Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Troilus and Cressida - in Te Reo

First: today is Anzac Day. I wanted to go to the dawn service in Hyde Park, but it started at five am and I would have had to leave the house at 3.45. Maybe when I live within one bus journey of Hyde Park. I've also been thinking about why Remembrance Day is not a holiday in the UK and Anzac Day is a holiday in Aus/NZ. I guess Anzac Day marks our coming of age as countries - our young people spent six weeks on boats travelling to far-off places for the promise of adventure and honour. My journey echoes this part, in a way: leaving NZ to see the world. And yet they went through horrific battles and returned very different men from the ones who'd left. If they returned. It was our first chance to really prove ourselves as countries, and prove ourselves we did, but not without cost.

Second: On a wholly different level of being, a note to self. Do not wear slip on shoes on the tube (just saw a girl lose a shoe down the trench where the rails are. Not sure how she's going to get it back).

Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre (as seen in Shakespeare in Love) burned down a few centuries ago (I remember some story about cannon and the roof catching fire?) but there is a modern-day replica sitting beside the Thames in the shadow of the converted-power station Tate Modern gallery. At the moment they're doing a 'Globe to Globe' festival, with thirty seven Shakespeare plays played in thirty seven different languages by actors from countries around the world. Monday night opened the festival with Troilus and Cressida in Maori, so I had to go and see it.

They don't use surtitles, which could have been very annoying but actually wasn't - I think the surtitles would have been more annoying than anything, because you'd keep staring at them rather than watching the performances of the actors. They did have scene descriptions up on light boards, and while I think I would have liked a few more of these at times, it's amazing how much you can pick up just from watching gestures and expressions. I had a very slight advantage over much of the audience because I could pick up a few words and guess what the rest of them might be. At one point the moon was mentioned a lot, and I decided they were probably talking about fickle love and the waxing and waning of the moon.

And the actors gave very good performances. If you've ever seen a Maori kapa haka performance, cross that with acting and you get the feel of it. For those of you who haven't seen kapa haka, imagine subtly fluttering hands, lots of movement across the stage and almost-constant gestures. It's incredibly dramatic, and add in the haka and the fighting with taiaha and you've got a breathtaking performance.

The women were dressed in pseudo-medieval dresses with Maori-inspired bodices or accents, while the men wore a more traditional Maori dress of loincloths, tattoos and, for the older men, cloaks. The story, occurring during the Trojan War, works well in a tribal Aotearoa setting with battles and war-torn love.

The playhouse was pretty full, and I'd half-expected a few people to go home at half time ('what do you mean there are no surtitles? But I can't understand what they're saying!') but the crowd didn't seem diminished even with the cold and light drizzle. I was glad of the blanket I'd hired. At the end there was a standing ovation and the company performed a kapa haka song and Ka Mate (the haka the All Blacks do) as an encore.

It's amazing the power of dramatic performance, even when the words are in a language you do not speak. I think there's a sort of magic there when you can't understand the words, because you are focused so much more on the body language and the tone and you hear the music of the language. Your imagination fills in the gaps of what you don't understand.

I'll have to see what other ones I can fit in. Swahili? Hip hop? British Sign Language?


Sunday, April 22, 2012

The London marathon and jelly baby milkshakes

I run to the bus stop most mornings. I'd like to think it's a mile, but I'm probably exaggerating.

Today, though, 37 500 people ran 26 miles around London, and we went down to see them all run past and cheer them on.

First off were the elite women. They still had about twenty miles to go, but they were running faster than I can. Next came the wheelchair marathon (the winner of that finished in an hour and a half), with people in special racing chairs with an extra wheel out the front. They were a bit more spread out than the elite women, and then we had to wait for ages before the elite men came through. There were a few helicopters whirring overhead and a blimp milling around at a safe distance, which we thought would be good indicators of when they were getting close, but weren't particularly. We had time to get water and a cookie from the service station and test out our megaphone and sit enjoying the sun (it was actually sunny! For real!). Someone made a comment about checking the progress by phone and we realised we actually could, so for a while we watched the race live on iPhone.

