Monday, July 17, 2017

So Much Lovely, Not Enough Time

Although our brains were already a little culture weary, the last day on the ground we hit the British Museum.  This institution, like the V&A and National Gallery, is free to the public.  All they ask for is a five pound donation.  This particular freebie contains the world's greatest collection of artifacts of Western civilizations.  You can actually follow the rise and fall of three great civilizations-Egypt, Assyria and Greece all in one building. 

Since we weren't sure of our museum moxie that morning, we decided to take the Top Ten Tour firstThis little excursion would take us to all parts of the museum to see things like the Rosetta Stone and nine other must see thingamaroos. 

The Rosetta Stone is a piece of rock, which, just by looking at it allowed us to speak several foreign languages at the same time. 

It sounded a lot like gibberish.

And then there was this famous piece of rock dealy-bob which represents something historical from some place about which I have no idea. 

See?  I told you we were culture weary.  It's a good thing we took the Top Ten Tour cause that's about all the energy we had.  After eight days of pretty much non-stop cultural and historical infiltration we discovered our heads were about to explode.  It took us just over an hour to catch all the Top Ten, and then we were done.  I mean toast done.  Our brains were fried.  The last time I was that fried was at a Grateful Dead show in the early 1970's.  If you know what I mean.

We ventured outside where we caught a snack at a museum outdoor cafĂ©.  And then we were off to Abbey Road, because, Abbey Road.  Personally, I think the uber famous crosswalk should be enshrined, but probably not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.  Because then it would be in Cleveland.  And not nearly as fun to visit.

As it stands today, the crosswalk is part of a real and very lively road, amazingly named Abbey.  And there were hoards of pilgrims there vying with traffic to have their picture taken ala Beatles.  It was almost like a bull fight, or dodge ball.  Only, you know, the dodge balls were human.  And I would imagine folks who live thereabouts and travel the road a bit might be tempted once in a while to treat a meathead like a matador.  Ole!

I opted for a shot getting high in front of Abbey Road Studios.  It was my homage to rock.  I figured I'd puffed enough to the music over the decades, a couple puffs where it all came from seemed apropos.  It was a very fine moment indeed.  Ole!

The previous day we took a train ride out to the hamlet and castle of Windsor.  I've already mentioned my sadistic appetizer, but the rest of the little town was delicious as well.

Windsor is a short, thirty to sixty minute train ride out of London, depending on stops.  The surrounding town was quaint, the castle magnificent.  And the Beefeater guys, the ones with the tall furry hats that everyone always makes fun of?  They sport Uzi's with bayonets.  Like hell I'm gonna make fun of them!

The public is allowed to tour part of the state rooms of the castle, which are still put in use when foreign dignitaries or Justin Beiber are being feted.  It's just amazing; tall ceilings, lush floor boards and a shit house howdy bunch of old weapons, like guns and swords and armor and shields all done up real nice on the walls and such. 

I also noticed a multitude of antique clocks, at least one in every room.  And every single one was on time.  I had noticed this in a number of other historical sights; the antique clocks were all on time.  Being a raving obsessive compulsive type a lunatic fringe kinda guy, I was impressed as hell.

I expressed my impressed as hellism and sincere appreciation with one of the staff.  It was then I found out Windsor Castle employs a full time clock keeper.  And apparently his name is Steve.  Steve takes care of over four hundred and fifty clocks.  Imagine his overtime when he has to switch them forward and back twice a year.  There's actually some articles about Steve and his job, you can find one here.    

I also got a little glimpse into the monarchy of England at each of our royal stops, but trust me, a full education could easily take up a college semester.  There's Yorks.  Tudors.  Stuarts.  Plantagenets.

See what I mean?  How do you even pronounce that?

My lovely wife and I felt also began to feel sorry for British children.  U.S. kids only need to go back a couple hundred years for their country's history, British kids have to go back a couple thousand.  And then there's that whole monarch thing.  Another bonus for US kids.  There's only one over here, and it's a butterfly.

Our first day on the ground we rode the double decker on/off bus.  Yeah, just like tourists.  We have discovered this is one of the absolute best ways of getting your bearings in a sight packed city.  Plus you can get off at any time and most all the stops are at some of the best places.

It was a chilly but fabulous ride.  And since traffic is so snarled within the main city limits we had plenty of time to enjoy the sights from the upper deck.  It was about this time I started feeling the need for a nice wool scarf, but that was still a couple days away.

