A Week in New York, October 2015

Last October J & I visited New York for (nearly) a week, mostly to see the Egyptian stuff in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – but we did do other sightseeing too πŸ™‚ In terms of Ancient Egyptian stuff seen we spent two and a half days in the Met (including time in their exhibition on the Middle Kingdom that opened while we were there), and a day in the Brooklyn Museum. And for non-Egyptian stuff we managed to cram 2 tall buildings, a boat ride past a statue, Central Park (more than once, both walking & running), 2 art galleries & the Natural History Museum and a lot of tasty food & drink, into about a day & two half days. It was the sort of holiday you come back from feeling like you need a week on the beach to decompress before doing anything else … so instead we went away for a weekend in London with friends (and study days for J) before returning to reality with a bump!

A selection of my photos from the trip are up on flickr, here (or click on any of the photos on this post to go to it on flickr). There’ll be more Ancient Egyptian related ones later, but this set has all the sightseeing ones in it.

Day 0

Our journey out seemed to take forever, partly coz we stayed over in a hotel at the airport the night before our flight. But it was uneventful, and eventually we made it to the hotel. When we were booking pretty much every hotel in Manhattan, and particularly in the area near the museums, had reviews that talked about how small the rooms all were so we were kinda fearing the worst, but it was actually a pretty reasonable room and much bigger than we were expecting πŸ™‚

Me in Our Hotel Room

Day 1

Our original plan was to do city sightseeing on the first day, but the weather forecast said that it was going to turn into the only bad weather day of the trip so we changed things around. We had to pick up the sightseeing passes I’d bought so we walked from the hotel through Central Park to do that, via a breakfast of pancakes and bacon (surprisingly tasty) in a diner along the way.

Me in Central Park

We then spent about 9.5 hours in the Met, and saw a bit more than half of their Egyptian things … I hadn’t actually realised quite how much stuff there was in there. We did pause for lunch btw, and were impressed with the cafeteria they had – loads of proper food options as well as sandwiches. Actually I quite liked the museum as a whole – even though we didn’t explore much past the Ancient Egyptian stuff, there was a lot there to see and we could’ve spent a lot longer than the time we had on this trip. The only annoying thing about it was in the Egyptian sections there were constant tours coming through that were purporting to tell their victims all about Egypt in the Bible. But sadly almost everything one overheard them say was utter bobbins – for instance the scarab beetle hieroglyph has nowt to do with the god Ptah, and the plague of locusts wasn’t sent to make Egyptians worry about taking the name of Ptah in vain as they spat locusts out. It wasn’t just wrong, it was fractally wrong – every statement I heard had me wondering where to start in deciding what was wrong with it. And as we spent a lot of time there, I had a chance to hear these stories multiple times …

Naqada II Pottery

Anyway, moving back to the interesting and non-tooth grinding stuff πŸ™‚ The Egyptian galleries are laid out in chronological order and on this first day we managed to get from the prehistoric stuff through to the middle of the 18th Dynasty. I’m going to write up a bigger post about the Met once I’ve got all my photos from there online, so this post will only have general thoughts. One thing that struck me was that there was a subtle difference in how the objects were presented – the Met (and the Brooklyn Museum) are art museums rather than history museums. And although I can’t quite put my finger on how the presentation was different it did feel a bit more like the history was there to contextualise the object one was looking at, rather than the object being there to illustrate the history one was learning.

Model Travelling BoatGazelle

Day 2

For our second day we spent half the day doing sight-seeing before returning to the Met for the early evening (to take advantage of the late closing day). We started by getting up very briskly to try and beat the rush to the Empire State Building – which we pretty much did, still a lot of people but we didn’t have to queue terribly long.

