Most of the time I’m in London, I’m working; I got out walking in the evening, but usually don’t go into museums or other major tourist attractions. This weekend, though, I got to go to Westminster Abbey and the British Museum, both for the first time.
Westminster is really amazing. (Though photography isn’t allowed.) You could teach the entire political history of Britain, along with a lot of ecclesiastical and a fair amount of literary history, in the abbey. You could also probably use the relative size of the memorials in different centuries to teach about finite resources: the last resting places of people in the 1500s and 1600s can be amazingly big; a hundred years later, things were getting crowded and people were starting to be interred in the floor; and 20th-century figures are lucky to get plaques on the wall.
We also found another James Cook memorial; toward the end of our visit I went hunting for Darwin’s memorial, and found him near the recent prime ministers. And who else was in that corner? Jesse Jackson. He and his entourage were getting a private tour. He looked over at me and nodded in a “Hi, I know you recognize me” sort of way. I nodded back.
It was cool, but to be honest, I was more excited to have found Darwin.
From Westminster, we made our way up to the British Museum. The first thing I did was head for the Great Court, the Norman Foster-designed largest enclosed courtyard in Europe. I’d read great things about it, and it didn’t disappoint.
The space, in fact, is both inviting and awe-inspiring. It’s constantly busy, full of tourists and schoolchildren, and there are gift shops on three sides, but it’s still a grand space.
If anything, it’s even more impressive than the reviews say.
Today we went back to the Museum, and went to the exhibit on Elizabethan views of the New World. It was very well-done, though having read a Bernard Smith and Anthony Grafton about European (and particularly European artists’ and scientists’) views of new lands, I’m a tough critic. We also made a quick stop at the Rosetta Stone.
Then, rather than fly through the entire museum, we decided to concentrate on the Elgin Marbles, which are well worth it. They’re beautifully staged, and very impressive.