Archive | January, 2011

Bloomsbury: an African adventure and good company

31 Jan

On Saturday I travelled to Russell Square to meet up with Jack (unionjackinlondon.wordpress.com) for a lovely afternoon of strolling, museum exhibitioning, pub fooding, and conversing. Russell Square is in the Bloomsbury area of London. It’s different from Kensington in that it is older and more urban feeling but still classic.

One of the first things that caught my eye was a hotel, the Hotel Russell, because of the beautiful architecture.

The details in the archways and the columns, the red brick, the Gothic peaks... A truly majestic building.

Jack and I walked through the Russell Square garden and even though it was cold, we were able to admire the grounds and the locals.

A fountain in Russell Square; I made a joke to Jack about running through it, but we both just cringed and said, "Too cold!"

From the garden we walked towards the British Museum. Along the way we stopped to admire a few things…

Another street name for me to fall in love with, this time because it is a Shakespearean reference (from Romeo and Juliet). Jack joked about finding Capulet Street and asking if they don't like each other. We had a nice intellectual guffaw and embraced our nerdiness.

The Scotch Shop

It's All Greek... more on this store later.

We found a photo opportunity. I am a small child. And that's okay.

Because I made Jack do it too!

We ventured inside It’s All Greek, which was essentially a museum artifact store, and we found this fabulous awkward statue…

This statue replica was called the Frisky Satyr. A satyr is half man, half goat. They were thought to be lustful creatures who chased after wood nymphs and played reed pipes. The god of shepherds and the wild, Pan, was a satyr.

After laughing at it for several minutes, we admired the rest of the shop and chatted about Greek myth before heading across the street to the museum.

This is just the front of the museum. It is seriously the biggest museum I have ever been to. And I have been to a lot of museums.

Because Jack had already been to the museum (twice) and still hadn’t seen all the exhibits, we decided to limit our trip to the Enlightenment wing and the Africa exhibits. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love museums for many reasons. Specifically, you know that I am a bit immature at times and I enjoy awkward statues and sculptures and I like to pick out new boyfriends among the busts of men. The best exhibits to look at for these games are usually the sculpture halls or any that showcase Greek myth or famous poets, scholars, doctors, lords, etc. The Africa wing didn’t offer too much in terms of satisfying my immaturity but the Enlightenment wing provided enough to make me happy.

Here is a small sample of artwork from the Africa wing:

If you look closely, you will notice the image of a man hidden among the symbols.

A fabulous beaded hat

A variety of cloths

I love beadwork as much as the next girl, but my patience would not carry through something this intricate.

Wooden panels, each depicting a person or family.

A stylish dress, perfect for a breezy summer day.

A giant, woven creature word during parades. I thought it looked like a Dr. Seuss creature.

Another hat, this one worn for parades and shaped like a flying fish. (Speaking of Dr. Seuss: One fish, two fish...)

Another parade costume, this one is a hippo. According to the info card, the hippo-costumed paraders can attack spectators. Hippos are the most dangerous creatures in Africa.

The Throne of Weapons. This was made in a sort of commemoration to the one million plus people who died during war in the Congo.

A tapestry that is almost like The Last Supper but with animals, which is always good fun.

The Tree of Life, made entirely of forged metal. This was my favorite piece in the Africa galleries.

This bird reminded me of Kevin from "Up"

Need a vase?

Throwing knives

And here is a small sample of artwork from the Enlightenment wing:

The entire Enlightenment wing was set up as a giant library; bookcases filled with artifacts, almost like a private collection. If I were a billionaire, I would construct my house to look like this wing. And then I would have fabulous awkward statues constructed for my personal enjoyment.

The winged feet of Hermes, the messenger god.

Love the feathers, girl!

A dazzling model of the solar system

Minerva in full battlements; I wouldn't mess with this chick.

What are you lookin' at?

Greek Coins

I can't wait to see the Egyptian artifacts. Right now the Book of the Dead is on display in a special exhibit.

We did go into one room of Greek sculpture. I couldn’t help it.

Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy. Looking coyly over her shoulder... She knew how to work it.

Dionyssus, God of Wine (among other things). Thanks for the Pinot Grigio (among other things)!

This guard looks so bored, even though he has just impaled a snake. I guess it's just a day in the life...

This woman appears to be saying, "May I take your coat?"

We left the museum at closing and went back to Jack’s apartment where we watched a bit of a Manchester United game (yes, I watched sport! They call it sport and not sports here. And it’s not math, it’s maths. Yeah. Two of my favorite things.) before heading out to a pub called Night and Day for dinner.

Jack and I have been friends for so long that we have our own language of sorts. We will be talking, say one word and immediately start spewing out movie quotes or tv references or private jokes. To a third party, we sound like we have terrets or some sort of social hiccup, but to us, it’s normal conversation. We chatted about a variety of topics while I enjoyed fish and chips and a half pint of Strongbow, Jack had a traditional English Pasty (meat, potatoes and gravy in a flaky pie crust) and a pint of Carlsburg.

Mrs. Doubtfire quotes ensued.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match! Find me a find, catch me a catch!

Oh sir! I saw him, it was a disgruntled member of the kitchen staff! Did you not tip them? It was a run-by fruiting!

Clue references were made.

Mrs. White, looking pale and tragic.

What is it you do, Wadsworth? --I butle, sir.

And I went home warm with the comfort of good food and great company.

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An Irish bar…in Chinatown

30 Jan

After spending the day freezing at the Tower, a night out was in order. Sam and I went out with a gaggle of girls to a bar called O’Neill’s near Picadilly Circus. As we walked there I noticed all the restaurants were Chinese or Vietnamese and soon I saw paper lanterns lining the streets. We journeyed to Chinatown. In London. To go to an Irish bar. It was a little too funny to me.

A few things about O’Neill’s:

  • If you are a young, pretty girl, you will be gawked at by men of all ages. This will make you feel uncomfortable, but having a good support system of other ladies to shield you from creepers comes in handy. Besides, you can laugh about the 35-year-old guy from New Zealand, wearing a t-shirt with a bejeweled skull (I kid you not) on it coming on to you. (Sam managed to convince this man that she was engaged. Her “ring” was on the wrong hand. Guess they don’t know it’s the left hand in NZ)
  • They play some pretty terrible music (Ice Ice Baby, Lady Marmalade, 90s dance) and they replay songs within the hour. In the course of two hours we heard “Dynamite” three times. Not okay.
  • Drunken biddies will drops their drinks. This makes a mess.
  • Drunken bros will shake their beer bottles, thus creating a rain shower of Heineken. I read in some girly magazine that rinsing your hair with beer makes it shiny. I don’t want to test this theory. Plus, beer has quite a distinct smell that I wouldn’t want on my hair.
  • Sometimes you meet nerdy boys from Poland who speak next to no English. And their dance moves will not fail to impress and provide you with entertainment for the evening.
  • Sometimes you meet boys from Australia who are charming and equally amused by the general disorder of the place.
  • And sometimes you realize that despite the bad music, creepy old men, shower of beer, and puddles of drinks, just getting out and dancing and laughing is a great way to end the day.

After leaving O’Neill’s we took a night bus back to campus. And by that I mean we waited an hour in the freezing cold until a bus came, thus making our commute home a total of an hour and forty minutes. Was it worth it? Well, I got a blog post out of it and have some stories to tell.

The Tower of London: executioners have more fun

30 Jan

Friday was freezing. I preface this post with an alliterative comment about the weather because it truly was a bitter, Jack Frost’s revenge kind of cold day. I wouldn’t recommend going to a 75% outdoors museum during such temperatures.

It so happens that Friday we went to the Tower of London. By we, I mean Sam and Gabriella from my program, my very good friend Jack (http://unionjackinlondon.wordpress.com/) and his friend Caroline who are here with their home institution, and myself. Obviously.

