Day 9: France and England

Then it was our last day in London…for now. We decided to spend the morning in the west side of London. Scott had never been to the Natural History Museum in Kensington. I hadn’t been there in years so we decided to go early before it opened. When we were at the V&A a few days prior, the line was impressive for the Natural History Museum. (And a block away, there was no line to the V&A!). We got there a little after 10 and there was already an enormous line. Thankfully it moved fast but it took about 30 minutes to get into the museum.

We made a beeline for the dinosaurs. That was the purpose of this trip. Plus the staff said it was recommended to go there first since the dinosaurs can also get a queue. It was an interesting exhibit of dinosaur bones. Unlike the Field, you don’t have to go through a lot of set up to get to the bones. You walk into the dinosaur hall and there are bones. Almost immediately, you end up on a bridge that takes you over the entire room. It was very crowded so it was slow going. We could see bones of various dinosaurs, It  was disconcerting to realize that the skeletons were shaking due to the vibrations of the bridge. Where the animals coming alive? Sadly, we discovered that the bones were replicas, not the actual things. So that was reassuring but disappointing. I’m not sure how much of the skeletons were actually real. At the end of the bridge component had you face to face with an animatronic T-rex, which was cool. But it seemed less impressive than Sue’s skeleton.
Dino 2

Suspended dinosaur

Suspended dinosaur

Then we wandered the room under the bridge. It was a little bit more interesting. It talked about the physiological differences between dinosaurs. For instance, it talked about raising of young and making inferences from the eggs. Are the eggs smashed? That might suggest the young stayed in the nest for a while. Are the eggs pristine? That may suggest that the young left the nest early on. And then it ended in a strange display of toys to talk about popular views of dinosaurs in the current age. But it did feel a little contrived because there was a note that some of the toys were available in the gift shop. Boo.
We then wandered into the rest of the museum. We found the Treasures of the Cadogen gallery. There were 22 artifacts that were highlighted due to their significance. For instance, there was a dodo skeleton, impressive considering how humans managed to make them extinct a century or so ago. There were also Charles Darwin’s pigeons that he bred that helped him better understand evolution. There was a book of bird illustrations by John James Audubon that was stunning. These were true treasures of the museum. There were also very informative computer screens next to each item to help you understand why it was important, etc.
 I also started to discover an interesting story/rivalry of Richard Owens and Gideon Mantell who were the first British dinosaur hunters.  I ended up picking up a book from the bookshop called Dinosaur Hunters about their lives and work. It’s quite tragic actually. Gideon Mantell sacrificed everything for his love of prehistoric creatures and assembled an impressive collection of specimens but never got much recognition for his work. Many of his inferences proved the framework for others’ work (namely spiteful and sadistic Richard Owens). Richard Owens thoroughly defeated him while rising in preeminence in London and the world. He’s the one who coined the phrase “dinosaurs.” He also had a special fundraising dinner in the body of a hollow concrete Iguanodon.  Even after Mantell’s death, his deformed spinal cord was procured by Owens to showcase in the museum. It was taken off display when a bomb from WWII destroyed it and the rest of the gallery it was in!
Then it was time to have high tea at Fortnum and Masons with friends who were also in town. It was tremendous fun. I’ve talked about this in previous posts but I love love love the tea at  Fortnum and Masons. Every time I go there, I buy 7 or 8 full boxes of their tea; I have to have a separate bag to carry it.  When friends go to London, I ask them to pick up more. It’s an obsession (and a hatred of shipping fees). I’ve been to tea at Fortnum several times and it is always lovely. It’s classy and charming.
I ordered the regular tea service because I wanted tea sandwiches. I love the amazing combinations that the British have concocted. I eat cucumber sandwiches on a fairly regular basis. I was not disappointed with the selection. I also relished in the warm scones with clotted cream. So happy! Goal 2 of our trip was met. The first was a Nutella crepe on the streets of France and the second was the scone celebration. They also gave us several types of jam so I got to try lemon curd for the first time. Quite tasty. Scott tried all three jams at the same time and said it was wonderful. It was so much food that we couldn’t finish the little sweets they gave us or the cake option. I got this checkerboard cake which was okay. (Nothing beats Walls’ checkerboard cake in Hewlett, NY).
What a lovely tea!
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the play we say at the Savoy Theater. That’s all!

