This is my final installment in my Trip to London series. Part ONE and Part TWO are found here.
Sir John Soane's Museum
Sir John Soane used his entire London townhouse like an advertisement for his architectural business (which he ran out of his home) as well as a showcase for his myriad collections of Greek, Roman, and Chinese ceramics, paintings, woodwork, etc. He was an early adopter of gas lighting inside the house (1824) for the same reason. He put together vellum bound copies of all his ideas, designs, and projects as a marketing tool for new clients stopping by. He also made extensive use of Picture Planes— multiple panels of framed ideas that either he or his assistants drew and painted that could be opened and blended in seamlessly into the wall when closed. Soane was known for his use of lights and spaces. Colored glass and mirrors, all angled and/or curved, is how he manipulated the light and space of a room. Soane also believed in curvaceous didactic architectural details that are natural as opposed to geometric lines that are man-made. He did bow to his clients' demand for Gothic and Palladian features, which were in fashion then.
Soane was lucky that his wife came into some money fairly early in his career, so he was able to buy into the Lincoln Fields terrace houses (two side-by-sides made into one). This edge of Grosvenor Square was like an architectural and artistic ghetto. Architect Robert Adam, painters Turner and Jackson, and Shakespearean actor Garrick were Soane's contemporaries. Garrick and Soane shared their love for Hogarth and Shakespearean folios. Soane was very fond of John Robbins's Regency furniture. Hogarth's Rake's Progress is a series of paintings that depict the wheel of fortune turning in a gentleman's life. Hogarth painted these not for money but for social commentary. (Asides: Turner's yellow color is a non-hierarchical color and lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson was Garrick's teacher.)
Soane was very proud of his Seti I's sarcophagus that he acquired from Belzoni in 1817. (Yes, one of the myriad Egyptian treasures Belzoni stole from the Valley of the Kings he excavated.) The British Museum dithered over the price of 20,000 pounds, which Soane promptly paid. He then held a three-day open house. The sarcophagus was lit from within and outside with specially commissioned lamps. All of London came to gawk, including Prinny.
Soane's townhouse is the norm for London town homes: steps leading up to a polished door with brass fittings and knocker. A narrow entry way and hallway lead to a long rectangular library on the right and stairs to the kitchen downstairs and to the upstairs bedrooms on the left. The library was the most spectacular of all his rooms, since this was also the room he received his clients in. Most of his portable treasures are displayed in the room. The ceiling is painted, paneled, with extensive mouldings and finials and also features paintings.
One narrow door leads to the breakfast parlor in the back. Another even narrower door leads to his small study that leads into his dressing room (so if a client showed up while was working, he could be appropriately coated and bewigged. This leads further back into his atelier, which also has a back entrance so all this staff could quietly come to work without disturbing the household.
Upstairs, he had an informal ante-drawing room that led to the main formal drawing room, with tall Georgian windows, expensive silk wall coverings, mouldings, the requisite pianoforte, and graceful Regency furniture (read: curvy). (The ottoman was particularly funky: rectangular with a top that dipped and curved up, so one end was higher than the other, supported by two short legs and two long ones.)
We saw the Magnificent Maps exhibit (temporary) and the manuscripts room (permanent). Handwritten manuscripts from 500, 1000, 1500 years ago. Yes, my breath stopped time and time again in my throat as I toured the manuscripts room.
"Reader — I married him." So begins the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë in her own hand. Jane Austen's notebook and actual writing lap desk (yes!) was a few cases down the row. Personal opinion: Jane had better handwriting than Charlotte. Wordsworth's was execrable. Milton's was rather odd; it changed radically even across two facing pages, and especially when he changed languages. Darwin loved white space—between words and between lines, too. Freud hated it—yes, amateur psychoanalysis labels him anal-retentive if judging by his handwriting. Oscar Wilde used horizontal curvy lines as strikethroughs instead of the standard straight lines.
Thomas Hardy was distressed when his critics in 1890s called his book Tess of the d'Urbervilles "a mere story of adultery." A hundred and twenty years later, reception for romance novels hasn't changed much, has it?
On July 10, 1843, Ada Lovelace wrote a letter to Charles Babbage that set down on paper the first principle of a computer program that was a group of calculations solely by machine.
Whoever wrote Beowulf had gorgeous writing. Eleven hundred years old. I wanted to cry as stared at it.
