London Day 2


I hear birds. Light creeps in the open window. I pop out of bed and run to the window:

The British Museum lies square across, and with little help from street lamps much of the area comes to light. Now wide awake, I get dressed with my camera thrown over my shoulder and head for the door. The time: 4:30am. Sigh. I lay in bed for another few minutes trying to relax back to sleep, as the Ruskin breakfast isn't open for another 3 hours. Useless. Instead, I take to the streets.

I head towards the Tube station again to perhaps head for the Thames to see the official sunrise and watch the bank wake. I cross the street... Russell Square:

While walking around the park, a statue of or for Francis, Duke of Bedford watches over the pigeons:

Later, this park would be full of soccer games, red-heads reading books, children splashing in the fountain, and varieties resting on benches. True to form, it's a park.

Turning the corner to the western side of the park, here's a view of the Hotel Russell that occupies much of the block. Soon after this photo I was reminded to pay attention to interesting architecture during this trip.

I finally reached the Tube stop only to find a mildly sturdy gate, akin to those at shopping malls, barring my entry. So instead I opted to walk the town still ill felt. I remembered how to get back, but honestly can't say where I went, because I somehow tripped on a bowling alley that I wasn't able to find when I later had time to bowl. Regardless, here's a foreboding window doll that perhaps kept me from finding said lanes:

Common to most every building, regardless of form or architecture, is some metalwork used as fencing and accent. Here's a few of the more interesting ones I found, though only the first two of which were discovered that morning:

A view down some street:

Maybe a lily in a window:

Although funny at first reflecting the modern stigma against obesity, I later found ADT signs similar in shape and location on other buildings:

It was cool to see proof of life of Londoners even in the wee hours of the morning. This household wanted no milk today, and supported this claim with arrows and spite, but in a civilized manner:

I began to feel sleepy again around 6:00am, so I headed back to the hotel to rest until breakfast. Some last minute cars were parked on the way. On the whole, there were oodles, metric oodles of course, of compact cars. I hardly saw a handful of SUVs, which was comforting in all honesty.

8:00am. More sun. Less birds. More phone ringing for my wake up call. From the second floor, which would be the third floor according to our typical building metric, I found my way to the basement dining area. About a dozen tables were outfitted for parties of two to four, and I was immediately greeted by the daughter.

Barry had warned me about the daughter. I won't go on.

The daughter is the sole server for the basement breakfast crowd. There were a few other people already eating. Behind a counter a large woman kept the kitchen. Seated near the window, I busied myself with the silverware until the my waitress came. Juice? Apple. Then, my choice of the following, the accent approximated only now knowing what the options were:

Corn flakes.

Raw-zine bra.


I picked corn flakes out the lot, but had no clue on the other two. She repeats all three. I still get corn flakes but not the other two. The last one again? Still whettables. Whettables it is then.

What I get are two bricks of wheat. Similar to mini-wheats, but obviously not mini. This was uncharted area in the cold-cereal universe. They softened with a dash of milk, and actually were quite delicious. Her French accent on top of unfiltered English made some interesting gaps that I tried to mind. However, once I had finished the first morning course, she offered a full English breakfast. I have no clue what a full English breakfast is, but, when in Rome...

A full English breakfast is best idea I encountered all trip. One egg. One English sausage, which is unlike Italian or other breakfast sausages I've had, toast, chips (French fries), hearty and perhaps Canadian bacon, and baked beans. It was delicious. For the rest of the week I think I had a full English breakfast most every morning.

It was good to realize, however, that it wasn't just my untrained ears that couldn't communicate English. When she came to bus the second course, I asked if she knew what the weather was going to be today. She stopped, and shook her head and smiled saying that she didn't understand. The weather today? Still, an idle stare. What is the English word for weather? Eskimos have a dozen different words for snow because that's all they have. Accordingly, I then offered what kind of rain would there be today, only half joking. She bent over a bit to get a look out the window and said that it was a little cloudy. Fair enough. Maybe it was just a long morning for her too.

I enjoyed two small cups of tea and then left. By the door were the cereal containers. Corn flakes. Raisin bran. Wheat bricks, or whatever they're called. Had I seen these on the way, I would've been able to mind the gap a bit better. Or so I like to think.

To my relief, the Tube station was running smoothly by the time I got there. Looking through the list of stops, I picked South Kensington, remembering there was something good there.

