Travel Journal – London, Part Two
London Journal, Monday Nov. 9, 2009
Ok, here I go again. I’m having a hard time remembering what I did when, even with photos to refer to. I can’t even remember if I saw William today or not but I don’t think so. What I do know is that it was a cold, rainy day but I was determined to see the British Library and the British Museum.
So off I went, umbrella in hand, to the tube. This was a long trip with switching trains and I can’t really get a good picture in my mind of where exactly it was. Maybe because in the interest of saving money, my only map is several pages I tore out of Rick Steves’ guide and taped together so it’s long and doesn’t seem very proportional. Walking to the museum from the tube stop was not pleasant because cars going through puddles sprayed water on me so the bottoms of my pants were wet. I don’t think I was in a peppy mood, but I soldiered on in the name of tourism.
Ah, so sad that I was not in a museum-going mood because the British Museum is considered to be the best chronicle of Western civilization, bar none. The lobby, or Great Court as it is called, is huge. It’s Europe’s largest covered square and is bigger than a football field. A huge circular reading room is in the center, and many luminaries used this room as a study: Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yates, Mark Twain, and even Marx and Lenin.
I was here for two things: the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. Can you imagine seeing the Rosetta Stone in person? It’s always been an object of fascination for me and now, having seen it, I really admire those who were able to crack the code. The Stone originates from 196 B.C. and was discovered in 1799. The top part of the stone is Egyptian hieroglyphics, which no one had been able to decipher. The middle part of the stone is medieval Egyptian and the bottom part is Greek. Each of the three writings is the same inscription, so scientists, knowing Greek and medieval Egyptian, were able to use that knowledge to crack the hieroglyphics. The real breakthrough was realizing that one of the hieroglyphics was the name of the ruler Ptolemy.
Actually, I did want to see the huge granite head and torso of Ramesses II, which dates from about 1270 B.C. This part of the statue came from a temple in Thebes. It weighs 7 tons and is made from two colors of granite. I was especially interested in this because when I taught 7th grade we read a book called The White Mountains. In it, there is a poem called “Ozymandius” and students got bonus points if they could determine who Ozymandius was. The answer: Ramesses II. In the poem by Shelley, Ozy says “My name is Ozymandius, king of kings; look on my works ye mighty and despair.” Rick Steves says, “Ramesses was a great builder of temples, palaces, tombs, and statues of himself. There are probably more statues of him in the world than there are cheesy fake Davids. He was so concerned about achieving immortality that he even chiseled his own name on other people’s statues.” Sounds like Ozymandius, all right.
So I saw the 7-ton granite head and looked at some other Egyptian stuff but I didn’t make it through Assyria. I went straight to Greece. My mood at this time was that I couldn’t read about one more Egyptian artifact no matter how amazing it was. I actually liked the Egyptian collection at the Met better, but what do I know?
Anyway, we have all heard of the Parthenon, that ancient Greek Temple that they keep in Greece still. Except they don’t keep the marble panels that went around the exterior of the Parthenon in Greece. They keep them here in the British Museum and they are known as the Elgin (hard g) Marbles. They are named for the British ambassador that fled with them in 1816. I guess there is still controversy about where the Elgin Marbles really belong – although it doesn’t seem too hard to figure out! The Parthenon dates from about 447 – 432 B.C., and I am always in awe that such beautiful, detailed work could be done so long ago. The 56 panels depict a procession of citizens going up the Acropolis to present a new robe (symbolically one would assume) to the goddess Athena. Zeus and Hera are there also, along with other gods, to enjoy the presentation.
The British also ended up with the Pediment Sculptures, which were originally at one of the entrances to the Parthenon, above the columns in triangular spaces. These are pretty darn magnificent. I wish I’d been in the mood to study these more. But I saw them.
The last I wanted to see were the Metopes, also from the Parthenon. These panels depict battles between men and centaurs. The men and the centaurs were at a wedding feast, co-existing peacefully, until the centaurs drank too much and tried to carry off the women. Naturally, battles had to ensue. We all know how moody centaurs can be.
