Sunday, February 26, 2017

The British Museum

The British Museum is one of those places where a single article or in this case, blog post is simply not enough.  It is right up there with the premier museums of the world and is one of London's most visited attractions drawing in excess of six million visitors a year.

The museum's entrance on Great Russell Street shows off the neoclassical architecture in all its magnificent grandeur.  The grand entrance was intended to reflect the wondrous objects housed inside and I think it does that rather well.

Passing through that grand facade into the museum, you find yourself in the area called Watson Hall and its classical Greek design.

A few steps past Watson Hall brings you to the Great Court, a truly stunning achievement in architectural design by Norman Foster.  The centerpiece for the museum was completed in 2000.

The soaring glass and steel ceiling covers what was once a courtyard that had become unusable because of a structure to house historic books that was built at its core.  Those books are now at home at the British Library and this space became ripe for huge remodeling.

Mr. Foster did a spectacular job making this space the center focal point for the entire museum and it's vast collection.

Among the museum's most famous possessions is this statue of Ramesses II dating back to 1270BC and weighing in at over 7 tons.

Of course there are Egyptian mummies and the ornate sarcophagi to go with them.

In fact, the Egyptian collection is one of the most popular in the museum.  If you are there on a Sunday like I was, you will find the rooms full of visitors.

I enjoyed walking through the mummies and statues but, I was fascinated with some of the smaller treasures to be found in the quieter rooms.  I posted about the The Lewis Chessman in another post.

To the right is a gilt Bacchus sitting atop a barrel of wine.

And, on the left is a glazed ceramic vase depicting Hercules embracing Deiarina after rescuing her from the centaur Nessus.

One thing that always impresses me is seeing ancient glass creations that have survived the centuries in seemingly perfect condition.

This one is described as gilded enameled glass probably coming from Syria or Egypt but mounted into a goblet in France somewhere around 1200.

I spent the better part of a day wandering around this boundless repository.  I even stopped for lunch at the restaurant under that splendid glass ceiling.

There are so many fabulous museums in the city of London, I don't think I'd ever run out of things to see and things to learn if I lived there my entire life.

This post is linked to Through My Lens.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's Laundry Day

When I was a child I used to help my mother hang the clothes out to dry.  She had two lines strung up in our back yard and we would pin the clothes to the line with those old fashioned wooden clothespins.  We don't often see clothes hung out to dry any longer in the cities of the U.S.  When I traveled to Italy, I was reminded of those days almost everywhere I went.  I saw the above clothes line from my hotel window in Florence.

In Siena, I saw laundry hanging against those gorgeous "siena" walls.

In San Gimignano I spotted this lone T-shirt on a short line outside a home.

In Venice sometimes clothes were hung out across the canal...

...other times they were hung against a house.

In Burano I found some bright laundry against those brightly painted houses.

Everyone in Burano seemed to have lines outside their second floor windows.

There is just something charming about seeing lines of clothes out to dry!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Inspired by Photography

Last week I told you about my eclectic list of sites to see while visiting London.  Today I'll show you another of those rather unique locations.  This one happens to be a home furnishings store.  No, I wasn't on the lookout for a hard to find table or chair, it was something in the store itself that I found interesting.  You see, I had seen a number of photographs of the most picturesque spiral staircase that I had ever seen and I wanted a chance to photograph it for myself.

I made my way to Tottenham Court Road to find the store.  The store is called Heal's and it specializes in modern home furnishings and accessories.  I have to say, the store itself  was quite appealing with an array of beautiful things to look at.

There were quite a lot of sparkly things in this showroom.

But, it was the staircase I came for and when I found it, I could see that it was every bit as beautiful as all the photos I'd seen.  It's called the Brewer Staircase and it whirls and spins in a mesmerizing pattern.  The stairs were originally designed by Cecil Brewer in 1916.  Today visitors from all over the world stop in just to see it.  I climbed the stairs all the way to the top so I could take photos looking down.

And I went all the way to the bottom so I could take photos looking up.

I even took one looking to the side.

No matter what view point I chose, it looked stunning from every angle.

I guess when it comes right down to it, I've always been inspired by photos of places and things.  If I see something interesting in a book, on a postcard, TV show or on my computer screen, I tend to write it down and do some research.  It just might end up on my must-see list!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Broadcasting House

Some might say that I'm a tourist with a varied and eclectic interest in places to seek out.  Others might say I have a whacky list of interests that wouldn't appeal to most people.  Both are probably true.  Maybe that's why I travel on my own so well.  In fact, even when I travel with friends, I tend to go off on my own for at least part of the time.  On my last trip to London, I had a long list of places I wanted to visit and I'm happy to say, I made it to most of them.  There are still a few lurking on the list for next time.

One of those places on my list was Broadcasting House, the home of the BBC.  Why, you might ask?  It all stems from a comedy program I found on Netflix a year or so ago called "W1A".  It was a hilarious comedy of yarns about managing forces at Broadcasting House.

I'm sure that real life work at the BBC is much more placid than the show portrays....or is it?  Regardless, the show made me curious to see the building for myself.  The building is a combination of old and new; the old part having been built in 1932 and the new part completed in 2013.  It now forms a sort of horseshoe shape around a central plaza.

