April 3rd, 2005

little review


Another extremely quick report on a nearly perfect day, marred only by my inability to see evildrem who couldn't come to Portsmouth. We got up, ate the hotel's huge buffet breakfast and headed to the historic dockyards, surrounded by old pubs named after ships and people connected with Nelson. We went first to the HMS Warrior, an 1860 fully rigged sailing ship that also traveled under steam power -- whose wood had once been considered in condition too poor to be worth anything if the ship was broken up -- now completely restored, one of the most impressive ships I have ever toured. Son #2 got to climb into one of the hammocks and carry one of the horns, though he was most intrigued by the cat-o-nine-tails hanging on the orlop deck.

Then we went to the amazing HMS Victory, the oldest warship not afloat (the USS Constitution being the oldest still in the water). The ship has two magnificent great cabins, the main one which was Nelson's and the upper one which was Hardy's, and there are three gun decks with nearly all the 110 guns in place, plus a restored gunroom, magazine, numerous crew cabins, galley, etc. But the most moving spots on the ship are two small plaques: "Here Nelson Fell" on the quarterdeck, and "Here Nelson Died" below beside a painting of the scene. Trafalgar anniversary displays were in place all over the dockyards, at the Royal Naval Museum and the Victory Museum, and we all learned a great deal about Nelson though we'd known a reasonable amount when we arrived. Son #2 was particularly amused by a feature showing clips from three films about Nelson, including a horrible 1918 silent where the actor's reaction to being shot was utterly comical, and he proceeded to reenact the scene in which he fell all afternoon.

We went through at least a dozen other exhibits, including an absolutely superb interactive walk-through recreation of the battle on Victory, a display of one of that ship's original sails in a climate-controlled room where video clips of Master and Commander were being shown, and a series of activities for kids from tying knots to computerized "command" of the ship (we had a mutiny for not bringing enough rum on ours). We also saw the Mary Rose, a Tudor ship that went down in the 1500s and was brought up a few years ago, which is currently being displayed inside a giant tank and sprayed with protective chemicals until the wood is strong enough to withstand air; there is also a museum of artifacts connected with the vessel. There's enough in the historic dockyards for a week-long trip, though we left at five thirty when the various museums and ships began to close for the evening.

While apaulled took the kids for a swim at the hotel, I walked down the Southsea waterfront to the shore, where I wandered into the surf and watched ferries head toward the Isle of Wight. Then I went back to get the family and we all walked through the park with the Nelson statue and over to the amusement park, which could have been any seaside town I've visited from Ocean City to Santa Monica, where we ate, watched teenagers on the roller coasters and played miniature golf. Eventually it got dark and chilly and we wandered back through the park away from the waterfront.

HMS Victory. Her flags, and all of the flags at the Naval base, were at half-mast; I'm not sure whether this is an ongoing tribute to Nelson or whether they were lowered in mourning for the Pope.