I was less teary-eyed but nevertheless touched as I looked upon Cuthbert's Gospel of John from the late seventh century (it was discovered in his coffin); the Codex Alexandrinus, the earliest whole bible in Greek, from the fourth century; the Golden Haggadah; and the Mamluk Qur’an.
There they were in all their glory: the Magna Carta, Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the first printed Gutenberg Bible, and a personal prayer roll (rolled parchment, not in book format) with illustrations and fancy lettering.
The biggest disappointing part was the absence of the Lindisfarne Gospels; they were off being restored. The best surprises were two Persian manuscripts in the medieval Pahlavi language. The fourteenth century Shahanshahnama by Ahmad Tabrizi from Shiraz in southern Iran was the most beautiful illuminated manuscript in the entire room; it's an account in verse of Genghis Khan's conquest of Baghdad. The second surprise was the 1610 Persian court translation of the Panchantantra Tales from Sanskrit to Pahlavi, illustrated in the Mughal style at the court of Prince Salim (who later became Emperor Jahangir of the Taj Mahal fame) in Allahabad, India.
Musical manuscripts also formed a part of the collection. The Anglo-Saxon Neumes are graphic signs showing the direction of the melody and the details of the music, but not the precise pitch since they lacked staffs and measures. The Caligula Troper was written during the Norman Conquest and is a bound, illustrated book with alternating lines of notes with lines of words. Beautifully illustrated with color, it features colophons for the first letter of the first word of every new verse. Handwritten sheet music by Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Purcell features off liner notes with jokes, asides, and stage directions. Schubert's sheets were so messy, it's a wonder anyone was ever able to read them.
I held my hand over the glass case, as though through osmosis via the air and glass, I could be closer to Austen's words and Mozart's notes. You could feel the collective reverence in the air as people gazed in awe at the manuscripts, some of them 1500 years old. If nothing else, that convinced me that thinking of a book as merely its contents and not its original format was a disservice to the value of a book. Centuries ago, the hand of genius had dipped its quill in ink and scratched across the surface of that paper, enshrining the glory of creation forever. No digital recreation can encapsulate that.
It was a hurried trip and there were many discussions during the tour, so I didn't get many notes written down; I only have impressions of the rooms I walked through. Robert Adam was the architect and built Osterley as a Palladian Palace, with a staggering entrance that was a covered front Porte-cochère-like area set up from a series of elephantine steps that lead into the grand entry hall inside magnificent front double doors. Everything in this house is built to a scale ranging from grand to grandiose.
A few things that were unusual: young misses of the house took harpsichord as well as pianoforte lessons, the fireplace grills were made of an alloy of copper and zinc called paktome, the inner shutters were designed to be flush with the wall when open and folded back, and the downstairs public rooms had double doors for privacy (for example, to separate women in the drawing room from the men in the dining room after dinner).
There were eager National Trust docents (warders?) in every room to impart very detailed information of every aspect of their rooms. They had so much stuff to tell and because I showed interest in listening, they talked my ear off. One even followed me into two other rooms and entered into three-way discussions with the other warders. My many thanks to them for their dedication and their willingness to educate me.
Monday, September 27, 2010
This is my final installment in my Trip to London series. Part ONE and Part TWO are found here.
Friday, September 24, 2010
The following historic perfume bottles are courtesy of the Museu del Perfum in Barcelona, Spain.
GREEK ARYBALLOS (below) from Corinth is from the sixth century BCE. It's a ceramic of yellowish clay, with geometric design consisting of concentric circles with lines joining them at the neck. Notice the two owls in black and red, an allusion or symbol of Athens, with floral motives.
EGYTIAN PALETTE (below) from 1557-1501 BCE is made of Libyan Jasper. The emblem in the center depicts Amenofis I, Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, along with two urechis, or serpents, that are the symbol of royalty.
TURKISH ESSENCE BOTTLE (below), from the 17th century CE (AD), is a pocket-sized, crystal jar with a circular belly and a bell-shaped extension on the neck, all covered with exquisite gold filigree.
Visit the International Perfume Bottle Association for a look at the extensive international collection of perfume bottles. Their pictures are unfortunately not open for reproduction.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
The giving of perfume as a gift to an honored guest is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years, not merely fueled by modern-day commercialism surrounding Valentine's Day. Religious, royal, and important individual events were all marked by fragrances.
Perfumery began independently in ancient India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt and was further refined by the Arabs, Greeks, Romans, and Persians.
