Monday, May 14, 2012

London, part two

Oh dear, it's been almost three weeks since I made my first post about our London trip - and it's already been four weeks since we were there.  How time flies!  Anyway, here's part two of our trip to London last month!

On Wednesday, I spent nearly the entire day at the Tower of London, which is very impressive both physically and historically.  The building above is where the Crown Jewels are stored and displayed, which was well worth the time I spent there - it was my first destination that morning, in order to minimize the crowds that would be there later in the day.  The exhibit is beautifully done, with several holding rooms that show videos about the coronation process throughout the ages, including a loop of the video footage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1952.  The first room shows the jeweled sword, golden cloak, and coronation gown worn by the Queen, all in glass cases that allow you to walk around and look your fill.  The next room is where the actual Crown Jewels are located, including the scepters, crowns, and rings, and they are in glass cases with slow-moving walkways on both sides.  You can walk back around to take the walkways again if you like, and I went down each side twice - not only are the jewels themselves impressive (including the Cullinan and Koh I Noor diamonds), but the artistry and craft that went into making the items is just phenomenal.  I was particularly impressed with some of the beautiful enamel work that went into the shafts of the scepters - lovely blues and whites, simply gorgeous.  The remainder of the space shows the very impressive gold plate and banquet collection, including a punchbowl that's big enough to hold something like 115 bottles of wine (and is big enough to wash a border collie in!), as well as the collection of the custom built cases that are used to transport the Jewels when they are required for official occasions.  Unfortunately the room was besieged by a large group of ill-behaved and poorly monitored children at that point, which marred my enjoyment of the rest of those items, but it is what it is.  Another display which I found later in the day shows the gem-less frames of several additional historical crowns, which was also quite intriguing and worth finding for a look.

The White Tower is the main building in the center of the Tower of London complex, and is the one that most people associate with the Tower itself.  Its previous uses are many, and now it is a large museum space that displays all kinds of things from suits of armor to keys to torture devices to cannon to guns, and even beyond.  My very favorite display was the incredible dragon sculpture (named Keeper) that was built out of all kinds of things that represent what the Tower has stood for in the history of England.  He was very impressive, especially with all the detail and creativity that went into his creation!

Parts of the Tower have been used as royal apartments throughout history, and parts of them have been restored to what is believed to be accurate representations of what they looked like hundreds of years ago.  The room above was a small personal chapel for the king (Edward III, I believe), and showed the most beautiful handmade and hand-glazed tiles that were made in the same manner as they would have originally been created hundreds of years ago.  The overall effect is very beautiful, and it is always amazing to see the beauty and craftsmanship that was present in the past and is sometimes sadly lacking in the present.

On Thursday I went to visit the British Museum, which is full of amazing artifacts and collections from all around the world.  There is so much to see there that I think I could go visit for several days and see different things on each day!  The Enlightenment Room was a particular favorite of mine, especially the parts that were full of scientific instruments such as the model of the universe shown in the photo above - how amazing it must have been to be part of the age of discovery and learning as the scientific method and the sciences themselves were born!

The Egyptian collections in the building were also amazing, including not only the Rosetta Stone but plenty of funerary items as well as things recovered from archaeological digs from around the world.  The shabti in the photo above are just a few examples of those found in various tombs and crypts, and they were included with a burial so that the deceased would have servants to do whatever work was requested of them in the afterlife.  They were amazing, both in the variety and in the detail that were put into them, in addition to the meaning behind their use.

On Wednesday evening we went out for dinner and wound up wandering around the Piccadilly Circus area for a bit, including going into a toy store that had a large Lego department, where we found the above - a copy of the Imperial crown made out of Lego!

Friday was our last full day in the city, and the only day Chris had away from his work, so we went out in the morning to ride the Eye of London and were rewarded with some amazing weather that allowed photos such as the one above of Big Ben and Parliament.  We also headed out to see Harrod's, but the weather was heavy rain at that point and after a long walk we were both overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff there - there was an opera singer in the stairwell! - that we didn't enjoy it as much as we had hoped.  I would definitely like to visit it again someday, when I'm in a better mood to appreciate it.  Friday night we went out to a lovely little French place near where we were staying for an early celebration of our tenth anniversary, where I had the best steak frites that I've ever had along with a wonderful chocolatey dessert.  Saturday morning saw us take a walk to a quilt shop near our hotel before we headed to Heathrow to fly home to Seattle.

I loved my week in London, and I hope that I will get to visit again someday!

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