Finally the elite men came through, and then the 'hordes' began. All thirty seven thousand of them.

Lots of people have their names across their chests and you can call out "go Jaz" or "you can do it, Tim!". Some of them smile and wave back, some of them give you a look as if to say "what do you think you know about this? You're not the one running!". Fair enough.

There's an awesome atmosphere, with everyone cheering and clapping and random costumes popping up every so often. We saw lots of rhinoceroses (rhinoceri?), a teapot with accompanying tea bag, someone carrying a five-metre tall pylon, superheroes and animals and flowers, Sonic the hedgehog, a few Wombles, Big Ben, the Gherkin and St Paul's, some fire-fighters who looked extremely warm with all their gear on and lots and lots and lots of tutus. Someone saw a Where's Wally, but i didn't manage to find him. A bit further on a group of drummers was pounding out some rhythms, and there was a brass band behind us.

it takes a long time for thirty seven thousand runners/walkers to go past. By the time the last stragglers were coming through we were already on our way to breakfast (though we felt a bit bad, because the ones at the end were the ones most in need of encouragement. Or, I guess, also most likely to be annoyed at us standing still on the side of the road with our megaphone...).

I had heard tell of a shop in Greenwich that sold milkshakes of every flavour imaginable, so after breakfast we made a stop there. After a bit of umming and ahhing, I got a mint chocolate aero and jelly baby milkshake, which was pretty good though a bit strange. They had one of those 'Will it Blend' blenders to make the milkshakes, and all the chocolate a lollies/sweets/candy along the back wall. The chill factor was pretty good, and I did enjoy the tiny bits of jelly baby coming up the straw. As always, the first half of it was a lot better than the second half, by which time I was a bit tired of mint-chocolate-jelly baby and getting a sugar headache. Ah well. It was worth it.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

iPad again: keyboards

Continuing on from my last iPad post...

First off I got ia writer, which syncs with Dropbox, and opened it to find... Arrow keys! I think I actually screamed. I had resigned myself to no arrow keys, and then there they were! And on top of that, a dedicated apostrophe button! Awesome.

So I tried it out, taking my iPad out into the big wide world and writing a small chunk of story. Great! Very happy! Then I wanted to make some notes in another document, so I opened one and did a few notes, then tried to get back to my main work. Catastrophe! I'd been working in a Dropbox file, and because I was offline and had closed it down by opening the new document, I could no longer access it. So what happened to the work I did on it? I guess next time I'll work on a local file....

As long as I work locally or on iCloud, everything goes fine. So I have been doing that, until I figure out the Dropbox thing...

Typing on the iPad is actually not as hard as you think, and you can just about touch-type. Ia writer has the best keyboard layout, but you can only use it when you're actually in the app so it doesn't help for typing web addresses or using Blogsy (as I am now). So I've had to get my fingers to memorise two different types of iPad keyboard layout, on top of the three physical keyboard layouts I've trained them for (UK, US and French. Very useful for writing French essays). And sometimes I get confused, jabbing at buttons that aren't there.

A touch keyboard does mean you hit bad keys much more than you would on a normal keyboard, but the spell check for the most part does a reasonable job of correcting things (until it doesn't, and you have to go back without using arrow keys and fix it...).

My biggest problem at the moment is not hitting the space bar, but hopefully that will fix itself in time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Please do not climb on the Roman remains (Bath day 2)

These posts are growing rather long, probably because I'm using Blogsy on my iPad and haven't yet found a word count. Normally I would try to limit myself to 1000 words, but when I don't know when I'm growing closer to 1000 words, I don't know when to stop. I hope you're enjoying them anyway... Despite me complaining about the woes of walking. Ow. :-)

Today I go the bus down the hill into town and tried to find somewhere to drop my bags. No luck. Instead I joined the queue at the Roman Baths, which was much shorter today, and began swapping my shoulder bag from shoulder to shoulder and using all the hiking straps on my backpack. This would continue throughout the day...

