Day 16 – Thursday, May 10th

Wow, what a day we have had!!!! We left our house about 8:00am and walked to the Oxford train station. The train to London took about an hour and was very full, so Michael and I ended up not being able to sit together. We passed only a small amount of farm land, but lots of towns (probably suburbs). We got off at Paddington Station and figured out how to buy tickets and catch the underground (tube) to Stepney Green and walked to Queen Mary University. There we met Michael’s host and several other researchers. As they all stepped down the hall for coffee, I headed back out to the train station and my London adventure.

Since Michael is only interested in certain things, and Jenny only wants to see certain sights, I planned my travels to visit some of the other attractions. I really wanted to stay away from 10 Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, because this morning Tony Blair announced that he was stepping down, and I knew that it would be a zoo!!!

Instead I headed for the Victoria and Albert Museum (called the “V&A” around here). I found my way back to the tube and onto a train. I never relax on these journeys until after the first stop because then I know that I am actually going in the right direction!! I had fun listening to two “blokes” (there is no other way to describe them) talk. They were obviously blue-collar workers and were loudly discussing football, politics and life in general. I got off at South Kennsington station and emerged in London to try to find the museum. After turning wrong several times and asking two different people how to get there, I finally arrived. The museum has free admission except for a special exhibit called “Surreal Things”, which I chose not to see.

The ticket attendant told me that “I must see the Kylie exhibit”and handed me a free ticket to get into it and told me to head that way at once. Well, I had no idea what the “Kylie” exhibit was, but I follow instructions well, so off I went. Apparently Kylie Minogue is an extremely popular singer in England and this was an exhibit of her costumes, CD’s, photographs etc. I imagine that Brian and Jenny know who she is, but it was lost on me!!! However, the costumes were amazing, albeit slightly indecent!!!

So, on to the museum exhibits. On the whole, I don’t like museums that much, but this one was amazing. The museum is devoted to the decorative arts, so it doesn’t have swords, war stuff, or other “historical” items, however, it does have ceramics, fashion, ironwork, jewelry, metalware, musical instruments, photography, stained glass, silver, sculpture and textiles….just to name a few!!!! I particularly wanted to see the textile and musical instrument galleries, but unfortunately they were closed due to a lack of funding for guards to roam the halls. The guard told me that they simply rotate which galleries are closed on a given day and I happened to pick the wrong day!! But, even without those two, there was more than enough to see.

The museum is a maze….on four levels. I even went UP the stairs to see the Kylie gallery, and then somehow ended up on the lower floor again…..I DO NOT remember going back down the stairs!!! The biggest problem for me was that I would start out heading for a particular gallery and then see another interesting gallery off to one side. After exploring the new gallery, I would ALWAYS come out another door and then not remember where I was headed in the first place. Oh well, it was a fun place to wander around in. The museum also provided folding stools that were available in every gallery….just in case you needed to rest a bit while getting lost!!!

My favorite were the Glass and Stained Glass galleries. They had a video showing someone making a stained glass piece and then had the piece there that you could touch and examine. In the glass gallery there was one piece that was made up of small squares of glass. They ran parallel to each other at the bottom of the sculpture and then go off at different angles as it went higher up. The amazing thing is that it is a different color depending on where you stand and at what height you stand. It was titled “A Moment In Time” and was created by Peter Aldridge.

The “Art in Architecture” gallery was interesting as well. They had initial drawings of some of the biggest buildings in London, including the Houses of Parliament, and it was amazing to see that they started as a small pencil sketch!!

The really cool part of this museum were the interactive exhibits. Most of them were designed for kids, but myself and MANY other adults were enjoying them as well. There was a “Discovery Area” in the metalwork gallery where you could press a small tin plate (with the V&A emblem), or try making a brass rubbing. In the fashion area, women could try on a corset and hoop skirt and the guys could try on a “Sherlock Holmes” type coat. There was an area where you could try your hand at being a curator and look for clues in the piece as to whether it was authentic or not…..I would NOT make a good curator!!!!

Most of the photos that I took are of designs that I saw (the quilter in me comes out). I especially like the carved and pierced marble screens (called Jali) that were from India. They were small squares and rectangles that were put together to provide shade, breezes and security in the homes.

Another of the pieces of art that I enjoyed was called “Breathless” by Cornelia Parker. It was a piece that was suspended in an opening between the floors and was made of flattened brass musical instruments.

As 2:00 approached, I realized that I was starving, so after asking for THREE different sets of directions, I found the café. It was an area that you could get a hot meal, a sandwich, a deli-meal, coffee/tea, or dessert and then sit at small tables to eat. I had a cream soup that was potato, onion and turmeric…..it was fantastic. The table next to me was occupied by two women who were out for the day. I eventually started talking to them and they proceeded to give me a list of plays that we “simply must see” and other sights that we cannot miss. One of them (Jane) volunteered at Kew Gardens, and she whipped out a map of the gardens and marked which exhibits I should see, which café had the best afternoon tea and even which toilet block was the best. The other woman (Jill) was a volunteer at the Chelsea Physic Garden (they pronounced it Visi-Garden) and they got into a mild disagreement about which garden we should visit first!! It was fun to talk with them.

After lunch I visited the art library. It was a huge room, and the walls were covered floor to ceiling with large red, bound books about various aspects of art. There was a narrow metal staircase that led to a second balcony level and it was also covered with smaller books. Oh for a month or two in here!!!

There was a lot of construction going on in the museum, and one of the areas was in the “Cast Court”. This area contains casts that have been made of some of the worlds grandest (in size) sculptures. It was fun to see the workers trying to build a scaffold around one of the wall pieces so that they could work on the wall behind it. It seemed to be a very slow process.

As I was leaving the museum, I found that there was a tunnel that lead directly to the tube. I was very glad of this because it was pouring rain at the moment and I really didn’t want to get lost in the rain.

I arrived back at the University in time to leave again to go to dinner. We dined with Michael’s host (Andrew), his wife, a researcher from Kew, and an American PhD Student. As we were walking to the restaurant Andrew pointed and said “Now, there is the Tower of London”. I had no idea that we were so close. As is normal in Europe, it was great fun to walk through areas of such historical significance while on the way to dinner!!

The University is putting us up in a small flat which is very nice. It has one bedroom, bathroom and small kitchen/dining area. We are very grateful for the royal treatment that we are being given!!

I cant seem to get my photos to upload, so I will attach them later.

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