Attars have been used in the entire Eastern world for thousands of years and are popular to present day. Archaeological excavations (Indus Valley civilization) have revealed round copper stills, used for making ittars, that are at least five-thousand years old. Also known as Ittars, they are natural perfume oils derived from botanical sources through hydro or steam distillation. The oils thus obtained are generally distilled into wood oil bases, such as sandalwood and agarwood and then aged. Attars entered into popularly written eastern history during the middle ages in Indian, Arabic, and Persian courts. They're also mentioned in sixth century Sanskrit literature.
For ease of transportation and storage, Egyptians blended perfumes in fat solids and either carried them in amphoras, in lockets around their necks, or in cones under their wigs. Excavators found that the Sumerian queen Schubab who lived in 3500 BCE was very fond of perfumes and cosmetics. Prescriptions for perfumes are found in numerous hieroglyphs in caves. The world's first recorded chemist is considered to be a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. In 2005, archaeologists uncovered the oldest European perfumery in Pyrgos Mavroraki, Cyprus, dating back to 2350 BCE, the Early Middle Bronze Age.
Perfumes entered into European history via the Italian and French courts and the all powerful Médicis during the Renaissance and quickly became very popular. The court of Louis XV was even named "the perfumed court" due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans, and furniture. The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called "Parfum a la Guillotine." Ahem.
The eighteenth century saw a revolutionary advance in perfumery with the invention of eau de cologne. In the nineteenth century, alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created, paving the way to modern perfumery. Soon individual perfumers gained prominence as they made their wares into highly-desired luxury products through limited productions, expensive crystal bottles, and exclusive marketing. The modern fragrance industry has once again made perfumes available to the masses, not merely restricted for wealthy connoisseurs.
All this to really talk about personal perfume collections. If you're in the mood for a splurge, how about this one:
Crown Marechale Original: Limited Edition and certified No.84 of 250 in existence. "This exquisite Baccarat crystal flacon is filled with one of the world's rarest perfumes. Originally created in 1669 for Madame La Marechale D'Aumont, wife of Antoine, Marshal of France, this fragrance is of extraordinary complexity. The Crown Perfumery Company successfully recreated Marechale from the original perfumers records from 1670, the secrets which now lie in the Crown's archives. The result is an imperishable model of perfumery composition; a delicate scent of floral rose, blended with guaiac wood exuding subtle spices and exquisite florals. The mold used by Baccarat is the original from the 18th century." Price: 2.4 oz for $2,500.
My favorite place to try out new perfumes is The Perfumed Court, which I was introduced to by Amanda McCabe. I recently ordered a new batch of my favorite decanted perfumes in two-ounce sizes: Neroli by Laura Mercier, Basic Instinct by Victoria Secret, Chanel No. 5, For Her by Narciso Rodriguez, and Daisy by Marc Jacobs. In addition, I bought Plumeria Vanilla from Island Heritage and Relaxing from The Chopra Center.
Do you have a favorite perfume? A favorite brand? Any recommendations for me to try?
Monday, September 20, 2010
I loved London. For the sights, the sounds, the smells...everything. Above all, it's the sustaining sense of history. People have been here through hundreds of years, and some of those places have been in continuous use till present day.
The London Walks is a marvelous way to visit places. It's just not something you'd want to do with kids. You meet outside designated tube stations and pay when you meet (so if you change your mind, that's OK). Be warned though, the guides talk and walk fast. There's almost no time to click photos, much less take notes. Also if the crowd's big, hearing the guide talk can be a challenge. The Mayfair walk was especially interesting, because they give you juicy historical on dits that you wouldn't find in most guidebooks or research guides. Walking down the streets, staring at the building façades while a voice in your ear tells you something naughty about its famous residents is a lot of fun. We saw Brummell's house, Handel's garrett where full-blown operatic vocal rehearsals were held (often times not to the delight of the neighbors), Shepherd's Market, a club that Lady Diana Spencer loved, and so on. Seeing the poky entrances and dingy kitchen quarters gives you a renewed sense of how hard life was for the ones belowstairs. Seeing those ancient trees in Berkeley Square gardens were a great lift. People I'm writing about walked through the same lanes I was now treading on.