And so there was: a cluster of museums. Nested here is the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, and some others I forget. What could be more important than dinosaurs after all? The side of the museum front resembled this:

And the first entrance:

This museum does not skirt the issue. Natural history means dinosaurs, and right from the front doors they have a healthy brontosaurus specimen:

From the background you may notice that the lighting was good in the hall at that hour. A closer look:

Back towards the front however was the door leading to the dinosaurs. The dinosaur hall was not that big, although they did manage to cram quite a bit in there. Right through the entrance was a small lizard of the long-necked variety. Not a brontosaurus, brachiosaurus, or the like. Still, a head above the rest:


From here the tour took to the skies. Within the same room, a set of stairs led up to a catwalk that traversed the entire length. Most of the other fossils were suspended by cables from the ceiling: eye level to the catwalk. The path was only a couple yards wide, so whenever a pack of kids wandered through, the entire walk became impassable. It was also a bit disappointing to be so separated from the used-to-be beasts. Unlike the two dinosaurs on the floor at the entrance, these couldn't be surrounded and appreciated for their full worth. Nonetheless, the iguanodon was a welcomed, familiar site.

Celebrated in the Jurassic park series, here is a velociraptor. I've had better.

A struthiomimuth, my personal favorite from the dinosaur community.

The catwalk also featured an allosaurus, some smaller herbivores, and many signs advertising the "T-rex" at the end of the walk. It was in a separate room at the end of the hall, obstructed by signs to build up the discovery. However, the T-rex was not in fossil form. Instead, it was a giant animatronic beast that stood about 15 feet tall. Maybe 14. Supposedly, it was rendered to be three-quarters the size of an adult. Still, it was amazing to watch. Staring at skeletons is thrilling, trying to piece together the dinosaur on top of the frame of bones and conceive the animal as real. A concept model with convincing jaw and head movement, a grating roar, and a new paint job puts much more in perspective though. It did not take much to be legitimately nervous in its presence. The kids who had memorized all of the dinosaur facts gasped wide eyes, a few figuring out that those static numbers meant eating children too. Others saw it just as a Hollywood-style robot and laughed. I cried in the corner. Actually, no. But I did watch it for a good 15 minutes while the groups passed. Partly because the display was so impressive, but also to figure what I would've done being 6 years old and wholly obsessed with these animals. One child was taken by surprise by a very loud and long roar, turned, and roared back after stepping closer to the fence having jumped back a few feet at first. I decided that was me, and continued on the tour. A blurry shot:

The rest of tour weaved under the catwalk and featured artifacts in context. Why did this particular beak evolve? What did this dinosaur eat? The ultimate question was addressed on the last wall: why no more dinosaur? Here, the museum presented cartoon illustrations depicting the leading theories and some lesser known suppositions. One cartoon shows a bunch of dinosaurs watching a meteor strike. In another the dinosaurs bundle up for brutal ice age. Perhaps widespread cataracts caused them to run into trees at pace or wander off cliffs. Extreme flatulence? The most shocking, however, was mass suicide. Proof:

Dinosaurs now aside, perhaps succumbed by fatal woes of clinical depression, I figured the rest of the museum would just be filler. Some rocks. Some monkey skeletons. A tree. Eh. However, on par with dinosaurs was the blue whales exhibit. Yes blue whales and yes plural. Admittedly, these skeletons rivaled the dinosaurs in shock and awe. Along the ground was a life-size blue whale painted up to actually look like a whale. Around it lie preserved forms of rhinoceroses and hairy elephantes. Though they were quite charming and fuzzy, from the ceiling hung five full skeletons of blue whales. Even zoomed out and plowed back against the wall, I couldn't fit them in a single picture. Proof:

Coming to grips with the actual size of these animals, I cancelled my whaling reservations having reservations seeing such beasts in true form. They were beyond huge. The fact that they evolved out of some necessity to be so huge was amazing to realize while staring the boney frames for a while. I finally brought myself to blink, and browsed through the rest of the galleries but had already satisfied my need for beasts.