We took the Tube out to Tower Hill and ventured forth to one of the most haunted places in Britain, the Tower of London. The Tower is located right on the River Thames (pronounced Tems, the Brits are tricky) which provides views of…

City Hall, also known as the Erotic Onion

Tower Bridge, peeking behind the trees

To get a better idea of what the Tower is like, here is an aerial shot (thank you, Google) and a few from me:

The large structure in the center is the White Tower, which was started in the 1070s and completed by 1100. The exact date of completion isn't known. The set-up of the Tower now is as it was in 1547.

 

The exterior wall of the Tower

and more of the exterior...

The Tower isn’t just one tower as the name implies. It is a fortress consisting of a castle (the White Tower) and several smaller towers and buildings (The Bloody Tower, Wakefield Tower, etc.) and a moat and outer wall.

The best part about going to the Tower is getting to tour the grounds with a Beefeater. What is a Beefeater, you ask? Well, a Beefeater is a guard at the tower. Why are they called Beefeaters? No one knows. Simple as that. Another name for them is a Yeoman. In order to work at the Tower of London a Beefeater must serve in one of her majesty’s armed forces for at least 22 years. Our Beefeater guide, George, served in the Royal Air Force for 28 years!

George stood about five foot seven, and that was with the hat. He spoke with a thick accent but his diction and projection made him an excellent tour guide.

One thing that George did throughout our tour was add emphasis to the word “executioner” by sounding out each syllable. He followed this by facing the group and raising his hands so that the crowd exclaimed, “Oooooooh!” This carried on throughout the tour and even though our group was frozen solid, we managed to maintain high spirits thanks to George’s enthusiasm.

A few highlights from the tour…

A catapult; I always think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail when I see these...

St. Thomas's Tower. What a great name, Thomas...

I loved the blue doors on some of the Yeoman's quarters. On the right is the chapel where Anne Boleyn and a few other wives were buried.

The Waterloo Barracks, home to the crown jewels. Unfortunately, you can't photograph them. Notice how bundled up everyone is, it was frigid!

The White Tower. The largest structure in the Tower of London, it houses the main museum pieces but it was once a royal palace.

One of eight ravens kept at the Tower due to superstition. I did think of Poe yet again when I saw the birds, which live like kings by the way.

Henry VIII’s riding armor

A close up of the last image. The detail on a lot of the armor is unbelievably intricate.

Henry VIII's armor... This was when the gluttony kicked in, and the pride apparently.

More armor, not Henry's though. Again, notice that detail? As the saying goes, they just don't make things like they used to.

Banners of kings

The Chapel inside the White Tower; gorgeous natural light and columns.

Because it was so cold out we didn’t go into all of the buildings; there will be a future post about the rest of the Tower once it is warm enough to enjoy it in its entirety.

After we finished the exhibits in the White Tower (armor, canons, weaponry) we headed to a pub for a late lunch. A cheese and tomato panini called my name. I also had a pint of cider, Strongbow to be more specific. It’s the most popular cider in the UK and I certainly enjoyed it.

Looks like beer, tastes sweeter and cleaner.

Sticky Fingers: the restaurant

27 Jan

A quick post but a post nonetheless. Today, Sam and I went to a restaurant called Sticky Fingers. It’s a sort of Hard Rock Cafe for the Rolling Stones. Overpriced but yummy, and with plenty of weird memorabilia to keep your interest.

Anywhere the door opens with a guitar is cool by me

Awkward statues and “my new boyfriend”

25 Jan

My favorite thing about art museums are the statues. I always seem to unleash my inner 12-year-old boy and giggle uncontrollably in front of any and all homoerotic, strangely posed statues. Here are my top five from the Victoria and Albert Museum:

5) Here we have Poseidon... and someone crawling through his legs.

4) Just having a little stretch...

3) Two and a Half Naked Men: Part One

2) Dancers? Contortionists? Wrestlers? Or just awkward?

1) Theseus and the Minotaur... This is supposed to show that he triumphed over the beast.

And the view from the front isn't any less awkward.

