Today we leave for Paris, but we've seen an awful lot of London in a few short days. The first day we walked through Hyde Park down to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the beautiful sculptures and historic clothing. Then we went to the retail extravaganza that is Harrod's, followed by a nice little dinner in Knightsbridge.
Day two was a busy sightseeing day. We walked through the park again to Buckingham Palace, where we saw the guards strutting around and a military band warming up. Then it was on to the Parliament area, at exactly the time that Tony Blair (Andrew has taken to calling him T-bag) was starting his last Prime Minister's Questions. So sad. And exciting -- we saw hundreds of protesters, including one being arrested. He was yelling and screaming and had his hands cuffed; they had taken his poster and his Iraqi flag. Andrew got some great photos. After that excitement, we walked along the river and found silent comfort in the great, cold halls of the National Gallery. I love art museums. They are so stimulating intellectually and aesthetically, but they are also great people watching places. We had great fun, and while it was crowded with groups of tourists and school children, we still had enough space to get up close to the paintings and check out all the details. I find that I still love the Impressionists, but I'm getting into other eras more and more. I really liked the super-realistic details of some of the Northern Renaissance paintings and the bold color of the baroque wall-sized paintings. And the Rembrandt self-portraits really spoke to me this time. They have one of him as a young man and one as an old man. Quite moving. Later on we went to the National Portrait Gallery, too. The paintings of Queen Elizabeth were really impressive. When I was at Cambridge six summers ago, I wrote two long papers about Elizabeth's portraits, but this was the first time I'd ever actually seen one. That night we met Courtney (the Gator girl who put us up our first night here) and several other London Gators for dinner and drinks at the Texas Embassy...clever, huh? It was so much fun! They are all living the expatriate life, working in exciting jobs and enjoying the city. It sounds great.
Day three was Kew Gardens. I had never been, and I was excited to see the flowers and to see what inspired some of Virginia Woolf's earliest stories. I closed my eyes very hard for a few minutes so I could open them slowly and watch the colors resolve into clear detail. And what detail! The plants were beautiful and well-laid out. We walked around for hours and hours. I filled up my camera again, but I should be able to post those pictures today. My favorites were the rose garden -- the sweetest smelling rose was the yellow Mountbatten; I smelled all of them -- and the waterlily house filled with multicolored waterlilies, lilypads two-feet in diameter, orchids, and dozens of varieties of chile plants. The beautiful glass greenhouses were gorgeous, too, and there were lots of tropical plants that reminded me of Florida. The beauty of the gardens made up for the fact that we had hardly any money left over for food...but who needs food amidst so much beauty?
Yesterday was another busy day. We woke to news of the first of two car bomb attempts in London. We were miles away from where the cars were found, but it was still unnerving. We didn't let it ruin our day, though. We walked to the British Museum and had a lively political debate about the legitimacy of British ownership of these priceless artifacts from all over the world. The Rosetta Stone has written on its side "Rescued by the British Army" -- ha! I guess it wasn't a debate; we both think it's sort of silly that the British have kept them for so long. But it is a fabulous museum, and it's really amazing to be able to see these things up close. My favorites were the Greek sculptures -- the smaller ones, where you can see the facial features -- and the jewelry. Andrew really like the mummies. Later, we walked to the British Library, which had a fantastic exhibit of sacred texts from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We got to see some of the oldest religious texts in the world, including a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were blown away. We also saw the highlights of the regular collection with all my favorites -- James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Paul McCartney :-) After the library, we took a short stroll -- I'll have to try to map this stuff later on; we walked miles and miles and miles -- down past Old Bailey and Saint Paul and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. We didn't much care for most of the art inside, but it was still fun to walk around the building and laugh at the more ridiculous pieces. Then it was another stroll back through the city to our hotel, a quick change of clothes, and a delicious dinner at a place called Ping Pong Dim Sum. Hooray! Now we're packing up and heading out to Paris, where we'll meet up with our compatriots. More from Paris soon; cheers!