Part 8: France and England

This is part 2 of our adventures at Hampton Court, a Tudor palace. I was very keen on hearing some period music while we were there. Some of the historical reenactments mentioned musicians so I was bound and determined to listen to something medieval. I wanted to go medieval on that bass. (Sorry, I couldn’t help).

Some context: Back in graduate school, I belonged to an instrumental guild for the Society of Creative Anachronism who like to recreate the better parts of the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance. We played various types of recorders (soprano down to a bass) and performed a variety of medieval and Renaissance music. I loved it; it was the best thing I did in grad school. And there is nothing like playing music while people dance. Seriously. Best feeling in the world. I only wish there was something easily accessible in Chicago so I could continue it.

So I went to the courtyard to learn that the Master of Ceremonies was facing a quandary. He had two sets of musicians to choose from but could not decide what was appropriate. Should he hire a gentle and melancholy lute player to resonate with the king’s illness or should he hire boisterous and happy musicians to remind the king of the good times? We were to help him make his choice. So we wandered into the apartments to a small hall behind the Great Hall. This had a wonderful gold and white ceiling, beautiful stained glass, and additional tapestries.

The lutist played a slow sweet tune and then a trio of musicians played a lively tune that they recently learned in Spain. I was so happy to hear this music! The audience voted to determine which musician(s) should become the new court musicians. The trio of musicians won. However, the head of security, I think it was Thomas Seymour, had some questions for the musicians. He was suspicious about the musicians’ travels across Europe and decided to arrest them for further questioning. Alas! So the lutist won out. It was all very delightful to watch!

After the drama of the court musicians, we decided to check out the fantastic gardens of Hampton Court. Directly behind the palace, there are perfectly manicured trees leading out (like spokes from a wheel) to a body of water. Each tree shaped a bit like a cone. The body of water had a gathering of geese, swans and ducks. Quite delightful. And then we decided to check out the full size hedge maze. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever been to another maze like this. The hedge walls go up fairly high so you can’t see over them. When we got into it, it was clear that there were families who seemed genuinely lost. Some were bickering about whether they had taken the turn before! Of course, they may have been lost for the sake of the children. But we’ll never know. We managed our way through it quickly with a few wrong turns.
Those conical trees!

Those conical trees!

We then tried to get to the last set of gardens on the other side of the palace. There are several rectangular gardens right next to each other. One is quite open with some hedges, flowers, and a nice fountain. A few were only accessible by sticking your head through a fence (metal or leafy) to see the garden. It made those gardens seem secret. We did see the longest grape vine that had been planted in 18th century. It took up such a large plot of land! I’d love to come when they are harvesting the grapes.
More manicured gardens

More manicured gardens

Then it was sadly time for us to depart. I was quite pleased with our time at Hampton Court. But we wanted to be back for a wine and cheese shindig at the Middle Temple with the rest of the Loyola London program. We boarded our train and went back to London.
That’s all for now! Tomorrow we’ll talk about the Natural History Museum and Fortnum and Mason’s tea.

Part 7: England and France

After a few days of adventuring in the London, we decided to take a little trip out to the Tudor Palace of Hampton Court. It’s about 35 minutes by train outside of London from Waterloo Station. It was a fairly easy trip outside of the city. You can access it by Tube but it takes longer and may require a bus. So train it was!

