Today I hit the museums in a serious way. Poor Hide followed along, like the faithful companion he is.
We were up by 7 to make sure we got to the British Museum by the 10 am opening time. I hadn’t figured out exactly where the museum was, but I followed the signs and then the massive building became obvious.
I didn’t have a plan going in, so I decided to follow the museum highlights and check out anything interesting on the way. This soon proved to be exhausting and slow and when we broke for lunch, I took pen to paper and got a lot more organized.
Biggest pile of gold coins ever found in Britain: 1237 coins. (Not very impressive compared to imagined dragon hoards, eh?)
Grinding stone used by women to make flour, causing osteoarthritis and other fun problems.
Followed a tour about gods and goddesses in Roman Britain. Was less interesting than I expected. (No, they don’t always know whom the figures are depicting.)
Overall I have a couple of issues with the BM.
It has a very fine collection of some of the largest and most significant ancient artifacts, but they’ve been removed from their original sites. I found the lack of context and scale troubling. Take, for example, the dragon tiles above. They were originally part of a temple frieze, set in two rows. Now they’re stacked into four rows on a blank wall with no other exhibits nearby, above one of the busiest stairwells of the museum. Consequently, the tiles are rarely seen and when they are they just look like some art on a wall.
This problem especially plagues the Egyptian and Greco-Roman galleries, which are filled with even larger artifacts. I suppose the point is to bring the artifact to the public rather than asking the public to travel, but I still think the artifacts could be displayed much better. With an emphasis on education instead of, look at me, I got all the cool shit. The Rosetta Stone, for example, is displayed with pretty much no description of how it was used to finally decipher hieroglyphics. Of course, I could’ve missed that explanation because it was covered up by the thick crowds taking pictures. Visitors to the museum excel at the snap-and-walk. Why stop to examine, read or consider when you could just take a picture to say, “Been there, did that”?
Of course, my snobbery didn’t stop me from enjoying the Assyrian galleries a ridiculous amount. I’ll spare you my many pictures, but here, have some not-sphinxes.
And an excerpt from a lion hunt. Note that these carvings were bas reliefs that just went on and on and on. That was most of the Assyrian galleries, wall after wall of bas reliefs.
My other main problem with the BM was the lack of storytelling through the interpretive displays. Sometimes the displays were ordered thematically within a gallery, but more often it was just, hey check out the artifacts from this burial site, or, hey, check out this random hoard of torcs or swords or whatever. That gets old really fast, especially since the emphasis is on archaeological findings rather than the history we learn from those findings.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Disappointed by the BM and the quality of the interpretive displays, I decided to cut my visit short and go back to the Victoria and Albert Museum, since I had enjoyed the few galleries I’d already seen there so much more. Somehow, despite curtailing my visit, I still managed to get through most galleries in the BM, skipping only Africa, Asia and North America (the latter two for obvious reasons).
We took the double decker bus again, because it’s just that awesome. And actually, we stuck with buses the entire day except for that first ride of the morning. Because, you know, awesome.
I had somewhat better luck with the V&A, enjoying the progression through technology and tends among portrait miniatures and the stages of theatre production.
I was disappointed not to find the famous unicorn hunt tapestry in the medieval tapestry room, although there was one of a unicorn and a couple of hunts (of other animals). The tapestries were still plenty impressive. I hadn’t realized how huge they are.
A plaster cast of the Trajan column in Rome. I’ve seen the original. The replica allows you to get much closer and see much more detail. 🙂 This cast was one of many in the so-called “Cast Courts”, two rooms stuffed with plaster casts in the V&A’s collection.
We took a break in the middle of the BM visit to have lunch at a nearby south Indian restaurant. It had great decor and the best bathrooms ever. (No pics, sorry.)
Idli, a type of rice dumpling I hadn’t experienced before. It’s not what I expected, not nearly as fluffy and tender as the appearance would suggest. I suppose my expectations are just too Chinese in this case.
The lunch special. It was fine.
Dosa. The menu had a whole section devoted to dosas (plural spelling?), and it was delicious. Unfortunately a little too spicy for me, but I wanted to eat much more of it than I could! I’ve decided that dosas are my favourite Indian food now.
It had been a very long day of museums, and my feet were killing me (see my record-breaking step count). But I was strong and we went out for dinner to Smack Deli, a lobster place. It had great ambience, modern and hip without being pretentious.
We had the Seven Samurai lobster roll, lobster chowder and courgette fries. The filling of the roll was quite reminiscent of sushi, since they must’ve put some vinegar in it. The sandwich bread was fantastic, and just goes to show what a better experience can be achieved with good bread (I’m looking at you, Pike Place Chowder). The chowder was positively addictive, with a gloriously robust lobster flavour. I nearly forgot myself and ate the whole thing. At the last second I remembered to leave half for Hide. The courgette fries were okay. The parmesan sprinkled on top was a nice touch.
The deli was located on Oxford St in Mayfair, which turns out to be a pretty happening spot. We went with the flow and window-shopped after dinner, even going so far as to pop into an H&M and trying something on. It was great to see another side of London. This one reminded me strongly of NYC (but far cleaner).
Due to a lack of planning, we had to switch hotels today. The new hotel, a Hotel Indigo, was a far better experience than the first hotel. It was just down the street, but the neighborhood was a lot more exciting. It had the same funky interior layout but extremely recent renovations (I could still smell the wood of the furniture). We wished we had stayed here the whole time!