One can hardly spend much time in London before one starts noticing the preponderance of blue plaques. The blue plaque scheme is run by English Heritage. The plaques represent people from the past who are well known or deserve recognition, and “link the people of the past with the places of the present.” The scheme has been going on since the 1860s.
Apparently, there are now over 900 plaques all over London (someone has actually taken the time to create a map of where all of them are located). Not all of them are blue, and not all of them represent British people; there is a “blue” (actually, lead) plaque outside Benjamin Franklin’s last remaining home, in Craven Street near Trafalgar Square. The plaques are a strong reminder of the ways in which the past and present often overlap.
Yesterday after work, I went to the British Library to stroll about in their collection of rare books–and got to see one of Jane Austen’s notes, as well as what are believed to be her spectacles. I then walked along Regent’s Canal, behind King’s Cross Station, because I’d heard about this bookshop on a barge called Word on the Water.
I browsed for a while and then walked further along Regent’s Canal, stopping to sit for a while on some steps.
Most of the walkway is roped off due to construction work, but there’s a floating walkway up right now. Kind of nerve-wracking when pedestrians and bicyclists were on it at the same time, and a barge passed at the same time!
Behind King’s Cross Station is also an old warehouse called the Granary, which has been revitalized recently as shops, restaurants, and office space. I found an Indian restaurant that was redolent of old cafes in Bombay. Had some very good lamb samosas and chicken tikka masala wrapped in naan bread.
Today was quiet; more work, followed by dinner at a new fish and chips shop I wanted to try that was very good. It’s run by a couple of nice young Italian guys in Notting Hill. Today at the gym, the news programs are concerned with the upcoming election in Britain.
I am currently re-reading an old childhood favorite: a collection of the first three books of the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. I bought it a few days ago at Foyles bookshop. Just as good as I remembered it!
…Selling Betty Crocker cake mixes, Pop Tarts, Oreos, Fruit Loops, and everything in the fluorescent orange food group.
Today I went to the Guildhall and Guildhall Art Gallery. The Guildhall is a medieval great hall that has been used as a town hall since the 15th century for various functions.
The Art Gallery has a large collection of Victorian paintings, as well as the remnants of an ancient Roman amphitheater in the basement. In ancient Roman times, the amphitheater was the largest of its kind in Britain (with seating for about 7000 spectators), although it was modestly sized compared with other Roman theaters. And similar to other amphitheaters throughout the Roman Empire, it was used for gladiator fights and the execution of criminals. Originally built in wood in 70 AD, it was later rebuilt with stone and tile. The part that remains now is the eastern gate, but archeologists have easily been able to imagine what the amphitheater looked like 2000 years ago. The museum has attempted to re-create what it must have been like to be there in person; images of gladiators are projected on the walls, and there’s a soundtrack of the noises of spectators. Down the center of the room is a glass case over the excavated remains of the plumbing system that was used. It’s an amazing experience, and what’s more, I was the only person there!
I then walked up to the Museum of London, which is packed full of hundreds of thousands of artifacts from thousands of years of London’s history, from prehistoric times to the present. You could easily spend hours and hours there, exploring everything–it’s remarkable how many objects they have on display, from Roman coins to medieval shoes. What’s especially impressive is that they’ve managed to recreate some aspects of every day life, including entire rooms of a Roman villa; below is an example of a Roman triclinium (dining room). The furniture is reproduced, but the tiles on the floor are genuine, as are some of the artifacts on the tables.
Furthermore, the museum has even managed to recreate an entire Victorian village!
The museum snuggles up against the old Roman walls, the remains of which still exist in various places:
I have been battling a small cold for the past few days! Undeterred, yesterday, I had lunch of a sandwich and lemonade in the Cafe in the Crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. You can still see vestiges of the old 18th century crypt in the form of headstones if you look down at the floor. Most of the print has rubbed away over time, but every now and then, you can read a bit (the headstone below belongs to a man who belonged to Scotland Yard, died 1844).
One of the things I think I will never get used to is that at self-service restaurants and cafes in Britain (and other places), you don’t actually have to clear your own table. Lunch was followed by a short trip to the National Gallery, outside of which I spotted this guy…
… and of course I got to see some of my favorite works, such as the Wilton Diptych and Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini portrait.
Until next time.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to see a show in the West End called “The Wipers Times.” Set in Ypres WWI, it’s based on the story of a group of British soldiers who started a humorous magazine called The Wipers Times (Wipers, because the soldiers struggled to pronounce Ypres). It was an incredibly good show, featuring both the serious aspects of the war (the Battle of the Somme) and the lighter side if it as well, showing that humor can be found even in the middle of tragedy.
After the show, I went to my favorite chippy–Rock & Sole Plaice, which, despite its punny name, sells some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted, in a no-frills atmosphere.
After work, I went to the V&A to potter around a bit, first stopping in the fashion section of the museum. I spent quite a bit of time in their extensive collection of medieval art and sculpture I especially love medieval Books of Hours (pictured below).
Right across the hall is the Japanese gallery, where they have everything from a traditional kimono…
… to modern kawaii fashion.
Somewhere along the way I found myself in a library that had a temporary exhibition up on modern technology, in which I discovered that my iPhone5 (circa 2013) is now a museum item…
Until next time…