Hampton Court

Hampton Court

For years, I’d seen advertisements in the Tube about spending Christmas at Hampton Court. The prior year, I told Scott that we should check it out. It turns out that Christmas at Hampton Court is from the 27th until the 1st or 2nd so it’s a small time frame. Anyway, we bought tickets and caught our train within 2 minutes of its scheduled departure. We wanted to get there early since we had to be back at the Middle Temple at 4. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate getting to museums and other places when they open. They tend to be less crowded so you get to commune with the artifacts, buildings, etc a little bit before the place is inundated. We got there early enough that the morning frost hadn’t burnt off yet.
When we entered, we made a beeline for the robes. I don’t know if this is a special thing for the holidays or a new thing but you can borrow robes to get you into the Tudor spirit. Yes, you can play dress up at a Tudor palace. Be still my heart! So we each picked out a robe; Scott wore red and I wore purple. It was also quite practical because it was rather chilly. We also got our handheld audio guides.
Our first stop was to the magnificent Great Hall. It is astonishing. Long tables line the hall and the walls are covered in beautiful tapestries. There are incredibly carved wood panels including a place where you can see a symbol for Henry and Anne Boleyn that wasn’t destroyed. We would return to the Great Hall numerous times on this visit.
We wandered through several of the rooms in the Tudor Rooms. One hall (an actual hall) in particular is known for ghost sightings. According to legend, Katherine Howard was locked in her rooms awaiting her execution but she managed to escape. She ran through the hallway to go to the Chapel to plead for her life with Henry VIII. However, guards intercepted her and dragged her screaming back to her chambers. The audio guide said that this hallway had many reports of strange happenings and a disproportionate number of faintings have occured there.
I also wandered into the private balcony in the chapel; what a beautifully ornate place! Also, they had a recreation of Henry VIII’s crown (the original was destroyed during Oliver Cromwell’s reign). So many crazy huge gem stones. Sadly, photos were not permitted.
We also wandered through the William III’s rooms. Part of the palace was renovated and had that 17th century feel. There is one spot where you can see both the Tudor/17th century combine in a strange way. I don’t love the later time period (I really like the Tudors) but it was interesting to check out the apartments Apparently, William III let people come and watch him and the rest of the royal family eat. Napkin origami was also a thing.
Then it was time for some historical reenactments. This was the real bonus of coming here at Christmastime. Starting at 11am and at the half hour until 4pm, there were little historical events for visitors to enjoy. There would be lessons on etiquette, musical happenings and more. We rushed to the first one located in the main courtyard where actors in period garb welcomed us to the Palace. It was the master of ceremonies, the fool, and a lady of the court. They were preparing for Christmas but discoered that it was cancelled due to the king’s health. So they decided to take us back in time to the prior year in recompense to the cancelled holiday.
The fool!

The fool!

So we split up into groups and they led us on a short walking tour of the palace. In the tour, we were told to watch for various personalities. We’d walk by a staircase and actors would be in the midst of a major argument. It was like looking into a keyhole to see small sections of life. These instances continued throughout the rest of the day. We’d be wandering through a room and someone would announce “The King is coming.” Everyone would flatten themselves against the walls and bow respectfully as the king walked by. 2 minutes later, it was all over. Moments like this were phenomenal. It made the palace feel alive again (beyond us tourists). At the conclusion of the tour, we all ended up in the Great Hall where we were given a short lesson on bowing to the king. Basically, we were told to bow as low as possible for as long as possible to best please the king. Shortly after instruction,  a long procession of the court wandered through while the crowd did their best to bow/courtesy. The king wandered by, grumpy and limping from old leg wounds. The general effect was wonderful.
Then Scott and I decided to check out the Henry VIII’s kitchens. As we entered the palace in the morning, we were told by a volunteer not to miss it. So we went on and found marvelous things. There were also actors putting together a feast. We talked with a guy who was sewing a pig and a goose together to make a “cockatrice”, a fantastical dish from the era. Men carried giant skewers of meat on their shoulders to bring to the giant fire. It was neat to actually smell food that was being prepared in the Tudor era style. Very well worth checking out.
Skewers of meat in the Henry VIII's kitchens

Skewers of meat in the Henry VIII’s kitchens

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’ll talk a bit more about Hampton Court!

Part 6: France and England

Now I’m going to talk about the Victorian and Albert Museum. It’s a museum that I’ve gone to occasionally over the years but didn’t make it a point to go. It’s a big of a strange museum with an eclectic collection. But it does have a wonderful collection of non-Western art and some fascinating exhibitions on fashion and design. Now that I’m a little bit more fascinated with design, I found it much more compelling.

We first went to the copies room. It’s a huge room with these plaster casts of famous monuments from all over Europe. There is Michelangelo’s David and the Trajan Column, cut in half because it is too large to fit the height of the room. It has copies of magnificent doors of churches, fountains, and much more. I don’t like it. The room feels so crowded and fake, which it is. I’ll admit that the effect has a certain impressive feel to it since they have brought together all of these disparate monuments. However, I feel that each one loses its significance when jumbled together. I prefer to see these works of art individually and in their original form. I’m a traditionalist, I suppose.

Copies room

Copies room

On the way, we did see a magnificent series of angel statues. Formerly, four statues stood in front of Cardinal Wosley’s palace. However, two statues made their way to the museum but two were lost. Recently, the two lost statues were found in an estate in England; they had been outside for many years. The museum is currently trying to raise the funds to purchase them from the current owners. For now, the four statues are exhibited together. It’s neat to see the difference between the two statues that had been preserved inside and the two that had been subject to the elements. It’s a striking contrast.

