Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Tower and The Tate

I had class all day Wednesday. In the morning was political science (we walked to the British Museum to check out some ancient Middle Eastern art and technology). And, in the afternoon I had a field visit for my architecture class (the Tower of London). All in a day's work.

The nearly 1000-year-old tower sits in the middle of bustling corporate London, on the bank of the Thames at Tower Bridge and just south of the Gherkin (one of the newest and most talked about additions to the London skyline, thanks to Norman Foster). Used as a fortress, jail, palace and museum, the structure is packed with history.

I saw medieval armor and weaponry and talked to a stone mason in the King's apartment. Although some of the state rooms felt a bit drafty, the crown jewels housed here are pieces of complete opulence. I also liked seeing the gold service set the royalty use at coronation banquets -- especially the Royal Punch Bowl, which was big enough to bathe a small child in. Walking inside the imposing walls of the tower, with iron gates on one side and canons on the other, took me straight back to the Middle Ages. The Beefeaters (officially Yeomen Warders) still guard the castle, giving an occasional tour of the place. I left with way too many pictures and a new-found respect for the modern police force -- apparently they used to keep lions caged beneath the castle to ward off invaders.

Although Thursday's drizzle seemed the perfect day to stay inside with a cup of tea, I ventured out for my morning jog and art at the Tate Modern. My flatmate and I passed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on our way to the gallery. The Tate's collection included some Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Rivera, Miro and a Monet (curiously situated between a piece by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko -- although Monet completed the piece nearly 40 years prior, many art historians believe his style inspired the later abstract expressionist movement). The gallery itself looks more like an old factory than exhibition hall. But, it puts the focus on the work on the walls versus the walls themselves.

After the galleries, I walked over the Thames via Millennium Bridge and nearly ran into St. Paul's Cathedral. Unplanned, but definitely appreciated, seeing the grand building fascinated me. Every square inch on the inside of the dome and the vaulted ceilings is filled with some type of ornamentation.

I caught a bus up to the Tower of London (again) for an evening Jack the Ripper walk. The bone-chilling cold set the tone for the creepy tour: a history lesson on one of London's most notorious 19th century murderers. Needless to say, after the two-and-a-half hour walk, I was ready for a hot cup of tea and my warm blankets.

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