Euro Top 10: #4 – Free museums

 

No 4

#4 – Free museums

I am a firm believer that all museums should be free.

I know, I know – sometimes this isn’t possible.  Sometimes funding is short and demand is high and who wouldn’t want to make more money to preserve their paintings and sculptures and such?  But just as with other beautiful and important things in life, preserving greatness doesn’t mean nearly as much if the audience isn’t there to enjoy and learn from it.

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Rainy afternoon at the Tate Britain

 

That’s why I’m such a huge fan of the vast number of free museums in London.  On any given day, a person can walk into the British Museum and see the Rosetta Stone. They can go visit the Magna Carta or Shakespeare’s original manuscripts at the British Library.  They can take a free tour of the Tate Britain and follow a literal timeline of British art.  They can form their own opinions about censorship, ownership (as in the case of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum), citizenship (as in the Imperial War Museum – NOT free grumble grumble). Whether visitors take a free tour (offered at all free museums here and highly recommended!), stay for five minutes, or visit every day all day for a week, they can do so without barriers, without balancing the cost versus what they hope to get out of the experience.

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Guerrilla Girl costumes in the V & A – this group protests the extreme lack of female artists in art museums around the world, often talking about how there are many MANY more times more naked women in museums than female artists represented. I’m a big fan!

 

Museums have a lot to teach us – about where we came from, how other cultures live, what we can learn from the past as we plan for the future.  I think we’d all be better off if we hung out in free galleries a few hours a week, just reminding ourselves to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the world.

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Period clothing at the V&A. Be still, my Darcy-loving heart!

 

The #4 is brought to you from… somewhere in France!

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

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Euro Top 10: #3 London’s markets

3 in Montpellier

#3 – London’s markets

Eliza Doolittle, heroine of My Fair Lady, sells her flowers on the steps of Covent Garden and wishes for a room far away from the cold night air, with one enormous chair and so on.  And I agree – that scene is quite “lover-ly” but I also love what she already has – markets galore.  Give me rows of cheese, towers of pastries, crowds all holding cocktails in plastic glasses and munching on pies and curries.  Give me London’s markets and one-pound coins changing hands in return for brownies, fresh fish, truffle oil, antique jewelry.  Give me streets of uncertain adventure, of stalls that weren’t there yesterday and might not be there tomorrow, but that stand in the footprints of hundreds of years of trade and barter.

Read more about my love for markets, and the diversity that London has to offer, here!

The #3 is brought to you by a sundial in Montpellier!

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

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Euro Top 10: #2 – Windsor Castle

No-2-paris

#2 – Windsor Castle

(Still better late than never, right?)

#2 on my list of best adventures in Europe is Windsor Castle.  My parents and I took a day trip here, out and back from Waterloo station.  We got an audio tour and what turned out to be a private guided tour (because no one else showed up!).  Our guide told us all about the history of the place and the people who still live there today.  She also told us that the queen was expected to arrive that afternoon – we would know if she was there because her flag would replace the Union Jack.

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The castle itself was fascinating.  The round tower, seen here, was built in the 1100s, and sits on a hill with a dry moat around it.  It was never meant to be filled (and today, contains gardens).  For the first 100 years, the tower atop it was wooden, in order to give the man-made pile time to settle before loading it with rocks.  Apparently this is how most castles are started!

Windsor is still in use today, so it has a strange mix of history within its walls.  One room is filled with commissioned paintings depicting the battle of Waterloo – next door is a hall filled with armor from all eras and origins.  Then other parts of the state apartments had their actual walls and ceilings completely destroyed by a fire – but the furniture, which was put aside during renovation, was saved and now the rooms represent another era entirely.

My favorite part was Saint George’s Hall, which contains depictions of all the coats of arms belonging to the members of the Order of the Garter, and bearing their motto over and over – Honi soit qui mal y pense. That’s Middle French for “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”  (Read more about the Order of the Garter here.) Prince William’s is up there, along with those of Sir Edmund Hilary, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and others.  And then between the red, blue, and gold, there are also blank shields for those who lost their honor and have been erased from the ranks – mostly from treason, back when that was a thing that kings and queens literally lost their heads over.

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Mom and dad very effectively guarding the Norman Gate

 

We ended the day with tea at the Crooked House – more about that delicious meal here!

And by the time we left – lo and behold! – the flag had changed to the royal standard.  Somehow, the queen slipped past us (probably while we were eating our second scones…).  Maybe next time we’ll actually get to see her…

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Royal Standard flying over Windsor Castle

 

Top tips of you go to Windsor Castle:

  • Get the audio tour and also go on the guided tour – totally different material and worth every penny
  • You can’t take pictures in the castle, so get ready to just enjoy yourself
  • But you CAN take great pictures outside, including with guards.  At other British landmarks, it can be difficult to get close enough to take a good photo, but here, we were able to pose at will without having to share the spotlight!
  • Phones also don’t really work in the castle (dead zone, I suppose) so don’t lose your group or else one of you will end up at the exit wondering where in the world the rest of you go to!
  • Always end your trip with tea.  Always.
Dad didn't get the memo about making a serious face.

