Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 33: London Calling

I've been in Saint Albans/London for three days now and I'm pretty much in love with it here. Saint Albans is an absolutely picturesque little British town. I've really been enjoying relaxing, and I'm so grateful to my wonderful relatives for having me.

Saturday when I arrived we went to Jamie's-- a new restaurant in town by Jamie Oliver. It was really cool, and situated in a busy part of Saint Albans. I got to see some of downtown, and was really happy to be settling down after a long morning of travel. That evening, we had pizza. Real pizza. Now, when I use the term real, I do not mean authentic like it was in Italy. I mean real, cheesy, gooey, greasy, pepperoni pizza. It was perfect.

Sunday I slept wayyyy in, finally getting to catch up on some of the hours I've been missing. That afternoon we had a typical English pub lunch, at which I ate a delightful beef, mushroom and ale pie, and sampled an English ale. It was a pretty afternoon, so we then took Max (the dog) to a local park. It was so pretty.  We walked around for a while, then I got to see Saint Albans Cathedral. Apparently Saint Alban is the first Christian saint. Who knew.

Monday I ventured in to London for the first time. Lloyd was gracious enough to show me how to take the train and get around. I spent the afternoon at the National Gallery. There was so much art spanning a number of periods. I rented an audio guide per usual (what can I say, I love a good audio guide), and soaked up the masterpieces. The National Gallery is home to a number of famous works-- Van Gogh's Sunflowers, a few of Monet's classic studies, Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks, and (perhaps my favorite of the well known pieces) The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck.

My favorite pieces that I saw, however, were one by Stubbs and a group of four paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer.

First, the Stubbs piece, "Whistlejacket." This photo from the internet does not do it justice. It is literally a huge painting. Stubbs studied the anatomy of horses through dissection just to get the musculature correct. I greatly admired this piece before I learned anything about it, but today in the British Museum I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a first edition of Stubb's book, "The Anatomy of the Horse."

The second group that I absolutely loved occupied a room by itself. The room was octagonal. Four doors, and four walls with a painting each representing the four elements. The paintings are not particularly noteworthy because of historic value or significance, rather they are captivating with detail, movement and color. The representation of the elements in market scenes was very clever. It is both at once discernible and intriguing. The painter has told you the answer, but then invites you to explore the question. My favorite of the group was the earth painting, just because of the cherries. I don't know what captivated me so about a basket of fruit, but it just made me think about the amount of time spent by the artist on each detail.

After I finished at the gallery I walked around Westminster. I saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. It was fantastic.

Today I slept in a bit, then headed in to town on my own. I've gotten very good at riding trains it seems. After a lovely lunch sitting on the lawn of Russell Square park, I spent the afternoon at the British Museum. You could easily spend a few days there. I did three audio guide tours-- One of the Library and gallery dedicated to the Enlightenment; one of the Ancient Egypt exhibit featuring the Rosetta Stone (AMAZING), mummies, and the body of a man who lived at least 5000 years ago who was buried in the sand, as well as the statue that probably inspired Shelley to write "Ozymandias" (for a Romantics nerd like me that is HUGE); and a tour of the Parthenon gallery, featuring the sculptures and friezes of the pediments and temple, and fragments that probably inspired Keat's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (I literally almost died I was so happy). I also briefly walked through a gallery sponsored by the Queen for her diamond jubilee that was all about horses, from Arabia to the Royal Ascot. 

After my afternoon I walked a bit around Regents/Oxford Streets, the huge shopping district downtown. I had already done a bit of window shopping the day before and continued to do so today. I've already spotted the retail locations of my two fave London-based brands: Molton Brown and Ted Baker. 

I've had the kind of days here recently that just make me smile. I'm doing the things that I want to do and loving every minute of it. 

During my Enlightenment audio tour, I learned a bit more about the phrase I've been throwing around when describing this trip. I've been jokingly calling it my "Grand Tour," because I knew that people used to do this in the 18th century around my age. Turns out that name hits the nail dead on the head. The "Grand Tour" was a tradition for young men to learn about art and culture by visiting other countries (mainly continental Europe) with a heavy focus on Italy. Huh. 

Looks like I've been touring pretty grandly.


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