Monday, May 30, 2011


[EDITED TO ADD: Hey yo! Sorry about the VAST DELAY. But at least it's going up, right? There are some . . . ah. . . condensations toward the end of this post, made with an eye to not having it sit in cyberlimbo until the end of time. The original date on this post was 4/10/11, but I'm changing it to now to make it show up where peeps will notice it.]

The saga continues. . . . (now, with more pictures!)

DAY DEUX dawned. It dawned later than I had planned.

Damn snoring lady.

First, breakfast; I had walked by a grocery store the day before, "Tesco's Express." They had a seemingly unlimited supply of almond-filled croissants (mmmm) and, of course, 500-650 mL bottles of funny-tasting diet Coke. (In terms of the tastiness of their diet Coke, I have found Spain > U.S. > France > U.K.)
You can see my second day's route here as I slowly wended my way across London. I walked alongside the Buckingham Palace grounds on Grosvenor (!) Place. (My grandmother's maiden name is Grosvenor -- her family actually has [minimal] records going back to about 1350. John Grosvenor, my great-times-something grandfather, came to North America around 1660. NOW YOU KNOW.) I was kind of hoping to see the Palace from afar -- forgetting of course that it is sort of a government building and also a private residence -- in any case, it was surrounded by 10-foot stone walls with an array of six-inch-long spikes jutting out of the top.

Some famous streets -- yes, it amuses my immature mind that "Drury Lane" is just another street for most Londoners. (I also was on Fleet Street, but it was already dark, so I didn't want to stop and take a picture.)

My mom and I have a standing souvenir agreement -- wherever I travel, I will attempt to bring her back a Christmas ornament or object that can easily be repurposed into a Christmas ornament. So far she has a lacy laser-cut metal ornament from Mount Vernon (Dad and I went there on a high school trip to D.C.)(and now it's also a "flood ornament," because all the laser-cut flourishes have little lacy borders of rust from being submerged in mucky water), a yellow charm with a tiny white dog from the Shinto shrine at Kotohira, a charm with a small white peak embroidered on the front from the Shinto shrine on top of Mount Fuji, a metal bookmark from Ellis Island showing the Statue of Liberty, a supercheap metal keychain of the Eiffel Tower from Paris, and now -- this little dude, purchased the Buckingham Palace Mews gift shop, where I stopped as I made my somewhat confused way across London. I think I'll call him Percy. Apparently Christmas ornaments are a normal souvenir in England, because there were tons of excellently garish ones -- stuffed sequined crowns, blown-glass carriages, teddy bears in royal robes, etc.

The Royal College of Art asked that we bring two passport-sized photos to the interview with our name written on the back. I had forgotten, but was hoping to find one of those little photo kiosks in a subway or train station. After getting momentarily lost (okay, I lied about only getting lost once) I found my way to Victoria Station, which is large and sort of round-shaped in plan and has a great number of overpriced and pretentious fast food establishments. (Apparently even McDonalds in London uses a green background, rather than the standard red found in the U.S., to imply a more "wholesome" ambiance. NOW YOU KNOW.) The first photo booth I found was out of order, even after I hopefully poked at the dark touchscreen inside for a few minutes. After cautiously wending my way past the ticket turnstiles and the public restrooms, I found another photo booth, this one active. Sadly along with the words flashing on the screen it gave audible instructions in an extremely loud recording of a woman's voice. Six photos (the remains of which are shown above) cost me £5, or about $8. Yes. . . poor planning. I had to duck out of the booth mid-instruction to get change from a machine, leaving it to repeatedly yell, "PLEASE INSERT FIVE POUNDS. COINS ONLY PLEASE. PLEASE INSERT FIVE POUNDS. COINS ONLY PLEASE. PLEASE INSERT. . . " I look unusually somber because I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to smile in passport photos in every country that's NOT the U.S. (Maybe you're not supposed to smile for U.S. passports either, but the local post office didn't tell me not to when they took my picture.)

That taken care of, I continued on down Victoria Street. I ran into Westminster Cathedral (above), which is decidedly distinct from Westminster Abbey -- the first is the home church of Catholics in England, the second essentially the home chapel of the royal family of England and thus historically important to the Anglican Church. And, of course, the Cathedral was built about 600 years after the Abbey. You can look at a virtual tour of Westminister Cathedral here. I didn't go in because I was suspicious of the people handing out pamphlets in front. I had been warned about marauding Scientologists.

And here -- is Westminster Abbey! This is the exterior of the Lady Chapel, built in the 1500s, where Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are buried, which faces Parliament.

This is the end of the nave, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is (inside.)

I was pretty excited to finally see Westminster Abbey. My Encarta Encyclopedia program, which I spent an unholy amount of time playing with during my childhood, had a series of virtual tours of various historic monuments, such as Alcatraz, an Egyptian temple, and Westminster. I had spent many hours studying those pictures, though not recently, and had lots of bits of trivia about the Stone of Scone, the tombs of Elizabeth I and Marcy Queen of Scots, and various authors and artists buried there floating about in my head. (Not to mention the scenes from The King's Speech which were filmed there.)

