Sunday, November 30, 2008

London, Part Deux

On Monday, thanks to Emilia, we took a “Royal London” tour from the same free tour company (the guides live on tips, but that way you can tip only as much as you thought the tour was worth, which I think is a lovely idea). We met at Wellington Arch:
Where everyone on the tour had to go around saying where they were from, so instead of just saying the USA I said Vermont, because Vermonter pride goes deep, and after the introductions a guy about my age came up to me and said he was from New Hampshire, so we bonded. It also turned out that he’d done cross-country, so he’d been to my high school numerous times to run on the trail. Which is pretty cool. And then, as we continued talking, I discovered that he’s a language assistant in France too – he’s in a suburb of Paris. So we talked about French kids and how obnoxious they are–I mean, how much we love them.

By this time, we’d gotten to Buckingham Palace, where we were just in time to watch the changing of the guard. Having seen it once before, I didn’t feel like fighting my way through the crowd of tourists to climb onto the railings, as I did when I was 18, so I took a few pictures from further away and listened to the band (which played the James Bond theme again!). Here’s the palace:
The Queen was not in residence at the time, which you can tell because her special Queen flag wasn’t flying. We did get to hear stories about various people who’d managed to sneak into the palace, including a drunk Irishman who wanted to talk to the Queen about his problems. So he jumped a fence, got into the palace, and proceeded to wander around, setting off so many alarms that the security guard thought the system had gone haywire and restarted it (I’m pretty sure he got fired after that). Somehow, out of the hundreds of rooms in the palace, the Irish guy found his way to the Queen’s bedroom, where she was sleeping the sleep of a contented monarch, secure in the knowledge that she had two personal guards posted outside her door at all times. However, one of the guards had gone to the bathroom, and the other, in classically British fashion, had spilled tea on himself and gone to clean it up. So plastered Irish guy is free to enter the Queen’s bedroom, open the drapes on her bed, and sit down to tell her all about his problems. All of which he does. The Queen, meanwhile, is being unfailingly polite, but pushing her panic button surreptitiously. No one answers, of course. After about 10 minutes, there’s that awkward pause when someone runs out of things to rant about, and the Irish guy takes out a cigarette and asks the Queen if she’s got a light. The Queen, showing admirable cleverness, says “No, but I believe my guards outside the door do – why don’t you go ask them?” By this point, bladders and tea spills having been taken care of, both guards are back, and they grab the Irishman as he comes out of the door. No harm done. He was taken for a psychiatric evaluation, and is now in some sort of institution, I believe, with the best crazy-person story ever. After that, I think the palace security staff had a few more rules about when they could take breaks…

Anyway, I managed to take a few pictures of the ridiculous fuzzy hats of the palace guards:
And another as they were marching past us at the end:
Unfortunately, as it’s winter, they’ve got their gray winter uniforms on, instead of the red summer ones. This happened the last time, too – clearly I have to plan my trips better.

We continued to walk around the palace, and got to another entrance, also guarded. This was our opportunity to act like classic, obnoxious tourists, so we did:
We made sure to thank him afterwards, though. And to not touch him, because if you do anything that interferes with their (very real) job of guarding the palace, they are perfectly within their rights to elbow you, nudge you, or poke you with the pointy thing at the end of their big scary gun.

Then, as we were walking to the next royal destination, we heard the strains of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” floating towards us. Lo and behold, some Monty Python demonstrators holding signs saying “There is only ONE Palin” (referring, of course, to Michael Palin). I slowed down to sing with them, and then had to run to catch up with the group, so my picture isn’t very good:
Still, though, you can see the lumberjack and the Spanish Inquisition guy and all in all it made me really happy.

One final guard in a funny hat for your viewing pleasure:

Then we passed the WWII museum, which sounded really interesting but we didn’t have time to go to it. We did learn that we were standing on the famous War Room, where Winston Churchill hung out and made all those decisions during the war:
If you happen to have x-ray vision, you can totally see the room itself. If not, it just looks like a paving stone, and I apologize.

On our way to Big Ben, we passed this building, which made me think of my engineering friends again:
Clearly London treats engineers better than the US does – you get gilt lettering!

Then there was Big Ben, which is really rather impressive. It seemed really familiar and I was wondering why, and then I remembered the 3-D jigsaw puzzle that I did of it a long time ago… So the way to educate your children about architecture is to make them do 3-D jigsaw puzzles of all the famous buildings in the world.

And I lied – one more London official in a funny hat:

Then the tour was over and Emilia and I went in search of good fish and chips, which we found at a restaurant called The Rock and Sole Plaice (haha). I got cod, I think, and it was delicious. Somehow I managed to finish my entire huge plate o’ fried things, and thus fortified we headed back to Oxford Street and Uniqlo so I could have company while spending far too much money on that coat, which I had decided to get. Emilia approved of it, so I bought it, and it turned out to only cost £72 with a student discount (and when I checked the exchange rate, that was only $115. So I’m really glad I got it). It’s beautiful and warm and elegant and very very European and I love it.

