I talked about this a while ago, but now I really miss London!
Under Waterloo train station in London, there is a place called the Vaults of London. While you admire the Graffiti on the entrance, you could easily pass by this place! If it wasn’t for my two London friends, Simon and Lisa, I would have not found this UNUSUAL, INTERESTING and ….one of a kind place!
From outside, you would never imagine the immensity inside. It is a long tunnel, all covered in Graffiti.
I hear that they change the art all the time, as new artists are coming to paint or make other unusual art pieces.
I kept looking up….I almost stumbled and fell, that’s how mesmerizing it is.
What’s even more interesting is that the main tunnel opens up into more vaults, each with their specific purpose. They even have theatre underground!
If you’re in London, check out this place! Check out their events, you’ll have a one of a kind experience!
If you are in London and a history lover, this is a place that you must visit. I went in a summer afternoon and I wish I took the whole day, because the museum is so large and so interesting. I think it’s one of the greatest museums in the world!
Do not expect the museum to be on a big street, it isn’t! Its location is not on a little street either (as it’s Picasso’s museum in Barcelona), but it’s not placed on a big avenue. I used my Google maps to find it.
The address is Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom.
When you get there, there will be a line. They, of course, do security screenings and your belongings will be scanned as well as you. But the line goes fast, you wont be there for an hour; the wait is nothing like the wait for some Disney rides :).
The museum is open daily 10.00-17.30. Open late on Fridays until 20.30.
The museum is free, but there are some collections that you have to pay for (if you would like to see them!). I suggest purchasing an audio guide (there is a place to rent these, as you get in the big hall).
This picture show part of the big hall, after the entrance
The guide is very useful if you don’t have anybody else to explain the different exhibitions and to give you a tour. I used it not only to learn about the exhibitions, but also to learn about particular objects that interested me. You see, each display case has a number. If you click on your audio guide on that number, it will tell you a lot more than the written explanations on the displays (if any).
A bit of history
The British Museum was established in 1753. It first opened to the public in 1759 on the site of the current building. So yes, it’s that old! In fact, the British Museum is the oldest museum in the world!
The museum started with the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. He was a London-based doctor and scientist who married the widow of a wealthy Jamaican planter. He did not wish to see his collection broken up after death, so he bequeathed it to King George II. At that time, Sloane’s collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds. But since 1753 the collection grew to 8 million objects.
One of the funny facts about the British Museum is that it has been home a lot of cats over the centuries. They say that the most famous guard at the British Museum was a cat :). The cat name was Mike and he patrolled the gate from 1909-1929. When he died, the museum staff mourned him and his obituary was featured in TIME magazine.
The British Museum is popular in the entertainment industry. You might not know but many movie scenes were filmed here. The first movie scene ever shot in the Museum was for The Wakefield Cause, in 1921. Blackmail, by Alfred Hitchcock was also shot here and so were scenes from the Hollywood masterpiece, Day of the Jackal. Most recently, the museum was featured in the movie Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014).
Three of the most popular exhibits at the British Museum are the Oxus Treasure, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.
What I liked
HM!!! I am going to talk about only what I have seen, because I didn’t get a chance to visit all!
I stopped in front of the Rosetta Stone for a while and I imagined all these people making the inscriptions. What was it like then? Who were these people? They sure left us something so we can understand them.
The Rosetta Stone has ancient hieroglyphs carved onto it and its discovery was instrumental to the translation of Ancient Egyptian writing. The stone is dating from 196 B.C. .
The Egyptian Galleries, Room 4
This room houses sculptures and artifacts from about 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization. The exhibition is magnificent. The gallery is located next to the museum’s main entrance.
Room 4 is one of the largest exhibition space and it display only 4% of its Egyptian holdings. That is because it is the place for monumental sculptures…and when I say monumental I really mean it. Everything is gigantic…
This is the colossal statue of Amenhotep III also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Look at how small people look in comparison to it…
And this is the head of the same Pharaoh Amenhotep III. This statue is dating from around 1370 BC…
This is a giant bust of Rameses II, also known as Rameses the Great. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. This is why his successors called him the “Great Ancestor”.
Standing in front of these statues made me think about these people in real life like. What was it like to be a Pharaoh? What is amazing? : ).
And there are so many other great things in this room…….but I should’t put up more pictures. You just go and see : ).
The Elgin Marbles, the department of Greece and Rome
The Parthenon Marbles, the Elgin Marbles are a collection of medieval, marble Greek Sculptures. These sculptures were brought to Great Britain in the early 1800s by the Earl of Elgin, who acquired them from the Parthenon Temple in Athens.
These sculptures were part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, built between 447 and 438 B.C.