I also got a kick out of the fashion galleries. They had a series of displays showing how fashion changed over the decades/centuries from the late Regency era to the present day. You could see the outrageously voluminous costumes slowly transform into flapper outfits (including one inspired by surrealism) to the practical outfits during WWII to the development of punk fashion in the 1980s.

There was also a brilliant exhibition called “Disobedient Objects” that was about objects from recent protests in the past 30 years. I was elated. It didn’t even occur to me that a museum would keep the buttons, the signs, etc from global protests. This is what I love writing about so it was so neat to see such recent objects. For instance, there were these cardboard shields with book titles painted on them that were used in recent protests against budget cuts to libraries and educational programs. There were instructions and an example of gas masks made from liter soda bottles from Turkey in the recent Gezi Park Protests. There were textiles made by women in Columbia detailing their heartbreak from murders and drug smuggling. So many magnificent objects. I was really gratified to see that they had a Guerilla Girls banner.

Guerilla Girls banner

Guerilla Girls banner

That’s all for now! Next, I’ll talk about Hampton Court!

Day 5: France and England

Before I discuss the Middle Temple and my talk on the Savoy hotel, I’m going to talk about the British Museum at little bit more.  My fiancé’s favorite part of the museum is a series of rooms that strives to give viewers a sense of what the museum may have looked like back in the day. The walls are covered in shelves with various objects and books on them. Cases have artifacts from the original collections, mostly from Sir John Sloane’s collection that was a fundamental part of the beginning collection. It’s a wonderful jumble of artifacts from all over the world and from different times. It’s so different from the other galleries that spotlight a series of artifacts, usually from the same culture. Here it is a mixture. I didn’t spend a lot of time there in the past but I really appreciate it now. I like how it talks about the items and their meaning within the culture while also talking about how the items came to the museum through Sloane, Captain Cook, etc.

Next to this gallery was a mélange of items. Many items were collected in the early history of the museum. Other objects seemed to be recent acquisitions. I was really excited to find that some sculptures from Michael Rakowitz were included. I came across his work last year in the MCA’s Way of the Shovel. The pieces were part of his “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” where he recreated antiquities stolen from the Baghdad Museum from product paper. I wrote about it here. It was really neat to see his work recognized by the British Museum. I think it’s a worthy acquisition for this tremendous museum.

So now I’m going to move on to the Middle Temple. I’ve talked about this previously but I’ll summarize. Middle Temple is one of four legal inns that are 100s of years old where lawyers would go to learn, socialize, and, at one point in time, live. The four inns are the Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn, and Lincoln’s Inn. These four inns are the only places, I understand, where one can become a barrister in England. Each inn is a series of buildings in London that have amazing histories and traditions. Middle Temple (and Inner Temple) gets its name in part because the land was formerly owned by the Knights Templar.

We have been going to the Middle Temple Hall for decades as part of a program at our university. Students learn about the similarities and differences between the British and American legal systems. The lectures take place in one of the rooms in the Great Hall Building. This year, we were in the law library. In the stairwell of the library, there are wonderful objects like a glass display case of old artifacts from the 15th and 16th centuries. Or a copy of the US constitution with stars of signees who were Middle Templer members. Or a secret globe of the New World that was a state secret in the 15th/16th centuries.

The Great Hall is also worth mentioning; it is simply magnificent. It’s a wonderful combination of carved wood, stained glass, and double barreled ceiling. It’s where one of the first performances of a Winter’s Tale was performed. The main table on the dais is made from planks from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. And when they did reconstruction of the ceiling, they found 120 pairs of die and a coffin with a body inside of it!

As part of the program, my parents give lectures on various topics in law and history. I’ve been giving lectures on local history for the past four years. I’ve spoken about the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the history of the British Museum, and this year, the Savoy Hotel. I give the students an idea about some of the wonderful institutions (and their objects) nearby the Temple area.