If you're ever going to Bath, I seriously recommend the Roman Baths. They're the reason Bath is there, after all, and I think it's one of the best museums I've been to. You enter at modern street level, four metres above the Roman level, and look out across the Great Bath first of all. You get an audio guide that you can punch numbers into and hear all about the things you are looking at. I've always been a bit sceptical of audio guides, but this weekend I have been converted. Cardiff Castle also had them, but the Roman Baths have so many and the numbers are all mixed up so you can't cheat and sit in a corner and listen to them all in order (I may have, ahem, done this at Cardiff Castle because it was raining and my feet were sore). Audio guides mean you can look at the thing you're learning about, and your eyes don't get sore from constant reading. The trade-off is that listening is slower than reading, but I've decided I don't care.

The other awesome thing about the museum are the reconstructions, with projections of actors on the walls, and ruins cast in different lights so you can see what they look like now and what they would have looked like two thousand years ago. The original excavation here was done by the Georgians and Victorians, who you may remember weren't much for conservation of historical artefacts and instead preferred to build over them. There's some merit in this I suppose, since you get to see what things might have looked like rather than straining your imagination, but now we have better and much more evocative ways of doing this, with projections and augmented reality.

The Romans built the baths here because of four natural hot water springs, the only ones in Britain (me: they only have FOUR? In the ENTIRETY of Britain? Hmm. Think I've been a bit spoiled in NZ? Oh. Wikipedia has advised me that they have a few more, but not many and mostly luke-warm) and some of the largest in Europe. The Great Bath is huge for a natural hot spring-fed pool (according to European standards, anyway), and had a great roof over it that would have been the biggest building in Britain at the time. Beside the Great Bath are smaller baths and steam rooms for men and women, and a temple to the goddess of the spring, Sulis Minerva. Throughout the museum you see the ruins of these places, and then light projections of the places as they would have been, complete with people. Bath is a world heritage site, which means you can't do any more excavation to find more Roman ruins beneath the Georgian houses, and what's there at the moment is probably all we'll ever be able to see. They do a pretty good job of showing you what it might have been like in it's entirety, though.

When I emerged my feet were very sore, as were my shoulders. I was determined to go on the free two hour walking tour though, so I got some lunch and reported to the square in front of the baths and abbey at two o'clock. The guide was very good and told us a lot of the history of Bath. I found out that the Abbey dates from the sixteenth century, and that the Norman cathedral that was there before it was twice as big. We walked up to the Royal Crescent, so-called because so much royalty lived there, and along to the Circus where Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage currently own houses. To get to the Royal Crescent we walked along the Gravel Walk, which is mentioned by Jane Austen a few times in her books.

By the time we got back into town, my feet weren't feeling too bad, I but I was suspicious that this might be because they were numb. I made straight for the modern-day spa, which uses some of the same waters that the Romans used and is situated about on top of the ancient Temple, as far as I could tell. It was raining, but it was quite nice to float in the warm pool with old Georgian walls surrounding you and feel the rain coming down.

And we've reached the end of my trip! I'm now on the train back to London, enjoying sitting down. Hope you had a good Easter!


Jane Austen, Choirs and Sally Lunn: Bath Day One

I've spent most of today contemplating the soreness of my feet. I have done a lot of walking, and it's starting to take its toll. Definitely on the itinerary tomorrow is a visit to the baths... In Bath!

That's where I am at the moment, sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my (walking) tour to start in an hour and a half. I got the train from Cardiff this morning and, after my breakfast of Welshcakes and chocolate eggs (it's Easter. I'm allowed), arrived in Bath at half past eleven.

It's amazing how long two hours can last when you're walking everywhere with a backpack and bag that didn't weigh quite this much before, surely. I followed the people into the centre of Bath and joined a line outside the Roman Baths, then decided it would be more tactical to go later on. Instead I wandered the streets with their beautiful Georgian buildings, following street signs and information panels to a Jane Austen centre (she lived in Bath for about seven years) and the famous circle and crescent of grand houses.

