Sunday, August 02, 2009

Liking London

Norman's Bridge
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Growing up a mere 25 minute train trip from King's Cross, and with grandparents and aunts within the outer metropolis it was perhaps inevitable that we would spend a fair amount of time in London as children. The fact that I still like to get down there as often as possible for a wander about, nose at the sights and poke around a museum is more a refelection on what the city has to offer than on upbringing though.

Dad always used to take a couple of days off every school holiday to take us down to one museum or another (most often the Science Museum, but we did branch out), and we also went in with the Grandparents from time to time. By sixth form I was an educational member of the Royal Geographical Society and used to go down with friends to lectures which then lead to hitting the shops or a meal afterwards, which was always great fun.

These days we tend to travel down by coach rather than driving to a relative and hopping on the underground or just taking a train. It may take a bit longer that way but it is half the price to get us into central London, gives just as long wandering about and the view is so much better. From the entry into Whitechappel and Stratford past the developing Olympic park there is always something that you just don't get to see from the train. I love cruising past landmarks such as the Bank of England or the Tower and feel set up for the day ahead.

This time we had two objectives in mind but stretched the day into three sections as neither of the first two provided as much entertainment value as we had hoped for.

After a brief squint at the Globe and a short walk along the river we hit our first proper stop at the Oxo Tower. I had only found out about the viewing gallery a couple of weeks ago and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up on for free. The view from up there isn't as spectacular as some others along the Thames but then you can't help what gets built where. I always like to get an elevated perspective if at all possible - from ground level you don't always appreciate how close differnet parts of the city really are. Particularly if your navigation is done by the tube map rather than the real streets. The weather could have been a bit better - it was a tad overcast meaning my pictures aren't as bright as I would have liked, but still give a feeling of the sprawl stretching away from the river banks.

We didn't dwell in the wharf housing the tower as the design and designer shops were (a) mostly closed and (b) not really our scene, and moved swiftly along to stop two. This was the Garden Museum next to Lambeth Palace.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not much of a gardener, but I do appreciate the works of others in making their little patches of land into something special. The museum itself is housed in the former St Mary's church and was a bit of a let down. I don't object to paying to get into these places but when they have a cafe open to all I'd like to see a bit more effort to ensure that those ostennsibly just going in to eat do just that. In the garden and the exhibition areas there were more people not wearing the little "i've paid" stickers than those who had definitely contributed to the coffers. The garden and exhibition areas were also a bit smaller than expected so did not exactly fill up the entire afternoon we had set aside for them.

Depsite my non-expert status, even I have heard of the great plant discoverer John Tradescant and his son (also John) who happen to be buried within the garden. It was the re-discovery of their tomb that saved the church from demolition and led to the founding of the museum there back in the '70s so I do applaud the establishment in general. I was also thrilled to see the casket there of Captain Bligh of the Bounty (and indeed we passed his house later on) but slabs of stone were not what we went for. Somehow I would have expected the grounds of a garden museum to be a riot of colour and different blooms from around the world, but alas it all seemd a bit hemmed in. Understandable perhaps, given the surroundings of the big city, but still not what we were hoping for. Oh, and the cafe only dig vegetarian food so I suppresed my cravings for a big slab of meat to accompany my leek & fennel gratinade with some nice Suffolk Cider instead.

That left us with most of the afternoon still to fill. As it was only down the road we headed to the Imperial War Museum for a look around. As this is one of the national ventures subsidised to give free entry in recent years it wasn't an issue to only pop in for a couple of hours. I'd not been there since a History O-level field trip which must have been 21 years ago at least so there were plenty of changes from what I recalled.

We concentrated on the second world war and holocaust exhibits as these had the most direct bearing on our various relatives who had seen service. Very moving in parts and somewhere we will be going back to I am sure to catch up on some other exhibits.

So that was our day out, most enjoyable and looking forward to the next one. We are definitley down in October to see Sister Act but may just squeeze in another trip before then. Watch this space.


Cocktails said...

I like the Museum of Gardening in theory, but in practice it just annoys me. The actual building is lovely and I quite like the garden, but the displays/interpretation are just confusing to me. They're a bit all over the place.

Have you ever been to the Foundling Museum near Russell Square? It's one of my favourite small London museums and can be quite heart-wrenching in places. I also like the Design Museum - great collections AND view of the Thames.

Shamefully enough, I've never been to the Imperial War Museum in London. The one in Manchester is good though! I really should get to the Southwark one sometime.

Simon said...

There's another two to add to the list for future visits then. So many museums, so little time.