With a certain amount of inevitability, Westminster was closed for tourists when I got there. Monday is their off day. I milled about with several dozen disappointed French tourists before giving up and heading across the street to the Westminster Palace of Parliament, built between 1840 and 1860 after the original medieval burning was destroyed in a fire. It was hedged about on all sides with traffic barriers and watchful-looking bobbies (which I say mainly to conjure up an image of the iconic egg-shaped hat. Heh.)

Off to one side of the complex is a garden/park space that looks out on the Thames, with benches along the paths that wrap around it. I found a tree to brace myself against and did this sketch with badly shaking hands. I think I've found the secret to the architect's characteristic "loose" sketches -- it is a matter of necessity rather than studied practice. I was freezing and couldn't have drawn a true straight line if I had to.

Then I headed north. I stopped at Trafalgar Square, eyeballing St. Martin's-in-the-Fields and the National Gallery, as well as the hordes of schoolchildren climbing on the monument's lions, before taking off again in search of the British Museum. I got dreadfully lost (I guess this is the third time in this narrative, whoops) and bought an awful sandwich with Styrofoam-like tomatoes and unevenly distributed mustard sauce. The British Museum is in a residential neighborhood filled with small dark tight houses that, were they in the South End, I would date about 1850.

I found myself at a rather unimposing entrance flanked by two small Art Deco lions. (Later I realized that I had accidentally gone in at the side door.) The small map by the door was quite confusing, so I determined that I needed my own paper copy. Alas! The disadvantages of free state museums soon presented themselves: the only portable map available was a proper laminated sort that cost two pounds. After a wander about the distressingly bland bookstore (where two postcards cost three pounds and ten postcards cost one -- how odd) and the "souvenir shop" next door (which were separate entities? how odd) (and now I recall that I owe a number of people postcards -- whoops), I purchased said map, but decided against the audio guide -- it cost five or eight pounds to rent and, in the manner of international museums, required me to leave my passport or credit card as ransom. Damn their eyes. Anyhow.

I veered off into a side gallery, having no real idea where I was going, and spent an enjoyable half an hour looking at a free temporary exhibition, "Adornment and Identity," focusing on jewelry and clothing worn by women in Oman during the 20th century. Lots of heavy silver, lots of coins (particular a certain kind of Austrian coin with a high silver content called a "thaller") worked in jewelry, lots of sort of protective amulets in the shape of small boxes containing verses from the Qu'ran. Next to that was another exhibit showing clothing and jewelry from the Balkans in the 20th century. Also lovely, though they made a huge point about how the silver content in all the jewelry was lower. Right then.

The next room down was one showing how the British Museum was set up in the 1800s, to which I say: Oi. Clutter. Hard to find ANYTHING and hard to distinguish which thing in the crowded glass cases and bookshelves one was supposed to be looking at.

I then headed upstairs, because the Egyptian and Grecian galleries on the ground floors were packed with terrifying numbers of British schoolchildren.

I found myself in the ANCIENT BRITAIN area, highlighting CELTIC AND SAXON FINERY. In short: I recognized a ton of this stuff (the Battersea shield, the Sutton Hoo helmet, this one bronze mirror) from my abiding obsession during high school with such things. It was pretty great.

(Thus follows a collage of my favorite bits of GOLD.)

Before leaving, I also saw some Elgin marbles (I think), the Rosetta Stone, and a number of Aztec artifacts that were covered in huge and envy-making pieces of turquoise, none of which I got wonderful pictures of.

It escapes me at the moment how I got from the British Museum to the Tate Museum, but I'm sure it involved lots of walking and probably getting lost. Due to poor lighting, I took no wonderful pictures of said museum, but suffice to say I like the building, by Herzog and DeMeuron, adapted from an old power station.

This was a stupid exhibition called Linearity #412 or something like that but which actually should been named "A very large floor covered in lots of gravel with a few footprints."

I was overall rather disappointed in the Tate Modern. For a world-famous museum, the art was unremarkable and curated most unimaginatively (though not as bad as the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. They might as well have been displaying a dryer lint collection for all the craps they gave.) Compared to the Guggenheim in New York (brilliant curation) or the Reina Sofia in Madrid (rather stunning collection from Picasso and Dali), I was unimpressed. It was more on the level of the ICA in Boston, which is okay, I guess, except that the ICA is a much tinier museum serving an urban population of 4.5 million, and the Tate is a large museum serving a metro area of 12.5 million. So, meh to that.

The awesome footbridge that gets ripped apart in the sixth Harry Potter movie (and which we looked at in Structures and also in some other classes because it's cool) runs across the Thames between the Tate Modern and St. Paul's Cathedral, as shown.

They were having a "choral evening" when I arrived at St. Paul's, which was lovely. No photos allowed, so I sketched:

The only part of the service I remember was when they asked for prayers for Japan.

I second that.

I walked back to the hostel then, stopping at a grocery store to buy two buns (one white and one wheat) because I was RAVENOUSLY HUNGRY.

TO BE CONCLUDED IN THE FINAL INSTALLMENT, airing sometime [originally I wrote, "later this week!" but I think a more accurate end to that sentence would be "I hope!"]

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