What do all the above things have in common? They are all on display in various museums and galleries around London and I saw them all in one day.
I was so tired when I reached the Barkston Gardens Hotel in Earls Court. All I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. The hotel is opposite the verdantly green private gardens of the same name. You need to be a local resident and own a key to visit the shared gardens, a concept that gives the apartment residents some green space.
Unfortunately, there was now room immediately available for me to collapse in upon arrival. So I relaxed in the sitting room adjacent to the lobby and logged on using wireless access to talk with B. I waited there until 10:30, after which I gave up and decided that I might as well go sightseeing.
London is blessed with a great many galleries and museums, many of them free. I had wanted to see a number of them on our last trip here, had walked past the just closed Victoria and Albert and Museum of Natural History, frustrated that I couldn’t go in because we had got lost within Harrods. I now had one full day to visit them and I wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.
Like Sydney, the London Tube network was severely crippled by trackwork on the weekend, but unlike Sydney, the London transport network has a working smartcard system: the Oyster Card. I love smartcards and bought one from the vending machine. Thankfully, the Picadilly Line was still fully operational, so I caught it to Holborn, the closest station on the line to my destination of the British Museum.
I enjoyed walking the streets of London. After hanging around Sydney, it was good to see a city with some history retained about it. The British Museum specialises in antiquities from the Egyptian, Abyssinian, Greek, Roman and other cultures. I started off in the Egyptian and Sumerian areas with their massive statues and reliefs. I had not realised how advanced Abyssinian sculpture was, with their fearsome gods and dramatic hunts.
Likewise, the quality of the Greek and Roman objects also came as a surprise. I was not familiar with Etruscan art and objects but it is obvious that their style influences Italian design to this day. Absolutely fascinating. Upstairs is also probably the most famous section of the museum: the Egyptian mummies. There are quite a few of them and none of them look like the classical Hollywood mummy of loosely wrapped bandages. One female mummy even had a face painted on her.
To get the most out of the museum you would need to be a scholar of the particular cultures, but even a cursory look will leave you impressed.
Leaving the museum I took a walk down Charing Cross Road, past the bookshops, music shops and theatres to the National Gallery. I’ve been to many major art galleries over the years, so I know what to look for. I skimmed around until I saw paintings that took my fancy, contrasted the realism of the traditional scenes and portraits with the life exuded by the impressionists. My favourites were probably Canaletto’s scenes of Venice.
The National Gallery overlooks Trafalgar Square, which was filled with people enjoying the warm sunny weather.
My next few museums were located closer to the hotel, in the Kensington area. I walked back to Leicester Square and caught the Tube to South Kensington. From there, it was a long walk up a tunnel to the Science Museum.
Of particular interest was the mathematics and computer section. I’m typing this on a tiny netbook, but the mechanical computers on display were massive in comparison. Then there’s Ernie, the giant random number generating computer for the National Savings Lottery. Even the slide rules on display were fascinating for the description of how they worked, something the modern calculator populace doesn’t learn anymore.
I also viewed the aircraft section which includes a German rocketplane and the progenitor of the Spitfire on display. Space vehicles are actually on the bottom floor, including small rockets and a massive Apollo Moonlander module.
There is so much beautiful architecture devoted to religion around the world, but the Museum of History is notable for a gorgeous building for science. I actually found the building more interesting than the displays themselves, but that’s because my knowledge of them exceeded the explanations of the displays. I can’t wait to take Alex on a tour of the museum, or its counterparts in Australia, to see the dinosaur skeletons. The animatronic dinosaurs are pretty cool too.
I couldn’t resist just one more museum, mainly because it was right next door. What good fortune I did go into the Victoria and Albert Museum because I think that I enjoyed it most of all.
The VA is a mishmash of objects from all sorts of time periods and regions of the world. Not all of it was of interest, but in walking to specific sections of the museum I often passed other displays that caught my eye.
Of special note for me was the incredible Islamic ceramic tiles and designs and the exquisite European furniture. I had forgotten just how beautiful it was.
By this time I was knackered. My feet were blistered, my back was sore and I was so tired that I could barely shuffle straight. I began my trudge up Cromwell Road toward Earls Court and my hotel. Along the way I passed the hotel we stayed in last time, along with the familiar white column porticoes of the apartment rows.
I picked up a sandwich for dinner, despite it not even being 5pm, knowing that once I entered the hotel I wouldn’t have the energy to reemerge. Thankfully my room was ready, because I just about collapsed into it.
With only a few hours sleep over the past couple of days and half a day spent in an aircraft I had managed to see four museums and one gallery over a period of about 6 hours. And I felt like I had got something out of each of them. I think that’s quite an achievement – maybe one that belongs in a museum.