Thursday, June 30, 2016

Slow and steady wins the race...

Oh boy. Did we have a slow start. The last couple of days have been cold and wet. The kids continued to venture out in shorts and tank tops, forgetting, or failing to understand, that London is not Richmond (VA). Our plan this morning was to head to a Primark (think UK Old Navy) to see about some rain coats. This time, the kids were dressed appropriately, having learned their lesson two days in row. The only problem? It was gorgeous outside. And warm. Too warm for the many layers we had all had on. Oh well. Joke was on us.

From there, we decided to walk up Oxford Street, which as it turns out, is a lot of the same stores one would find in the US - including Claire's, Foot Locker, and Gap. We decided to stop for some coffee (fliter - one white and one black) before meandering to the British Museum. Only, the meandering turned into walking in circles, as apparently, Google Maps has a really hard time figuring out where exactly you are in London and which direction you are facing. Stupid app. Sky would take us in the direction the arrow was facing, only to find out after a few blocks that we had gone the wrong way. After about 30 minutes of literally walking in circles, we stopped in a Pret a Manger (we REALLY need these in the US) for some picnic food, which we enjoyed in Russell Square after asking directions to the British Museum (finally!).

As far as museums go, I definitely liked this one more than the National Gallery.

One of the most interesting parts was the Egyptian death and afterlife exhibit, where we "met" Gebelein man, aka Ginger, who is a meager 5500 years old.  It is quite an interesting story about our friend, Ginger. He was mummified, and when discovered, was so well preserved that his brain and other organs were still identifiable. Tufts of ginger color hair are still visible on his head (hence the name). All of his teeth are present. In 2012, it was discovered that Ginger may have actually died from a stab in the back.

According to a BBC article, he was "thought to be between 18 and 21-years-old when he died, he was wrapped in linen and matting and placed in a shallow grave.Direct contact with the hot, dry sand in which Gebelein Man was buried, naturally dried and mummified his remains."

So, the first thing I thought when I saw this guy was that his skin looked like beef jerky. I know. Probably not the right first thought. But what can I say. My mind works in mysterious ways. Ginger was found in 1896 and has been at the British Museum since 1900. He wasn't the only mummy on display, although likely the most famous.

We also took a gander at the Rosetta Stone, which was found in 1799. Three scripts are inscribed on the stone: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion is Demotic script, and the lowest is Ancient Greek. It says that the stone was the key to Egyptian hieroglyphics because it basically had the same text in all three scripts, essentially allowing it to be decoded. I found it so interesting how close people would get to the glass to see the writing inside. Some would take off their glasses and nearly press their noses on the glass. I don't get it. It isn't like they can read it. Sky said they just wanted to see.

On our way out, we went through the Parthenon room, which apparently is very controversial. Folks argue about which country should have them and display them. The Parthenon was built about 2,500 years ago as a temple to the goddess Athena. The building has been altered and the sculptures damaged over the course of these years. The building is considered a ruin at this point, and according to the British Museum, archeologists agree that the sculptures should never be reattached. By 1800, only half remained on the building. Between 1801 and 1805, Lord Elgin had another half removed and transported to Britain. They were acquired by the British Museum in 1816 and have been there ever since. Basically, what I am reading is that Lord Byron decried this an act of vandalism and looting of the Greek art. After the Greek's gained their independence, their government expressed disapproval of the sculptures' removal, calling for their return and unification in Greece. This was brought up again in 2014, but it seems like the UK refused to negotiate. I have no dog in the race, although...I have to say...I get where Greece is coming from, but again, I'll digress.

Along the walls upon entering are long panels known as the Parthenon Frieze, which decorated the upper part of the inner chamber of the Parthenon. Approximately 80% has survived, a majority of which is in the British Museum.

It is awe inspiring to look at these sculptures and know that they were created by hand during a time period that was so different, so foreign from the one we live in today. The massive size of the works, the intricate details are from another time. As a society, we just don't make things like that anymore. As I've been ensconced in this history, I look around at our modern creations and just think...this is what we will be known for?  I'm entirely sure we can even begin to compare.

After the museum, we decide to go on a "literary walk" - another anonymously gifted travel book win - through Bloomsbury. We saw where Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, and Dickens once lived, among other greats of the time. We stopped at Scoobs, a used bookstore in the area, before heading to dinner. Fish and chips for the win! This took us clear across town to Kerbisher and Malt. Not only was this spot super hip, the food was delish. The service was stellar, as well. I actually contemplated coming back to the US and opening my own location in RVA. Everyone needs a fish and chips place in their life, right?

At this point, we had gotten a late start on the day and decided the night was young. We just wandered. No looking at maps. In the distance, we say giant domes and tall, shiny sharp looking buildings and just headed in that general direction.  We stumbled across Old Bailey first, which I had never heard of, but which I was informed is the central criminal court of England and Wales. This was the first dome we had seen and found, with a bronze Lady Justice sitting atop its dome.

We decided to keep heading towards the tall shiny building, which at that point, we did not know was a pretty famous modern building in London. We stumbled into a courtyard, where a large screen was set up so that people at the surrounding bars and restaurants could watch Wimbledon games. Before I could be distracted by tennis, I looked up and saw the great dome of St. Paul's Cathedral towering overhead. This Anglican cathedral, which sits at the highest point of the city of London, is home to the Bishop of London. The original church on this site dates back to 604 BC, while the current cathedral was built in the 17th century. It was the tallest building in London until 1962, dominating the skyline during that time (and really, it still does). Sadly, because we hadn't planned this visit, it was after hours and we were not able to go inside. We will have to add it to the list of reasons I must come back to London.  Off in the distance, we could still see the tall, shiny, pointy building, but it was getting late and everyone was tired. We headed back to the flat for the night to get some sleep.

The weather ended up being beautiful today and the sunset (which is late here post 9pm this time of year) was absolutely stunning down our street. This was the only thing even close to a sunset I've seen while in London, as kids and travel really mess up sleep schedules and make for earlier than usual night at home. Alas...this suffices.

Tomorrow I'm heading to the National Archives early, so I need my sleep. Night!

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