We had most of the main sights and museums already slated on the excel spread sheet for future visits, but one of the places we had to visit that day was Harrods, the world's most famous luxury department store.  They got designer everything in there, including designer chocolate, caviar, underwear and wool scarves.  The store occupies a five acre site and has three hundred and thirty departments covering one million square feet of retail space.  In the middle of this monolith is an Egyptian themed escalator.   Because, I have no idea.

Seriously.  No idea.

At the very least you knew where you were and potentially the way out.  Until you hit the ground floor.  Then it took superior route finding technique to get the hell out through all the gourmet food rooms.  Just like all the museums, one could spend a couple days in Harrods and still not see everything. 

I did see some wool scarves.  They started at $150.  Went to $600. 

I said, "Um, no."

I waited and got two James Pringle Weavers authentic wool scarfs for $30 in Cambridge.   Harrod's can go ahead and Salvatore Farragamo my Burberry ass.  Nice escalator though.

We had to pick our battles.  Like at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.  Another freebie.  My lovely wife, an art history major in college, has a keen affinity for the Impressionist era.  You know; Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir and that little guy that reminds me of Charlie Chaplin. 

The National Gallery has hundred of paintings; Ruben, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci.  To name a scant few.  I mean, it would take a couple days to see them all.  So we sort of tried to view their Top Thirty and then spent an hour or two in the Impressionist era.  It was all we could do, and that was early in the game.

Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral were also three star absolute must see sights per our travel guru.  And they were.  The design and architecture were absolutely astounding.  Incredibly amazing.   They are both a visual feast inside and out.

About nineteen monarchs are interred at Westminster as well as a few other famous people, like Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and Rudyard Kipling.  To name a few. 

Just think, if nineteen monarchs were interred here in the states they could fit in a shoe box.  Not so at Westminster.  These were kings and queens with fabulous wealth.  Their coffins were substantially larger and much more ornate than a shoebox.

Sir Christopher Wren is interred at St Paul's.  He is the famous 17th and 18th century architect responsible for St Paul's as well as a number of other notable sights in and around London.

We strolled the Westminster Bridge, where several weeks prior some coward mowed down some innocent tourists with his car.  That didn't stop us or the multitude of other tourists enjoying the bridge that day.  It was a lovely stroll, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  And the view of Parliament and Big Ben was infinitely better than any picture.

Another small and rather unknown art gallery was the Courtauld, which we visited the same day as the National.  What is so special about the Courtauld is that it is rather small and features world famous masterpieces.  You can get through the entire museum in about an hour. 

Plus on our wander down to the Courtauld from Trafalgar Square we passed through part of the theater district.  There were at least a dozen Broadway plays available, for a lot less than Broadway.

I took my lovely wife to 42nd Street, the musical, featuring Sheena Easton for Mother's Day.  The show was wonderful, full of top tunes and plenty of razzle dazzle.  Like Kew Gardens, the show adhered to the philosophy that if some is good more is better.  Why just have two tap dancers?  Let's have sixty instead.

The Theater Royale on Drury Lane where the show was playing was also full of history and razzle dazzle.  For three and a half centuries it has provided entertainment for the masses and has been visited by every monarch since the Restoration. The theatre has two Royal boxes and it was here that the public first heard both the National Anthem and Rule Britannia. 

We also were treated to a little impromptu opera one afternoon.  No, we didn't get all dressed up and buy a pair of those really small binoculars.  We were actually strolling through Covent Garden, a fabulous market area when we suddenly heard a fabulous aria.  Drawn towards this wondrous sound we soon found a black diva singing divinely.

Yeah, most cities you stroll in might have a singing guitarist.  Or maybe a horn.  We have those here once in a while, plus we have five gallon plastic industrial drum beaters.  On meth.

Trust me, the impromptu opera in London was way better. 

We missed a lot of places.  The British Library, The Tate Modern, the Dickens Museum, among others.  And we easily could have spent a day or more in each of the museums and galleries we visited.  Except the Courtauld.  That was perfect.

We also could have strolled the streets a little more.  That is my absolute favorite pastime in Europe, simply strolling the streets.  Soak up the atmosphere.

It was a whirlwind and we still didn't see it all.  We almost needed a vacation from our vacation to rest our weary feet.  Next time I think we're going to do wherever we go a little differently.  Maybe seven to eight days in the trenches, then two to three days unwinding somewhere out of town, like in the countryside or at the coast.

Put our feet up and soak up another aspect of some wonderful foreign atmosphere.  Maybe find a couple of bathtubs overlooking a vineyard somewhere, say, maybe in the south of France.