We were very excited to be in London – the capital of the United Kingdom and the center of it’s vast (or at least formerly vast) empire. Being the unapologetic nerds that we are, we spent two afternoons at both the British Museum and the National Gallery. We had a tremendous time and were very impressed with both the diversity of the collections and as well with the way they were presented.
The British Museum houses most of the archeological and cultural pieces from the empire and we were really impressed with how well it was all laid out. Even though we spent two afternoons, we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to and had to cut out whole geographic areas. One of the most impressive items we saw was the Rosetta stone – the stone that contained heiroglyphics, ancient Egyption script, and Greek writing and which was the key to unlocking and translating heiroglyhics.
Of course, there were tons of Egyptian artifacts and mummies – makes you wonder what, if anything, is left in Egypt – especially when combined with our visit to New York’s museum. I wonder if, like Greece, has recently begun to do with remnants from the Parthenon, if Egypt will begin to demand the return of their artifacts as well.
For being the British Museum, there was really not too much on early Britons or their culture, but what they did have was entirely fascinating – showing a rise from hunter/gatherer to farmer to Roman enclave to dominating empire (okay, they didn’t really explain how that happened but it was interesting nonetheless).
Another really great national treasure is the National Gallery where the best of pre-modern art is displayed (of course, no photos). We quickly ran through the 1250-1500s – the baby Jesus – Jesus on a stick section as that can get old when you’ve seen it over and over and over again. We did enjoy the works of the great masters and were especially impressed with some of the later pieces from Van Gogh and Picasso. It’s really nice to see the locals appreciating their artifacts as well and dropping in on the artists sketching the paintings is great fun!
Without a doubt, these two destinations are must-sees when visiting London, both centrally located and near an underground station and at the same time, free – sponsored by the UK government much like the Smithsonian museums in the US.