Monday, September 14, 2015

An American Family in Europe: Day 15, British Museum and British Library

(Previously: Day 14, this is London)

The weather report indicated this was the most likely day to rain during our London stay, so we opted for indoor activities.

We took the train into London, stopped at Leicester Square to get some theater tickets for the next day, fit in a visit to the M&Ms store and then headed to the British Museum.

The British Museum houses some of the greatest artifacts of mankind anywhere, and it's free, but I gotta say it wasn't a great experience for us.

First, it was just too crowded. The Rosetta Stone was surrounded by so many people, it was nearly impossible to get close. Everywhere you went in the museum you were constantly evading other people; you couldn't walk in a straight line.

Second, the presentation of items was uninspired. Each artifact was either mounted on a wall, or placed in a glass case, with a small information placard adjacent. That's fine for most things, but you need some variety or it soon becomes monotonous. How about some audio or video elements? An interactive touch screen? Some sort of example that you can touch and hold in your hands? There was none of that.

I did look at the Elgin Marbles, the source of a dispute between Britain and Greece, and got a feel for what the controversy is about.

One little gem I found fascinating, on the 2nd floor of the museum, was the "rolling ball clock," a timing device from 1810 that seems to me to violate laws of physics against perpetual motion machines.

Lunch was at a nearby Italian restaurant Amarcord, where the food took 40 minutes to arrive after ordering. We were so hungry by that point that we scarfed it down in a fraction of that time.

Next stop was the British Library, which turned out to be much more enjoyable than the British Museum. There was less to see, but the items on display were impressive and well-presented.

We first visited the free Treasures Gallery, which features a remarkably concentrated collection of original books and writings. There was a Gutenberg Bible, original handwritten lyrics from the Beatles and writings by Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin and others.

Also good was a special exhibit next door -- alas, not free -- on the Magna Carta that dispelled a lot of myths about this historic document. The exhibit included an original Thomas Jefferson copy of the Declaration of Independence and some informational videos to supplement the displays. The two Magna Cartas on display at the end, however, were disappointing. Both were small, and one was so damaged as to be basically unreadable.

This was a lot of museum time for one day, so our next stop was much less formal: The crosswalk at Abbey Road that the Beatles made famous. We rode two buses to get there, and found a few other small groups ready to get their picture taken there just like we were.

The crossing itself is kind of dangerous, because there's a lot of traffic. You have to pick a moment when the flow subsides for a bit, then move quickly out there. A man from Minnesota agreed to take our picture, we found our moment and got our Facebook-ready photo.

Next: Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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