Thursday, April 28, 2005
Offices of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Nothing to see here.
Right now, I'm sitting on my couch in Los Angeles and falling asleep as I write this. It's already 7 am almost in London, and we've been up for 24 hours now. Not that it compares to being on call, but still, we're tired.
We got up early Thursday morning to see some last sights, but everything was still closed. We walked by the Royal College of Paediatrics near Great Portland Street. Nothing to see there. Then we walked to the house of Charles Dickens, which wouldn't open until 10. Since it was still early, we went to the British Museum for a short while and then we had to get back to the hotel to collect our luggage and leave for the airport.
An hour on the Tube and we were waiting in line at the terminal. An hour later, we were at our gate. Eleven hours later, three movies, and level 36 of Tetris on the personal onboard entertainment system, and we were at LAX.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The Tower Bridge, rising over the infamous Tower of London, its moat, and its playground
Our last full day in London! There were a few things that we wanted to do still, and the weather had turned clear and sunny, so we pulled ourselves out of bed and went into the city once again.
King Charles I's armor
To finish up the touristy sights, we went to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. The Tower of London is an almost 1000 year old palace which most infamously has been used off and on as a prison in the last 500 years or so. The audio tour we took told us a lot of stories about the various prisoners, executions, and escapes in the history of the Tower, but the highlight was the Crown Jewels. These are lots of gem-encrusted objects, huge gold plates and punch bowls, and big and tiny crowns. Queen Victoria had a “small diamond crown” which was about the size of a teacup. On the other hand, one of the scepters had a diamond in it that must have been several hundred carats in size.
After the Crown Jewels, we saw the Armory which holds the royal armor, both big and very small. Henry VIII was over six feet tall; Charles I was about 5’ 2”. One of the suits of armor for a prince was probably just three feet in height.
St. Paul's Cathedral
The next stop after the Tower of London was St. Paul’s Cathedral. We had passed this before on the way to the Tate Modern on our second day here, but it was too late then to go in. Today, we walked in and climbed up to the top of the dome. Here, 200 feet above the ground, you could see for miles all around. This was one of the best parts of the trip so far.
At the top of St. Paul’s the day was still sunny, but dark clouds were rolling in from the west. By the time we had climbed down the stairs, it had started to rain. We ate lunch at a crepe restaurant in South Kensington and ran up through the rain to the Natural History Museum.
Darwin Centre foyer
A few years ago, the Natural History Museum finished a new wing called the Darwin Centre. This was built to house their collection of millions of “wet” animal specimens (stored in “spirits”) and to make the public aware that the museum does more than exhibit stuffed penguins and dinosaur bones.
When we got to the Darwin Centre, a biologist, Paul Eggleton, was giving a talk about his work on African termites as a public service kind of thing. Pretty cool stuff, actually. We went on a tour of the collections and saw the racks and racks of glass jars filled with animals and alcohol, including some fish that Darwin had collected on the HMS Beagle 150 years ago. In the basement they have huge coffin-like cases filled with larger animals like komodo dragons, swordfish, and gorillas. It’s pretty gory but fascinating anyway.
Shackleton in Antarctic gear
After walking through some more of the Museum, we wandered up the street to the Royal Geographic Society. Even though Nan wasn’t that interested, I dragged her there to see the statue of one of my favorite great explorers, Ernest Shackleton. The Geographic Society wasn’t much to see, but the statue was one of the highlights of my trip to London.
In 1912 Shackleton set out from England to cross Antarctica on foot. Before reaching the continent, his ship was trapped in the ice pack. The crew spent a winter in the ship locked in the ice, eating penguins and seals. Finally the ice broke the ship up and it sank. The crew then dragged the liferafts to the edge of the ice shelf and sailed across the frigid sea in these open boats to a tiny island in the middle of the sea.
Once there, Shackleton and his crew figured out where they were, and he led a small party in one of these open air boats, sailing 800 miles (or something like that) to another tiny island that was inhabited intermittently by whaling ships. They had to sail mostly be instinct since they couldn’t see the sun or the stars most of the time, and when they could, the boat was rocking too violently to get a good reading. Nevertheless, they made it through, but because of the weather, they were forced to land on the wrong side of the island. The party had to cross the icy, mountainous, and totally unfamiliar island on foot to get to the whaling village. None of the whalers would go to the first island, so they sailed to Chile. Nobody there believed that the men he left on the first island would be alive, but he got a Chilean navy ship to go pick up the remaining crew members a year later. Miraculously, virtually everyone had survived, although they were all very tired of eating penguin.
As cool as the written version of the story is, incredibly enough, the expedition had brought along a photographer, who took photos of it all, including some in color. Although the color is a little faded, they look like pictures from the 1960s! I saw the pictures in an exhibition at the University of Washington, and they’re probably traveling somewhere around the world right now.
Anyway, that’s enough about Shackleton.
Duck, pheasant, and emu eggs in Harrod's deli. The black emu egg costs about $50.
After the RGS, we went shopping in Knightsbridge. Lots of boutique stores and Harrods, the craziest deluxe department store I’ve ever been in. Beyond the Cartier watches and fancy perfumes and bags, it even has a super-supermarket selling things like fancy brandy and vinegar by the deciliter and ostrich and emu eggs. Other stores we checked out included H&M and Muji.
We didn’t have any emu eggs for dinner. It was fish and chips again at a tiny restaurant in Covent Garden. I figured we wouldn’t be able to have anything close to the genuine thing unless we return to England. Nan had a prion, er, beef and onion pie and chips. We washed these down with Turkish beer. By the time dinner was through, we’d had a long day and headed back to the hotel.
Last night in London tonight. Tomorrow, back to the States! Hmmm, I wonder where we should go next…
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Having breakfast at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant
We slept in today, and having just come off a night shift block before vacation, I think it was the first time I’ve slept eight hours in almost two weeks. It felt good.
Since we missed breakfast at the hotel, we went to Fifteen instead. This is the restaurant Jamie Oliver (the Naked Chef) founded with 15 underprivileged youths whom he trained to be chefs. Breakfast was pretty standard fare, but it was done very well, and the restaurant’s interior had a sleek retro dark wood look.
After breakfast, we went to the half price ticket stand to buy tickets to a musical. When we got out of the Tube station, it was raining hard, so the line wasn’t too long. We settled on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Surprisingly, there wasn’t really much to see except things like the Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.
Statue of a young girl, British Museum
We then walked into the British Museum, where we pretty much spent the rest of the day. This museum holds an amazing collection of items from around the world. The variety and quality of the works were incredible, from intricate Mayan masks to gigantic Egyptian statues.
Some of their collection seemed almost pathologically obsessive. The sheer number of mummies was staggering. It’s as though they went and brought back as many mummies as they could cram into their museum. They have been nicely conserved, but at some point, it seems that they should go back to Egypt since they are human remains. Until then, they're very cool to see. :)