We walked into the museum a few minutes after opening time and we left a few minutes before closing time. We didn't begin to see everything, but what we did see was amazing. The building itself is awe inspiring, with huge hall after huge hall covering every part of the world, with exhibits on Africa, the Americas, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Asia, Europe (10000 BC to the present), and the Middle East. Some of the wonders they have on display are the treasures from Sutton Hoo, the Lewis Chessmen, the Parthenon Sculptures, and the Rosetta Stone. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. One of the last things that David and I stumbled across was the Enlightenment Gallery which was initially created to house the library of King George III. It was a fascinating place and I wished we had discovered it earlier in the day.
|The British Museum|
|The interior courtyard of the museum. Just up that curving|
staircase was the delightful Great Court Cafe where we
enjoyed an elegant lunch.
|The Anglo-Saxon helmet from Sutton Hoo, the centerpiece of the exhibit.|
|The Rosetta Stone|
|In contrast to King George III's book collection, I found the|
Ashurbanipal Library (the oldest royal library in the world on
cuneiform tablets, dating to about 630BC), absolutely
The next day was packed full of activity and highlighted many different sides to London. We began by walking to Westminster Abbey, which meant we walked right past Buckingham Palace where we had to stop and take some photographs and ooh and ahh over the magnificent gates and the monument to Queen Victoria. (That will all get covered in the next post.)
We were running a bit early, so we decided to take a detour through St. James's Park. This was our first experience with London's green spaces. There are several parks in central London and when you enter one, it isn't long before you are completely surrounded by tree lined walkways and you totally forget you are in the middle of a huge city. You don't even hear the traffic noises. St. James's Park even has a large lake running through the center.
Leaving the park, we strolled past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and David and I got the requisite photos of ourselves with the iconic red phone boxes.
I had been looking forward to our visit to Westminster Abbey and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Interior photographs were not allowed, but you can find a virtual tour here and a picture gallery here. Every church we visited on our trip was breathtaking inside. Westminster Abbey was the ultimate in breathtaking beauty and history. Almost every square foot of the floor and walls would contain a memorial or tomb. Several queens and kings have elaborate crypts in antechambers, including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Henry VII.
The highlight for me was when we reached the Poets Corner where many of the early poets and writers I admire are entombed or memorialized. I managed to behave myself as I had toured the Abbey and had not touched anything...but I was unable to resist touching Chaucer's crypt. It was the first time that day I would remember my classes with Professor Hutmacher at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He was a Chaucer scholar and I clearly remember the day he launched into old English as he introduced us to The Canterbury Tales:
|A display we passed in the park appealed to the reader and|
the miniaturist in me.
|Crossing the bridge over the lake, we had a beautiful view of the Eye|
in one direction...
|and a beautiful view of the Palace in the other direction.|
I include the next photo to point out another of London's personality quirks. To the right of David and Karen you will notice a pile of litter on the sidewalk. As clean and neat as the green spaces are kept, we were continually seeing piles of litter on the sidewalks. Our hotel had a small pub/cafe on the opposite corner and every morning there would be a fresh pile of litter where the late evening crowd just dropped their trash. I found it an odd contrast to the orderly way local folks seem to live their lives. Every day we were there it seemed there was a garbage collection made and most of the houses put out their garbage in small plastic bags rather than bins. It made for a somewhat discordant note in an otherwise pleasing environment.
|David, Karen and Big Ben|
|Outside the entrance to Westminster Abbey|
|Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,|
|The droghte of March hath perced to the roote|
|And bathed every veyne in swich licour,|
|Of which vertu engendred is the flour;|
|Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth|
|Inspired hath in every holt and heeth|
|The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne|
|Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,|
|And smale foweles maken melodye,|
|That slepen al the nyght with open eye-|
|So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-|
|Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages|
|And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes|
|To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry lindes;|
But I digress.
We decided we had to lunch in the Cellarium Cafe near the Abbey's cloisters and I think the picture of me there is my favorite from the entire trip. (The food was excellent and I was envious of the tea service taking place at the table next to us. We were tempted to grab some of the untouched leftovers when the ladies left.)
Next on the agenda was a visit to Trafalgar Square. I was not really prepared for the hub bub of activity that is Trafalgar Square. There were people everywhere, even though we were experiencing off and on shower activity by the time we arrived. We spent some time getting photographs of the lions on each corner of the monument to Lord Nelson. (They are a whole lot bigger than you would think they are.)
|Lord Nelson's column, Trafalgar Square|
|One of the galleries inside|
|Van Gogh's Sunflowers|
I made sure to see the Van Goghs in their collection, which included "Sunflowers", an old favorite. There were paintings from nearly every old master you could name and the building itself was a work of art. The National Gallery is another place I would like to return someday for a more leisurely visit.
We had to speed through the galleries quickly because we needed to head to an early supper, since we had theater plans for the evening. A short walk from the National Gallery brought us to the Church of St Martin in the Fields, where we ducked inside for a quick look before heading to the Cafe in the Crypt where the food was very good, even though served cafeteria style, and the dining atmosphere was amazing, located as it was in the under passages of the complex.
Our last adventure for the day was to attend a performance of MacBeth in the reproduction of Shakespeare's Globe that sits on the banks of the Thames. The theater is open air and performances are held rain or shine. We got lucky that the rain had dissipated by performance time and our seats were excellent. It is a unique venue, with attention to authentic detail, so the benches are wooden gallery style and leg room is limited. The "cheap seats" (which aren't) are on the floor surrounding the stage and you either sit on the floor or stand throughout the performance. Our seats were in the second gallery and almost center stage, so we had a perfect viewpoint. The performance was outstanding, although some modifications that had been made to the original play still have us scratching our heads a bit. (Again, I found myself wondering what Professor Hutmacher would have had to say about the unique interpretation.) There was no denying that it was a powerful experience even so and a highlight of our London stay.
|David, at right, just before the play began|
|During intermission later in the evening.|