Oh, to have been in a museum-going mood, but alas, I was not. Nevertheless, I was determined to get to the British Library, which was thankfully within walking distance. I think.
The British Library is the National Archives and it contains over 12 million books and 180 miles of shelving. I only needed to worry about the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, or The Treasures of the British Library. My biggest goal was to view the Magna Carta and Leonardo daVinci’s notebook. Side bonuses were seeing the original documents of several Shakespeare works, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, works by the Brontes, Virginia Woolf, works of Jane Austen and Kipling and Dickens, a Gutenberg Bible and on and on. It was so cool to see these in the author’s handwriting although it was hard to read and the early English was just a bit different from what we speak today. I saw what I came for, however, and I could leave legitimately saying “Mission Accomplished.”
Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2008
Another opening, another show. Today’s show was Courtauld Gallery with William, and whatever else turned up. I wasn’t meeting William, however, until after one of his classes so I got out early and went to Buckingham Palace. It is big. It is not exceptionally beautiful but it does have really neat black and gold gates. And a big, sterile expanse of concrete or something in front. I remembered what we learned in China at the Forbidden City – that the big, sterile expanses were to make it harder for someone to smuggle something in as in weapons or assassins. I watched a “mini” changing of the guards; it wasn’t the big fancy one, but I got the general idea. Then I walked again through St. James’s Park, heading to the Courtauld. The white pelicans were on the walkway and didn’t seem at all disturbed by people. In fact, they looked at us as if we weren’t there. They were busy with pelican grooming.
The gallery is in the Somerset House which is right next to where William goes to classes. The main attraction for me was my favorite Manet painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere. William was interested in a special Turner exhibit. And there was a very nice but small collection with Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, Rubens, in other words, the usual suspects. Then – food, beautiful food, hot sausages and mustard. I should give a prize to anyone who can find all the song references in these journals! We went across the street to The Wellington Pub for excellent fish and chips. No skin on the fish this time – I made sure of that.
William had another class to go to so I waited in a really lovely lounge in the Somerset House. There is a terrace area for students outside with a great view of the Thames. Heck, it is almost on the Thames. It was a bit too cold to sit out there, however. After class, I had another opportunity to experience William’s dorm room. It actually looked a bit better than the first time!
We wandered around and went to the Tate Modern only to find we didn’t have too much time until closing. So we saw the Rothko special exhibition. I like modern art but it isn’t as accessible as what we are used to; nonetheless, an appreciation of it builds with repeated viewings. The Rothkos were magnificent. His works are big blocks of color on canvas and at first glance one would be tempted to say, “I could do that,” but really it is quite complex. The simplicity is deceiving.
After that I was getting grumpy. I wanted to get back to the flat and eat! It was hard to hurry William along. Young people just don’t get it! But we finally got back and had dinner. I’ve been cooking dinner every night and spent an average of $30 a day on food for the both of us. That’s lots less than it would have been had we eaten dinners out every night. Everything is SO expensive here!
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2008
Oh what a beautiful morning! No rain, some sun, hip hip hooray! We had big plans. This was the pack-it-all-in tourist day. My time was running out. William has been a really good sport about all of this, also. I know he would rather party, go to clubs, sleep really late, etc., than tour historic sites and ooh and aah at everything. That’s the difference between an 18-year-old college student and a 62-year-old retired person. One of them, anyway.
First, however, William had class. I went too, to Early Greek Philosophy. The professor lectured from Plato’s Republic, Phaedo and Symposium on arguments for a theory of forms and the nature of forms. Darned if I didn’t understand most of the lecture! When I could hear here and understand the accent, that is. I guess everything isn’t lost after all from my philosophy classes so long ago. So it was actually quite fun, and then W gave me a little tour of the campus. The Strand campus, that is. King’s is scattered all over London, but William is really well situated in that he can walk from his dorm just over the Waterloo Bridge on the Thames to his campus. And the pub he works at is just around the block from his dorm.
