Friday, January 16, 2015

London in 72 Hours: Day 2

Rise and shine, London lovers! It's Day 2 of the "London in Three Days" Challenge. And don't forget to catch up on Day 1 first!

Day 2:

Now that we've seen the sights, we are starting out our second day on a treasure hunt. Treasure in London? But of course! This city boasts some of the most comprehensive museums and historical collections in the world. Since I live in Paris, I was kind of burnt out on art. But I made sure to hit these first two stops because, well, you'll see...

10:00am     British Library

This was my favorite thing I did in all of London. It's the largest library in the world, and it's free! Up in the north of London sits the British Library which, if you didn't know any better, looks just like any other sort of municipal building. You can't even read the books without subscribing to the library, and it contains only reference material. Sound like a drag? The real gem in this attraction is the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. In this side room you might miss if you weren't looking for it, you will find original manuscripts by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen (and her writing desk), Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, and Lewis Carroll. Here they have Shakespeare's first complete folio. You can peer at pages from the diaries of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, and Captain Cook. You can see one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, along with several archaic Bibles and other holy books from religions across the world. There are compositions drafted by the hands of Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, etc. Even scribbles from the Beatle's songwriting inspirations on greeting cards and scraps of paper. Oh, the Magna Carta lives here too.

Standing there surrounded by the unscrubbed inner thoughts of some of the greatest minds in history, I suddenly felt very small. After years of learning about these different characters in elementary school, secondary school, university... here was their work, in its formative days, still raw before mass scrutiny. But of course, we are only getting started...

12:00pm     British Museum

Take a stroll through a lovely neighborhood of London called Bloomsbury, composed of those iconic rod-iron fences and patches of gardens here and there.  This will lead you right up to the British Museum, one of the largest collections in the world (8 million artifacts). Now this place is huge, and I had more to do in London, so I spent my time in three main departments: Ancient Egypt Department(Rosetta Stone, Ramses II statue, Cleopatra's mummy, etc), Greece (controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon), and Syria (alabaster and stone bas-reliefs).

2:00pm     Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Picadilly Circus

Covent GardenThis sort of outdoor market meets shopping mall is situated just a few blocks from the British Library, and since everyone said I had to go check it out, thither I went. Now, maybe it's just that I've been spoiled fro the past 4 months with those darling French markets, but I found Covent Gardens to be commercialized and overrun with holiday shoppers. The only redeeming factors for me were the colossal "baubles" hung with care over the vendor booths. I can see where one might sit down for a bite to eat at the Shake Shack with its line sprawling into the street for eons. But since I'd rather spend my time seeing a city than at a sit-down meal, I just opted for a grab-n-go salad at the nearby Tesco's Metro and kept moving.

From that Tesco's you can weave through some of the London grid to the west toward Leicester Square, and then further on to Picadilly Circus, which are the most touristy of touristy traps. Super gimmicky and commercialized, to be sure, but here you can catch one of many of those daring red double-deckers to your next destination and eat on the ride. For me, this was #23 to back to the riverside and some Christmas carols.

04:00pm     Saint Paul's Cathedral

One of the only buildings to be spared during the Blitz in World War II, this cathedral sits at the highest geographical point in London. Most evenings, it holds free Evensongs services, which would have been good enough. But with only two days until Christmas, this night there would be carol service open to the public. I thought I arrived with plenty of time, only to find a line wrapping its way around the entire length of the cathedral (almost two football fields). When the church stewards came out to announce they couldn't allow any more people into the service after a certain point, I breathed one giant sigh of relief when they pointed to four people behind me. Close call.

I spent the service in the standing room only area in the back next to a tall, swarthy Jude Law type who movie directors give their good eye to have say "Merry Christmas" in their next holiday film. Agreeable company aside, the cathedral was awesome, with pillars shooting high into the ceilings that seemed so far from earth that they held the heavens. The all-male choir, though too far to be seen clearly, sounded magnificent, even in the very back, and at the end of the service, they marched down the center aisle to sing the finale "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" right in front of us. The church bells tolled a merry send-off as we filtered out the massive doors and down the steps to a London now settled well into nightfall. (Psst. Doesn't that photo look fake? It was one of the most majestic moments I captured, and I didn't do much in terms of editing, either.)

07:00pm     Evening River Walk

This may be the night you go on your river cruise or your Broadway show or your fancy dinner out, but as for me, I love just walk in a new city at different times of the day. You get to see and experience the different rhythms and what makes its heart beat. So I chose to take a stroll down the Thames, which now looked like a great 90s party dress, all black and velvety and sparkling. You know where I was headed.

No better way to wind a day of culture than some soul searching along the riverside in the green and golden glow of Big Ben.

Only one day left in The Big Smoke! One day left til CHRISTMAS!

No comments:

Post a Comment