The Jane Austen centre had a young man dressed as Darcy standing outside, which was very nice, and had lots of Jane Austen gifts inside including signs saying 'Keep Calm and Read Jane Austen'. I got one of Jane Austen's earliest works, and sat and read it in its entirety on the lawn in front of the Royal Crescent Georgian houses. Then another walk back to the train station to catch a bus up the hill to the hostel, which had just opened for check-in.

The Bath Abbey had a choral evensong at 3.30 which I was determined to catch, so I didn't have long to rest my feet. I got to the bus stop just as the bus was supposed to arrive, but then it didn't. At 3.15 I decided to see if it was possible to run into town in fifteen minutes. It is possible... But tiring and probably not very good for my poor feet.

The Abbey is impressive from the outside, but the inside is absolutely incredible. It's probably the lightest naturally-lit church interior I've seen, with huge diamond-paned clear windows and some beautiful stained glass at the far end. The pillars stretch up and out into fans reaching across the ceiling and the floor is set with memorial gravestones, as is usual in most churches here. A bit strange to think you're walking over people buried below...

There was a boy's choir and a men's choir singing, and they were extremely good, singing by themselves at first and then accompanied by the organ as the procession reached the choir stalls. I'd forgotten that an evensong service involves a lot of standing, but I didn't mind so much because the singing was so good and the church so beautiful.

Next on my list was the Sally Lunn house, where the French refugee Soli Luyon started making brioche-like buns that were named after her. A real Sally Lunn bun doesn't have raisins or icing - a Bath bun does. The museum charges an exorbitant 30p entry fee, but I didn't have exact change and tried to offer 50p instead. The lady waved my silver coin away, saying no one had been charged today so it was free entry.

The museum is tiny and shows the original Sally Lunn bakery, lots of kitchen implements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and also an excavation of the floor levels right back to Roman times. What is now the basement was the ground level in Sally Lunn's time, because when the Georgians remade Bath they lifted many of the streets to reduce flooding. Below this are the seven different medieval floors, some Saxon floors and the original Roman floor about two metres below Sally Lunn's floor level.

I bought one of the last buns and went to sit beside the Avon to sample it with some blackcurrant jam. Very good (better than brioche, in my opinion, and a bit like challah though with less salt and more sugar), and I'll have enough for breakfast tomorrow too.

In the evening I went on the Bizarre Bath tour, which (as advertised) involved virtually no history or facts. It did involve us following the blindfolded guide up and down a few streets searching for ley lines, as well as a toy bunny who managed to escape being chained, tied in a post bag and thrown into the River Avon. At one point one of the locals rode past on a bicycle, tooting a horn and blindfolded. Our guide was more shocked than we were and said the locals were getting to know the tour a bit too well.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Caerdydd, Saturday (The Castle)

I'm getting a vague suspicion that people in Cardiff might secretly be zombies: there is a beer named Brains that seems to be everywhere.

Wales has both English and Welsh as official languages, and lots and lots of signs are in both languages (I guess this would increase signage costs?). I'm enjoying trying to figure out which words mean what, but I think I need a few lessons in Welsh pronunciation. All I know is that 'si' can sometimes be 'sh', and 'll' makes a cool tongue-flicky sound. My spell check seems to know Welsh too, since it doesn't object to words like Caerdydd.

This morning I dined on my breakfast of Welshcakes, which are little griddle cakes a cross between a biscuit/cookie and a cake with sultanas in it. Maybe it's close to an American biscuit? I don't know, having never had one. I got them yesterday in a little shop in Mermaid Quay (and had to go back for more today...) when I ate them still warm from the griddle. Mmm. I might have to find a recipe and make some myself.

The bus dropped me right outside Cardiff Castle, which I walked all the way round the edge of: through a park beside the moat, around a Victorian attempt at excavation and restoration of a thirteenth century friary, past a circle of standing stones and out of the park and along beside the animal wall.

