How is it Tuesday night already?! One minute, the trip is just starting and I’m thinking about how I’m going to fill my time here and the next, I’m writing a blog post in bed the night before I have to fly home. It’s been a great trip though! And now I get to re-live the end of it over the next couple of blog posts (since I haven’t been able to write yesterday’s blog post until now and I still have one more to write up about today’s adventures). So what did I do on my last (well, only) Monday of this trip?
As I teased at the end of my last post, I booked two new-to-me experiences for Monday. And as you may have guessed from the title of this post, they were both museums – the newly-opened Postal Museum (including a ride on the fun Mail Rail) and the perennial London favorite, HMS Belfast. Scott and I missed the chance to visit the Postal Museum when we were here in August as it didn’t open until September and the HMS Belfast is something I’ve always been aware of, but I’ve just never made the time to do. I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado of either postal or military matters in general, but both sounded like they would be worth visiting. Thankfully, they both proved to be!
Before I made it to either museum, I snapped a few pictures along the way (I walked to both – lots of steps on Monday!). Check them out!
The Postal Museum is about exactly what you’d suspect – the Royal Mail. Most of what you’ll learn about centers around the history of the Royal Mail – how it got started, how it was delivered (in its early days, mail was delivered by post boys who carried guns to protect valuable parcels), merchandise associated with the Royal Mail, etc. And that’s all well and good, but I was more interested in the Mail Rail. What’s that, I hear you ask? Disused since 2003, the Mail Rail is a network of underground, driverless trains that brought mail to various stations around London to be picked up, sorted, and delivered and was built because London streets were so congested that it took mail too long to reach its intended destinations. The Royal Mail shut the Mail Rail down in 2003 because it was significantly more expensive to use it vs. road-based delivery methods and it sat disused until it was decided that a portion of it could be opened up to the public. Taking a ride on the rail is part of your Postal Museum ticket, though you can choose to buy a ticket that doesn’t include it, but be aware that you should book your ticket ahead of time to ensure there’s space available on the Mail Rail (it can only carry 20 people per 20-minute ride). Their website makes it very easy to do this, so check it out before you go! Ticket prices are pretty reasonable – £15.50 for the museum w/Mail Rail (£17.05 with voluntary donation) or £10 to visit the museum only (£11 with voluntary donation). Even if you choose to not ride the Mail Rail, your museum ticket still gets you into the Mail Rail exhibition, so you can learn about it without riding on it. Also, note that the Postal Museum and Mail Rail are in two different buildings, though very close together (across the street). They’re both well-signed, as you’ll see in the photos below, so there’s little risk of getting lost!
On with the pictures!
Inside the museum proper, I found this example of a gun and boot used by post boys when delivering mail in the early days. I’m not sure if you can see how heavy those boots are, but they look REALLY uncomfortable and bulky.
Overall, I’d recommend a visit to both the museum and the Mail Rail! Truth be told, the Mail Rail stuff was actually more interesting to me, but the whole package is certainly worth the price of entry.
Although not necessary, I had already pre-booked a ticket to the HMS Belfast (note – you save 10% by booking online) and, because the weather was so much nicer than it had been over the weekend (and because I like to walk anyway), I decided to walk about 45 minutes from the Postal Museum to the HMS Belfast. Naturally, I snapped a few pictures along the way, so consider them to be a brief interlude before diving into the details of one of Britain’s most famous warships.
Getting a look at the HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge while crossing London Bridge.
Did you know that several bridges have been called London Bridge? The last iteration of it was sold to a US oil tycoon, who had it rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, AZ. Bizarre, eh?
So, the HMS Belfast was originally launched in 1938 and saw active duty until being placed on reserve in 1963. Like many ships, it likely would have been scrapped after that, but efforts were made to preserve the ship as a museum. Because of those efforts, it has operated as part of the Imperial War Museums since 1971. Because of its proximity to Tower Bridge, I’ve walked by the HMS Belfast on probably every London trip I’ve ever taken, but it never made its way onto any of my travel itineraries, so this trip felt like the time to finally pull the trigger. Although not everything on the ship is original (not at all surprising), you are truly walking through the original warship and learning about how the men on it lived and worked for sometimes months at a time. Fascinating, in my opinion! There are several decks and it feels like there are all sorts of twists and turns along the way, so I didn’t actually always know where I was. But everything is signed fairly well and I think the optional audio guide (which I didn’t use) would help you stay on a more predictable path. It’s certainly a place you could spend a lot of time in, especially if you’re a fan of naval/military stuff. I got lucky because there were very few people there when I was, so I was able to move around freely without running into big crowds of people. Because of the naturally tight spaces, I imagine it would feel pretty cramped when there are lots of visitors, so keep that in mind if you’re at all claustrophobic or bothered by crowds. The price is entry is fairly reasonable – £13.90 (£15.30 with voluntary donation). Have a look at the pictures below and decide if it’s somewhere you’d like to visit!
The lower-ranking officers didn’t have the same high level of accommodations, but what they did have didn’t look too bad. And if you want to experience what sleeping on the ship is like for yourself, check out the Kip in a Ship program!
Overall, I enjoyed the HMS Belfast! As I said, I’m not someone who really digs military museums/information/history, but I’m glad I finally took the time to visit this ship. Although I didn’t use the included audio guide, I think it would have been useful to provide additional context to all the various parts of the ship (beyond the information the signs provided).
Post-museums, I FaceTime’d my parents to give them a little visual tour of the area around the HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. They’ve never been to London before, so they said it was fun to see it! By the time I finished that (having still been on my feet the whole time), I was ready for a little break, so I stopped by The Liberty Bounds, a pub near the Tower of London that Matt and I walked by on Sunday. I was hungry, but not super hungry, so I decided to have a small meal with my beverage:
Believe it or not, this STILL wasn’t the end of my day! I did run back to the hotel to recharge for a little while, but I left again shortly to go meet my friend Tim for a drink in Soho. I hadn’t seen him for seven or so years, so it was great to catch up! I’m really pleased with the number of friends I was able to connect with on this trip (though of course there are some I didn’t get a chance to see), so I’ve had a really nice time overall.
But I’m not quite done yet! Keep an eye out for the next post from this trip, hopefully coming tomorrow. I don’t have an early flight tomorrow (1p, so no need to wake up before dawn, as I’ve had to do on some trips), so I’ll at least get a good start on the post tomorrow. And then of course, there will be time to kill at the airport, so I’m hopeful I can get it done. Never fear either way – it will arrive soon!
‘Til next time!