In this year’s lecture, I gave a history of the world famous luxury hotel: the Savoy. I won’t go into extensive detail since it has quite the history. It’s an institution that established many firsts in the world of hotels. The hotel was built out of money raised from Gilbert and Sullivan’ operettas. Richard D’Oyly Carte went into partnership with the two of them to write operettas. Eventually, they opened the Savoy theater due to the success of the shows. After that, D’Oyly Carte had the idea to open a hotel as well. He wanted to define it as a luxurious hotel and brought in many innovations, such as electricity, speaking tubes in rooms, 24 hour service…and individual bathrooms. At the time, the norm was to share bathrooms. Another luxurious hotel built at the same time had 400 rooms with 5 bathrooms. Yuck. He asked the builder to make 70 bathrooms to which the builder asked if he thought the guests were amphibious. So you can thank him for personal toilets in hotels.

The hotel was favored by royalty throughout the world, stars (opera and film), film magnates, politicians, etc. Winston Churchill was a huge fan and spent many hoursl there. He was particularly fond of Kasper, a cat statue named after a late kitchen cat. In the early 1900s, there was a dinner party where only 13 guests came; one person cancelled at the last minute. There is an old superstition that says that the first person to stand up will be killed shortly. Well, the first person at that meal to stand up ended up being shot dead a few weeks later. So the hotel decided never to allow 13 guests at the table. At first they had a staff member sit at the table but that was awkward. So they had this statute of a cat placed at the table with a napkin tied around his neck and he got his own plate for each course. Churchill loved him and insisted he be present for various meetings. Teehee.

One of my favorite stories about the hotel is during WWII. During a board meeting, a bomb hit nearby which caused the curtains to go across the room. Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the son of Richard D’Oyly Carte, coughed said, “”Gentlemen, to continue.” I just love the sprit.

So that’s just a taste of my talk.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the Victorian and Albert Museum.

That’s all for now!



Part 4: France and England

Readers, so it’s been a little over a week. I have been absent because I went on a second trip. This time, we went on safari in Namibia in Southern Africa. It was the bees knees. Now that I’m back, I’ll resume my discussion of my first trip in England and France. Then I’ll move on to my adventures at Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.

After Bordeaux and Toulouse, we made our way to London. To this day, London is still one of my favorite places. I believe that Oscar Wilde had it right when he said, “When you are tired of London, you are tired of life.”  I love walking its streets and feeling the weight of all that history.
On our very first day, we went directly to the British Museum. I know I’ve said this before but the British Museum is still my favorite museum. On this trip, we actually went three times, taking advantage of their free admission. Every time I go, my first stop is the Egyptian galleries on the first floor. The ancient Egyptian sculptures are my favorites; they feel like old friends. I even know when they’ve moved stuff around. I love seeing these serene sculptures of past civilizations. And yes, I know that their history of getting to the museum is quite questionable (I’m looking at you. Sphinx’s beard) but I can appreciate their beauty all the same. I like to check out the Rosetta stone in the middle of the gallery, despite the fact that it is always surrounded.
Ramsses II

Ramsses II

We also ventured into the Parthenon Marbles gallery. It was rather striking to see a hole in one of the pediments. The British Museum lent out part of a sculpture from one of the pediments for an exhibition in Russia. It’s quite controversial move; the museum has said that the statues are too fragile to move in prior statements.  Greece is understandable upset. It seemed really jarring to see the absence in person. I can only imagine what it feels for the Greek people to feel entire absence of all the marbles. Here is the Guardian article about it:
The Hole

The Hole

Later that evening, we returned to the museum to check out the coin galleries. It’s quite an extensive permanent exhibit that covers all aspects of currency, such as its role in history, religion, social commentary and more. I thought it was really neat to see British coins that had been stamped to support women’s right to vote. So cool!
"Vote for Women" Coin

“Vote for Women” Coin

I also checked out my favorite item(s) in the museum: the Lewis chessmen. As a rule, I have a fondness for all things chess. These walrus ivory pieces are simply magnificent. They are so superbly carved: rooks bite their shields, queens express concern. Such exquisite pieces!
On our third visit several days later, we checked out the clock exhibit and the Sutton Hoo hoard. The clock exhibit was fascinating, tracing the history of the invention of the clock. There are many working clocks in the galleries including one that has a little ball rolling from side to side. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t tell the best time but it was really  neat to see this 100s year old clock still in action. The Sutton Hoo hoard is an Anglo-Saxon hoard found in the mid-20th century. If I recall correctly, it was found in the 1930s but excavation was put on hold because of the impending war. It has some impressive pieces including helmets and shields.
That’s all for now! Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the Middle Temple, and my talk on the Savoy.