This is the ninth in a weekly series that will extend until the end of June. It will chronicle my travels in Europe and the interesting things I come upon or wish someone had told me before I left. I will spend five weeks focusing on London.
Culture is quite easy to find in London. There are tons of museums and all the big ones are government subsidized and therefore free. There are also lots of theatres and more than half the posters around the city are for a live show of some kind.
The museums are the cheapest way to experience culture and are quite easy to come by. Here are some highlights of free museums not to be missed:
· The British Museum: This is kind of a no-brainer. The museum is huge and well stocked with amazing artifacts stolen during the heady days of conquest, exploration, and exploitation. They have everything from Saxon burial goods to Greek temple reliefs to Paleolithic hand axes. Some recommended exhibits: the mummies, the Assyrian stonework, and the Rosetta Stone. Can be skipped: The European plates, unless you have an obsession with Wedgewood designs there is a definite limit to how interesting lots and lots of faux classical vases can be.
· The Museum of London Docklands: This museum is a little outside the normal tourist domain. Located in the rapidly gentrifying Canary Wharf, it tells the history of docks and the surrounding areas. It starts on the top floor and takes you down through the eras. Recommended: London, Sugar and Slavery as well as Sailortown. The latter is a recreation of the area from 1840-50 and is a lot of fun to hang out in. The former is a powerful exploration of Britain’s role in the triangle slave trade. Can be skipped: The Sainsbury exhibit, great if you are really interested in the history of the supermarket chain and if you want some free produce-themed postcards, but otherwise somewhat boring blatant advertising for a museum sponsor.
· National Gallery– A museum with a huge collection of paintings from many famous painters. It rivals but doesn’t quite top the Louvre’s painting collection. Some recommended pieces: Anything by J.M.W. Turner, the impressionist section, and The Ambassadors, a painting that is squirrelled away in Room G which is down in the Basement level behind the espresso bar. It contains an amazing optical illusion considering it was painted in the 1553, to see it, go left to right and look at the bottom half of the painting. Can be skipped: Just about everything else outside of room G in the basement level.
· British Library: While not technically a museum, the library is still worth a visit. It has a really interesting exhibition of their most treasured books and papers which included the first written sheet music, many beautifully illuminated texts, papers and letters written by historical people including Isaac Newton, The Beatles, and Queen Elizabeth I. They also had a special room for various incarnations of the Magna Carta, which is kind of a big deal in England. And right now they are also running a British comic book exhibit that is not to be missed, however it isn’t free, but if you flash a student ID you can get in for £5. It is very engrossing and involves lots of reading, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time peruse it. There are also several of mannequins with Guy Fawks masks which gives it a kind of creepy air as they keep tricking you into thinking there are groups of people lurking in the corners. Other than that the exhibit is big on Alan Moore, and is definitely not for kids. Especially the porn section.
Tip of the Week: If you’re looking for something a little more lively than a museum, check out the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. If you’re willing to stand the entire show and be a groundling, rain or shine, you can get a ticket for £5. Even in the pouring rain it is worth going. Just make sure to bring a poncho, since it is based on the original Globe, there isn’t a ceiling and they don’t allow you to open your umbrella in the groundling area.
Until next week, Cheers!