Now, instead, was the time for culture and art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. The V&A was right across the street:

The V&A is quite unlike any other museum I've visited. Whereas other museums are often organized into chronological or geographical chunks, most of the V&A was grouped by technique. Granted, they did have Asia and British galleries, but the rest feature the technique of sculpture, of ceramics, silver, or metalwork. In one room then, you could compare the evolution of a technique against other works. For example, there were two giant halls filled with glass cabinets of silver plates and tea sets meticulously crafted for wealthy patrons. The works were amazing, but amazing looked similarly amazing across all of the displays. I didn't know anything about silver to fully appreciate the intricacies in their labor. Such happened with the tapestries and a few others that I skimmed over. However, I was sucked into three exhibits for quite a long time. Foremost was the gallery on ironwork. Here is a wall on the second floor exhibit:

Much of the walls held pieces of gates or fences, which was truly amazing because most of these works would be appreciate in part as an obvious necessity to any fancy hall, but alone, out of context, they were to be appreciate solely on their craftsmanship. Quite unique. Here is a shot of a railing:

Square in the middle was a chicken amid many other decorative pieces. An artful chicken for mom:

Towards the end of this hall, which by note is the longest hall in the museum, were many different gates:

Though many were painstakingly ornate down to the detail of half-inch flowers that formed a 10 foot lattice, this one in particular caught my eye for it was the only one that was painted, as well as the unique curves and transitions. The gate and a closer look at the bottom details of the stripes.

To say I spent an hour digging through this collection would be an understatement, particularly because I spent another hour at in the key and lock exhibits just west of center (from the chicken of course). Along a long cutout featured six displays very similar to the below:

Most of these keys and door keys were from Germany, Spain, England and Prussia. The immaculate detail helped ensure the security of each lock. Ideally, each key was so complex that no typical craftsman could duplicate the key or guess its function. I stared at these keys for a very long time, marveling at the fact that many dated from the 16th and 17th centuries, which conceptually seems like primitive times in the crafts predating the industrial revolution. But with enough time, I suppose that anyone could carve creative keys.

The true art then, was to use this complexity as an advantage into security. Many of the locks were apparently selected for the outer decorations on the faceplates which included lions and angels. Here is one such:

Through the reflection below is a key holder with the key still inside: a pair of folded hands hold the base while two others brace the shaft firmly against the case. This was one of my favorite pieces in London.

Many of the other locks were cracked open to show the inner mechanisms. For context, here is one of them:

Short of sounded redundant, these truly were amazing both for their time and their complexity. Try to follow through them and wonder how you could've created a beautiful system with nothing but metal. Much of the other art was framed or donned on pedestals to help invoke appreciation from the masses. I got these keys and locks. I looked at these artifacts with mathematical eyes, and it was good. How the world looks through theory guy's eyes...

Moving on, which I eventually did, were a number of ridiculously huge sculptures. However, I couldn't navigate to them. Later, I found out that these were but plaster casts of original works. Still, for being casts, notice the person near the base to figure how big these casts actually were.

I also wandered through the stained glass galleries. It was stained glass. However, I found where the wild things were and something perhaps Seussian in nature:

Lunchtime was approaching, so I made my way down to the courtyard for some orange juice and fruit breads. The sky was almost clear still, and I felt a tad guilty for spending my first London lit hours inside, but this was not the point to replan. Sadly, I forgot to get a picture of the large pool and fountain in the middle of the courtyard. A number of people had taken off their shoes and rolled up their pants to soak their weary toes midday, while the children dove in as far as they could soak themselves. From where I sat, this is the opposite of the courtyard that I remember was built in the 1700s.

Just inside was the second of my favorite galleries at the V&A: sculpture. I had wandered through the Raphael murals and exhibits on Asia and fashion on my way down from the ironwork, but again, I wandered. I did spend a very long time in the sculpture though. Somehow, these just seemed more tangible than the other works that were encased in glass or far removed. The sculptures were rarely to scale, but the details that were preserved in the growth were stunning. Here were two busts that I rated "above average".

With 1 o'clock coming quickly, I had to figure the rest of my museum stay carefully and decided to start, and unknowingly end, with the photography galleries. I've never been to a photography gallery before, so it was interesting to see what defined a good picture. Many of the modern works looked fairly typical. Nice scenery. People sucked into emotion. A nice balance of colors. The most interesting though was a collection of photos by Andrew Pitcairn-Knowles. He was one of the early photojournalists in the late 19th century that spilled into the 20th as well. He started his very own illustrated sports magazine, though very little of his work actually featured the sport at-hand. Instead, he captured the atmosphere of the arenas and locale. Sadly, no photography was allowed in this area, but I'm including two of my favorite shots I saw that I found from the V&A website. The first is titled 'A typical Frisian scene', while the second featured a rabbit race. Apparently, rabbit racing was a "sport" undertaken by the fancy ladies of the time. You can only imagine how riveting the commentary must have been.

