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Kate kate_nepveu
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London: Tower of; St. Paul's; British Museum
Today we started our tourism with a walk around the Tower of London (we decided not to go inside when we saw that adult admissions were over £20 and that there was a big line. I would have liked Chad to see the ravens, because they are really much bigger than I personally expected, when I saw them in 1997, but that was about it). The still-in-progress ceramic poppies installation is really beautiful and moving; here's a picture I took of poppies mounting in a wave, or maybe an incomplete arc, and Chad has a nice one of the shadow over the moat in the start of his picture set for the day.

We also amused ourselves by noting the two space eggs visible from the Tower: one, two. As I said when I posted those, Chad noted that if they hatch at the same time, London's in trouble . . .

Then we walked over to St. Paul's Cathedral, which isn't super-close but which was a perfectly fine stroll. I particularly noted the Bank of England, which is even more fortress-like than the Tower, honestly: that is just one monolithic lump of a building saying "No."

St. Paul's is of course very big and very impressive. We did go inside for that, and admired the architecture and the ornamentation. We also climbed a whole lot of stairs to get better views.

Note: contains discussion of stairs, heights, and unhappiness with the prior two

The Whispering Gallery is inside the dome, under the monochrome-ish paintings, and is 250-odd steps up. They are very shallow steps but they Just. Keep. Going. The Stone Gallery is on the outside and is 120-ish? steps up, but they are much steeper and narrower, so effectively it's the same height. The views from up there are very impressive—there's some pictures in Chad's photo set. The last gallery is toward the top of the outside dome—the dome is actually in three parts, an interior that's low enough to be seen from inside, a somewhat conical shape on top of that, and then the outer dome to look impressive from the outside. You can see the conical middle part through a hole in the inside dome. We did not go to that, because my leg muscles were starting to spasm toward the end of the last set of steps, and the ceilings were getting lower and lower, giving Chad trouble.

This turned out to be a good thing, because on the way down, I found myself with . . . I'm not sure it counts as vertigo, because I didn't feel dizzy, but I started feeling like I couldn't be sure that I was putting my feet where I thought I was. Which is a bad thing when going down hundreds of spiral steps. Fortunately this got really noticeable when I was on the modern shallow steps, not the narrow original steps that required even me to place my feet sideways, but still, I really, really did not like it. end stairs discussion

We also looked at the chapel at the back of the ground floor, dedicated to the American dead of the Second World War, and a striking video art installation called "Martyrs" (information).

After St. Paul's we had a very pleasant lunch at Cote Brasserie, and then stopped by the British publisher of Chad's first book and had a nice chat (and admired the cover art on the wall). After that, the British Museum.

The British Museum and I did not get off to a good start with the first exhibit we went into, on the Enlightenment. It was in a long room with floor-to-ceiling specimen/book cases and for some reason I just found it oppressive and unwelcoming, all those looming cases that were only minimally labeled. (The actual thematic bits about the Enlightenment were in cases out on the floor.) And after that I may have somehow led us in the wrong chronological order or something, so I felt disoriented.

But things got better! The Assyrian lion hunt reliefs are very excellent (though my enjoyment of the realism of the lions was tempered by the fact that they were being led out of cages to the slaughter; really, they should be "lion 'hunt' reliefs"); the Nereid Monument had three statues of sea-nymphs (not placed in the reconstructed temple) whose dramatically-billowing draperies made them look like fashion models; and there were the Parthenon Sculptures, known to readers of Regency novels as the Elgin Marbles.

Really, that's why I wanted to see them, because they're in so many books I've read (e.g., one of Kate's early letters to Cecilia: "The second day, we were taken to see the Elgin Marbles, which was interesting, and to listen to other people see the Elgin Marbles, which would make the eyes roll right back in your head with boredom."). Unfortunately, the gallery they're in now is modern, donated in 1939 if we did the Roman numerals right, so the experience isn't the same.

Of course one can't talk about these sculptures or a good deal else of the art in the British Museum without talking about how it was acquired. The tone of the display's discussion is somewhat fascinating to me , such as the statement in bold letters that no, we can't put these back on the Parthenon, it's in too bad shape, even the Greeks are taking the remaining statues off . . . (You can get a sense by seeing the museum's online statement on the matter.) To me, whatever the merits of the preservation argument for removing them in the first place, the current arguments don't seem very strong, and it always seems a shame to me to split up works of art that were intended to be see as a single piece. But then, I'm probably influenced by rolling my eyes at a prior display, which noted that an ancient cylinder had become so important to the Iranian people that the British Museum gave Iran . . . a replica. Gosh, you shouldn't have.

(There was also a large totem-like carving from the Pacific Northwest, IIRC?, that the label made a point of saying was sold by the chief of the tribe after the tribe had already moved locations; things like that made me think the museum was aware that people would or should have those concerns.)

But the Parthenon exhibit is well-done and more interesting than I expected (art from the Greek & Roman eras often does not particularly speak to me). After that we popped into African art, but got shooed away before we saw more than a couple of great contemporary pieces (Chad has pictures at the end of his post). I'll never believe British museums' stating closing times again, as we were shooed out by 5:15, when the listed closing time is 5:30.

We had a bit of an unpleasant adventure after that, trying to find a Vodaphone store to buy international voice minutes (since our Internet is so bad that Skyping home won't work), during which we conclusively decided that Google Maps is no good for real-time walking, because it just doesn't update fast enough (and also showed us two stores that apparently don't exist any more). (I realize we don't walk faster than we drive, and so I can't explain why it works for driving and not walking. And yet, both after the museum and on a prior occasion during the day, it just didn't.) Also, it was raining.

After we threw in the metaphorical towel and came back to the hotel, we had restorative Indian food at a place right outside the convention center (Bollywood Brasserie or Bollywood Grill, depending on which sign of theirs you read), I lost the fight to buy international minutes online (it was trying to validate my credit card's zip code as a post code and, unsurprisingly, failing) and looked up a nearby store location for tomorrow morning, and now I've taken much too long writing this up. I think from now on I have to stop putting in links, because half the time I have to find them on my phone and then sync them in my text editor program over to the tablet, because the wireless is just that bad, which takes up lots of time.

Tomorrow, Shakespeare at the Globe in the afternoon, and maybe Wellington's house in the morning. Wednesday, Bath and Bristol for Chad's evening talk. Thursday, Worldcon starts (though there may still be tourism in the morning.) And no more spiral staircases if I can help it.

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