The Victorian 'restoration' of the friary basically involved laying bricks over the remains of the walls in a 'here it is!' kind of way, so all you really see is low brick walls, the remains of a tiled floor (possibly a hundred ten-centimetre square tiles remain in one corner, though I'm not sure if those are original because someone was buried beneath them in the nineteenth century) and a Victorian fountain. They're currently doing a modern-day excavation on a larger scale, which might yield some more of the actual buildings.

From the friary, a circle of standing stones caught my eye. I went to take a closer look (admiring the antics of a trio of squirrels on the way) but there was no sign. In the centre of the circle was a stone table which I half-expected to have a lion on it. I took a few pictures and stared perplexed a bit longer, and finally found a sign right at the edge of the park. It appears the standing stones were put in place in the seventies to commemorate something (exactly what eludes me), and the stone table in the centre is the only actually ancient part - it used to be in the centre of another stone circle somewhere else.

The animal wall is a wall with animal statues on it that stare at you. Some of them I quite liked, some not as much, though I did feel a bit sorry for them. The less interesting animals probably don't get their picture taken as much.

And then I came to the castle! Cardiff Castle is quite interesting in that it has three layers to it - it was originally a walled Roman Fort, and then it became a motte and bailey castle in the eleventh century. This kind of castle has a castle building/keep on a man-made hill or motte, with a moat around it. Then there is the bailey, which is the outer part of the castle that is enclosed by a long wall. Through various wars, invasions and uprisings, the castle fell into disrepair until Victorian times, when a Marquess of Bute decided to rebuild it in medieval/ancient Roman fashion. So today, you see a huge mock-Roman wall all the way around the lawn of the bailey, the motte with ruined castle on top, and a rather hodgepodge great house to one side, adjoining the outer wall.

I decided to go for the full castle experience, which included a guided tour around the house as well as access to the rest of the grounds. The Marquess was obviously very interested in medieval things, because virtually very single room of the great house is done up as if by a fourteenth century lord, albeit a very, very rich fourteenth century lord. The Marquess at this time was one of the richest men in the world, thanks to the coal mines he opened up.

Everywhere you go there is wood panelling and statues and gold paint and emeralds and rubies (actually) and hand-painted tapestries and wall painting. The great banqueting hall looks like you'd imagine a kings's court to look in medieval times, but in actual fact the room has gone through many incarnations since actual medieval times. The current room used to be two rooms double the height, but the Marquess lifted the roof and dropped the floor and created another floor in the middle so now it's a library downstairs and a banqueting hall upstairs, complete with minstrel gallery.

The master bedroom is filled with mirrors, especially on the ceiling, which are meant to encourage self-reflection. Upstairs from there is a roof garden modelled on Pompeii, with the story of Elijah told in pictures and gold Hebrew lettering around the walls. The bronze fountain in the centre of the garden is apparently worth more than most normal houses.

The drawing room is the only room that isn't medieval-ised or romanised. It's decorated in light, airy eighteenth century fashion (the Marquess's wife put her foot down here) with French windows looking out to the motte and grounds. After the tour, I went to find the famed Arab room, but went round twice and saw no sign of it. On my third time around (after asking for directions) I happened to be there when a man pushed open some doors and called to his wife to come look. A guide came over very quickly and closed the doors, saying the room was closed at the moment. I looked sad and said I'd been looking for it for ages, and the guide let me in surreptitiously.

The room is quite small, with a very small space near the door roped off to stand in. It was closed off because people had moved the rope and were going around touching things (!). The ceiling steps up to a point and is covered in gold and sculpted to look like Arabian buildings. Beautiful stained-glass windows are set high and the walls are covered in colour. I didn't have long in the room - only enough time to stare in amazement - but it was definitely worth the hunt.

