that, the Science Museum was bound to be a bit anti-climactic, not helped by the fact that there was a lot of refurbishment works in progress. While most of the displays were in logical groupings, I didn’t think they were as well connected into learning experiences. For instance, there were very comprehensive displays of historical clocks, but not much of a sense of a ‘story of time-pieces’ and their significance being told.

The place reminded me of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, (a great museum, that’s a bit let down by several of its exhibits being unserviceable in one way or another), but much larger. It also seems to have succumbed to the temptation to entertain children (complete with IMAX theatre) rather than inspire them with the intrinsic wonder of the real universe.

It wouldn’t be London without Tower Bridge

Having spent lots of time at the museums, I decided I would only be able to have the briefest glance (if that) at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. Took the Circle Line to Westminster and changed onto the Jubilee Line to go to London Bridge. The Jubilee Line is fairly new. It has glassed walls along the platform edges with powered doors at intervals. When trains come in, its doors line up with the platform doors, which both open, elevator style.

Once I got into the open at London Bridge it was very rainy and blustery. Not pleasant touring weather at all. I made the short walk to the bridge and warship and took a few photos, but that was about it. I made my way back via the Jubilee Line to Baker Street, then back on the Circle Line to Paddington passing through Edgeware Road (where two months later the terrorist bomb blasts would occur). I picked up my luggage from the hotel and caught the Heathrow Express from Paddington Mainline Station.

London Heathrow Terminal 3 Waiting Area (Photo: Tom Murphy)

From Terminal Three Station it’s up tunnels and lifts to the terminal itself and the long wait, in the crowded common waiting area, for the flight to depart. This time I’m feeling much better prepared. I’ve not eaten anything for 24 hours, have taken some Imodium and slowed myself down with Lexotan (2mg is sufficient to make me quite mellow), and reassured myself that traveling in Premium Economy will make a difference. I’m not at all nervous about flying (hell, I have a commercial pilot’s licence and have instructed for more than a 1000 hours). The annoying thing about IBS is that you are not at all anxious about anything except the symptoms itself, which then seems to generate them if you so much as eat anything. I won’t eat during the flight (a pity as VA’s food is really good), just keep myself moderately hydrated.

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