March 24, 2010 § Leave a comment
My third day in London was packed with tons of history, art, and walking, with a little shopping snuck in at the end. Jia and I headed to the British Museum early in the morning, where we didn’t have to pay admission (a trend we noticed at other London museums as well) and were greeted by a wise quote from Tennyson.
Much like how the Louvre in Paris has its three superstars that everyone wants to see – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace – the British Museum has its own three primary attractions, the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, and a colossal bust of Ramses II.
But there’s a huge amount of other items on display that are just as interesting. For example, the first room I walked into had floor to ceiling shelves lined with ancient Greek red figure pottery. And there were very quirky, unique pieces as well. In the same wing, there was a display of the Ain Sakhri lovers figurine, the first sculpture showing a couple making love. It was constructed (very cleverly if I may say) so when looking at the figures from the front, their bodies made a heart and when looking at the figures from the side, the profile made a…well, you can figure that out from the photo.
My favorite piece, though, still had to be the Elgin Marbles. Removed from the Parthenon in Greece from 1801-1812 by the Earl of Elgin under great controversy, they are now featured in a long hall with the west and east pediment pieces on each end in their own rooms, which gives them the large amount of space and light that they deserve.
After a filling lunch of chicken tikka masala and roast beef and yorkshire pudding at Museum Tavern (literally right across the street from the museum), we took the Tube to Charing Cross station and got our fill of art at the National Gallery. As happy as I was to visit the British Museum, I was absolutely over the moon to finally see pieces like Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, which I have been reading about since high school, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers, and a huge number of Turners. Unfortunately and understandably, we weren’t able to take photos inside, but I guess that just means that I’ll have to visit often to see them again and again.
Since the National Gallery is located right by Trafalgar Square, we took our requisite tourist photos and then, fighting fatigue, went to the British Library. There, in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery (no photos again), we got to see an incredible number of monumental documents: the Gutenberg Bible, da Vinci’s notebooks, the original scores of Handel’s “Messiah” (which my dad would have loved) and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” original lyrics of “Yesterday” written by Paul McCartney, Shakespeare’s folios, and of course, the Magna Carta to name a few.
But all this history, art, and writing eventually took its toll on my mind, so I ended the day with a trip to Oxford Circus, one of London’s main shopping districts. At Liberty, the department store with its mock-Tudor facade and history of colorful prints, there was a touching tribute to Alexander McQueen, the famous British fashion designer who recently passed away, and scarves of every size and pattern inside. But despite all the pretty things around me, I was able to hold onto my pounds for another day.
March 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
By some amazing coincidence, during my trip to London, my aunt and uncle from China were visiting my cousin, Miao Meng at Oxford at the same time. Because I only see them about every 5 years, we took the opportunity to take two day trips together, one to Windsor Castle and Eton College and another to Oxford.
On my second day in London, I woke up super early and trudged across Tower Bridge to get to Paddington Station, where my relatives picked me up and we drove the quick 30 minutes to Windsor.
It was amazingly clear that day and we walked around the grounds before finally going into the state apartments, where we were unfortunately prohibited from taking pictures. I just remember the decor inside the rooms being as lavish as you could imagine with gilded swords and pistols and marble busts everywhere. There was a great room that displayed the arms of all the English knighthoods on the ceilings and walls with the year the knight was inducted, although some of them were blank because the knight had been demoted after committing a crime. Yikes.
Another highlight was the giant room where all the Queen’s state dinners took place. Our audio guide explained that because the table could be set with 80 people on each side, the silverware and dinnerware had to be spaced strictly to the official measurements since one fork out of place would completely ruin the visual effect. Later, when I watched a state dinner scene in The Young Victoria featuring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, I had one of those “I was there moments!” and felt like such a dork.
Afterwards, we crossed the Thames, walked through cute streets, and took a peek at Eton College, which I only know of because Prince William and Harry both attended.
In the evening, I headed back to London, and Melissa, her friends from LSE, and I queued up at a club called KOKO that’s actually located in a huge theater, except instead of a glistening chandelier, it’s got a giant disco ball hanging from the ceiling. After the day’s walking around and dancing, by the time I got back to Melissa’s, I’d passed out yet again.
March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
We got into London on the red eye on Saturday, March 6th at about 8 in the morning. After figuring out Underground cancellations and substitutions, Jia and I finally got to Tower Bridge with our good friend Melissa waiting for us. Like us, she’s a Georgetown student but she’s spending her year at the London School of Economics, which worked out perfectly for us because we got a free place to stay during our trip!
After recuperating and taking short naps, we got our asses to Soho and Covent Garden areas to meet up with another Georgetown classmate, Amy Parks. She’s been studying in France for the semester but managed to plan a trip to London that perfectly coincided with our first weekend there.
We stopped at a delicious little bakery called Maison Bertaux and ate heavenly desserts while sitting next to a gaggle of adorable old ladies catching up on the latest gossip.
After saying goodbye to Amy and still craving something savory, we stumbled on a Korean place in London’s Chinatown called Corean Chilli that wasn’t too expensive and helped ourselves to spicy pork belly, udon, and of course, ddukbokgi.
The rest of our afternoon was just spent wandering around Piccadilly Circus and trying to find somewhere to get temporary mobile phones (Vodaphone worked out in the end). It gave us a chance to look inside Fortnum and Mason, a classic English grocer that still serves the Queen. Everything was beautiful displayed, including large porcelain jars of loose tea leaves and coffee beans, wedding cakes, and biscuit tins in every imaginable color. It was everything that I’d picture an English store to be.
Finally, in the evening and still fighting jetlag, we headed to a pub near Melissa’s dorm for a drink. It was so nice to be able to order Stella again and in a classic English bar setting, we got to catch up on boys, school gossip, and living in London. Once we got back to the room, I passed out like a rock.
It was the beginning to 9 great days of wandering, shopping, eating, checking out British boys, and absorbing English culture that I won’t forget. With any luck, I’ll be back before long.