Thursday, August 04, 2011


I bought an umbrella today. Yes, it's rained after 10 days. So I've had ten beautiful days. And I spent most of today at the Victoria and Albert (fantastic, more on that in a bit), so I wasn't in the rain anyway.

It's been warm and beautiful here. And I've been riding subways. I love subways. I probably wouldn't if I had to commute every day for 20 years, but I don't, so I do. But they get a little warm in the warmth.

So here's the thing. It's amazing that they've got ventilation down there. I can't imagine the planning that goes into making subway systems work, with ventilation, trains going in all different directions, people going in all different directions, and so forth.

What I've noticed with the warmth and the subways: I sweat. I feel the sweat dripping down the side of my face. My back is sometimes totally wet from carrying a backback (becaues I am SUCH a tourist).

And I am the only person on the subway who doesn't look freshly showered and powdered. It's amazing. I'm in a light shirt and light slacks, and there are people in wool suits and such, and they look totally fresh, and I'm dripping sweat. (I don't usually sweat in extreme ways, so far as I've noticed, and I don't think I'm having a hot flash every time I get on the subway.)


Another observation: I'm trying to figure out how to get myself some places, and figuring out train schedules is just not easy. What I'd really like is a schedule on line that looks like an old schedule, giving times when the train leaves such and so station, and so on, in a row, and then columns of trains, so it's a whole table, and you can figure out when you want to leave, and how often trains come and so on.

Instead, I've been trying to figure things out through this official site, and you have to put in when you want to go, and which station, and so on. But how do I know which station a train to MysteryCity uses?

I THINK I've sort of figured out how to get myself to Canterbury. If so, I'll go there tomorrow. If not, I'll find out, and go somewhere else or something.


I did make it to Stonehenge yesterday, by taking a tourist thing. It was okay, but not fabulous. I'm slow looking at stuff, and we had been held up by traffic, so I didn't get to just stand and stare long enough.

And to be honest, I think I was expecting something even bigger. Then one of my friends commented on fb about This is Spinal Tap and now my brain is sort of stuck there. Anyway, I'm sharing a stereotypical tourist picture I took.


Several folks have recommended the Victoria and Albert Museum as one of their favorites, so today I went. And I have to say to all those friends, you were right! It's a marvelous museum! I spent a ton of time looking at the sculptures and all sorts of medieval and early modern stuff.

One of my tricks when I go somewhere is to ask the local guard at a museum what their favorite thing is. Sometimes, you get great ideas. Today, the guard I asked said I shouldn't miss the ceramics. (It's a hit or miss thing, what can I say?) So after I'd wandered through what I really wanted to see, I headed up to the sixth floor on a lift (I'm down with all the lingo, yeah, like that.)

Now, when I think of a ceramics display in a museum, I'm thinking of something like what I saw in Japan, where there's a piece in a case with a description talking about the glaze and such.

Or maybe something like in the British Museum, where there are ancient Greek pots, and there's a little description of each, talking about black figure or red figure and so on.

That's what I'm contemplating as I ride the elevator up.

I got out of the elevator, turned, and faced these two IMMENSE floor to ceiling cases running in the center of the room, with equally large cases on the outer walls of the room, filled with ceramics like a nightmare of what you wouldn't want to have to dust. And that was the first room.

It was overwhelming. That's not to say some weren't stunningly beautiful, but mostly it looked like everyone's imaginary Victorian grandmother's fantasy china and kitsch pieces had gotten together and bred wildly. There were tea sets and figurines, and blue on white, and so on and on, for three or four rooms (I got lost among the rooms).

All I could think was: someone had to dust around those before they became museum pieces, and I'm really glad it wasn't me.

And then of course, I thought: EARTHQUAKE!

Did I ever tell you about the cow creamers and the earthquake?

When I was a little kid, my Mom had a cow creamer (usually it's a cow shaped ceramic piece with a hole in the back for putting milk/cream in, and a hole in the mouth to pour the milk through, and a tail curved into a handle) that had been a great grandmother's. And so, of course, she loved this, and I loved it, and somehow, she began to collect a few cow creamers. She had about 15 maybe, and decided she was done, and wanted to be able to display them. There was a blank area of wall in the kitchen, so she determined that there were no wires behind it, and decided to knock the wall out and put in a little niche.

So one morning, she put a hole in the plasterboard, and discovered that there were wires behind it. Oops. But then she rewired around, and built the niche, all before my Dad got home (because he would have said "I told you so" or something). Then she put in glass shelves, and on the glass shelves she put the cow creamer collection.

I know what you're thinking, but that's because you probably don't know my Mom. When she put each cow creamer in place, she glued it down. And she fixed the glass shelves in place.

And when the earthquake came, and it did, she lost one cow creamer, and nothing else in the house. (Yay for earthquake preparedness!)

I'm putting the Victoria and Albert (along with the Tower and British Museum, so far) on my list of places to visit again. It's just that good (and that big! I didn't see nearly all of it!)

Am I boring everyone?


  1. I love the V&A! It's like exploring a very tidy attic full of a nation's accumulated odds and end (beds! clocks! dresses! dishes!). I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

    And I am SO with you about being the sweaty one on the Tube. How do the Brits stay so tidy and cool? I am completely disheveled 10 minutes after I walk out the door of my flat, and by the time I'm on the Tube, my hair is flat, my make-up is running and sweat is running down my back.

