Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The British Museum and the Monument to the Great Fire of London

We are always up to exploring museums, monuments, and galleries. The British Museum is the world's oldest public museum, having opened in 1753.
Somehow I didn't know that the Rosetta Stone is housed at the British Museum. How did I not know that? So of course I HAD to go see it. In a teensy, tiny little nutshell: the Rosetta Stone dates back to @ 196 BC when a decree was issued on behalf of Egyptian King Ptolemy V. This decree was inscribed on a granite stone. It's importance stems from the fact that the decree was inscribed in three different languages, one of which was Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Collectively, these three inscriptions provide invaluable clues to our understanding of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I love stuff like this! I really should have been an archaeologist. Except for the facts that I hate hot deserts, am not a fan of dirt, and abhor bugs, I would have been an awesome Indiana Jones Burns. Oh, I also hate running, especially from bad guys and weapons. Not that I've ever done that, but I hate it just the same. I could also have been a real, live anthropologist, just like the fake Dr. Temperance on Bones. But without all of the creepy stuff. Ha ha. Anyway, if you want to read more about the Rosetta Stone, click here. It's history is fascinating.
 Photographs were permitted in this museum, but it was crowded and dark so I didn't take many. I do like this one of Miss Emma mimicking an ancient statue.
I really liked the room full of clocks. These two were my faves. The first one is from Prague and dates back to the 16th century. 
We decided to check out the Monument (it's nickname), located near the eastern end of the London Bridge. This monument, completed in 1677, commemorates the Great Fire of London which burned in 1666. The Monument is located near the place where the fire ignited. The path of destruction left by the fire was extensive and devastating to the city. The Monument has an interesting history, which you can read here. Here's the most fascinating tidbit, as least to me: "Wren and Hooke built the monument to double-up as a scientific experiment. It has a central shaft meant for use as a zenith telescope and for use in gravity and pendulum experiments that connects to an underground laboratory for observers to work (accessible from the present-day ticket booth). Vibrations from heavy traffic on Fish Hill rendered the experimental conditions unsuitable. A hinged lid in the urn covers the opening to the shaft. The steps in the shaft are all six inches high, allowing them to be used for barometric pressure studies... During the 2007-2009 refurbishment, a 350-degree panoramic camera was installed on top of the Monument. Updated every minute and running 23 hours a day, it provides a record of weather, building and ground activity in the City." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_the_Great_Fire_of_London) Apparently it is the tallest monument in the world. 
Today, it is mainly used as an historical landmark and is open to the public. Well, it's open to you if you're willing to climb it's 311 6-inch tall steps to its observation deck. We're talking a tight, spiral staircase with traffic in both directions. So not good for some people's knees, nor for claustrophobics. See?
So I passed the camera to Rick, watched as my family disappeared into the Monument, then promptly searched for a nearby Starbucks. I also discovered that the staircase railing was added in the mid-1800s after somebody committed suicide by stepping over the side. Nice little factoid, huh? How in the world did they ever get anyone to climb that staircase before the rail was added?

The fam did have some great views from atop those 311 steps. 
That's it for today's scoop. Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Westminster Abbey and Perhaps a Career Change

I'm sure you've seen the exterior of Westminster Abbey on television. Princess Diana's funeral was held  there in 1997. In 2011, Prince William and Catherine Middleton wed there, having chosen the site as an homage to Princes Diana. Here's the scoop on Westminster Abbey in a nutshell: 
"Westminster Abbey is steeped in more than a thousand years of history. Benedictine monks first came to this site in the middle of the tenth century, establishing a tradition of daily worship which continues to this day. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, with the medieval shrine of an Anglo-Saxon saint still at its heart.

A treasure house of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts, Westminster Abbey is also the place where some of the most significant people in the nation's history are buried or commemorated. Taken as a whole the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom." (http://www.westminster-abbey.org)

If you want to read more details about Westminster Abbey, click here

When I think "abbey," I think of Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg. Remember it? It appeared several times in The Sound of Music. Even though I was in London and not in Salzburg, I could still hear nuns singing "Oh, how do you solve a problem Like Maria? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"

Photos were prohibited inside the abbey, so I had to be content with my exterior photos and a book. 
My favorite part of Westminster Abbey was a small section known as Poet's Corner, a home for monuments honoring British writers. The writer in me was giddy. Sounds creepy, I know~why be giddy about dead people? Somehow seeing the names of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen made me long for a quiet corner, a cuppa (British speak for a cup of tea), and a pile of good books authored by some of Britain's finest writers. These are but a few of the writers commemorated with either a plaque or a monument:

William Blake (Romantic poet)
Anne Bronte (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall)  
Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre)
Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poet)
Lord Byron (Romantic poet)
Lewis Carroll (Alice in WonderlandThrough the Looking Glass)
T.S. Eliot (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land)
Sit Walter Scott (Ivanhoe)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (Romantic poet)
William Wordsworth (Romantic poet)

These are a few writers buried at Westminster Abbey:

Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales)
Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol)
Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book)
Lord Alfred Tennyson (poet)

Did you recognize any names? Or are you completely bored out of your mind? Ha ha! I  guess you now realize what a complete nerd I am. I wish I could have taken photos of Poet's Corner, or at the very least been permitted to make pencil and paper rubbings of some names. I'm not sure what I would have done with those, but I would have loved making them. Okay, I'll go back to pretending that I'm not a nerd.