The outside walls of the castle were used as air-raid shelters during WWII, and I walked all through these tunnels and then around the top of the bank just inside the walls too. It was raining by this time, but I braved the extremely steep stairs up to the Norman castle and was treated to more stairs up the tower, the living quarters where the lord's family would have retreated to in times of war, and the remains of a longdrop that opened directly onto the battlements. Apparently, one extremely displeased tenant once managed to break into the castle keep, get past about a hundred heavily armed men and abduct the lord and his family, then ransom them in the forest. I'd kinda like to know how he did it.

I had vague plans of going to an Easter vigil, but couldn't get bus times to work properly and was too tired anyway. Instead I spent the rest of the night talking to my roommates. I do like hostels - so many interesting people.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Caer Paravel. Uh, Caerdydd. Or Cardiff.


I nearly called this post Wailing for Wales. Be glad.

As I write, I am sitting on a train at Paddington Station, having successfully found my allocated seat (a man over the PA advised all passengers with seats in carriage C-for-Charlie that no carriage C exists on this train, and to please find our seats in carriage E-for-Echo). It is twenty past six in the morning. I have had nearly five hours sleep and have forgotten to bring any earrings (the horror) but at least I made the train. Next stop, Cardiff. Well, actually, there are quite a few stops before Cardiff, and I have to get off and change trains at Bath, but in any case my destination is Cardiff.

That's what it says on my ticket.

I have arranged my things over two seats (I enjoyed hanging up my coat on the little hook) and I'm now watching the frosted morning go by out the window. So far I've seen rose-tinted stations in dawn light, a pretty stone church on the edge of a green, a bus depot for red double-deckers and a building that looked like a cross between a water reservoir and a castle. Now we're stopped in Reading station, which is undergoing major construction work, i.e. there is currently no Reading station building, only chipboard walls, scaffolding and cranes. I know the station reasonably well, and it's a bit strange looking out the window and realising it's not there. There is, however, a very determined pigeon walking along the platform that reminds me of a commuter.

Ooh exciting! I wondered why we were so long at the station... Someone without a ticket who was hiding in the toilet had to be removed from the train. So now five minutes late.

This may be a long post. And possibly a bit incoherent due to lack of sleep.

Wow. Just went past a small river that was steaming in the morning light. Unfortunately we're going way too fast for me to take a picture...

One of my fellow passengers is straightening her hair. I guess it's a good use of time and the train's power points. We're just going past a nuclear power station like the one in The Simpsons.

Now I'm on the train to Caerdydd (Cardiff) and trying to defrost my toes. It does not help that the vents are blowing cold air, and there is no little hook for my coat so I am very disappointed. It's a beautiful day but very cold. Bath looks lovely with all its nice houses made of pale stone and its churches and the two air balloons that are floating over it all. I will have to come back here and investigate further.

Right, I was in the wrong carriage. Lucky I realised this five minutes before we got to Bristol, which is where the carriage I was in detaches and goes places unknown. I am now in the correct carriage, which has heaters (both my feet are on the heater) and plush seats and coat hooks and automatic doors that go swish. No fold-down tables though, so I'm having to rest my iPad on my knees.

And now we're in a tunnel under the Severn river. I'm quite disappointed. I wanted to go over a pretty bridge (though I did get a photo of the Severn bridge from afar). It's funny how my attitude to tunnels has changed in the past year - in Sydney last May I was very excited to go in the tunnel under the harbour, but now that I spend most of my commute in tunnels, I've got used to them. I'd still like to go through the Channel Tunnel, though.

And now I'm in Wales. It's still sunny. A fellow passenger has remarked that she's never been to Cardiff when it wasn't raining, so I guess this is a rare event.

Hmm. I just saw a sheep that I'm sure was baying at the moon. Maybe it was a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Later that day...

My feet are rather sore. I reached Cardiff at quarter to ten, then took the bus to Cardiff Bay which is where the Senedd and the Millennium Centre are. They're both very impressive buildings, and I took lots of photos which I will have to update this post with once I figure out how to get pictures from my camera to my iPad. Cardiff Bay is enclosed by a barrage and locks, and I decided to walk halfway round the bay along the barrage. The entire circuit of the bay is ten kilometres, and while I didn't quite do that I'm sure I came close to ten kilometres walking.

