From Dinosaurs to Diana

When I was a child, my sister Susan worked in New York City. When I visited her, one of my favorite places to go was the Museum of Natural History. I remember looking at all the animals displayed in their natural habitat and enjoying it, even if the backgrounds were just painted. Since learning of the Natural History Museum here in London, I have always wanted to visit it, but this morning we were confronted with an interesting dilemma. I wanted to visit the Natural History Museum and David wanted to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. They are both wonderful so since we didn’t have time for both, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet right before lunch.

Walking inside the NHM ( Natural History Museum) the first thing I noticed was a magnificent blue whale suspended from the ceiling. It is a new exhibit which I had heard about, but nothing could prepare me for its massive size. It dwarfed every other dolphin and whale species hanging beside it including the gigantic skeleton of a prehistoric sea creature.  In one display case were narwhal tusks. I could not believe how long they were.

The Natural History Museum is housed in a beautiful old building. In one of the older sections with gleaming wood and old mosaic tile floors was an exhibit about art in nature. As a fourth grade team, we feel along with our science specialist that hand made drawings in science or nature journals are best. 

“Until one has drawn, it is impossible to understand,” (Arthur Harry Church- scientist and botanist (1865-1937). 

This quote was displayed next to some sample nature journal drawings. Sketching at the museum was encouraged and they even had a display of visitor’s drawings changed daily.

Next I headed upstairs to the dinosaur exhibit. A sign at the top of the steps said, “This way if you don’t want to escape from T Rex.” I heard some growls and followed the crowd into a small room where a mighty anamatronic lifesize T Rex was roaring at the crowd.  In another room were two small anamatronic dinosaurs squawking. They were cute, but in real life if you saw them, you would run for your life.

At the gift shop they had a lot of dodo bird items. I read an interesting article in the New Yorker several years ago so returned to the galleries to find it. Following a map, I was rewarded with two full size dodo birds. I was really struck by the size and shape of their beaks. There are very few places in the world where they have been preserved so this was amazing.

After meeting up with David, we shared our experiences. David said the VA (Victoria and Albert Museum) was beautiful with art at every turn. There were many highlights. One was a magnificent chandelier that greeted you upon entry. It was truly unique. 

Another highlight was the Becket Casketn with relics of the 12th century saint, Thomas Becket, and statues by Rodin.

A third highlight was Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook from 1490. The museum had photographed every page so you could scroll through it digitally.

In the Cast Room were plaster casts of Renaissance statues such as Michelangelo’s David. There was also a replica of the Baptistery Doors in Florence.  All in all it was an elegant and wonderful museum.

From the museums we took the Underground to Covent Gardens to visit Courtauld Gallery. Outside were amusing street performers.

The museum was started by a group of people who put their valuable collections together and is named after Samuel Courtlaud who donated his collection of paintings which included Van Gogh and Manet. We followed our Rick Steves’ guide to see the highlights. The Courtauld is especially strong on the Impressionists including Monet, Renoir, Gaugin, Degas, and Van Gogh. For many visitors of the museum the highlight is Van Gogh’s self portrait after he had mutilated himself in Arles a year before he took his own life. 

Outside in the courtyard was a fountain that became very playful once every hour. People took turns running gleefully through it while their friends snapped photos.

Feeling ready for some “retail therapy” as they say here, we took the Underground to Piccadilly Circus. 

Gone are the old neon lights it is famous for. Instead we saw giant poster style ads covering buildings. Our first stop was Fortnum & Mason which was established in 1707. It is a beautiful old world store with gleaming wood and polished brass. They are famous for the elaborate teas they serve, but we could only afford a small box of candy and a box of chocolate biscuits. This store was featured in Howard’s End, a movie with a setting in the early 1900s which I have always enjoyed. Outside the shop is a commemorative clock that honors the two founders of Fortnum & Mason. The characters bow to each other once every hour.

Just next door is my favorite store of all, Cath Kidston. Those of you who know me, know this store is like a pilgrimage for me. If you loved Laura Ashley, you would be in heaven in this shop. It smells of fresh roses and is always updating itself with new wonderful floral or animal patterns. I always have to circle the store several times before deciding what to buy I love it so much. 

Checking our watch, we noticed it was 5:00 pm. My feeling that I had museum feet was confirmed on my Fitbit which registered 7 miles. Since we do have a daily budget and had gone shopping, dinner was a grocery store picnic back at the hotel which can be a lot of fun. We purchased our dinner at Waitrose. We love visiting the grocery stores in other countries. Some supermarkets here sell everything from food to clothes and even small stoves, washing machines, and dryers.

Tonight we took the Underground to Trafalgar Square. 

The city was alive with people heading toward pubs, the theater, concerts, or just strolling around, Walking past The National Portrait Gallery at 8:30, we noticed it was still open. Inside was a festive atmosphere so we joined in and toured several of the portrait galleries. There was an enormous hologram portrait of Queen Elizabeth. She had her eyes closed and I didn’t really care for the depiction of her, but as art it was amazing. There were portraits of countless figures in British history from the height of the empire to present day. Some noted individuals include Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, Judi Dench, and  Jeremy Irons.

We ended the evening at Trafalgar Square just enjoying the view. I checked my Fitbit and found we walked a total of 9.5 miles today.  We are tired, but it has truly been a culturally rewarding and fun day.

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