Inside the lobby, there are displays relating to different BBC productions.  I was excited to find Dr. Who's Tardis sitting in the lobby area.  I tried to peek inside but it was locked.  Too bad, I would have loved to take a spin around the universe.

After passing through a security checkpoint, I arrived at a visitors area where I could view all the activity in the Newsroom below.

After taking several photos, I noticed the "No Photography" sign on the glass.....oops!  However, the security guards were a mere 10 feet away from me and none of them took notice.

If you are a fan of British comedy, I recommend the short series "W1A".  It stars Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) and a cast of idiosyncratic characters I won't soon forget!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bond, James Bond

If you are a fan of James Bond movies, you might recognize this building.  It was famously blown up in the movie "Skyfall".  In reality, this building actually was attacked in September of 2000 when it was hit by a Russian-made anti-tank rocket.  The attack only caused superficial damage but, the perpetrators were never captured.  Thankfully, no such excitement happened on the day I stood across the Thames from the building and took a few photos.

This building is known as Vauxhall Cross and is the home of MI 6.  It's no secret, everyone knows it. As you can easily see from the photos, the building is of a unique style.  It was designed by architect Terry Farrell as an urban village.  When I read that he was influenced by 1930's industrial modernist architecture along the river such as the Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, I couldn't really see a comparison.  (Bankside Power Station is now the Tate Modern art museum.)  Then I read further that he was also influenced by Aztec and Mayan religious temples.  Ahhh...that I can see.

Farrell's design has received both praise and disdain.  Some have called it "a classical composition with a possible sense of humor" while others say it's too Gotham City for their taste.

Since London is a city with some of the most unique architecture anywhere in the world, I think it fits right in!  What do you think?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Knights Templar

As many times as I've been to London, I had not yet visited Temple Church until this last trip.  I'm so glad I finally made it and got to walk in the footsteps of the Knights Templar.  The church was consecrated in 1185 and at that time only the round part or the nave existed.  It was known as the Round Church and it was modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The longer part of the church or the "chancel" was added in 1240.  In the foreground of the photo above, you will see some effigies on the floor.  Two of the effigies were of William Marshall I and his son, William Marshal II who were instrumental in the events that lead to the creation of the Magna Carta.

In a glass case in another location in the church is this statue of a 12th century knight in a regal pose.

The dome in the round part of the church is topped with beautifully fitted wood planks and surrounded by windows to show off it's rich, auburn color.

Because of damages during the bombings of WWII, the stained glass in the church has been replaced with 20th century glass with images that depict the long history of the church.

This panel depicts the great fire of London in 1666.  Temple Church survived that crisis making it one a few medieval churches that remain.

The rose window depicts Christ surrounded by angels.

A morning spent admiring this church was a morning well spent.  I was happy to sit for a while and 
take it all in while listening to the soothing music coming from the pipe organ.

If you visit Temple Church, check for opening times.  The church keeps odd hours that change with the seasons.  

There is a small charge for visiting the church but, it is well worth every penny to see such a storied place.  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The "Chunnel" Experience

On my most recent trip to London, I decided to spend 24 hours in Paris visiting some Chicago based friends who were going to be in the city.  I had traveled on Eurostar's train between Paris and London before but, it was years ago when the train still left from Waterloo station.  Since that time, the London departures are now going from St. Pancras Station and the trains have been updated.

Checking in for the Eurostar train is simple, I just scanned the bar code on my ticket and the gates opened to let me in.  There is a security check point much like an airport and then you arrive at a booth for passport control.  They stamp your passport to leave England and a few feet (4 steps actually) is another booth where the French attendant stamps your passport for arrival in France.  All in the space of about 4 feet.  Then you wait in the passenger hall for your train to be announced on the monitors.  I got to thinking that you are really in a sort of limbo sitting there waiting.  You've officially left England without actually leaving and you've officially entered France without actually entering the country yet.  It was kind of a strange feeling.

There are a series of monitors in each train coach and they give all kinds of interesting facts about the tunnel.  This one says the deepest part of the tunnel is 75 meters below sea level (250 feet).

This one is saying the tunnel is 50.45 kilometers in length (31.4 miles).  It takes approximately 35 minutes to travel the length of the tunnel while the whole trip from London to Paris is about 2 hours and 50 minutes.  The tunnel is the 11th longest tunnel in use today and the 4th longest used by a railroad.
There are actually 3 tunnels below ground, two for trains and one tunnel for service.  Up to 400 trains pass through the tunnels every day.

After my 24 hours in beautiful Paris France, I headed back to the train station (Gare du Nord) for the trip back to London.  The security and passport control was almost exactly the same.  First my passport was stamped as leaving France and then 4 feet further it was stamped again as returning to England.  Once again I sat in limbo in the waiting area until my train was announced.  It actually is quite simple and easy to do.  I couldn't help wondering if any of this will change when the 'Brexit' work is done.

In a little less than 3 hours, I was back at St. Pancras station ready to hail a cab for the trip back to my hotel.  The channel tunnel has been recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.  It is well worth experiencing.