Aside from the awkward statues, another thing I love about art museums are the busts of “important” men. I like to find the most intriguing ones and proclaim, “that’s my new boyfriend.” Here are a few of my new paramours:

5) This fellow is a musician, always a plus.

4) Facial hair to make any lady swoon

3) Luscious locks and a stern expression

2) Ebinezer Scrooge? Or the most eligible bachelor?

1) Everything a gal could ever want in a man. Did I mention he was a doctor?

Victoria and Albert: thanks for the museum, among other things

24 Jan

After our fairy tale adventure at Kensington Palace we walked a few blocks to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’ve always loved museums; it was embedded in my DNA at birth, part of the package when you’re as nerdy as I am. And being in Britain is great because the museums are free to the public which means I can go to as many museums as I want, whenever I want, for however long I want to. It’s a beautiful thing.

If you have ever been to an art museum, the set-up of the Victoria and Albert Museum isn’t a surprise. The corridors are organized based on art type and time period (Renaissance, Middle Eastern, Asian) and the halls twist and turn into a maze full of paintings and sculptures and tapestries and china and furniture among other things. Here’s a random sampling:

 

Chubby babies... Also known as Cherubs

Billy Shakespeare, my constant companion.

Every book nerd's dream...

Dogs in London are so well-behaved, look at this guy.

Should I make a toot my own horn joke here? Probably not.

Thanks, Victoria.

Another cool thing about Victoria and Albert is the interactive stations they have set up throughout the museum. I was able to design my own coat of arms. A truly nerdy experience.

The Latin reads: Through Adversity to the Stars

 

Kensington Palace: when weird exhibits happen to historic places

24 Jan

Walking around London is an exhilarating experience. There’s so much history around every corner, hidden among the narrow streets and nestled into secret places. A short walk from campus is Kensington Palace, which I’ve mentioned before.

Kensington Palace, a smaller alternative to Buckingham (for "lesser royals")

Along the path to the visitors’ entrance are signs and what could be described as miniature art displays.

The always helpful directions on the pavement

The entire perimeter of the palace is surrounded by little quips like this

Poe's raven? Possibly. But, being a literary nerd, my mind would go there first.

There were several of these gates around the grounds

A garden on the grounds, complete with reflecting pool and fountain

Probably my favorite part of the decor outside were the trees covered in mirrors. They're whimsical yet eerie.

Follow the hands!

The exhibit going on right now is called the Enchanted Palace. It takes the form of a story throughout the museum portion of the palace. Seven princesses have lived at Kensington Palace since it was built and each princess was given her own dramatized story set in an elaborate, kind of creepy, room. For example, the room for Mary was dark and had perfume bottles everywhere and tags with her name on them spread about the room. The room for Victoria was set up like a dark, twisted version of the Princess and the Pea, complete with giant dolls reminiscent of a horror film. Some rooms had eerie music playing, others had recordings of voices have arguments, and one room had wolves howling and trees rustling. Tim Burton could have turned the place into a movie. Starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Seriously, why would anyone want to see something this creepy? I went in and out of this room as quickly as possible.

Almost every room had a floating dress of sorts; they were all beautiful and definitely added to the "enchanted" feel of the exhibits

This room had a dress that Diana wore to Buckingham Palace. The set-up was like an enchanted forest, complete with wolves howling and fog swirling about.

What made it especially weird was the fact that the exhibit was marketed towards families and children. I wouldn’t bring a child there; it’s enough to give the poor kid nightmares.

On the way out of Kensington Gardens we noticed a flock of birds at the pond. And when I say birds I mean geese, swans, ducks, seagulls, pigeons, and species of birds that I don’t even know what to call them. And all of these birds began swarming around this family who had a loaf of bread and a death wish. This is what it looks like when you attempt to “feed the ducks”:

Alfred Hitchcock knew what he was doing when he made "The Birds," they're vicious creatures. This is just a small shot of the chaos; in reality the sky was a rabid mess of seagulls, the swans and ducks in the pond darted for the shore and every bird on the grounds came waddling over, hungry and vocal.