This exhibition is extraordinary …..large, many mummies. It is situated on the 4th floor.
I was looking at these mummies and I was thinking what life would have been like along the River Nile several thousand years ago. It does not take an effort of imagination to conjure back the ancient times. People, like today, believed in afterlife and the mummification was an extraordinary funerary tradition of preparing the body for the afterlife.
They also have the pictures of the CT scans of the inside the mummies’ coffins.
I was humbled while reaching the mummy of the Gabelein man. Humbled by being a human, in front of another person that exited so long ago and that now is on display in a museum….
They named this mummy “Ginger”. They said he is called this way because of his….red hair? He is placed in the fetal position which was the most common form for Egyptian burials of the time.
What I would do when I will go again
I would map the exhibitions, because I went in blind and not knowing even the floors where certain exhibitions were. This place is massive and it helps knowing where what you’re interested in is located.
I would go there earlier, not late afternoon. You can spend so many hours in the museum…
I would read more in advance about certain pieces. The mummies, the Elgin marbles and the Egypt exhibitions I have seen are so amazing and I would want to know more before I stand in front of these pieces.
I am reading a book, it’s called “Letters to the lost” by Iona Grey. It’s a beautiful love story, set in London during WW2. As I was reading it, I came across this passage that’s happening in St. Paul’s Cathedral. This sent me back to the time when I was inside it.
I didn’t know about the Whispering Gallery. I wish I knew; I would have climbed up there.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a magic place that goes back in time. I thought this building was the start, but no!! The cathedral building has been destroyed several times and there is so much history behind it! The first on this site was a Roman temple to Diana, but the first Christian cathedral there was dedicated to St. Paul in AD 604. That cathedral burned and its replacement (built 675–685) was destroyed by Viking raiders in 962.
In 1087 a third cathedral erected on the site also burned!
The fourth one, now known as Old St. Paul’s, was constructed in the late 11th century. Its spire stood higher than the dome of the present cathedral. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning (and a resulting fire) and never replaced. Then this building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666), when it was caught in the flames. The lead on the roof melted and poured down on to the street like a river, or so they say. The building collapsed.
The present cathedral, dating from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope! It has survived the WW2 Blitz as it is (with repairs) . What was the Blitz? It was the German bombing campaign against the UK, in 1940 and 1941. Not only London, but also provincial UK was bombed. Much of London was lost, including many iconic buildings. St. Paul’s survived probably through a miracle (or maybe because it was protected somehow). Below it’s a picture after the bombings, with St. Paul’s towering over the ruble of London. Since then, this building had become associated with the British resilience.
Who was Christopher Wren and how did he came to build St. Paul’s
After the year of the Great Plague in 1665, The Great Fire of London came! The fire happened in 1666 destroyed many of the city’s public buildings, including 88 of its churches.
Christopher Wren was commissioned to build 51 replacement churches, and that included St Paul’s cathedral. Although Wren was personally responsible for all these, probably not all of them represent his own fully developed design. Only a few are in Wren’s hand, including St. Paul’s.
Wren was many things, not only an architect. He was a scientist and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), the oldest scientific society in the world! His work was highly regarded by Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.
The cathedralis heavily influenced by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The construction of the cathedral took more than 40 years. In 1708, Wren’s son, Christopher Wren Jr, placed the final stone on the lantern, watched by his father below.
I think the most notable feature is the dome. The dome framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated London’s skyline for over 300 years. It is still among the highest in the world.
Internally, the church is beautiful ,with impressive arches and naves.
There are famous people buried here.
The first person to be buried in St. Paul’s Cathedralwas its creator. Christopher Wren died in 1723. His tomb is on the south aisle in the east of the crypt.
Here you will also find the tombs of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, William Blake, Lawrence of Arabia and many others.
Sunday mass, under the Dome
Picture snapped by my friend while going to the mass
I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral on a Sunday morning, with my friends. We were there for the mass, and it was wonderful.
I don’t like sermons that much, I don’t like when people tell other people what to do or not do. But I like when people learn from each other and I also like when people stand together, united in good thoughts.
Probably that’s why I felt overwhelmed, when the chorus and then everybody started to sing. Under the dome, our voices together sounded powerful, uplifting and hopeful. I think that is the definition of being human.
Together we stand, together we can do great things, each of us doing our own bit.
Across the street from Westminster Abbey is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I wouldn’t have known, if I had not been attracted by the beautiful façade.
This building has a symbolic location, chosen to represent the separation of powers in the UK. It is located in the Parliament Square, on the south-west corner. On one side there is the Parliament and the judiciary (this building) and on the other side there is the executive (the Treasury) and the church (Westminster Abbey). This building was built between 1912 and 1913.
