Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday in London

My day in outline: Charles Dickens' House Museum and Library, Great Ormond Street Hospital, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch, Whitehall, No. 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards, Churchill Wartime Cabinet Rooms Museum, Parliament Square and Churchill statue, New Scotland Yard, and evensong at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Pedometer count today: 15,837. My feet are back in working order. And I'm pooped! I'll flesh out these days, but wanted to get the outlines down so you get some sense of what I've been doing since Thursday. The picture at left is of the British Museum.

Here's the fuller version of my day. Last night I plotted a number of sites on my map of London and decided to follow the trail I'd marked out for as long as daylight (and my body) allowed. I'm a very short distance from the Charles Dickens' House Museum and Library so wandered south from my digs to get a couple of photos. The house was not yet open, but I was not planning on an extended visit. From there I headed back to Guilford Street and then south to Great Ormond Street and the Children's Hospital. I had a recollection that there was a Peter Pan sculpture near the entrance to the hospital and wanted to see it, if possible. The author J. M. Barrie bequeathed all his rights to his work, Peter Pan, to the hospital. Over the years those rights have generated quite an income for the hospital, but I believe that Peter Pan has, or is about to, enter the public domain and the income from those rights cease for the hospital. I walked along Great Ormond, found the entrance to the hospital and with it the small garden to the left of the entrance that contains the Peter Pan sculpture. With a few more "snaps" in the camera I headed southwest to Russell Square and then on to the British Museum.

There are a number of references to the British Museum in the Holmes canon. For instance, we have Holmes saying in The Musgrave Ritual, "When I first came up to London I had rooms in Montague Street, just round the corner from the British Museum, and there I waited, filling in my too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science which might make me more efficient." I myself walked Montague Street and wondered where Holmes might have stayed. And, on entering the Museum, quickly sensed what riches were housed within its collections. I spent quite a bit of time viewing exhibits from the ancient world, especially Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. And, of course, I had to see the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. I took a number of pictures, especially of some of the cuneiform inscripts and cylinder seals, but also of some of the more monumental pieces. The old Reading Room is not accessible to the public, but I did enjoy the chance to wander through the Enlightenment exhibit in the area that once housed King George III's library. That library is now at the British Library, displayed much like the books at the Beinecke Library at Yale. One could spend hours, if not days, at the British Museum, but I wanted to see some other sights so after a couple of hours moved on.

From the Museum I headed over to Charing Cross Road, in search of the legendary address of "84 Charing Cross Road." I found the site and noticed a number of other booksellers along the way. I didn't take any pictures during this part of my stroll, but you can check out this website for more information on this famous literary address.

Moving south along Charing Cross Road I came to Garrick Theatre, a statue of Henry Irving, and the National Portrait Gallery. I hadn't intended to visit this gallery, but knew that some of Doyle's family were represented in the collection, so stepped in for a look. I concentrated on the Victorian artists, looking for any portraits by a Doyle. I didn't find any, but there is a way to search the collections through their web site. If you enter "Doyle" as a search term you'll get a number of hits for items related to Doyle family members.

After an hour or so in the gallery I moved on to Trafalgar Square, a view of the National Gallery (sorry, no time to visit, but I'll put it down for a future visit), Nelson's Column, and the Admiralty Arch, where I snapped a few more photographs before moving down Whitehall. I wanted to get a better view of No. 10 Downing Street then I had during my first visit, so headed in that direction. Along the way I stopped at the Horse Guards where both horse and guard(s) were on display and available for pictures. I took advantage of the situation and snapped a few shots. From there it was down Whitehall to catch a glimpse of No. 10 Downing Street. Access is now limited so the best you can do is get a look through the fencing and gates and on down the street. But it was still great to see.

Walking a little farther south I spied a sign directing me towards the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. I had not intended to visit this museum today, but as it was only about 2pm I had plenty of time. So I turned off Whitehall, walked past the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and came to the entrance of the Churchill Museum. This was one of the "must sees" on my list before I left home, so I was thrilled to finally get the chance. I've been a long-time fan of Churchill, so this was a special experience. It was very nice to get an audio guide as part of the admission price; this interpreted much of what I saw in the underground spaces. The biggest surprise for me was the extensive Churchill Museum that is adjacent to the Cabinet War Rooms. I spent a long time looking through the exhibits and videos. One thing that was particularly interesting to see again was a video clip from Churchill's funeral. I remember seeing some of this on television as a young boy. I didn't think of taking pictures during the first part of my visit, so don't have a photographic record of the Cabinet Room or some of the earlier rooms on the tour, but I took a few pictures during the later half of the tour. I think I was worried about conserving my batteries; I wanted to get a picture later on of the Churchill statue in Parliament Square (which I did). This, indeed, is a "must see" for anyone interested in Churchill and WWII; highly recommended.

On coming out of the Churchill Museum I noticed that it had rained while I was underground. But now the sun was out and the sky a deep blue. So I took myself over to Parliament Square and a view of the Churchill statue before moving past Westminster Abbey and down Victoria Street to the last item on my checklist for the day--New Scotland Yard. It wasn't hard to find, although I had to turn the corner before finding the revolving sign that I've seen on some of the mystery programs on television. A short way up the street from Scotland Yard was another surprise, one I wasn't sure I'd find--the earlier headquarters building for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6). It was located on Broadway and looked just as I'd pictured it in my mind. I thought of all that had gone on in the building as the Kim Philby saga unfolded. I also thought of one of my favorite spy movies, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" based on the book by one of my favorite authors, John le Carré.

From Broadway and spy story memories I moved back up towards Trafalgar Square. Here I was met with another delight and surprise in the form of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Out of curiosity I went up to the church to check their schedule for the day. It was just a few minutes before 5 and an evensong was about to begin. I decided to take the opportunity and went in for the service. I'd missed an evensong in Portsmouth and was determined to get one more in before I left for home. This was the perfect time and place. St. Martin-in-the-Fields seems to be a very active church, with a sensitivity to its surroundings and an outreach to the community. It was a good place to end a very full day.

After evensong I wandered back toward "home," stopping along the way at the same market I'd visited during my first stay to buy a sandwich (crab and sweet corn), some mineral water, and cookies (chocolate chip). Then it was back to my room. I uploaded more pictures from the day and was pleasantly surprised when Clarisa popped up on Facebook Chat. She's on the West coast, in Oregon, with the Gospel Choir from North Park. Apparently her bus is fixed with wireless, so she could communicate while on the road. Pretty neat! It was great to touch base. I also chatted earlier with Steve Forbes, an old friend from North Park days. By 10pm the eyelids were starting to drop and it was time to call it a day.

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