It was a great walk, though. You go past the Senned, which is the seat of the Welsh Assembly and a huge structure that reminds me of the huge old tree in Pocahontas but enclosed in glass and with an undulating wooden roof. You'll probably have to wait for the picture... There's a Norwegian church and a very modern bridge over a lock, and a strange little cottage in very good condition in the middle of a wasteland. I wondered if it was something to do with filming, because the BBC studios where they film Doctor Who are also out there, and they were building a Doctor Who exhibition centre when I walked past.

The barrage is a long earth wall that keeps the water level in Cardiff Bay about twelve metres higher than the sea. I'd really like to know what the water level was like before they built the barrage in the 1990s, because the port seems to be built for this higher sea level. Must look it up. Three large locks with lifting bridges let boats in and out, and I spent about half an hour watching some boats go in and out of the Bay. A lock is basically two sets of gates that allow the water level to equalise so boats can move from one level to the other. In fact, the idea is pretty much the same as an airlock on a spaceship. I guess that's why air locks are called air locks... The gates on these locks are gigantic. Three yachts from the Bay went into the lock, the gates closed behind them, and then the sluices to the sea opened. The water came pouring out and boiled far below, and the water level in the lock dropped until the sea gates could be opened and the boats slide out.

Back at Mermaid Quay, I wandered through the Pierhead Building, which tells the history of the bay area (Cardiff was once the busiest port in the world) and has beautiful terracotta tile interiors, and then I bussed back into town and found the hostel. Early night tonight...

The rooms in the hostel are named after Doctor Who Actors. Mine is called Eccleston.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

DINOSAURS and the Natural History Museum

The weather has continued to be freakishly blue in London, except of course on Saturday because you can't have too much sun in the weekend. The weather here tends to be mostly overcast with a bit of rain and a bit of sun every so often, so ten days of blue skies is pretty much astonishing.

School holidays have just started so there are lots of kids around. Despite this, I decided to go to the Natural History Museum to see dinosaurs, reasoning that the sunny day would make people want to spend the day outside rather than at a museum. There was still a queue to get in (they limit the numbers inside the museum) but it didn't wind around as much as it could have and I was inside before I got bored of staring at the exterior of the building.

The exterior of the building, by the way, looks a lot like a cathedral with huge wings on either side (building wings, not bird wings). The main entrance has a curved arch over it, plain where you'd normally have statues of saints in cathedrals. When you go inside, the main hall looks a lot like the nave of a cathedral, but instead of stone arches across the roof, the arches are made of iron. The roof is beautifully painted, and large panes of glass open to the sky. It's an incredible reflection of the ideas of its time - a cathedral to science, made with the most modern construction methods of the 19th century and filled with specimens from all over the world, the British Empire at the height of its optimism.

I wandered around the main entrance hall, which currently has as its centrepiece a diplodocus skeleton named Dippy that you can make roar if you give a donation. Alcoves to either side hold a range of exhibits, including a stuffed tiger and a moa. Upstairs there's a giant sequoia section taken from a tree that was cut down in the late 1800s at the age of 1300, and a display on human evolution that includes skulls from lots of different hominids and australopithecines.

Back downstairs I found the dinosaur gallery, which was really well done. They have a triceratops and a few allosauruses and lots of other dinosaurs, and at first you go up on a catwalk above everything so you can see eye-to-eye with the skeletons. After a walk past an animatronic T-Rex you're back on the ground and seeing the more in-depth informational displays, but you can still peer around at the fossils and gape at their size. It's a really good use of space, and means you can get lots of stuff in one space without it seeming cramped.

When my feet got too sore from wandering around, I went and found a cafe and sat in the sun with my latte and tarte citron and felt very cultured.

Have a good week!