I mainly visited rooms 40 and 41, which were the medieval rooms. Gawked at the sheer number of bright, yellow gold jewelry and household items. Unsurprisingly, gold was also used in warrior-ware, such as sword fittings, surcoats, and horse buckles. Was surprised to see so much glass objects in daily use in the early middle ages: cups, beakers, footed bowls, and serving bowls. Case in point was a brown glass claw beaker from sixth century Kent. Lesser metals, such as silver and bronze, and woods, such as burr walnut and maple, were also used to make bowls, ladles, spoons, cups, and other household goods. Poorer folks made do with lead alloy jewelry (especially brooches) in lieu of more expensive pieces made from gold, silver, bronze, and precious and semi-precious gems. Horn, cowrie shells, bone, crystal, amber, and glass beads were also pressed into service for elaborate pieces.
I readily confess, this was the first time I had clapped eyes on a real sword. This was a battle sword, but one of the more agile ones (not a longsword or a broadsword). I laid my arm against the case glass to measure how long it was (full arm length plus eight inches). I stood there for a while trying to work out how my adventurous heroine could get this out of her stolen scabbard attached to her waist. Her arm would simply not have been long enough to pull it out all the way. I tried moving my body and arms in various poses and angles, only to realize I was attracting considerable amused attention from others around me. *sheepish*
National Portrait Gallery
Visited the Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, and Regency rooms. The highlight was seeing Cassondra's sketch of Jane Austen. Bought a postcard of it. She was beautiful! (I didn't have time, but if you have ten minutes to spare, you can get an 11 x 14 poster printed on site of any picture in the Gallery.) Of course, Prinny was there in full portly glory, the overhang very visible given that I was viewing his picture from below. The Elizabethan room was for Ms. Wee, because she adores dresses with panniers and she adores Amanda McCabe whose heart was captured by Queen Elizabeth I in college.
Tower of London
I'd been told that this was a highly visited tourist spot. So I applied Michelle Willingham's Disney World principles: Buy tickets online beforehand, get there when it opens, and do the heavily visited bits first. As a result, there was no line for the crown jewels. We went around the displays from the front and back twice. It was exciting to see the various coronation and daily crowns. Two of the notable diamonds that the British Empire stole and fitted into a sceptre and crown respectively are: The Star of Africa was 530 carats of perfect clarity and the Kohinoor Diamond of India was 186 carats of perfect clarity. The Kohinoor was added to their treasury when they annexed the Punjab in 1849. The Kohi of Noor (Mountian of Light) was said to be unlucky for men and thus was only set for queens, so it was fit into the crown that Queen Elizabeth II's Queen Mum wore. (Aside: Visited the famous Ravens of the Tower. I hadn't realized ravens are so much bigger than crows. I was hoping to see jackdaws (even bigger), too, but no luck there.)
The Beefeater Warders' tour gave a great overview of the history of the folks unlucky to find their way within the walls. Our warder's crowning comment to the Americans in the crowd: "See, if you'd only paid your taxes, this history could've been yours." Hah! We skipped touring the prisons and locations of the more gruesome events. The Fit for a King exhibit in the White Tower was a fun look at armors and weaponry through the ages. It was great to see how plate armor evolved and became more ergonomic, so if a knight fell, he didn't need couple other people to hoist him upright and back up his horse. Here, Ms. Wee proved especially helpful, because she'd memorized all kinds of details about chainmail and armor and served the voice in my ear as we moved from one station to another. We even had a much ewww-inducing look at the garderobe. Walked out to take pictures of the Tower Bridge.
Noticed three animal duos used on shields at various times in the past millennium: the lion and the unicorn, lion and lion, and hart and lion. Two commonly used mottos on the shields were: "Dieu et Mon Droit" and "Honi soit qui mal y pense."
St Paul's Cathedral
That magnificient dome, that's part of London's skyline, remained standing despite targeted runs by the Luftwaffe. The staff was smart to remove all the stained glass and store it away in the basement so none of it was destroyed as it happened all across the city. The current cathedral, the fourth to stand on the same site, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675, after the former one was destroyed by the Great Fire of London (started by a careless baker). There're three walkways that are higher and higher up the dome, and while the walk up the 400+ steps to the very top is a hike, the close-up look at the carvings and paintings plus the views across the city from the very top are worth every huff and puff and pant along the way. Take a strong pair of binoculars if you don't wish to make the hike up. And do thank Queen Victoria for this beautification of the interior—she complained that the dingy, dreary interior was most undevotional. The thrill for me was in looking at the tombs of some of the most famous residents of the city.