That evening, Jenna and I thought about going swing dancing, but it was rainy and icky and I’d been walking all day, so we decided to stay in the dorm and go to a showing of Caramel, a movie that took place in Lebanon (I think) and is about a bunch of different women and their love stories and stuff. It was really good, and there were Lebanese pastries, so I was happy.

On Tuesday, my last full day in London, I decided it was time to really see the British Museum, not just pop in for half an hour like I had last time (the joys of free museums…). Also, Emilia being the fellow language dork that she is, she wanted to see the Rosetta Stone. So here’s me being a huge nerd.
And the grin on my face is not because I’m being photographed, but because I’m next to what is quite possibly the coolest language artifact in the history of the world, since it allowed Jean-François Champollion (who was even more of a language dork than I am) to realize that hieroglyphs were an alphabet, not just pictures, and to decode them. Here’s a close-up of the cartouche containing the name Ptolemy that first clued Champollion in to the nature of hieroglyphs:
Champollion read the Greek on the bottom of the stone and figured that the three inscriptions said the same thing, then thought that the word in the cartouche was probably a name, and matched it up with the Ptolemy he found in the Greek part. From there, he basically did a giant, really really hard cryptoquip to figure out the rest. Seriously, how cool is that? If I’d been around in the 1800’s I would totally have been a Champollion groupie. “Jean, mon petit chou, how do you say ‘love’ in Egyptian?” with much batting of eyelashes. Okay I’ll stop being a dork now. Sorry about that…

After looking at all the pretty statues, we went to the mummy room, which was awesome. There was a whole group of Japanese tourists, so taking pictures without giggling schoolgirls miming mummy poses was difficult, but I did manage to take a few. There was an exhibit of a mummy that had been unwrapped in the 1800’s in one of those parlor demonstrations that were all the rage for a while, so all the organs were neatly laid out and labeled in this little box. Here’s the uterus, apparently:
And the pericardium:
Just looks like wrinkled brown leather to me, but then again, I’m used to seeing my organs a few centuries fresher.

Moving away from the gross stuff (I’ll spare you the classic explanation of how to make a mummy, which everyone learned in third grade anyway) there was this beautiful beaded drape (restored – wouldn’t you like to have that job?) made to go over a mummy:
Mom, I think that should be your next beading project – ought to keep you busy for awhile!

Then we wandered through the Bronze Age section, where there were so many shiny things I could barely concentrate on one at a time. Just call me a magpie. Here’s a necklace thingy:
And an awesome shield that was apparently only decorative, because it would have been far too heavy to carry into battle.
Finally, there was a display with all sorts of pretty little rings with various motifs on them, including this one:
I couldn’t quite make out what the image was, so I read the description, which said that the phallus symbol was apparently a good luck charm. Whatever floats your boat…

After the museum Emilia headed off to do her own thing while I went to Westminster Abbey, having decided that I could afford to spend a ridiculous amount on one tourist attraction, at least.
Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside, so that’s the only photo I’ve got. After shelling out my 9£, I took the included audioguide and turned it on, to be greeted by the voice of Jeremy Irons. Yes, the audioguide to Westminster is read by Jeremy Irons. Happy, happy Lisa. It was a very good guide, too – lots of interesting facts, and they even had a few recordings of the choirboys singing that you could listen to as you walked around. I particularly liked the Lady Chapel because the ceiling was incredibly delicate and intricately carved. I also liked the memorials of various famous people – they’re all over the walls and floors because there are so many of them, so you’ll be wandering around and suddenly realize you’re walking over Dylan Thomas, or some such person. The Abbey also has a little garden, near the small cloisters, where people who work there actually live. How cool must that be? “So, where do you live?” “Westminster Abbey, actually. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?” I also got to see the coronation chair, where the monarch sits to be crowned – it’s nothing special to look at, really, because it’s made of wood and really old so it looks rather chewed up. For coronations they cover it with fancy cloths. There were lots more interesting things, but I can’t remember them and in any case they’d be more fun with photos, so you’ll just have to go to London and see it for yourself!

After the Abbey it was back to Goodenough for dinner and election-watching, which was phenomenal and amazing and really really tiring. Then back to home sweet France, which I had missed. I actually felt more like a foreigner in London than I do in France, I think because in London no one’s impressed that I speak the language, so I’m just the silly American asking stupid questions, whereas in France they’re all like, “Ooh, cute little American trying to speak French! I’ll be nice to her!” Anyway, it was a bit of a relief to be back in France. Also I missed baguettes. French carbs just taste so much better.

1 comment:

  1. Cool artifacts. Nice to see you're still being a tourist when it's required. :P

    I will have to see a better picture of that jacket though.