The court is open to the public, so you can visit anytime Monday-Friday, between 9.30- 16.30. If the court is in session, you could also observe cases!
Pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed this visit very much. It was especially educative, as I wasn’t familiar with the court system in the UK! I found out that it is very different from the one we have in the USA.
USA and UK Supreme Courts compared
I was surprised to find out how young the UK Supreme Court was!
The US Supreme Court was established in 1790, its existence provided for the founding documents of the United States. Its presence is firmly established in the consciousness of the American public….which prompts my surprise to find out that the UK Supreme Court had only arrived in the UK judicial scene in 2009! This was almost baffling! But I guess it was only then that the judiciary separated from the Parliament. Up until then, the Law Lords, that played the key role in developing the common law in the UK, was not totally separated from the government.
Cases they handle
Both courts are the highest appellate courts in their jurisdiction of domestic law. They hear cases of great importance and only a limited number of cases each year.
The Constitution and the absence of a written Constitution
The US Supreme Court enjoys a higher domestic profile than does the UK Supreme Court. That is because the US Supreme Court is a fully fledged constitutional court. However, Britain does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament. In the absence of a written constitution that sets out clear constraints on the role of the UK Parliament, the UK Supreme Court is limited in comparison with its American counterpart.
The Judges election
In the United States all federal judges must be nominated for appointment by the President. They are appointed for life and there is no retirement age.
In the UK they are elected by a committee and then they are recommended to the monarch for the appointment. They are required to retire at the age of 70, although they may continue to serve until they are 75.
The number of judges appointed to the US Supreme Court varies over time. Currently there are nine Justices: the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. In the United Kingdom there are 12 judges.
UK Supreme Court judges
The building is beautiful inside. The courtrooms are adorned with beautiful paintings and art work.
At the lower floor there is an exhibition that details the history of the court and that presents artifacts.
This visit enhanced my understanding of the UK’s judiciary system and it enabled me to compare the way it operates with our own judicial system. I am grateful for this visit and I think if you’re in town you should go too!
By Thames River, very close to the London Bridge, lies The Tower of London. This is a place where about 1000 years of history have been written, a place where medieval kings and queens have lived and a place where many people have found their death.
I went to see it in an August summer day. I was lucky; the weather was just beautiful!!! But what do you know! The occasional London showers didn’t spare me! While I was waiting to see the Crown Jewels the rain was pouring down like crazy. I was lucky a man next to me came more prepared and offered to shelter me under his umbrella. Thank you!
The Tower is a big place and you should take your time visiting. You will need at least several hours. If you don’t plan to take a guided tour, you should get an audio guide, it’s really useful and gives you a lot of information as you move through the different buildings and exhibitions.
The Tower! I was fascinated …….and then horrified as I discovered the place of burial for Anne Boleyn! I’ve seen the Tudors series, and this movie gave flight to my imagination about the love story between Anne and Henry VIII…. He was so in love with her and then….he ordered her decapitation.
A fortress and a palace
The construction of what is now the Tower of London started in 1070s, when William the Conqueror wanted to build a mighty castle to defend and proclaim his royal power. The Tower took around 20 years to build.
Then Henry III (1216-72) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded William’s fortress, adding defensive walls with a series of smaller towers.
The Tower was a fortress, e medieval palace and a prison. It also controlled the supply of the nation’s money. All coins of the realm were made at the Tower Mint until 1810. Kings and queens also locked away their jewels here and even today, the Crown Jewels are here, at the Tower.
The Crown Jewels
The jewels are displayed in the Jewel House. Waiting to see the Crown Jewels can feel like waiting in a cue for a Disney ride. It can be crowed and it can take some time to get inside, so be prepared. Also, you cannot take pictures inside; you can’t take pictures of the jewels.
This is the Jewel House, at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are sheltered
The Crown Jewels have been stored and displayed at the Tower of London since 1661! They are under guard and still in use…..
A royal guard by the Jewel House, Tower of London
I’m not sure what to say about the crowns and everything that it is found inside the exhibition. They are beautiful, of course! Especially the ones with the cullinan diamonds, which are the largest diamonds ever found. Cullinan I is the largest diamond in the world and is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and Cullinan II, the second largest, is mounted in the Imperial State Crown.
This is a picture of the Imperial State Crown, Queen Elizabeth II is wearing it.
These diamonds were discovered in Culling, South Africa in 1905 and they were named after Thomas Culling, the mine’s chairman.
To me, the jewels were not as important as the history behind them. The stories of all these people that have worn them, their lives and what happened in England during their reign. Out of all the royals that have worn these jewels, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Tudors, and about their most famous king, Henry VIII.
