The idea for going to England came from a listing of “top museums to see before you die” that I came across and I realized that I’d missed some major (and free) museums on my prior trips to Europe. If you also decide to visit England, Scotland or Ireland during a trip to Continental Europe, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
- England, Ireland and Scotland are not part of the Schengen area and you have to pass through customs and immigration in order to enter
- England, North Ireland and Scotland use Great British Pounds for currency, so you will need to exchange currency (South Ireland uses Euros)
- There is a time zone difference! I forgot about this at first and with my phone not connecting, had to manually adjust it because I kept thinking it was an hour later than it was!
The exterior of the British Museum is quite lovely . . . and packed with people; however, the inside is so big that you rarely feel crowded. I would recommend visiting the mummy room and Rosetta Stone as early or late as possible since the crowds are thinner then.
The African art section was relatively small and definitely not crowded, which gave me plenty of time to check out these amazing Benin City tiles from the 16th Century.
Heading upstairs, I found a significant section of Indian artifacts, which makes sense given it was a British colony for quite some time . . . which was something I became very uncomfortably aware of after a signficant number of signs in all different parts of the museum roughly read, “and after Britain invaded their country, some British dude packed this stuff back to London and eventually the museum ended up with it.” Despite the unsettling thought that the British Museum perhaps HAS such an impressive collection because it was virtually stolen from where it belongs, here were two of my favorite Indian pieces. The first is Harihara or Vishnu and Shiva combined from ~1000 AD and the second is Shiva and his consort, Parvati from the 12-13th century AD.
After wandering through more of the Asian exhibits, I was in the Egyptian area and came across the very crowded mummy room . . . so I quickly snapped a shot and moved along.
I was able to get one more of the mummy of lady Henutmehyt, which had a really decorative exterior.
While many people crowded around the mummy area, that left the Ancient Arabia areas nearly empty and I saw this incredible example of cuneiform from the 2,350 BC Sumarians.. It really is interesting to see one of the earliest written human languages preserved.
The other area that was virtually empty was the Islamic Art area, which was not really all Islamic, but rather from largely Islamic countries. The tiling was really lovely and colorful, plus there was an interesting story posted about how the Franks defeated the Muslim armies in AD 732 in Poitiers! Who knew this little city in France had such a colorful history? Diane de Poitiers, beating the Muslim armies . . . a lot of history for such a small place! This is an Islamic frieze from Iran in the 13th-14th century. Note that there is an Arabic inscription along the bottom.
While there weren’t a lot of American items, there was a nicely laid out American Indian section that covered the different regions and really highlighted the differences in lifestyle between regions. The Mexican, Central and South American area also had a good layout by group (Maya, Aztecs, etc). This skull is from the Aztecs.
While not a great picture, this is the ACTUAL Rosetta stone that provided 3 languages, including Greek and Hieroglyphs, which led to finally being able to read hieroglyphs!
There were so many other fascinating things to see – ancient winged guardians from Nimrud (Northern Iraq 883-859 BC):
A Lycian tomb from Xanthos (now Turkey). 390-380 BC (note the person, which shows how big this thing really is):
While one of the rooms didn’t seem to have a significant number of items in it, the fact that it held the remnants of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (the only one remaining is the Pyramids of Giza) – in this case, the remnants were from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos (350 BC). One other thing that was implied by some of the signs is that, if British dudes hadn’t packed some of this stuff off, it would have been lost forever as many similar structures or items were destroyed or damaged beyond recognition.
While the pyramids weren’t built until 2,500 BC, it seems we were already offing each other over shrinking resources in 11,000 BC, when the first evidence of warfare is found in human remains.
Kind of ironic that I was looking at mummified remains and, as I was heading into slightly more modern stuff, I wondered how far in the future it would be before people were looking through the remains of our current civilization . . . fortunately, it seems the British Museum has the answer for me! They have a small room already populated with things from the 1950s, including differentiating between customized dishes and “mass produced” ones. I can only imagine museum displays in the future and what they’ll say about us!
Before making it to more modern times though, I came across this chess set in the European area and I just love it! They were found in Lewis, Scotland, but thought to be Scandinavian in origin from 1150-1200 AD. The carvings are just so ornate!
It was getting close to closing time and I’d actually made it through the entire museum nearly, so I hurried upstairs to the Japan section, the last area I hadn’t seen. They had a really impressive display of this Samurai warrior, who turned out to have items from 1500-1800 BC, which made it slightly less cool than if they were unique sets by time period. I also really liked the brightly colored elephant, which is an animal that wouldn’t have been seen by the Japanese at the time; however, they were commissioned to make these as collectibles for wealthy Europeans.
I stayed in the area near Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, so I was able to take some lovely photos of the area and the palace:
As I was walking through the park toward the movie theater, I came across a restaurant advertising as open all day for eating (this likely does NOT mean 24 hours, but rather that they do not close for certain hours – one thing that is hard to adapt to is that lunch is often 12-14 or earlier and then places will close down until 18 or sometimes as late as 19:30 before opening again for dinner. If you miss the lunch hours, you may find it quite difficult to find anywhere open to eat! Having seen this accommodating note, I headed in only to find I was eating at a French restaurant! Well, can’t go wrong with Salad de Chèvre Chaud! While I was a little disappointed to be eating at a French restaurant during my one weekend outside of France, it turned out to be the only decent meal I had. Both the pork and the hamburger I had later were badly overcooked and the French-style baguette sandwich (but with chips aka “crisps”) was just ok compared to those in France. Hopefully I don’t find food in the US too terrible when I return home after being spoiled with French food for so long! I will certainly miss all the variations of chèvre and salad de chèvre chaud though!