Ok, time to put on the tourist hats. But first, as we headed to Westminster Abbey, we were stopped at an alley by police who asked if we wouldn’t just mind waiting a moment. Of course we wouldn’t mind – I mean, what if we did? We asked what was happening and the policeman said oh, just a motorcade, he really didn’t know who. Right. I thought it must be Gordon Brown, the P.M. The motorcade then zoomed by and they meant serious business. I asked again and indeed, it was Brown. As we walked on we saw that traffic, both pedestrian and car, had been stopped for quite a ways. I guess if you are the leader you have to travel with security always. So that was kind of fun.
When we got to Westminster Abbey and William found out it cost money he said he would just wait outside. No way! I expected to pay for him and I knew he would never understand that these things could actually be interesting unless he did them. So we both went in. Wherever I’ve had to pay, however, William gets student discount and I get a senior discount! Finally.
Westminster Abbey is amazing. This is where, since 1066, all of England’s kings and queens have been crowned and buried. There are 3,000 graves in the Abbey, 29 kings and queens, and a Poet’s Corner of sorts where many poets and writers have been buried and some just have memorials.
The Abbey was built in 1065 and has since undergone quite a bit of remodeling. The original plans were always honored during remodels, however. The nave of the Abbey is 10 stories tall, the tallest in England.
It was exciting to see the tomb of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Edward the Confessor. Apparently God spoke to Edward the Confessor and told him to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but it was too dangerous for him to leave England. So he build the Abbey and dedicated it to St. Peter. He then died, but at least he had the church ready in time to be buried there. I don’t know the history of why he died and if his successor, William the Conqueror, had anything to do with it.
The Coronation Chair was here and has been used in every coronation minus two since 1308. There is so much tradition and pageantry associated with just about everything in England. For example, in Rick Steves’ guide he says that under the chair used to be a big rock from Scotland called the Stone of Scone. Which sounds pretty funny except that “scone” is pronounced “skoon.” Since Scotland is now more independent (it has its own parliament) Britain gave the Stone of Scone back to Scotland as long as they lend it back for every coronation.
The Poet’s Corner was really neat. Either buried or memorialized are Chaucer, Lord Byron, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Shakespeare (who is buried in Stratford on Avon I think), Handel, Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and Laurence Olivier. Olivier is certainly out of time compared with the rest of them.
So that’s the Abbey – or the basic facts. And we were on to the London Eye. It seemed a good day for the big observation wheel that was built for the Centennial. And it’s called an observation wheel because I guess that sounds more serious than ferris wheel! But first, food was a priority. We went to a nice noodle restaurant on the way to the Eye.
It (the Eye) is really enormous – here are some facts I copied from their website.
A TEAM EFFORT -It took seven years and the skills of hundreds of people from five countries to make the London Eye a reality
A VIEW FIT FOR A QUEEN – You can see around 40KM (25 miles) from the top as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day
FLYING HIGH -The London Eye welcomes an average of 3.5 million customers every year. You would need 6,680 fully booked British Airways Boeing 747-400 jumbo jets to move that number of fliers!
DING! DING! – The London Eye can carry 800 passengers per revolution – equivalent to 11 London red doubled-decker buses
HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION – Each of the 32 capsules weighs 10 tons. To put that figure into perspective, it’s the same weight as 1,052,631 pound coins!
SLOWLY BUT SURELY – Each rotation takes about 30 minutes, meaning a capsule travels at a stately 26cm per second, or 0.9km (0.6 miles) per hour – twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting; allowing passengers to step on and off without the wheel having to stop
THE ONLY WAY IS UP – The circumference of the wheel is 424m (1.392ft) – meaning that if it were unraveled, it would be 1.75 times longer than the UK’s tallest building – One Canada Square in Canary Wharf
TONS OF FUN – The total weight of the wheel and capsules is 2,100 tons – or as much as 1,272 London black cabs!