The White Tower and Henry the VIII
The White Tower is the main building of the fortress and it is the very first building that was built for this place.
The White Tower has four floors. The entrance to the White Tower is made on the first floor by a door accessible only by a wooden staircase. They say that at the time of construction instead of the wooden staircase it was probably a ladder….
The wooden staircase that leads to the entrance of the White Tower
“The Royal Armories” is located on the lower floor of the White Tower.The present collection took shape in the Reign of Henry VIII (1509-47).
It features many royal weapons and armor, real-size wooden horses and depictions of the different kings, set in a situation. There are few armors of King Henry VIII and also the armor of King Charles I and James II.
I cannot imagine how it must have been to be under this mountain of iron, how could you more….how could you fight!!!
The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula
In front of the chapel is the place where scaffolds were built. Statistics say than more than 400 people were executed here.
The Chapel is perhaps best known as being the burial place of some of the most famous Tower prisoners. This includes three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, all of whom were executed within the Tower in the 16th century.
Anne, was Henry VIII greatest love, or at least one of them… She was accused of adultery and treason and she was decapitated at the tower. The place where you see the green book, it is thought to be the place where Anne is buried.
The Tower Ravens
A group of at least six captive ravens are resident at the Tower of London. These days I think there are seven. They are tended by a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who is clipping their wings and feathers in order not to allow them to fly off the grounds. The Ravenmaster releases the birds from their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.
Where to find it: 47 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NE, England
On a Sunday during my stay in London, my good friends took me to a bar: Gordon’s Wine Bar.I really liked it so I’m sharing it with you, in case you’re in town and would like the experience….
This is an underground bar that it was opened in 1890. It’s the oldest wine bar in London and they sell only wine. They also have a food bar, where you can choose from different cheeses, homemade pies, meats and other cold eats.
These eggs have a name…..I forgot what they’re called!
The selection of wine is awesome, but what I liked the most it is the bar itself, the way it looks, the way it feels being in there. The owners have maintained the original décor! You will go in by descending some stairs; the bar is underground (there is also outside seating during the summer). Once you get in you will feel like you’re going back in time, the walls are all wood and brick and they’re covered in old historical newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. It is dark and there are candles on the tables….
Old “news” about the royal family, pictures of young Queen Elizabeth and many stories cover the walls. And all the war décor has faded with time…
The bar started in 1890, but the building where the bar is situated is a lot older and it has a history! The building was known by various names: the York House, 14 Buckingham Street, 19 Villiers Street and then Louis Gordon.
Many personalities dwelled here at different times! Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was one of them. He was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I; they actually had a love affair while Elizabeth was 53 and he was still in his teens! Unfortunately his life ended too early, he was decapitated at the Tower of London when we was only 35 because he lead a coup d’etat against the government.
The house was burnt down and rebuilt in mid 1680s. If you’re interested in the timeline of this house here is a link where you can find out more : History of Gordon Bar house.
And you know who else lived here? Rudyard Kipling!!! The author of Jungle Book! He lived in this building in the 1890’s as a tenant. I didn’t see anything about him in the bar, no dancing bear….no Bare necessities song :-).
Anyway, if you’re in London, this is a nice place and is worth checking it out!
Walking the Thames river path, near Blackfriars , you might see a white building, with a roof covered in moss. If you’re not a local, you don’t really know what to make out of it. Is it a small castle? Is it an arena? What is it?!!!
These are the questions that were running through my mind when I noticed that many people were seating on the ground, in a cue, as they were waiting for something. I went and asked ….and it turned out to be a theater. Not just any theater, but Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays!
I’m a lover of arts, so of course, I wanted in!
There were no tickets for that night, but I did buy a ticket for “As you like it”, for the following night.
I had no idea what to expect, but let me tell you this: I have been inside hundreds of cultural landmarks and this one is one of a kind. When I entered, I felt like a portal to another era has opened. Shakespeare’s era!
The theater has an arena where people stand and then there is seating across the arena, in balconies and galleries. All these have benches, wooden benches! I got one of those seats and I’m so happy I got a pillow, because….let’s put it this way, you need a cushion when you’re seating on a wood bench with no back rest for couple of hours…..
The play itself was a transformative, radical experience. Ever seen those movies where they show how old theater was done? Those ones where the audience becomes rowdy and occasionally some unlucky actors get pelted with rotten tomatoes? It’s funny, but it was just like that! The audience, including me, often exploded in ovations and laughs. Of course, there was no tomatoes or food produce throwing!
If you go, you’ll feel as you entered the somewhat more complicated emotional world of Shakespeare. Go experience…..