Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I'm not going to thump out a "then we did this" dribble - if you can thump out a dribble - but do want to note some of the highlights of the six-ish days we spent in London. I say six-ish as I think it was six nights in total, we got in late on the first day, and today was largely absorbed by heading to Canterbury.

All the food and drink we found ranged from ok to pretty good, and we weren't disappointed by any comestibles, although as we were hanging around some of the posher bits of town and some tourist bits, it was generally a bit pricey. I'm glad to have found that they do know how to make coffee here, generally, and they certainly know how to make cider.

Speaking of which, we're sipping a glass of Black Fox , having downed a glass of The Orchard Pig. And we're very pleased to be doing so.

Westminster Abbey highlights - it was an attractive great lump of masonry, with a ridiculous number of monuments and memorials stuffed in it, all weirdly mixed with the very ancient lying beside the very recent. Personally I was ridiculously excited by Poets Corner, by the monument and grave of Edward LangShanks and Edward III, and a cluster of noted scientists including Paul Dirac. Oh, and the Lady Chapel. This was a room added by Henry VIII the accountant king, and is absolutely stunning, as well as holding both Elizabeth and Mary in side chapels.

The Victoria and Albert is vast, and we only looked at the bits dealing with the medieval and renaissance. Unfortunately the collection of clothes is off the air and won't be reopened until next year. But we'll go back. There's a good amount of really nice furniture, and gorgeous jewellery, but for both of us I think a highlight was a cabinet of swords from around 1560-1610. Of course. Go dig around their catalogue.

We went to the National Portait Gallery almost by accident, after plans to go to a Da Vinci exhibit at the National Gallery fell through. We spent several hours amongst the Tudors, discussing the clothes more than the art, much to the consternation of some of the curators. Oh, and the Restoration wigs are hilarious. And Charles II was a runt.

The Natural History Museum is all sorts of cool, and is a truly lovely building. Highly recommended. We were there on a Sunday, and the place was full of dinosaur-crazed children, which was a complication as we were dinosaur-crazed children, so it was tough to navigate. The real highlight was an exhibit of the winners and place-getters in an international wildlife photography exhibit, and the photos were absolutely stunning. We went back the next day before leaping on a train, just to get postcards and Oyster Card wallets featuring the photos.

While wandering the streets of the exclusive bits of London we stumbled across an exclusive antiquarion bookshop displaying, for sale, an exclusive collection of exclusive A.A. Milne materials, including early drafts and early maps of the Hundred Acre Wood. Priced around what I would expect to pay for a house. We kept our gloves on, but it was nice to see.

The Tower. Well, yes, it's a big lump of masonry with cool stuff in it. The presentations are excellent, and they are very good at handling large numbers of tourists efficiently. Still, it was great fun, despite the Tudor propganda being perpetuated about the Princes and their evil uncle Richard. Also, based on the harness made for Henry VIII before he was old and fat, the man was enormous. Hands like shovels, somewhat taller than I am, and considerably wider across the shoulders. We need more kings like that, even if he's a Tudor.

We've not seen much of Canterbury, other than brief impressions gained from coming into town and strolling up to Kipps Hostel, but what we've seen we liked. The hostel is close to the town center, and there is a distinct small-town feel. Maybe the ugly is somewhere else, but it seems to be a pretty place. Tomorrow we'll go do another wander around great lumps of masonry.


We saw more of Canterbury, from the vantage points of the medieval town walls, the 14th Century gatehouse, and the remains of a Norman or earlier motte-and-bailey. It's a pretty little town, and very pleasant to stroll around. The cathedral is of course amazing, and we got the badges on the way out. I did get a little bit fan-boy and squee over the tomb of Edward Woodstock. The memorial to Thomas is both slightly freaky, and seriously awesome - down at the entrance to the crypt around the area commonly held to be where he got stabbed is a modern memorial composed of jagged sword shapes over a simple granite altar. Upstairs though, in the main part of the cathedral, is simply a very wide open space with a single isolated candle on the floor. Incredibly evocative.

We were taken by the incredible sense of space in the Cathedral, which is a big contrast to Westminster Abbey which is cluttered and littered with memorials and monuments. The surrounds are quite pleasant as well, particularly a little garden out the back built in and around what looked like the remnants of a long-decayed chapel or associated building.

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