    Hope you make it to Canterbury. I think you'll enjoy it, with your love of old stuff.

    Absolutely not bored. Keep up the posts!

  2. Thanks, PhdMe! And you're description of the V&A as an attic is perfect!

  3. Don't be surprised after riding the subway for a few weeks if you blow your nose and what's in your tissue is black. I was shocked the first time to see the amount of pollution up my nose, but then, it just kinda got funny.

    The National Portrait Gallery is my favorite...don't miss the modern portraits (especially the blood mask--you have to see it to believe it).

  4. You can get train timetable leaflets at the London terminals. Just be sure to get them for the kind of service you want, fast or local. If you've found your outbound train online, you can get a leaflet with return times before you board the outbound train.

    And if you're coming to Oxford and want a tour of Trinity College, let me know.

  5. Bored? Are you kidding? I've kept meaning to leave a quick note here just to let you know how much I've enjoyed the travel stories, because I have. But the ceramics and the cow creamers and the earthquake had me chortling out loud. Sounds like you're having a great time and I'm loving hearing about it!

  6. Roaringgrrl, I've already had that. But I get it from biking near plowing in spring, so while it's gross, it's ... well, not scary. But it is gross.

    I may have missed the bloody mask, alas. Maybe it wasn't on display right now?

    Brian, You have mail! Thanks :)

    Pilgrim/Heretic, Thanks :) I AM having a great time.

  7. Not bored, just envious. The closest I've been to England in the past 10 years was when I heard the phrase "Mind the gap" used in a very amusing context in the silly film Captain America the other day.

    We enjoyed Avebury more than Stonehenge because the rocks have become a part of this wonderful little village so you can walk right up and touch many of them. It's worth a visit but it's not as easily accessible as Stonehenge.

  8. Far from bored! Love the cow creamer story!

    Never saw Stonehenge, just Manhattanhenge.

    Keep those pics and stories coming..

  9. On the train timetable issue, two websites: (if i recall correctly you can just put in your city and it'll let you know the relevant station) and for travel around London, there's nothing better than If you put in a postcode, it will tell you exactly how to get somewhere, even down to the bus stop (and since now almost all buses have the system in which the next bus stop is announced over the speaker (or tannoy!) and flashes on an electric display, the bus system is much easier to use.

    Finally, if you haven't already done so, buy a London A to Z. Invaluable.

  10. Long time lurker from this side of the pond getting a real kick out of seeing somebody see the UK for the first time ;-)

    For trains, the trainline does indeed work. National Rail Enquiries allows you to stick in any two places with stations and get a list of departures/arrivals to choose from (like the journeyplanner on Transport for London); more importantly, it also has the list of disrupted services.

    Earthquakes? We haven't had a decent one since the one that flattened Lincoln Cathedral in 1185!

    And we aren't at all cool on the Tube. We're just better at pretending that we're not actually melting into a little puddle of sweat on the floor ;-)

  11. Wegie -- Aha! I always expected the seemingly cool looking Londoners were just faking it with that stiff-upper-lip British way of doing things! Also, suit jackets hide the sweat better.

    I second using the National Rail or Trainline sites to get schedules. For either, just enter "London" for departing station and the choice of "all stations" should come up. Same for any destinations with more than one station.

    I *love* the V&A, too, especially the recently redesigned medieval and early modern sections, which emphasize the continuity between the periods. They're the first museum I know of to have done that.

  12. Favorite London thimgs: John Soanes House. It is indescribable, but this is a good attempt:

    And Wagamama. Pan Asian food, dining hall style. Delicious, reasonable, and a way. to meet interesting people. one location near the british Museum.

    I would also add a trip to Tunbridge Wells to see Penshurst.

  13. Sir John Soane's is, um, barking, absofrigginglutely barking! I adore it. Not to mention the Hogarth cartoons, or the sarcophagus of Seti I. And you can look at his plans for the Houses of Parliament and weep over what we could have had instead of the Barry and Pugin monstrosity we now posess.

    For an early modernist who teaches into the Enlightenment, you've got to go and have a pint (or a glass of wine, although the house wine is, um, interesting) at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese -- aka Samuel Johnson's local. If you visit the Johnson House museum first, you can even say "hi" to Hodge at the end of the square. Yes, it's on all the tourist routes, and it's not as well maintained as it could be, but it's the closest thing we still possess in London to an ale and chop house of that era, and the beer is excellent (and there's a Wagamama 50 yards away underneath Goldman Sachs in the old Daily Express building, which is where my husband I usually repair for dinner after a couple of pints at the Cheese).

    The other pub that's a must is The George in Southwark (London Bridge Tube), which is the last remaining galleried coaching inn -- but don't stay for more than half a pint, as it's not a particularly good pub qua pub.

  14. Entertained and ooo-ing and ah-ing. Keep the awesome posts coming!! Plus, it gives me great ideas for when I go back to London. That's certainly not eminent, but it's on my next-five-years-to-do list.

  15. The reason to go to the Naitonal Rail site is that you often save significant amounts of money by booking a ticket in advance (maybe not so much for day returns, but). Train pricing in the UK is as bad as airlines.

    And Yay! for the V&A. When you go back, go to the costume galleries...