Dad didn’t get the memo about making a serious face.

 

The #2 is brought to you by a racetrack next to the Seine in Paris!

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

 

Euro Top 10: #1 – Tea time

I can’t believe that I’ve been back from Europe for more than two months.  It feels like yesterday that I even had the idea to shake off the states for a while and have some adventures abroad. What resulted was a great 35 days – a time to reflect, expand my horizons, see/eat/buy new things, and remember all the fun that the world has to offer.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my favorite things and moments from my trip and saying a little more about what made this journey memorable.  I hope you’ll join me, and tell me about your own travel adventures along the way!

No-1-france

#1 – Tea time

 I know, we broke away from old King George partly because of the tea tax, and the famous rebellion involved dumping crates of tea into my own city’s harbor.  Still, I can’t help but think that tea time is one of the very impressive things that the Brits are doing right, revolution or not.

I certainly enjoyed it, on this trip as when I studied abroad.  The thing is, tea isn’t just a meal – it’s a state of mind.  It’s a moment of rest during the day, a chance to nourish your mind, soul, and especially your body.  Unlike coffee, tea isn’t made to be gulped down or taken on the road – it comes with its own timeline, literally written on the teabag.  How hot the water should be, how long to leave the bag in, even what to enjoy your drink with.

But the glory of tea goes well beyond the drink and the pause – the food is AMAZING.  This is the tea I had with my parents at the Crooked House of Windsor. Clotted cream, scones, sandwiches with the crust cut off, and a pot that begs you to drink more than one cup of the piping hot delicacy.

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That is just my serving.  Yes – we each got that.  And we licked the plates clean.  Sure, it cost us an arm and a leg, even before converting into dollars, but it was worth it. I still think about it when I’m making coffee in my office Keurig.  I also think about my roommate when I studied at UCL – he was from Hong Kong when it was under British rule and he grew up with the concept of tea.  But whenever he said he was having tea, he really just meant a little sandwich, usually enjoyed in our sunny kitchen.  I always pulled out my crumpets and joined him (chicken salad = not tea in my book).

Since I’ve been home, I’ve tried to capture the essence of tea again – picking my cup with care, getting good honey, really relaxing for a minute.  But unless someone serves it to me with the crust cut off my sandwiches and a no-holds-barred pot of clotted cream, it just won’t be the same.  Guess that will be my excuse to return to England next time!

The #1 is brought to you by a train platform in France!

My day at Versailles

Last Saturday, Katie and I took a day trip from Paris to Versailles, home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (and you know, the entire French royal family while it existed). It was beautiful – you could picture her receiving (or rebuffing) people in those rooms, strolling through the hall of mirrors, dealing with the extreme dressing ceremonies each day. But the state rooms overall were exceptionally crowded. We preferred the gardens, where we watched dancing foundations along with ancient statues. Parfait!

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The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

This was my favorite part of Versailles, by far – the fountain at the end of the Grand Canal.

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My overall thoughts on Versailles:

  • If you do the palace tour, make sure to get the audio guide, but reconsider doing it at all and head straight to the gardens where you can actually enjoy your visit.
  • Leave time for the many parts of the estate, which are very spread out but all amazing (like the Petit Trainon and the hamlet).  And note that the tram will get you there without walking but it – and the line to get tickets – is excessively slow.
  • Eat before you go or at one of the tourist shops on the way back to the train station – not a lot of good options at the palace.

Overall, it was an easy day trip from Paris and a beautiful, historic setting – I just wish we could have had it to ourselves!

The state of things in France

Internet connections: lacking.

Baguette consumption: never been higher.

Wine drinking: see above.

Castle satisfaction: through the roof.

In short, we’re having such a good time out and about in France that I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a bit – and the posts I’ve tried to write on the go haven’t come through.  Blame the lack of French internet infrastructure… Sara (who is going to cooking school here) told us that it was bad but it’s even worse than expected.  I’d almost prefer the sweet, old-school sound of dial-up some days when it comes to trying to check my email.

Still, we haven’t let that rain on our parade, only our posting frequency.  We have been zipping all through France.  First, three nights in Paris, then two in Montpellier, then here in Toulouse.  Along the way we’ve dealt with train delays, menu indecision, and weather that changes from street to street – it’s exactly the travel adventure I imagined.

More about the individual aspects later – we just finished a home cooked dinner made by our chef in training (salad and french onion soup!), now, onward to see what this city has to offer for nightlife!