I was barely able to finish the photography before I had to book back to the tube. I hurried the block and a half to the corner of the square, and cut through the park to the hotel room. I had to pick up my latest flower for Dana and hustle back to the park. A few minutes after two she spotted me and we headed to find a light lunch.

We wandered the streets towards St. Pancras. This area, and much of London, is not into the fast food regime. Throughout the entire stay, I saw a couple McDonald, two Burger Kings, and a load of Subways. However, there were no English varieties to these places. Instead, everything is a small sandwich shop slash cafe. By midafternoon, very few of these places actually had their kitchens open still, so the frigerated shelves were all they had to offer. Dana picked up a sandwich and I bought a pail of fruit and some water. We then went looking for a park. On the way, we saw the token platform 9 from the Harry Potter series. It was... acceptable? I still haven't read the series nor seen the movies, but it was nice to see. It was then we decided to lunch at the St. James Park in front of Buckingham Palace.

We hopped the Piccadilly Line and got off near the palace. Passing by the front of the palace, I saw a sign pointing to the Queen's mews! This is where they keep the royal kitties that go "mew!" Oddly enough, Dana and others have tried to convince me that these are in fact stables for royal horses or a garage for royal vehicles. However, they're all wrong and it actually houses the royal kitties. Dana was kind enough to hold my camera in her purse, so I forgot to take any pictures of this. We passed the front of the palace and ventured waterside in the park to finally sit and eat for a bit. The park was enormous, and we sat watching people pass on the shoreline sidewalk in and out of willow tree shadows.

Little children played with some toys nearby, yet the real fun was with the wildlife. Like most of the people, the various waterfowl also followed the buddy system for safety. Two ducks stopped by to say hi. Then two geese. Two pigeons as well. Dana proceeded to damn the poor ducks as they strayed too close, but I was quick to apologize to them while Dana took their pictures. Mixed clouds above gave us a rare chance to see what figures British clouds resemble. For the most part, they were similar to American clouds, although they cruised on the left side of the airstreams. We laid back and shared her iPod headphones while listening to an NPR webcast of "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me". Whole Foods, can you lower your price just a little? We spent about an hour relaxing in the park before we had to head back for the cafeteria dinner at her dorms.

Or so we planned. Just parting the park headed for the tube station, the sidewalk was separated from the main drag by a large separator of dust. No joke. As the wind blew across it, the debris stung our eyes and made me sneeze. It was a mighty sneeze. So mighty a sneeze that it blew a hole in my nose somewhere. a steady trickle of blood then downed me and my nose, and no number of napkins, sniffles, blows, positions, nose tourniquets, or sympathetic passers-by could stop the bleeding. So we sat after hopping a fence back onto the grass. And sat. Eventually, I ran out of blood, and taking very gentle steps so not to stir the scabs, we made our way to the tube. Supposedly I was quite the gory mess at this point. I tried to clean up a bit before hopping the Tube, and with my pockets stuffed with napkins, hopped the train with Dana back to Russell Square.

From our delay, we for the most part missed dinner with her fellow lawmates. She booked down to the basement floor for the cafeteria while I found my way into the bathroom to clean up and find a new shirt. 8 floors below I then joined Dana for a small morsel of dinner and got to meet the lawmates. It was Anita's birthday. I also met Rebecca, Dana's main friend for the trip. Jeremy argued that I wasn't bad looking at all, which opened up all sorts of fun throughout the visit. Dinner was slightly rushed, however, as a hoard of lawmates were going to watch the Sweden vs. England game at the John Russell Tavern just across the street. There was no way I was going to miss a legitimate futbol game among the home crowd.

England managed to squeak past Sweden 2-0. The tavern served both Guinness and Ice Cold Guinness, and because England didn't score until the later minutes in the match, the game actually did get better the more we drank. After a twenty hour day and an exhausting match that evening, it was definitely time for bed. Would this pace be sustainable? Had I had my choice: yes.