London Travelogue: Day 5

To view all London Travelogue entries, click here.

1/2/13

After a restful and calm New Year’s Day, we hit the ground running again. We started the morning off by visiting the Tate Modern, one of four museums in the Tate group (the others being Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives). This is the most visited museum of modern art worldwide with about 4.7 million visitors per year. It displays international modern and contemporary art dating back to 1900. Modern art is not my favorite art form, but it is still interesting to visualize the ways in which modern artists portray various themes. The themes on display during our visit included Poetry and Dreams, influenced by Surrealism, and Energy and Process. The exhibits are often clever but can also be very elusive and confusing. Nonetheless they were enjoyable, and the building itself was fun to navigate. The large Turbine Hall reveals remnants of the old Bankside Power Station which was converted into the museum. Its 3,400 square meters of floor space and five-story height was the site for special exhibitions from May 2000 to October 2012. Unfortunately we had just missed such an exhibit! Perhaps the next time we visit they will have restarted this program.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall
Tate Modern Turbine Hall
Tate Modern Turbine Hall
Tate Modern Turbine Hall
View of Millenium Bridge from Tate Modern
View of Millenium Bridge from Tate Modern

Before lunch at Vapiano, we made a quick stop at Canary Wharf, one of two main financial centers in London. It is located on the West India Docks which used to be one of the busiest docks in the world. Visitors can see the major headquarters of major banks, media organizations and professional service firms here.

Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf

Following this, we headed to the Tower of London, a 900-year-old structure with a complex and rich history. Walking through the tower and across Tower Bridge, visitors have unobstructed views of modern-day London. It felt surreal to be standing on a slice of history while gazing out at the futuristic-looking Gherkin.

Tower of London
Tower of London
Entrance to the Tower of London
Yeoman Warders (guards) at the Tower of London
Modern vs Historic
Modern vs Historic
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The most breathtaking aspect of the Tower of London was the infamous Crown Jewels. Since the early 1300s, they have been housed in the Tower’s Jewel House and guarded by Yeomen Warders (aka “Beefeaters”). They are an intrinsic part of various ceremonies including the coronation ceremony for Kings and Queens. Among the famous crowns, swords, sceptres, and items of solid gold, the famous Koh-i-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) diamond is the most impressive jewel. Originating from the Treasury at Lahore in Punjab, India, it is believed to have belonged to the early Moghul emperors. Re-cut in 1852, it currently weighs a dazzling 106 carats! It is traditionally only worn by a queen and is thought to bring bad luck to any men who wear it. Another impressive item was the Royal Punch Bowl which is made of solid gold, weighs 250kg (550 lb.), and is large enough to hold the contents of 144 wine bottles.

Entering the Jewel House
Entering the Jewel House
Imperial State Crown and the Koh-i-Noor diamond
Imperial State Crown and the Koh-i-Noor diamond (click for source)
Royal Punch Bowl (click for source)

To finish off the day of sight-seeing, we visited the Natural History Museum. It is appropriately known as the “cathedral of nature” given its beautiful architecture from 1881 and vast collection of natural specimens; there are over 70 million items, including some collected by Charles Darwin himself. A popular attraction is the 105-foot long replica of the Diplodocus carnegii skeleton which greets visitors upon entrance to the Central Hall. The real fossil is displayed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA. The trunk of a giant sequoia dating over 1,300 years hangs at the top of the Central Hall. It marks various important events in history. I was amazed to learn that this tree is older than the known start of Islam! The various galleries are educational and visual wonders for all visitors, and it would literally take weeks or even months to fully take in all the museum has to offer.

Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”          Charles Darwin
Diplodocus (“Dippy”) in the Central Hall

*All photos taken by my husband unless otherwise specified.

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