Saturday, March 25, 2006

London Tales - Part II

So it's already saturday afternoon and I've left less than 24 hours to spend in London before getting back home... and I can't wait for that, for once. Sure I did, saw and experienced lots of things in the last 3 days. Wednesday was the first day at the National Gallery, Thursday was British Museum Part I and National gallery Part II and yesterday most of the day was spent again at the British Museum. Now that I'm at an incredibly expensive internet cafe, i shall have to be brief, but I shall give a few impressions, while the rest will have to wait for after my return home, I suppose.

1) I found out an amazing thing. In a city where all is terrificly expensive and you almost wait for someone collecting a tax for your very breathing air... the museums are for free! Whoa. After having spent 10 pounds for seeing the inside of Westminster Abbey, I was expecting, and resigned to, at least a 15 pounds ticket for the British or the National Gallery, and instead... nada. Or rather a free donation to be left at the entrance. I confess... I have left the suggested donation the first time I entered both museums, but not the second ones as by Thursday morning I am practically broke.

2) The National Gallery is quite good. The paintings are neatly divided in periods and geographical areas, the descriptions making also cross references to other paintings in the gallery and all is well laid. The first painting you find yourself facing is a Leonardo's "Virgin of the Rocks" (on the left, click to enlarge) and, no kidding, when I arrived there were two people with Dan Brown's "The da Vinci Code" making parallels (But, if I remember correctly, the one described in the book is the one at the Louvre, which is similar but different...). There are free tours given and I was lucky enough to spot and join one of the conference talks, which means people sitting in front of painting (with chairs provided by the museum) and a volunteer going into a 30 mins detailed explanation (in this case, a "Battle of the Laphits and the Centaurs" by Piero di Cosimo, below, click to enlarge). It was interesting and even funny as the volunteer at some point started to call the centaurs "minotaurs", to most of the audience's puzzlement. Anyway, I managed to see three fourth of the gallery over 2 days, as I was too exhausted at the end of Thursday to see the 1700-1900 section. Pity, but will be for the next time.

3) the British Museum is also Impressive, but chaotic. The rooms don't follow a logic an straightforward plan, so that it happens having to walk again back two room to follow the numbering. Many objects aren't were they should be, some on a loan, some being photographed, some... who knows. I tried to take part to one of the guided tours 9called "eyeopeners"), the one about middle age Europe, but it had been canceled. I then noted for the one starting one hour later about the classical world, but it had been canceled too. Just because I really wanted to see how they were done, I resolved for the one about the Far East and this time I was lucky, as a middle aged, very English looking woman, explained a little group of people (which grew smaller as the explanation went on) things about Buddhism in India.

Funny moment at the Museum cafeteria where I found myself sitting next two women from Northern Italy, the classic "rich, snobbish and we are so cool" kind who were discussing with a condescending tone frequently mixed English expression (that is part of the "we are oh so cool" style) about the Chinese restaurant in Rome and about how tears came to their eyes when they just thought about Michelangelo. Amazing thing about the British is the "hands on" moments, when you are actually allowed to touch some pieces of the museums' collection.. i would had loved to have in my hand a roman coin or a middle age sword, but I had to make myself content with a 6.000 years old human little statue... it still gave quite a thrill, have to say.

Anyway, have to say that although impressive, I expected more. the ultra-famous Parthenon marbles are outstanding, but I was much more struck by the Pergamon Altar in Berlin. The Persia section can't rival with the same at the Louvre and probably is inferior to the one in Berlin. The Roman section is poorer than I expected (but several rooms were closed). The middle age section, even if small, was quite interesting and rich, while I found disconcerting the rooms given to the clocks... I knew Englishmen had an obsession about clocks, but two full rooms? If one manages to fend the crowds in front of the Rosetta's Stone, the Egyptian section is indeed interesting (especially the room at the second floor... gee, how many stairs). Quite funnily, I saw some of the most interesting things almost by mistake when at the every last moment I entered in the "Enlightenment Gallery".

Well, what I did today will be for the next installment (it's time to give the computer back and return to hell, aka the hostel, where, btw, this morning they dislodged me from my room without giving me yet a new one.. I might possibly end up sleeping in the parlor...), as today was really hectic and mostly a wandering without a precise goal, but I shall just say that I did the unexpected and, among the rest, went at Harrods where I couldn't help but buying some tea for my mom and something else for somebody else...

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