The second day of my surprise London adventure was just as grey as the first, so I’m afraid there are very few photos from our explorations. There are plenty of words, however, and I hope that will suffice for the time being.
A few years ago, my lovely mother-in-law got me membership to the British Museum as a Christmas gift, and this has become an annual tradition I look forward to each year. Membership grants the privilege of free entry to special exhibitions, the ability to skip queues for said exhibitions, free use of a members-only cloakroom, and the ability to access a members-only café. This has its own loos and the membership is worth it for this benefit alone.
But on this day my membership card was used for its intended purpose and we explored the remains of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, cities in the Nile delta that had been submerged due to natural disasters. As a result, artefacts that are seldom found on land due to their subsequent re-use or destruction have been uncovered through an ongoing series of underwater excavations. At Canopus, this included a number of ritual items.
I particularly enjoyed learning about a festival of Osiris that I had never heard about. An effigy of the god was made from soil and seeds and watered until the wheat seeds began to sprout. This visual representation of the fertility of the Nile and the grace of the god was then paraded on display. In many ways, the Egyptians can be said to have invented the first Chia pet.
Also on display were some incredible statues. A life-size bull and 5-meter statues of gods were some of my favourites. The latter in particular give an impression of what it would have been like as an ancient Egyptian: the gods were always present, always watching you, and very, very real.
A trip to the members’ room for cake followed the tour of the exhibition, and this oasis of calm in the museum makes for a wonderful way to conclude a visit. Not only do you avoid the queues that plague the main eating areas, but it has a fantastic view over the central courtyard. And did I
mention the loos? Never underestimate the power of a queue-free toilet.
After the visit, we headed back to Waterloo to meet up with my lovely brother-in-law (yes, everyone in MrElaineous’ family is lovely). This was a great opportunity to catch up on his activities as well as enjoy a delicious lunch.
All of this food was necessary fuel for our next activity, a Treasure Trail along the Strand, Fleet Street, and the Temple District. Treasure Trails are a series of clues that take you on a guided walk through your chosen location, built around a story such as a murder mystery or hidden treasure. They both fascinate and frustrate me.
They are very detail orientated, which I like. You see things that you might otherwise overlook, like the original, tiny Twinings store or an incredible courtyard just off the Strand that was like stepping back in time. Except that it is inhabited solely by well-paid lawyers. As we walked along a row of cars, I suddenly noticed they were all high end, with no duplicate brands: BMW, Porche, Tesla, Masserati, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lexus, Jaguar. I think the only thing missing was a Lamborghini.
But I digress. Although this does illustrate the fascinating part of Treasure Trails: you never know what you might see, and they take you to places that you never consider going. The frustrating bit? Some of the clues can be quite difficult—especially if there’s construction in an area—or worded in such a way that you’re not actually sure what is meant. The directions can also be vague; they say that you can complete the trail without needing a map (and we have done it before), but Google came to our rescue a few times, especially in the Temple area.
Despite getting a bit lost, this was an unexpected treat. The area was originally settled in the 13th century by lawyers who came as advisers to the Knights Templar and, although it has more recently been made famous by Dan Brown, it still retains the air of an exclusive enclave in the heart of the city. I don’t pretend to understand the “inns and outs” of the Inns of Court, but do recommend doing a walking tour of this area if you have an opportunity. Just bring a map.
Also along our route was Samuel Johnson’s house, he of the “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” quote and, perhaps more famously, a well-known dictionary. I appreciated that rather than a monument to the great man himself, they instead celebrated his cat Hodge. We didn’t have time to stop and see inside, but this is an area I hope to get back to on a future trip.
The reason we didn’t have time is because we had one more performance to go to, and this was perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire trip. At the Southbank Centre that evening was an absolute legend of the stage: Bernadette Peters. She is one of Stephen Sondheim’s muses and it was a privilege to listen to her perform songs from a number of his productions, as well as other well-known musicals. I also set myself the challenge of trying to remember as many of the songs as possible, and successfully got most of them. I won’t bore you with a list, but I will say that she is certainly worth seeing if you have the opportunity.
We had one more day to go in London. Come back on Friday to read how things didn’t exactly go to plan, or sign up in the sidebar to have it emailed directly to your inbox.