View from the Empire State BuildingView from the Empire State Building

After looking at Manhattan from on high, we next went to look at it from the water … We’d decided not to actually visit the Statue of Liberty, instead we took the Staten Island Ferry which goes past the Statue and gives you a pretty good view of it and of the iconic Manhattan skyline from below. We had our lunch over on Staten Island – we tried to strike off into the island itself to see if we could find somewhere to eat, but I think we went the wrong way and ended up in a distinctly Not Touristy part so after a bit of a failure of nerve we returned to the ferry terminal and went to one of the restaurants there. Despite it feeling like a bit of a cop out, we actually had a rather nice lunch and the service was possibly the best of the whole trip. We then took the ferry back – having taken lots of photos on the way out I just admired the view on the way back πŸ™‚

Statue of LibertyView from Staten Island FerryView from the Staten Island Ferry

And then back to the Met – we got round almost all the rest of the Egyptian stuff, except for one suite of galleries that they randomly closed just as we were about to look at it (I think they didn’t have enough staff that evening? it wasn’t clear what was going on). We even got to the piΓ¨ce de rΓ©sistance today – a whole (small) temple. I really liked how they had the room it’s in laid out – the temple is surrounded by a moat, with a small handful of carefully chosen pieces of sculpture. One of the walls of the room is glass (from Central Park it looks like a glass pyramid), and so the temple is mostly lit by natural light during the daytime. And looking at the temple I even found some graffiti – that’s how you can tell it’s a real temple πŸ˜‰ Mostly 19th Century European stuff, but I think some demotic as well.

Head of a Canopic JarTemple of DendurGraffiti on the Temple of Dendur

Day 3

This was the only day of the trip that we left Manhattan – to spend all day in another museum full of Ancient Egyptian artifacts! We got to Brooklyn a little earlier than the museum opened, so did have a little wander about and a coffee in a nearby cafe. But the rest of the day was spent in the museum πŸ™‚ They don’t have anything like as much stuff as the Met but there was still a lot there.

Female FigurineBlock Statue of Ay

I did manage to fit in a look at their Ancient Near East room as well – I was amused to see that among their objects they have some of the same series of reliefs from Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh as are in the British Museum. Apparently there were so many found that the BM sold some of them off as they simply didn’t have space to display or store them all.

Reliefs from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal IIHead of a Snarling Lion

Day 4

After a full day of museuming we spent the next day doing more city sightseeing. For someone who’s not keen on heights I was spending a lot of this holiday up tall buildings: we bookended this day with two trips up to the Top of the Rock, so that we could see the views in daylight and after dark. The trip up the Empire State Building was in large part because J felt you can’t visit New York without going up the Empire State Building … and the trip up to the Top of the Rock was because we wanted to see the Empire State Building in the skyline. And we also got a much better view of Central Park than we had from the Empire State Building.

Me at The Top of the RockView from the Top of the Rock

After the first trip up a tall building of the day we headed to the Museum of Modern Art. I’d thought in advance that there might not be much there to my tastes – I’m not overly keen on “modern art” as a broad category. But it turned out that there were quite a few things I did like. There was plenty of stuff by Van Gogh, the Jackson Pollack pieces were much better in person than on the telly. I also liked the Rothkos, and several other things. And the Monet waterlily paintings … which wasn’t a surprise, I’ve always been fond of them πŸ™‚ And other things too. But I still don’t like Picasso very much, and that’s who always pops to mind first when you say “modern art”.

Me with Van Gogh's Starry NightJ with a painting by Paul Klee"Water Lilies" Claude Monet

We also looked at some of the contemporary stuff in MOMA, but that mostly just reminded us that the passage of time is a useful way of filtering out the good stuff from the dross πŸ˜‰ After that we walked up to the Natural History Museum … hoping to find lunch on the way, but somehow I’d picked the wrong street for us to walk along as we didn’t see a single cafe or restaurant till we were right next to the museum. Still, we got to eat in the end πŸ™‚ And then we saw dinosaur bones πŸ˜€ And some mammals, and early vetebrates. To be honest, whilst I was pleased we went to this museum, it felt much more like a commercial enterprise than any of the other museums – organised primarily to separate you (and any children you might have) from your money. But still, dinosaurs!

