While planning for this trip we filled our itinerary with museums and royal palaces. Wouldn’t be a visit to London if we didn’t allow ourselves to be immersed in the history of the city and the tales of the kingdom.
We started with the furthest back history hotspot, chronologically speaking. The Natural History Museum was our first stop.
The Natural History Museum
Besides the architectural wonder that is the building – looking like a palace dedicated to nature with details like snakes and ivy spiraling up entry arches and columns – it’s the home of a real blue whale skeleton that hangs for the ceiling of the entry hall, and the repository of a collection of displayed animal species. And dinosaurs. Sir Boyfriend is cuckoo for dinosaurs.
Hyde Park and Kensington Palace
We strolled to Hyde Park towards Kensington Palace after that. I wanted to pick up the pace because there are scheduled entry hours and Sir Boyfriend was getting left behind to take pictures. Then all of a sudden my self-righteous worry of punctuality went out the window: squirrels.
Oh. My. GAWD. So cute. Furry little cute-sy bastards. I could eat them up. I squatted to take a better look and one of them actually came closer. I guess they’re used to being fed by visitors, because they weren’t afraid of humans. Another one joined in. Then another. They’re kind of big, too. They’re looking at me like I’m made of nuts. Now they could eat me up. Two more. Okay, this is looking like a gangster squad and I’m about to be assaulted: we picked up the pace again.
Just a side note, London has been kind to me. The first time I can attribute the kindness to astrophysics because I went during July, but this recent short trip was right in the middle of February and I wasn’t attacked with rain (yes, that’s how I, a native from south of Portugal, interpret rain. It doesn’t fall on me, it attacks me. Humans are meant to be dry).
Inside the Palace we got a peek of England’s royalty home life in the 17th and 18th century. A bit of domestic fights, a lot of mutual affection, and true grief. It is a somewhat intimate view of the life of queens and kings. It brings familiarity to a very different reality.
The palace had two temporary exhibitions: a display of costumes used in the movie “The Favourite”, which revolves around Queen Anne, that resided at Kensington, and Diana: Her Fashion Story, with a display of some of Princess Diana’s most famous outfits.
The British Museum
Could be translated as a display of humanity’s history. The museum itself is over 250 years old. Since its beginning, the admission is free and doesn’t bar anyone from the knowledge it provides. It’s also surrounded by controversy because it holds artefacts gathered from other civilizations during colonial times. It’s massive. We did not see all of it, maybe not even half. Some of the items are one of a kind in the world and there would be no other chance to see something like that. The Rosetta Stone is one of those items.
Like any gigantic museum, the best way to enjoy it fully is over a course of several days, so if you are time limited, take note of your must-sees and dedicate most of your visit to appreciating them, taking time to read the descriptions and, for the rest of the visit, just cruise around.
The Egyptian halls are probably the most popular at the museum. I have to say, this is no time to be a hipster: just go with the hordes of people and see the mummies. When is that gonna happen again?
The Japanese halls also caught our attention with a Samurai armour, from which some pieces are more than 300 years old.
The beautifully crafted piece on the right is a ceremonial stirrup made with mother-of-pearl.
The National Gallery
We visited the National Gallery on a Friday, when it is open until 21:00. Like a couple of old people, we ate dinner before going and not after. But we were hungry and it was happy hour and we got two margaritas each with our dinner, so there. We’re justified.
Visiting the gallery at night, after the hustle and bustle of the historical museums, proved to be a calming and wonderful experience. We only had one hour and a half to enjoy it and it wasn’t enough. I wish we had more time to just sit on the benches and enjoy the paintings.
The paintings go through a long period in history, from the 13th to the early 20th century. Botticelli, Raphael, Van Gogh, Cézanne. Among so many others. Well worth it.
Tower of London
This was our final cultural destination. Protector of the Crown Jewels (I mentally snickered everytime I read that sentence. I’m a child).
The fortress is more than a tower – it’s like a small medieval town inside. The most famous exhibit must be the crown jewels, where we can’t take pictures. The craftsmanship is admirable. The amount of gold and diamonds is, indeed, majestic.
The iconic White Tower, in the middle of the fortress, holds an extensive armoury collection.
But I have to say, what most impressed me in this monument was the markings on the walls of the prisoners. I stepped into what was their cell 300, 400, 500 years ago and saw what those men decided to carve on the walls, alone with themselves, to pass the time. There was a heart with an “E” inside for Elizabeth. There was as astrology map made by a man accused of sorcery. Again, it’s that feeling of intimacy. It gets you so much closer to history itself.
I’ll end this part 1 of our trip to London with a picture of the Tower’s permanent residents. The tale goes that if they ever leave the tower the kingdom will fall.
Photos by Sir boyfriend (instagram.com/diogomafra).