UP, UP AND AWAY – The height of the London Eye is 135m (equivalent to 64 red telephone boxes piled on top of each other) making it the fourth tallest structure in London after the BT Tower, Tower 42 and One Canada Square in Canary Wharf
BLAST OFF – The spindle holds the wheel structure and the hub rotates it around the spindle. At 23 meters tall, the spindle is around the size of a church spire and, together with the hub, weighs in at 330 tons: over 20 times heavier than Big Ben.
The view was wonderful, the ride pleasant, and it was a good idea to do this even though it went very high in the air.
After my previous abortive effort to see the Tower of London, I decided I really, truly did want to see it. So we jammed over there to find we only had 1.5 hours until closing! No matter. I wanted to see the crown jewels and the chopping block where people lost their heads. At first William said he would wait outside. No way! He was coming in.
William the Conqueror built the Tower as a lookout for invaders on the Thames. Over the years, and the Kings, it was enlarged and now is 18 acres. The most famous use is as a prison and execution site. The Beefeaters are who we associate with the Tower of London, but I spoke with some Beefeaters there and found out some interesting info. One, the term Beefeaters is not the official name but a nickname of uncertain origin. The real name is Yeoman Warders. There are 35 today. To be a Yeoman Warder, one has to be retired from the British Armed Forces and have to have been senior non-commissioned officers with at least 22 years of service. Their duties seem to be to take care of the Tower be tour guides and they actually live there with their families. But they have to own a home elsewhere to retire to when they, well, retire.
So, on to the crown jewels. You get on a slow-moving ramp that takes you past the crowns and various ceremonial pieces of the royalty. The first crown is the one used in coronations. The Archbishop of Canterbury places it on the head of the new monarch. It has 443 precious and semi-precious stones. The problem is this crown weighs five pounds so no one can wear it for very long. Therefore, there is another crown that the monarch wears during the rest of the ceremony after the first few minutes. The Sovereign’s Scepter has a 530 carat diamond – the Star of Africa. The Queen Mother’s crown has one of the most famous diamonds of all – the Koh-I-Noor – but it is considered unlucky for male rulers so only the king’s wife wears it.
We went also to the Bloody Tower where we saw the famous executioner’s block and the hatchet. During the War of the Roses, Richard III (probably) had his young brothers (one who would have been Edward V) kidnapped and locked in the tower. They were never seen again, but two centuries later, two children’s skeletons were discovered. Also, Sir Walter Raleigh, who was eventually executed, was imprisoned here for 13 years and he had a bedroom, study, cook, servants, his family, all kinds of cushy comforts.
After the tower, my feet were about walked off and I was ready to be back in the flat! So we came back, ate dinner, and watched The Full Monty on television. I love that movie. Long, full day but fun.
Which brings me to today…
Thursday, November 13, 2008
All this sightseeing is hard work. Today I wanted an easy day. I didn’t think I would see William because he had class all day, so I set out on foot for Kensington Gardens. What did I find – swans! I thought I had left swans behind in Lugano, but no, here they were. They must be following William! It was raining and drizzling, but I saw Kensington Palace, a very nice, very big house where Princess Di lived, the Royal Albert Hall, and then I walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Man, this museum has a little of everything. I wanted to see the Dale Chihuly chandelier in the lobby and I did and was suitably impressed. But I was tired and couldn’t figure out how to tackle this massive museum.
William saved me by calling to say a class was canceled and did I want him to come out to Kensington for a few hours. Did I? You bet! He saved me. So I went back to the flat, W came, and we had lunch at Wagamama – a popular noodle restaurant. It was wonderful. Then he went back to school, I took a nap and tackled this journal until 6 pm, when I ventured out to the White Hart, William’s pub. I watched him bartend very capably while I drank a Guiness and had a burger, and then I came back home to chill. And it poured rain. Soon William will be here – his shift ended at 10, and that is the end of this day.
One more to go, and then travel home. And as I review this in June 17, 2009, I see that I didn’t finish the journal! It’s certainly too late now to remember what I did, but suffice it to say, it was a very exciting trip.