A Bustling Modern City Interspersed with Landmarks, Palaces, and Touches of the Old
A Bird’s Eye View of London
London is a city of beautiful sights, sounds, parks, buildings, museums, and architecture. Below is a bird’s eye view including Russell Square, Parliament Square, a view of the British Museum from Contemporary Ceramics Centre across the street, Borough Market, and beautiful Georgian houses off Lambs Conduit Street. See the sitting room in our charming hotel across the street from the British Museum, The Montague on the Gardens; try to find their “four nights for the price of three” offer, which is an excellent value.
London is a city of theaters and concert halls, with plays, concerts, and dance performances for people of all ages with diverse tastes. During our recent visit we saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, an insightful story about an autistic boy and his family, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights (he wrote the runaway Broadway hit Hamilton), a revival of Sunset Boulevard by the English National Opera starring Glenn Close, and A Winter’s Tale at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (then in New York City, reviewed in the Wall Street Journal), Christopher Wheeldon’s three-act ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of love, loss, and reconciliation with music by Joby Talbot. Carole King’s musical Beautiful was delightful (see photo of theatre above.)
There are many wonderful museums, ranging from small and intimate to large. They are all inviting, and it is possible to create a course in art history by wending your way through their impressive collections. The Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Academy of Art on Piccadilly are beautiful buildings with wonderful collections. During our visit the V & A had an imaginative Botticelli show, and the Royal Academy of Art had en engaging Monet show. The Tate Britain and the Tate Modern, connected by boat on the Thames, are marvelous museums. (The Tate Boat runs between Tate Britain and Tate Modern every 40 minutes during gallery opening times.) It is always thrilling to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Shopping for Grandchildren
Everyone loves Harrod’s, the upscale department store in Knightsbridge where the food hall lures visitors with its sights and aromas and there is a great selection of toys for indulgent grandparents to bring home to their grandchildren. We got Paddington Bears for our three young grandchildren, Callie, Maddy, and Jasey. Our older granddaughter, Julia, requested an array of Cadbury bars, which we gathered at several tobacconist shops for her and our great niece Sophie. Since Cadbury was taken over by Kraft, our family chocolate connoisseurs allege, the chocolate bars manufactured outside the U.K. are not the same mouthwatering chocolate as the classic bars everyone loves.
Bustling Borough Market
Salami Lovers’ Delight
See detail about Borough Market at http://boroughmarket.org.uk, and about Bread Ahead for a description of their scrumptious donuts http://www.breadahead.com. See also Departures, “Top Open-Air Markets,” August 5, 2016 Borough Market.
Charming Lamb’s Conduit Street & Environs
According to Architectural Digest, “One of the loveliest things about London is its abundance of cute little lanes and alleys, and chief among them is Lamb’s Conduit Street. Not only does this long block in Bloomsbury have have an equally charming and strange name, a slightly secret (but very central) location, and string of small boutiques in its favor, it’s also home to one of this city’s best new restaurant and wine bar. Here’s how you might spend an ideal afternoon on the drag.” http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/spots-to-hit-on-lambs-conduit-street-in-london (4/26/16). You will love Persephone, a charming bookstore specializing in out-of-print books http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/. I found a beautiful necklace at a charming jewelry shop,
The British Library, A Welcome Addition
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest library in the world by number of items catalogued. The British Library was formally opened by HM The Queen in June 1998. Since then it has become firmly established as a major addition to London’s library, intellectual and cultural scene. It is located between Euston and St. Pancras railway stations and has a beautiful plaza with a sculpture of Isaac Newton in front of it.
The Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery hosts more than 200 beautiful and fascinating items: magnificent hand-painted books from many faiths, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from over the centuries and around the world.
Its extensive collections include the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s Bible of 1455, Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook, Handel’s Messiah in the composer’s hand, handwritten lyrics by the Beatles, recordings from Bach to the Beatles (with headsets for visitors), the Lindisfarne Gospels, The Times first edition from March 18, 1788, and the recording of Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech. The collection includes over 150 million items in most known languages, adding 3 million new items a year. If you were to see five items a day in this treasure trove, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole collection. The building is beautiful and inviting for both scholars and visitors, with delicious food and free wifi.
Treasures in the British Library
The British Museum
Founded in 1783, The British Museum (near Russell Square) holds in trust for the nation and the world a collection of art and antiquities from ancient and living cultures. Housed in one of Britain’s architectural landmarks, the collection is one of the finest in existence, spanning two million years of human history. Access to the collection is free. The exhibits are well organized and easy to view, and the museum has a delightful café. If you have limited time, perhaps choose a few exhibits of greatest interest to you. If you have several days in London, it might be best to arrange several short visits to avoid fatigue. See Make the Most of the British Museum by Roslyn Sulcas @rsulcas.
Medieval Chess Set, British Museum
The Lewis Chessmen form a remarkable group of iconic objects within the world collection of the British Museum. They were probably made in Norway, about AD 1150- 1200. At this period, the Western Isles, where the chess pieces were buried, were part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland. It seems likely they were buried for safe keeping on route to be traded in Ireland.
The chess pieces testify to the strong cultural and political connections between Britain and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, and to the growing popularity within Europe of the game of chess, the origins of which lie in ancient India.
Of the 93 pieces known to us today, 11 pieces are in Edinburgh at the National Museum of Scotland, and 82 are in the British Museum. The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales’ teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.
Description, The British Museum
This ornament was probably worn on ceremonial occasions as a pectoral (an ornament worn on the chest). It is carved in wood and covered with turquoise mosaic. The eye sockets were probably inlaid with iron pyrites and shell. Red and white shell was used to add details to the nose and mouth of both serpent heads. The mosaic work covers both sides of the serpents’ heads. The serpent played a very important role in Aztec religion. It is associated with several gods such as Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent), Xiuhcoatl (Fire Serpent), Mixcoatl (Cloud Serpent) or Coatlicue (She of the Serpent Skirt), the mother of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. The word for serpent in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, is coatl.
The word coatl is also part of many place names, such as Coatepec (‘the hill of the serpents’). Coatepec is the birthplace of the god Huitzilopochtli, the principal Aztec god, thus one of the most important places in Aztec mythology. Serpents were also used as architectural elements. For example, a wall of serpents (coatepantli) was used to mark out sacred spaces within a ceremonial area. At the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, such a wall surrounded part of the Great Temple, which was the ritual focus for the entire city.
The necklace below, Lady Layard’s necklace, was created from ancient cylinder seals and stamp-seals acquired by Layard during his travels and excavation sin the Middle East. The seals date between 2200 and 350 BC, but most are from the late Assyrian period (900-612 BC). The London firm Phillips Brothers & Son were renowned for jewelry inspired by ancient objects.
The Royal Academy, Piccadilly