After my time in Dublin wishing for a big city, I sure felt right at home when I arrived in London. While I was a little sad to leave Belfast, I was also excited to be in a city that was just like New York! And it had a good subway or ‘tube’ system too.
The first thing I did was get settled into my hostel, which I was originally happy to stay at. However, it turned out to be party central so I had difficulty sleeping every night. To make matters worse, there were several people in my room that were sick and I was worried that I would catch it.
I spent my first full day in heaven…er, the British Library and British Museum (hey, I already fessed up that I’m a bit of a nerd.) I found it ironic that there’s actually very little that’s British in the Museum. I did take some amazing photos of Greek and Egyptian art. In addition, there was an amazing exhibit on art that was made from old weapons. One of the pieces, the Tree of Life, was made from parts of weapons that were turned over from various groups in Africa. I also paid the extra money to go to a special Michelangelo exhibit. It was a collection of all his drawings and sketches. Each one had an explanation for what he later used them for. It was so interesting that I bought a book on the exhibit that showed all of my favorite drawings.
I also had my first real ‘language barrier’ moment while standing in line to get into the museum and I was totally embarrassed to have this moment in an English speaking country. I was standing in line trying to read the sign for how much it would cost and decide if I wanted to do the extra Michelangelo exhibit, when the person behind me asked if I was in the ‘queue.’ I hadn’t known many British people before this and I had actually never heard that word before, so I had no idea what he was asking me! I figured that I had a 50/50 chance at getting the answer right so I guessed and answered ‘Yes…?” and then turned around quickly so he wouldn’t ask me anymore questions. I later found a book (ironically in the museum gift shop) that compared American to British English and I quickly looked up queue (no, I still hadn’t figured it out) and was pleased to see that I’d answered the man correctly. I also took a minute to peruse the rest of the book while there just to make sure I didn’t have any more awkward language moments while in England.
The British Library had the most amazing exhibit I’ve ever seen. The exhibit was on the past 100 years of journalism. It showed the front page of newspapers for all the major historical events. It almost brought me to tears. It was like reliving the most exciting and the most horrible moments for the past 100 years all in one room, all at once. It was fascinating to read the reports. Articles, such as after the Titanic sunk with headlines ‘no lives lost’ because it took so long for them to get information back then. There were also pages on Princess Diana and the U.S. regarding September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. Interesting tidbit: 84% of international news in the two weeks following Katrina was negative towards the U.S and how our government handled the tragedy.
Upstairs they had a gallery of tons of books, mostly from the 1500’s, but some from way before. I saw the original ‘Alice in Wonderland’ with the original illustrations. They also had some books scanned so you could flip through the pages electronically. I also saw a Da Vinci notebook, original song lyrics and scores, and early versions of the Bible (versions of text before the Bible was in final form). I had the most amazing time!
I started day two with St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was really more of a ‘walk by.’ I didn’t enter because I didn’t see the point in spending $16 to walk around a pretty church. (There’s lots of amazing churches in Europe and many of them are free.)
Then I was off for my real stop of the day: The Tower of London, where I knew I would spend some serious time. This has a very dark history as it was used as both a palace and a prison. It was originally built back in 1066 by William the Conqueror to actually protect himself from his hostile subjects. For 900 years the tower was added to and redesigned as different people came into power. The prisoners housed there had been charged with treason and torture was common, especially during the Tudor period. Starting in the early 1200’s they started housing various animals in the tower. For 600 years they kept elephants, tigers, kangaroos, lions, and even a polar bear, in the Royal Menagerie.
The Tower also houses the Crown Jewels, which are its most famous sight. They have moving walkways to make sure the line keeps flowing, but it can also make it difficult to take photos. If you want to see pictures of the Crown Jewels, check out this site: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/crownjewels
I spent my third day seeing the very touristy sites including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. They were quite impressive, but I think I was the least interested in them because I was already pretty familiar with them. There’s always so much news about the Royal family today and several pictures being taken at different events that I was simply seeing something in person that I’d already seen in the news several times before.
While I enjoyed London and getting back to city life, I was also reminded just how expensive city life can be. As I was on a bit of a budget, I couldn’t afford some things. And the stuff I paid for, like the Michelangelo exhibit, I felt a little bad about afterwards. It reminded me of those moments in New York where you re-evaluate how important good food is. PB&J…sure, why not?