I was able to take a few photos in the museum. It dates back to 1065 and is one of the oldest features of Westminster Abbey. It was originally used as a storage room, but has served as a museum for over 100 years.
With the exception of Poet's Corner, this was the coolest thing I saw at the abbey.
If I return to London, I'll definitely revisit Westminster Abbey. There was so much to take in and I don't think I've had my fill. Maybe I'll smuggle in a pencil and piece of paper. I wonder if they'll let me blog from my prison cell...

Westminster Abbey is literally across a small street from Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. On the opposite side of the River Thames sits the famous London Eye. 
The London Eye boasts the title of the largest ferris wheel in Europe (it was the largest ferris wheel in the world until the Singapore Flyer was completed in 2008). It stands 443 tall and spans 394 feet across. Called the London Eye because of the incredible views of the city it offers, it is one of London's busiest attractions. We were totally game for riding it had the weather been better. We decided that the line was way too long and the tickets were way too pricey only to get to the top and not have a good view due to the rain. See?
Emma was really bummed because she loves ferris wheels. Then we spied a carousel and all was fine.
Recognize this? 
It's the MI-6 building. Think of the MI-6 as Great Britain's CIA. This should look familiar to you if you're a James Bond fan. Rick and I recently had a James Bond marathon and watched all of the movies. I think there are 23. Yes, I know~in most of them the women are ditzy, have menial jobs, and are portrayed as being nothing more than love interests for the womanizer known as Bond, James Bond. I really don't like that part at all. But I simply cannot help myself. Bond has the coolest cars EVER. Can you imagine driving an Aston Martin? Suh-weet!!!!!!! And Q makes the coolest gadgets EVER. I certainly don't have what it takes to be a Bond girl (I have a brain, I don't have the body, and I want my one-woman man). But I would love, love, love to test drive Bond's cars and Q's inventions. Yes, I do believe I could be a great asset to MI-6. Just sayin'. I'll let you know when they call.

I really wanted to go into this restaurant but it wasn't open when we walked past it. I was dying to see the inside and read the menu! 
If MI-6 doesn't want me, perhaps I could carry on Sir Conan Doyle's works about Sherlock Holmes. If I were to become a British citizen, maybe my name would end up in Poet's Corner. :)

Guess I'd better stick with my day job.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Biggest Dude in London

I'm pretty sure you've heard of Big Ben. No, not the bear, book, or TV series. That would be Gentle Ben, ha ha! Big Ben is the 153-year-old clock in London. It reigns as the world's largest four-faced chiming clock. There are several suggestions as to how the clock acquired the name Big Ben. I've read several different theories but have no idea what the truth is, so let's just say that Big Ben is the biggest dude in London!

You can go inside the lower section of the tower (called the Elizabeth Tower as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II), but only if you are a UK resident. Considering that it has nearly 350 steps and no lift, I'm pretty sure I would have passed. Not that I have anything against stairs. My creepy sounding knees, however, despise them. 100 stairs, maybe. 101 or more, no way. (By the way, I love using the word lift instead of elevator. I am finding myself quite enamored with English. You know, the real English. But I sound dumb using all of these fancy words and phrases like "well done" instead of good job, "brilliant" instead of very good, etc. I think it's because I lack an accent, though I'm pretty sure the Brits think I have an accent. I keep listening for it, but I am so not picking up on it. Maybe I'd better stick to learning French, though I probably say that with an American accent, too.) At any rate, I did manage to take quite a few shots of Big Ben. Ok, many shots. But they're from different angles, so that makes it okay, right? 
You know I am pleased as punch to have gotten this shot through tree branches. (Insert "brilliant" or "well done" if you'd like. It would really "lift" my spirits.)
Just to give you a break from Ben, here are a few cool statues near Ben. There's no sight of Ben in the photos. I promise. Here are Nelson Mandela
and Abraham Lincoln, neither of whom are named Ben or have anything to do with Ben other than being in the park adjacent to Ben. It's kind of like the 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, which no one will ever get unless having watched Mad About You. (Guess I am aging myself. Not so brilliant or well done, huh?)
The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place for the House of Lords and the House of Commons, collectively known as the Houses of Parliament. It is adjacent to Big Ben along the River Thames. 
This is the River Thames, and that's the Palace of Westminster on the right.
One last shot of the biggest dude in London standing directly behind the handsomest dude in London.