Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Another Day in London

The museums in London are quite something to behold.  Those that I have seen are housed in gigantic, beautiful buildings that make your jaw drop when you walk through the front door.  And they are free.  Yes, you read that right.  The publicly funded national museums anyway, such as the British Museum, the Science Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate – I could go on. 

Such is also the case with the Natural History Museum, which is where we found ourselves the second morning we were in London.  This was a break from school for the kids after all.  We needed to do something they would thoroughly enjoy and who doesn’t like a good Natural History Museum with dinosaurs and all sorts of good things you don’t normally get to lay your eyes on.   

We jumped on the underground early because the Natural History Museum in London is a popular place and we thought if we got there before they opened, it would be smooth sailing for us.

Outside the magnificent Natural History Museum, along with all the other people.
Wrong.  Why oh why did we think we would be the only parents taking our primary school aged kids to the Natural History Museum during their half term break from school?  Apparently half the country of England decided to visit the Natural History Museum that same day.  We were there, the girls were excited to see what was inside, so we sucked it up and did what Eric and I normally hate to do and would have caused us to run in the other direction - we got into line.  A long line.  One of three long lines to be exact. 

To be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned about the number of people waiting to get into this great Museum.  If you could see the size of it in person, you would understand.  It is enormous!  And this Museum crew has obviously been around the block before.  They were like a well-oiled machine herding people into neat lines (or queues as they say here in England) at three different entrances.  Within ten minutes, we were inside the vast halls of the Natural History Museum and if I thought the outside of the building was pretty amazing, the inside of the cavernous lobby was even better.  

The first stop was the mammal hall where the skeleton of a blue whale hangs from the ceiling, along side a life-size replica of a blue whale.  

Have you ever seen a blue whale?  You see the big, dark creature suspended in air on the left in the picture above?  Below him and to the left you will see the butt of a hippo.  Let’s just say this blue whale could easily fit three of those full-sized hippos in his mouth at one time.  Blue whales are ginormous.  When you see this guy, it really is hard to believe there can possibly be something swimming around the ocean that is that big. 

We wandered around from room to room for a few hours and spent some time up on the top floor gazing around the magnificent lobby in the Museum.  

This one, beautiful, humongous room could be a Museum all by itself. 

We spotted a trapdoor way down below and watched to see if anyone fell through it.  They didn't.  

We saw as much as we could see with the ever-growing crowd squeezing in around us until we decided to head up the street to the Science Museum in the hopes that there would be less of a crowd.  It was a bit less crowded so we roamed the halls looking at spacecrafts and airplanes and learning about the Industrial Revolution.  The picture below is a dining room table sized exact replica of an early factory. 

By midafternoon, we were all museumed out and in need of some fresh air.  Just up the street was Kensington and Hyde Parks, two of London’s eight Royal Parks that actually butt together and cover almost 600 acres plucked down in the middle of London.  We strolled through a good portion of Kensington Park, home to a number of famous landmarks.

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Park
This is one of them - the Albert Memorial, unveiled in 1872 and commemorating Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband who died of typhoid fever at the age of 42.  She must have really loved him because this enormous gold gilded memorial is quite something to behold.  It’s 176 feet tall, took 10 years to complete and cost the equivalent of $15 million back on the 1800s. 

Most of the trees were still bare in the Park, but there were a few flowers blooming.  

These are camellias.  A large green bush covered in bright pink flowers was a rather strange sight to see on such a gloomy, cold, windy day in mid February as you stroll through the park with your hood pulled tight around your head.  We’ve seen these beautiful flowering bushes in white and pink a few times since then.  Apparently they don’t mind the cold weather as much as I do. 

Our reason for heading to Kensington Park was actually to find a playground.  After spending most of the day squeezing through the crowds inside the busy museums, Ellie and Leah needed to be free to run and play and this Park just happens to be home to the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground.  Despite the cold weather, the playground was bustling with activity too, but that didn’t stop the girls from skittering from one play area to the next, including spending some time on the centerpiece of the playground, a pirate ship. 

It was late afternoon, the sun was sinking quickly and we were all hungry.  We jumped on the Underground for a short train ride to the Covent Garden area in London where we knew there would be some great restaurants.  Some of the Underground trains we rode on are not just a little ways underground – they are waaaaaay underground.   

This was a long escalator that made Leah’s eyes bulge from her head when she first saw it.  There is nothing as thrilling as a good escalator ride for a seven year old. 

Once we were back above ground, we wandered the streets for a bit trying to decide where to grab a bite to eat.   

To be honest, I knew nothing about Covent Garden so I was pleasantly surprised to find cute streets lined with cafes, shops, several theaters with huge marquees advertising their long running shows like The Lion King and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then we stumbled into this beautiful glass covered market, formerly the home of vegetable market.  

It’s now filled with high-end shops and restaurants, and street performers.  You see that tiny little lady standing below the staircase on the right with the white hat on?  She is an opera singer and she was belting out song after song in the most beautiful soprano voice that filled this huge space to the rafters. She would be performing later that evening at the Royal Opera House down the street.  I'm guessing she has a different costume for that performance.

We ducked into a little Italian restaurant where we were greeted with a delicious plate of warm garlic, cheese and tomato bread as we sat down at a table.   

Ellie tried cannelloni for the first time and loved it.  Place a plate of any type of stuffed pasta in front of that girl and she is in heaven.  Leah enjoyed a plate of spaghetti bolognese, one of her favorites.  And Eric and I shared a pizza, as well as several bites of the girls’ dishes. 

After filling our bellies, we headed back outside into the now dark streets of London.   

We wandered from street to street, each one different from the one before.  You’re on a dark quiet street one moment with only the light of a few well-spaced streetlights to see by, and the next you are walking down a street in Chinatown with bright, colorful balls of light hanging overhead and people everywhere.  

We walked through Leicester Square, passing an M&M store with four floors.  Call me naïve, but I was not aware that M&Ms had their own gigantic four floor stores.  And they are popular.  We went it just to see it and the store was packed with people.  For the rest of our visit, we noticed people everywhere carrying the distinctly yellow bags full of M&M merchandize. 

We ended our night in Piccadilly Circus, a  junction where four major roads meet coming from odd directions and huge neon signs flash overhead.  

People, cars and double-decker buses whizzed by in all directions beneath the six enormous video screens that adorn the buildings on the north side of the junction.  Street performs put on shows as tourist stopped to watch.   We were all tired from a long day on our feet so we headed back down into the Underground for the ride to the hotel.  We needed rest for tomorrow would be another day in London.

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