I'm a Dinosaur!Me & My Turtley Friend

And then we walked once more. Back down towards Top of the Rock to while away the time till the sun set. We popped into Central Park on the way past to see the memorial to John Lennon. And then walked down Broadway for a bit, and had a drink in a bar around there. Once it got dark we headed to Times Square to walk through there (so, so, so tacky, but a box we felt we should tick), before going back up the Top of the Rock. We’d been pleasantly surprised at the speed the queues moved in the morning, but the evening showed us we’d just timed it right. The view was pretty good tho – worth queuing for! The Empire State Building was lit up in the colours of the Italian flag for the evening – because it was Columbus Day, and the New York Italians have a parade that day (we managed to not find out about it till later in the day, tho we had seen the barriers earlier and wondered what it was about).

J at the Memorial to John LennonTimes Square at NightView from Top of the Rock at NightView from Top of the Rock at Night

Day 5

This was our last full day in New York, so obviously we spent it in the Met with the Egyptian stuff again! We did also pop into a couple of the other galleries – I wanted to see the Monet paintings they had, having seen the ones in MOMA and been reminded how much I like them. (I also bought a waterlily painting t-shirt as a souvenir!) In terms of Egyptian stuff we finished off the few rooms we hadn’t had a chance to see when they shut them on our last visit, but the main reason we’d gone there on that particular day was to see the special exhibition that had just opened about the Middle Kingdom. It was actually a surprisingly big exhibition – the Met is a huge space, and so what had looked like a medium size room on the floorplan turned out to be much bigger. The exhibition looked at how the art and iconography of Egypt was transformed during the Middle Kingdom period. The best known Pharaohs these days are from the New Kingdom (e.g. Tutankhamun, Ramesses II) or the Old Kingdom (e.g. Khufu and his Great Pyramid), but to the (later) Egyptians themselves the Middle Kingdom was their classical golden age. I plan to write up a more detailed post about it later πŸ™‚

Coffins of Mistress of the House of Amun, TabakenkhonsuStatue of Senwosret III as a Sphinx

Day 6

We didn’t need to leave for the airport until mid-afternoon, so had a little bit of time on our last day to do a bit more touristy stuff. This was our opportunity to fit in a run round Central Park – we did a 6 mile loop at my speed (so slow for J) which was rather fun. There are an astonishing number of runners in New York, particularly in Central Park itself (which is also well set up for runners & cyclists with designated paths for them). And then after packing and checking out of the hotel we still had more time to kill so we popped into the Guggenheim Museum using up the last visit on our Explorer Passes. If we hadn’t been looking for something relatively near the hotel I don’t think we’d’ve visited this – it hadn’t sounded to our tastes, and turned out to be even less so than anticipated. Most of the galleries were closed because they were installing exhibitions, so the majority of what was visitable was an exhibition of work by Alberto Burri who was a 20th Century Italian who made paintings that were generally only one colour and the canvas would also have bits of plastic on it or holes in it to create texture. One, in isolation, might’ve been quite striking – there were one or two of the black ones that I almost liked. But fifty, laid out up a spiralling gallery, one after another after another, grouped chronologically (and thus all reasonably similar to their immediate neighbours) got rather relentless. There was also a small gallery open with some of their permanent collection which was more to my tastes – more like the range I’d liked in MOMA. Including a Picasso I actually liked!

And then it was time to go home – it had been a good holiday. I’d been ambivalent in advance, I’d been underwhelmed on my first short visit over 20 years ago, plus a lot of what people talk about when they talk about New York is shopping (which I wasn’t interested in) and there’s a distinct lack of medieval or early modern architecture (being as the city didn’t exist back then) which is often what I want to see when I’m sight-seeing somewhere. But I did enjoy it, although I think it may be a once-(properly)-and-done city for me πŸ™‚

Me in Central Park

A Visit to Leicester, June 27-28th 2014

Towards the end of June J and I spent a day and a bit in Leicester. We headed across on the Friday evening, arriving with enough time for a leisurely dinner but not really time to do anything else. On the Saturday J was busy for the whole of the day with a study day about Egyptian mummies, held in the New Walk Museum, so I visited a few of the sights on my own. And took photos! The whole album is on flickr and several of them are in this post. Click the images to go to flickr for a larger view.

