I woke up pretty early, and made myself some tea for breakfast. I got out of the flat close to 9:30, and made the walk through Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. While the Guards officially start to change at 11:15, in order to get a good view near the gate you have to get there pretty far in advance. I… did not quite arrive that early. (In my defense, the parks are too beautiful to rush through. I really liked soaking in the beauty of everything, so I might have meandered there a little too long.) I could see everyone processing in, and saw snippets the exchanging of the keys over the heads of some people in front of me. While I was walking away in the end, the ceremony ended and the Palace Guards walked down the avenue right in front of me. So that was a very happy accident.
From Buckingham Palace, I stumbled across the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art). Although it shares the name, it has no relationship to the ICA in Philadelphia, as I thought it might have. Entry was very inexpensive – only £1, but there was only one show up when I went in. Everything else in the house was in the process of being put up or taken down, but I’d have loved to spend more time there. The building was quite beautiful, from what few parts I saw.
After the ICA, I walked around to London’s Chinatown in search of lunch. Chinatowns are always exciting for me to find, especially after this past semester when I did an entire independent study focusing on Asian communities in the US, focusing on Philadelphia’s Chinatown in particular. I ate lunch at Baozi Inn, which was a substantial amount of food. I wasn’t particularly blown away by their bao, but their mapo dofu dish was very spicy and good.
Trafalgar Square was my next stop of the day, to see the National Gallery. I wandered into the museum and liked a lot of what I saw. It’s an incredible collection, and definitely has some real gems. There were some familiar faces there from the pages of my art history textbooks, and I really loved being able to see everything up close and in person. Although it isn’t fine art, I have to admit that some of the favorite things that I saw there were in the lower level, where the museum had highlighted children’s works from local elementary schools. Different arts classrooms shared their student pieces ad talked about what their projects were. It was a really endearing collection, and something that I wish I saw more museums back at home devoting space to.
From Trafalgar Square, I walked over Big Ben and to Westminster Abbey. (Fun fact: Big Ben refers to the clock inside of the tower, not the tower itself.) I didn’t take the tour of the Abbey, although I did sprawl out in the grass for and check out the exterior of the building. Someday, I’d really like to go inside and check out the stained glass rose window. For now, I was pretty contented to just hang out and relax, and not pay the somewhat hefty tour price. I saw the London Eye peeking out near Big Ben, and decided to walk across the Thames to check that out. I think that I’d love to see some of these sights at night, when they get illuminated, as I imagine it would be really striking.
I crossed back over the river and walked to Somerset House in order to check out the Courtauld Museum. The museum was one of many gallery spaces in Somerset House, but it was getting close to closing so it was the only thing that I actually tried to see. It was a private collection that has since been made public – admission is very inexpensive at £6, but with valid student ID I got in for free. Walking in, I was reminded of the Barnes Museum on the Parkway in Philadelphia. The building was very elaborate and ornate. There were a few van Gogh paintings which got most of my attention – he is one of my favorite artists.
One of the docents also struck up a conversation with me while I was there. He was a much older gentleman, and had asked where I was from. Thinking that he had heard my accent, I told him the US. He told me that he thought I “might have been an Oriental”, which is why he asked. (sigh.) Despite this, he was pretty polite, and I’m chalking it up to cultural/generational differences. Oriental is a pretty faux pas thing to say in the US, but not sure if that’s the same here and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Other than that, he talked about his vacation to the United States some years before, and asked me if I knew the place in Florida where he had stayed. (I found it endearing that he would give a cross-street somewhere in the US and expect me to know it.) We also talked about the US-Cuba relationship with embargo, although I don’t really remember how that came up.
After the Courtauld, I walked back to Trafalgar Square and took the Underground back to Notting Hill. It was pretty late by the time I got back, and I ate my leftover Chinese food for dinner and then just chilled out at the flat for the night. One thing that I hadn’t really thought of, but the London is very far north in comparison to Philadelphia. I think that it’s probably more in line with Nova Scotia than anything in the US. As a consequence, the days here in the summer stretch on far longer – the sun sets at 9:30pm, and it doesn’t really get dark until after 10. On the flip side of things, it makes the days in the winter so much shorter, but I’m very glad for the extended sunlight while I’m walking and wandering.