In August, choirs across the city take holidays. Some churches, like St. Paul's, don't have alternate choirs and offer recited prayers in lieu of Evensong (usually 5pm). While we waited for the service to start, we heard the magnificient organ in play, the very same the 1695 organ which Mendelssohn once played. Diana and Charles were married there in the rotunda under the dome where we stood. And William, when he chooses to marry his Kate, will be married there, too.
We took another London Walks tour for the Abbey. Westminster was founded as a Norman church by Edward the Confessor in 1065. The white stone of parts of the Abbey is the expensive stone versus the cheap yellow Cotswold stone. The Dark Cloister that leads to the the living quarters of visiting clergy is the only remnant of the original medieval structures; it's squat with pointy arches. The Dark Cloister has rooms to the right. The left side that looks into the central courtyard, known as the Cloister Garth, has tall window arches without shutters or panes and a long-running stone bench under the arches. The rooms on the right include the Muniments chamber for housing legal church documents, the Pyx chamber (which formed the undercroft of the monks' dormitory) for chests of documents, the Chapter House chamber where everyone went in the morning for their daily chores list (aside from regular assignments), and the relics (pieces of the true cross and the Virgin Mary's robe and the stone Christ stepped on before climbing up to the cross). A door within the vestibule dates from around 1050 and is believed to be the oldest in England.
Part of the thrill here, too, were the tombs and plaques in place of tombs for some. Some of the tombs are adorned with life-like death masks. Darwin is buried there—perfect irony: reject the man, accept his fame. However, not all the clergy was against Darwin. In the memorial sermon the Bishop of Carlisle, Harvey Goodwin, preached in the Abbey on the Sunday following the funeral, he said, "I think that the interment of the remains of Mr Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen…It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr. Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and belief in God."
Some of the entombed denizens include, Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Elizabeth I and Mary, Mary of Scots, Chaucer, Henry Purcell, Newton, Handel, and even Laurence Olivier. Plaques are in place for Austen, Byron, Samuel Johnson, Milton, Wordsworth, and other poets, writers, scientists, musicians, architects, and actors.
Among the many treasures of the Abbey is the Coronation Chair. The Stone of Scone, stolen from the Scots, is currently at Edinburgh Castle, and will be returned to the Abbey for the next coronation. We walked through the Great West doors of the Abbey, through the nave, past the quire (with the choir seating), and stood under tall square ceiling opposite the Great North doors. It's a path walked by all the kings and queens have taken, since Duke William of Normandy, for their coronation. William, when he ascends the throne, will be crowned there, too.
(Aside: On 17 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to set foot in Westminster Abbey.)
We went there one evening for their Evensong service (5pm except Wednesdays). The choir was on holiday but were replaced by the visiting Ely Cathedral Choirs of Girls and Men. Imagine voices accompanied by the grand pipe organ raised to the 100-foot-high ceiling of the Abbey. Those soaring high As and Bs. It's indescribable. I was in tears. This was our last evening of the trip. And it brought this trip and my previous trip to England in full circles. In my previous trip in 2002, I had visited Lindisfarne and St Aidan's Church in Bamburg. The Evensong service was in memory of Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne in 650. The service was also in memory of Princess Diana (that's how they wrote it). The choir's final piece was a traditional American spiritual from A Child of our Time by Michael Tippett (1905–1998).
Monday, September 13, 2010
As you all know, I started out with a highly ambitious itinerary. As reality would have it, weather (rain and cold) and family necessitated some changes. Despite it all, we had an enjoyable, educational, and successful trip. Heartfelt gratitude for it goes to my family for their patience and for making it all possible.
We rented a poky, dusty, regrettable place in a highly desirable location: steps from Charing Cross tube station. This made trips to see everything 10-15 minutes at most. We bought an eight-day travel card for the Underground and used that exclusively. (Much cheaper, faster, and reliable than cabs.) However, be careful when choosing which zones you'll be traveling in. Off-zone extensions are expensive as are bus tickets (two pounds one way, change only). We bought roundtrip tickets on the Heathrow Express (the Connect is slightly slower but much cheaper) from the airport to Paddington and then took the cab to our apartment. These two trip to and fro the airport were our only cab rides. We also got one of our cell phones unlocked before leaving on the trip and bought a cheap SIM card from a store in the Strand for ten pounds. Free wi-fi is readily available with most lodging options (flats or hotels). We grocery shopped at the local Tesco for breakfast things and ocassionally picked up ready-made (AKA take-away or prêt à manger) from Marks & Spencer stalls in most tube stations. We took our camera with an additional zoom lens, a secondary camera for when we did separate things, and binoculars (useful in churches, the Eye, and for shows). Carrying a detailed street map and tube map are essential. Public institutions are free to everyone but also closed on bank (national) holidays.
