Friday, April 30, 2010

Part III - 1st Time European Travel - Impressions

In an effort to avoid the teaming masses that were already converging upon Trafalgar Square for the St. Patric's Day, booze inspired festival frenzy to come, we started our day early.

A walk from the hotel past the square confirmed the worst, our lovely fountains had been colored green, a huge sound stage had been set up, and everywhere there was space for it, a stand had sprouted overnight selling shamrock hats.

Oh the humanity...dear God in heaven, but there was a lot of humanity there already, and it wasn't even 9AM! Time to get out fast, but first...breakfast. :) Have I mentioned how fond I have grown of the traditional English breakfast?

So the Museum of London...
It seems to me we took the subway from Charing Cross to somewhere nearby... yes, my vast knowledge of the tube system, coupled with the cavernous hole in my brain pan is probably not something you want to trust to get you around. :)

Where ever we got off from the train, the area we arrived in what appeared to be the financial district of London. It was very quiet since it was the weekend, and as we walked towards the very modern looking museum, I noticed the occasional glimpse of old London poking through the new.

Like the remnants of an ancient garden gone feral, you could spy these stray bits of history down narrow alleyways, sunning themselves in the morning light.

What the museum lacks in exterior charm, it more than makes up in the sheer volume of content it holds within.
The whole history of the British Isle, or nearly so, and laid out in perfect order, beginning in the prehistoric era, looking at early Paleolithic tools used by some of the islands first native citizens.

Now don't laugh too hard, but I had a real dumb moment as I wandered past large collections of Neolithic bowels and flint axeheads. I'd suddenly realized that this fantasy place I'd built in my head over the last forty years, based upon Hollywood inspired preconceptions, hadn't just suddenly appeared out of the blue. It's silly really but before this encounter with reality, I had been living under the false assumption that there had never been anything here but savages and the occasional wandering druid. Then the Romans came, bringing along culture, education and proper bathing habits. They got a bit too tyrannical which allowed for King Arthur to come along with his round table and viola! England.

Of course it wasn't just Arthur, there were many fine men of valor that helped to fashion this great fantasy in my head, Robin Hood, the Three Musketeers... What's that? The Musketeers were French? But how's that possible, in all the movies they spoke fluent English and with perfect accents! Oh dear...

As I grappled with these new harsh reality's, I came to a lovely glass window, and there it was...or rather a bit of it..., just a piece of the fantasy/reality come to life. Below us, some 30 or 40 feet away, was one of the six remaining sections of the London Wall. Finally, it was King Arthur come to life!

Ah yes, I could see it now...valiant knights walking these very walls, keeping an ever vigilant eye out for invading Saxons...

King Arthur was a fictional character and a result of Geoffrey Monmouth's fanciful and imaginative 12th century work of fiction titled, "History of the Kings of Britain"!?

Hey! Look Mr. Wikipedia, all this history is really starting to mess with my head man! Could know...lay off the reality for a little while? I'm trying to live the dream here!


(Hmph!) Alrighty then, we have arrived at my favorite time span and surely the one Hollywood had been trying to sell me all these years..., Midevil London.

Uhmm...,it's actually Medieval London.

Damn it man! What did I say about the reality shit?! Midevil, Medieval, tomata, tomato..., stop interrupting me! the Medieval London Gallery is pretty cool, though not so much into the whole Knights of the Round Table thing. They really dwell on the life of the average Londoner in that time period, which I have to tell you seems dreadfully dull in comparison to the Hollywood version.

At some point during my walk through the museum, I came upon a rather intriguing find, discovered in the Thames near London Bridge, in 1840. It appeared to be a rather decorative bronze tool of some sort...kinda looked like a nut cracker...a really dangerous looking nut cracker. Turns out I wasn't far off the mark.

What the very enthusiastic museum docent was only too happy to tell us, was that we were looking upon an artifact that was part of of a religion dedicated to the goddess Cybele. This lovely bronze piece was used in a particular ceremony for men looking to become priests of the ancient deity. Uh-oh...I didn't like where this was going... guessed it, this was the castration clamp future male members of Cybelian clergy were required to have used upon them, prior to their obtaining the religious orders platinum package membership. Feel free to visit the Royal Society of Medicine page that I linked to above, it gives a very vivid study on the discovery and use of the dreadful device, and it aint pretty. Oh yeah, that sort of thing would require a very fanatical believer indeed!

Having finished the Museum of London, my traveling companions led us to the nearby St. Paul's Cathedral, which was stunning, and possibly the burial site of a long dead and very distant relative.

Words, and indeed the all to simple ones available to me cannot describe the truly transcendent, nearly ethereal nature of the place. The saddest thing about it from the outside, is that it's so beautiful and yet so incredibly hidden. Here it was in all it's glory, a survivor of history which included WWII's infamous - The Blitz, and you can barely see it.

This location is the highest point in all of London and yet it's obscured for miles around by what is essentially New London. It's really a shame because something this fabulous should be seen from every corner of the city. Now all you get is glimpses of it from here and there, and that's really too bad.

But enough about the outside..., check out the scene played out on the cathedral dome...

It really is amazing..., you see this much beauty and grace, and you can't help but to think that their must be a higher power.

Well all this beauty can make a person hungry...not me though, I had the sense to eat a hearty breakfast earlier. My traveling companions decided they needed sustenance so where to? Well heck, we'll just go on down to the crypts for a bowl of soup... say what?

Oh yeah, sharing space with what may very well be my most famous relative, the great admiral,
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, are two very nice eating establishments. The Cafe and The Restaurant at St. Paul's.

Apparently the British don't have nearly as many hang ups as I do about eating with the dead. I dunno, I just find it really odd looking at a menu inside a crypt, and I'm not joking here there are dead people everywhere!

Cornish adventure coming soon...


  1. Great post Joe! love the pictures. BTW, there is quite a substantial amount of evidence to show that the Celts in Briton were not so much invaded by the Romans, but rather were invited in as an ally. Check out the history around Fishbourne Palace. It is thought to be the palace of a Celtic leader who was having problems with some of the other Celtic tribes and allied himself to the Romans. Also there is a bronze calendar that was found in Brittany that is clearly Celtic and more reliably than the Roman calendar. Calendars show lots of types of knowledge and a good way to discern the level of mathematics and science in a culture. Anyway, just some fuel for thought

  2. Cool, thanks for the feedback Anne! :)