It’s impossible to visit London without seeing a museum or two or five, and one of the great things about London is that many of its museums are free. Even better, Ron and Betty possess memberships for many of the attractions that charged an entry fee, so when we weren’t going to free museums, we got into places incognito, masquerading as Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence. Our first stop was the Victoria and Albert museum, where we saw a fascinating exhibit about political cartoons from Punch Magazine and unfortunately not much else because we got there right before closing. Next, we went to the British Museum (all plunder treasures of the British Empire collected under one roof) home of the Rosetta Stone and the much disputed Parthenon Marbles. We spent three and a half hours there and still only saw half the museum (a pattern emerges), but I’m glad we took our time and explored the parts we did see quite thoroughly, rather than trying to race through the entire place. Finally, we saw the Tate Modern with Elizabeth and as with most modern art museums I’ve been to, I found it equal parts edifying and mystifying (edifying: John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages which forced him to flee Germany into exile in the 30’s [by jumping out a window to escape the SS, this guy is a serious badass]; mystifying: the film being projected in the Turbine Hall; mind blowing: eight million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds).
On the historical end, we had the chance to visit the Tower of London where we took a guided tour, something of which I’m often leery; however, this time my concerns were unwarranted as our guide was lively, well-informed, and smartly dressed to boot. At the Tower, we had the opportunity to see the Crown Jewels, a somewhat strange experience since you have to stand on a conveyor belt which slowly brings you past them. Also strange was seeing some crowns without jewels in them because they were taken for other crowns or had been rented for a coronation and then returned later. I guess even royal families have budgets. Having seen the Scottish Crown Jewels in Edinburgh, I can now proudly declare that I’ve seen the royal regalia of the entirety of the Untied Kingdom. Sorry Wales and Northern Ireland, but you appear to have been left out of the crown, robe, and solid gold table settings party.
We also had a chance to visit Hampton Court Palace, home first to Cardinal Wolsey and then later snatched up by Henry VIII (because if there’s one thing he liked, besides remarriage and cutting off his wives’ heads, it was taking property from the Catholic Church) when Wolsey fell out of favor with him. I found this visit particularly interesting, as the house had figured heavily in a book I’d read in September (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel), so it was cool to see all the rooms and gardens in real life.
Continuing the theme of books, those of you who know me know that I’m a huge book nerd. I don’t just like reading books, though I do a lot of that, but I also think books are fascinating as physical objects, because their physicality can tell you so much about who made them and why and who was intended to read them. London is a bibliophile’s paradise, and with Natalie’s kind indulgence, we visited many of the old bookstores in Leicester Square and perused their selections of old and rare books. We also had the chance to visit the British Library with Matt and Caitlin, which I highly recommend, even if you don’t think of yourself as a book person. Not only did we get to see the Magna Carta, a First Folio, and manuscripts and hand-corrected proofs from many of the great writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but we also saw a collection of song lyrics written by the Beatles that had been scribbled on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper.
Finally, no visit to London would be complete without a night at the theatre, so Natalie and I indulged our love of musicals and got tickets to Les Miserables. Even though we were in the very last row of the balcony, we managed to get cheap tickets with an unobstructed view. Natalie had seen the show once in high school, and I was familiar with the soundtrack, but I’d never seen a production before, so it was quite a treat. I think my only regret is that due to space constraints, we weren’t able to pack any snazzy clothes which is unfortunate, because dressing up is always part of the fun of going out. We also tried to get tickets for Hamlet at Young Vic’s which involved getting up early and lining up outside of the theater on two separate occasions in order to try to secure two of thirty or so tickets that are held for the day of the show. Alas, we were unsuccessful and on the second occasion they ran out right before we made it to the front of the queue; however, the silver lining is that it forced us to get up and get going, rather than laying around and sleeping all morning as we are sometimes wont to do.
Here ends Chapter II of Natalie and David’s adventures in London. In Chapter III, your protagonists will engage in a culinary world tour without ever leaving the Greater London area.