Bottled water is extremely expensive (one to two pounds for a litre bottle). Drinking water fountains are rare, as are toilets. The last was the most irksome, especially when traveling with kids. This, however, did yield one rare benefit: We were allowed to use the Queen's bathroom at Buckingham Palace. No, the toilet seats were not gold-plated, but the soap was Molton-Brown and the hand-towels were a marvelous blend of cloth and paper and handsomely decorated.
We ate at: Grosvenor Arms, Lebanese, Korean & Japanese noodles, Oaxaca Mexican, Indian (west), and Italian. Everything was so mouthwateringly delicious, except for the Italian. That was execrable. Realized that small hole-in-the-wall places are more eclectic, bold, and tasty as opposed to a proper sit-down place (Italian) with linen tablecloths. Food, in general, is spicier than the average American food, even British pub fare. Finding the best chicken tikka masala I've ever eaten in a pub was surreal to me. Our agenda did include a mandatory pub meal. We ended up with two and excellent ales to accompany. Kids, even in the evenings, are allowed in the front section of pubs.
We were tourists, first-time visitors to London, and we made no apologies for that. That did not mean, we ran around expecting people to talk American English or were rude/offensive in any way. Courtesy always wins back courtesy. However, we did do things that many visitors pooh-pooh as too gauche, such as riding the double-decker bus, making a phone call from the telephone booth, taxi ride, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, fountain in Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Lion King, and climbing trees in Osterley Park and in front of John Soane's Museum. In all our travels, what we've discovered is that we remember the silly, the mundane just as much as the profound, and for kids, it's important to give a broad spectrum of experiences.
What we should've avoided (and did leave partway through) was the Changing of the Guards, because it's more pompous than pomp and more ceremonious than ceremony. A brief conversation during this with two women next to me resulted in this nugget of wisdom: If those guards in their pouffy hats and hot multi-layered costumes actually had an emergency that required the palace to be defended, they'd have to call The Metropolitan Police and the army.
Another funny incident was overhearing a copper explain to a tourist that the queen was not in residence, because her flag wasn't flying overhead. But the flag that was there was the Union Jack. Do visitors truly not recognize the flag of the country they're visiting?
First impressions were that Londoners were rude to us and rude to each other, but then I realized that they weren't rude precisely, just impatient and curt. To some extent this is true of people in major metropolises versus smaller towns, but London seemed to be particularly prone to it.
I loved that everyone seemed to talk with an accent. The impression outside the UK is that there's a "British" accent. Well, not really. A person's accent is affected by the area they grew up in, the language that's spoken at home, the type of school they went to, their education level, their social class, etc. So our "different" accents were just thrown into the mix, not drawing much attention.
London's multiculturalism is a dream for travelers — I ADORED the sounds of so many languages, fabulously delicious food of every imaginable kind, colorful clothing, and the sights of people not trying to melt into one homogenous mass but rather exhibiting their Britishness as well as their ethnic origins. At the same time, it felt like streams of people flowing past each other carefully avoiding inter-mingling, co-existing but not very comfortable with the sounds, smells, and looks of their city. I felt pressure in the air that had nothing to do with the press of people around me.
But going back to courtesy. While Londoners seemed more self-involved than most folks in cities that we've traveled to — Parisians across the board were warmer and friendlier despite my execrable murder of their beautiful language — a smile, a look in the eyes, and a quick comment was always reciprocated. In the end, people are people. You treat others the way you'd want to be treated, and it's returned most times. It's these interactions with people that I treasure the most from my travels.
Thursday: London Walks tour of Mayfair, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery (open till 9pm on Thurs & Fri)
Friday: Tower of London, St. Paul's
Saturday: Sir John Soane's Museum (closed Sun & Mon, do the guided tour for five pounds), British Library
Sunday: London Eye, Lion King at the Lyceum (buy tickets here)
Monday: London Walks tour of Westminster Abbey, Osterley (at least four hours)
Tuesday: Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace (three hours), Evensong at Westminster's Abbey (best evensong)