New Walk

The “New Walk” is a 200 year old pedestrian street which they seem very proud of – and it is rather pleasant to walk along and photograph!

New WalkNew WalkNew WalkNew WalkNew WalkJohn Biggs Statue

I was amused by the Dominicans and their glossing over of that whole little Reformation thing in their claim to’ve been here continuously since 1247 … I mean, perhaps there were Dominicans continuously through the years it was illegal to be Catholic, but it feels more likely that they missed a year or two here & there πŸ˜‰ The statue at the end of the walk, near the council offices, was of John Biggs – the name meant nothing to me, so I’ve had a look online and I’m only slightly the wiser. He was MP for Leicester in the 19th Century, and it appears he was a radical and a Non-conformist. But other than that I didn’t find much about him (with a rather cursory search – but there’s no wikipedia page for him, for instance).

Leicester Cathedral

The cathedral was in somewhat of a state of disarray when I visited – the outside area was being refurbished as part of the general facelift of the surrounding streets to accompany the new Richard III Visitor Centre (I managed to visit a month before that opened). And inside was being set up for the ordination of priests that afternoon, so there were chairs and labels and so on everywhere and people bustling about.

Leicester CathedralLeicester Cathedral

The inside of the cathedral felt in some ways quite Victorian or early 20th Century – the stained glass and the internal decor, I mean. But there are bits that are considerably older – according to the leaflet I picked up the nave is mostly 13th Century (bits early, bits late). And there are other parts that are 15th Century.

Leicester CathedralLeicester Cathedral

The church is dedicated to St. Martin, so one window shows the basic story of the saint (meets a beggar who is actually Christ, gives him part of his cloak).

Leicester CathedralLeicester CathedralLeicester CathedralLeicester Cathedral

There are some rather old memorials – including some from the Civil War era. I was also rather amused by the more modern sign up in the side chapel dedicated to St Katharine – it contains memorials to the Herrick family, and was “made fit for divine service” by members of the family from the US in 1929. Which does make one wonder what state it was in before!

Leicester CathedralLeicester CathedralLeicester CathedralLeicester Cathedral

Richard III

Obviously everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last couple of years knows that Richard III’s body was discovered by an archaeological excavation of a council car park in Leicester in 2012. I managed to visit Leicester at precisely the wrong time to see any of the exhibits relating to that! I was visiting a month before the posh new visitor centre was opened, and the temporary exhibition in the Guildhall was closed (presumably the stuff was being properly set up in the new exhibition space). All that was on offer was a statue outside the cathedral, a memorial stone inside and the reconstruction of his face in the Guildhall.

Richard IIIRichard IIIRichard IIILeicester Cathedral

The Guildhall

Leicester Guildhall

The earliest bits of the Guildhall in Leicester date back to the late 14th Century, with most of it dating to the 15th Century. It used to be the place where the City Corporation met, and where the Mayor and the Town Recorder did their thing. It was also a place where theatrical performances were held during the 17th Century – and quite possibly Shakespeare performed there. Records definitely do show that a company he was part of performed there – the Earl of Leicester’s Men. And it’s also known that Richard Burbage (leading man for whom many of Shakespeare’s central parts were written, including Hamlet) performed there. So it seems reasonable to assume that Shakespeare was involved somewhere along the line. These days I think it’s just a museum, although I believe you can still get married there if you so wish.

Leicester GuildhallLeicester GuildhallLeicester Guildhall

All in all it fitted in rather well with the various Future Learn courses I’ve done this year – two Shakespeare ones, an English Literature one (which included some Shakespeare) and a history course on 15th Century England (run by Leicester Uni, using Richard III as the jumping off point). So I spent a while looking around and taking photos. I particularly liked the coats of arms of various of the monarchs over the years (mostly in the Mayor’s Parlour). Upstairs they also had a room kitted out as it would’ve been for the Town Recorder to lodge there whilst doing his duties – quite bare bones really. The rest of the upstairs is a library (in the sense of “room of books” not in the sense of “lending library”).

