9/18 - London, Day 2 – Museum Day, or the Upside of Empire
More pics here.
This day was devoted to the British Museum and National Gallery, which in my opinion must be the best travel deals in the world. You can see pilfered treasures from counties all over the world and famous artworks for free!
After our first breakfast (where I ate way too many croissants), we took the tube to Covent Garden station and walked through this upscale shopping neighborhood to the British Museum. I’d wisely thought to fit this in before the weekend crowds hit – so despite Friday being our first full day in the city we’d be inside. But I forgot that weekdays mean field trips! Tons of small kids in uniforms walking in lovely British lines – and they really were much less obnoxious than field trippers at home.
The Museum is huge, and its contents unending, but we tried to see at least a little of each gallery. Sadly the Rosetta Stone is now behind glass, and nearly impossible to get to for people taking pictures without really even reading or appreciating what they are seeing. We did manage to read that the Egyptian hieroglyph for cat is the phonetic sound for “meow” followed by a cat symbol. Seems practical to me!
The other treasures are more exposed and less crowded still. We saw Korean pottery, Assyrian stone murals and gateway lions, Egyptian mummies, Roman jewelry, Samurai armour, Greek facades and statues (the Elgin Marbles may be returned to Greece by the next time we visit), West African masks and swords, an Easter island statue, a modern wedding dress made of traditional bark cloth from the pacific islands, and more. This was the only day of rain in London for us, and we were inside missing it.
We stayed most of the day, missing the lunch hour and racing to the National Gallery before it closed. We walked briskly through the theater district and I was sad we didn’t have time for a show. Or rather energy – I could tell we’d be tired every night! Ty didn’t see much of Trafalgar Square because a Malaysian tourism festival had set up shop with a large stage and many tents. We decided to skip this to see the artwork – it was also quieter, warmer, and less crowded inside.
The artwork was stunning, and we discovered that normally-dispassionate Ty has a serious bone to pick with Renaissance art. Tired and not THAT artsy, we made a game of re-captioning famous works with more honest titles (“starving artist begrudgingly paints his landlord’s discordant family a bit too honestly”) and creating our own critiques. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder. We also found pieces to enjoy and appreciate – but I’m not sure we would have stayed long enough to find them without Ty’s hilarious angry critiques.
We walked over to Piccadilly Circus, which is an odd mixture of spruced up Victorian architecture and blazing LED bill boards –a bit like Mary Poppins and Times Square had a car accident. Another tourist center, this was a great people watching place, since so many of the major boulevards intersect here, and there is a nice fountain to sit and take it all in.
With the day mostly over and our bodies tired and hungry, I made a pitch to splurge on dinner. I knew I wanted to eat good Indian food in Britain, and I guessed, correctly, that though early on, this was both the time and the place for a nicer dinner. We booked a late seating at the Bombay Brassery, a highly reviewed Indian restaurant that luckily was not far from our hotel. We enjoyed cocktails in their lounge and slowly realized the restaurant was based on the British “country clubs” in India – which we’d also seen remnants of in Thailand. Having just read a novel based on the exclusionary racism of these clubs and their patrons, I felt just a bit guilty about this whole idea – until the food came. It was amazing, the dining room was beautiful, and I decided to just submit and enjoy the upside of empire. Thanks, rest of the world, for your sacrifices!