Leicester GuildhallLeicester GuildhallLeicester GuildhallLeicester GuildhallLeicester GuildhallLeicester Guildhall

Jewry Wall and Jewry Wall Museum

I had a quick look around online before we went to Leicester to see what there was to see, and saw that one of the tourist attractions was the Jewry Wall Museum next to the Jewry Wall. And was much puzzled by the name – I didn’t have strong associations between Leicester and Jews, but of course that could just be my ignorance. As it turns out, the name is nothing to do with the Jews. It’s a corruption of Jury Wall, and only began to be spelt that way in the 19th Century. And the wall itself is the only remaining section standing of the old Roman baths (which have since been excavated). For centuries after the Romans left it was used by the townsfolk as the landmark by which the town jurats (or elders) met, hence the name that developed. Or so said the signs in the Jewry Wall Museum – looking it up on wikipedia just now to double check it seems there’s some doubt about that (or wikipedia would like there to be, always hard to tell).

Roman BathsRoman Baths

The Jewry Wall Museum houses material that’s related to Leicester’s past – mostly from Roman to Medieval times. It’s a curious mix of old-fashioned and very new – I believe it’s been kept open by volunteers and donations, so not much chance for systematic modernisation. It’s also quite a small museum. I rather liked it, there were several interesting items and they also devoted a reasonable amount of space to talking about archaeological methods and how they’ve developed over the centuries since the Enlightenment. I was particularly impressed with their selection of Roman wall paintings, all found locally.

Jewry Wall MuseumJewry Wall MuseumJewry Wall MuseumJewry Wall MuseumJewry Wall MuseumJewry Wall Museum

New Walk Museum

My final museum of the day was the New Walk Museum. I was actually getting a bit museumed out by this stage – but I only had about an hour to kill before J was done with his study day, and he was in this museum so it seemed the sensible place to hang out and wait for him. I walked round most of the museum but didn’t take that many pictures. I’m not quite sure what the thematic statement for this museum was as it contained a pretty diverse mixture of things. There was an Egyptian collection, a set of dinosaur (+ friends) bones, a room aimed at children themed around sight and colour vision, a gallery of Picasso ceramics, a gallery about naturalists, a room with a Sikh fortress turban in, a room with a variety of objects organised by what they were made of and how they were made plus an art gallery which had a children’s play area in the middle of it. The overall impression was this was a space full of “stuff we have at hand”!

New Walk MuseumNew Walk MuseumNew Walk MuseumNew Walk MuseumNew Walk MuseumNew Walk MuseumNew Walk Museum

All in all a good day out, lots of interesting stuff seen. I do want to go back at some point to see whatever they’ve done with the new Visitor Centre for Richard III (and perhaps in a bit they’ll’ve finished digging up all the streets in the city centre which does rather spoil the look of the place as you wander about!).

A Trip to Turin (October 2013)

Back in October of last year J and I spent a few days in Turin – I’ve not been very efficient with processing my photos and so I’m only getting around to writing about it now. The primary reason for our visit was to see the Egyptian Museum in Turin, but we left enough time to see other things as well. I’ve put up an album of my photos on flickr, and some highlights in this post.

Turin Bull Out for a Stroll
Turin StreetTurin Street
Palazzo Madama

The basic plan for our holiday was to arrive on Sunday (12th Oct), and have a look around Turin that evening and the next day. Most of the public buildings are shut on Mondays (which we knew in advance) and so this time was mostly spent wandering about the centre of the city getting a feel for the place and seeing what there was to see. The central parts of Turin are fairly uniform in height – there was an information plaque we saw while wandering about that explained that an 18th Century ruler of the city had decreed that each street should have a facade of a particular style and height. This means that the skyline seen from the top of the few taller buildings isn’t as interesting as it might be in another town. The facades and doorways are more interesting from street level, tho. J took quite a lot of pictures of the doorways and I think when we go back in a few years (it’s inevitable, see below) I’ll do that too, it would make a nice set (I did take a few this time). There is also a photo project there of graffiti and street art.

View from the Top of the Palazzo Madama
Me on a Turin StreetStatue of Amenhotep I
J & Some Coffins

We then spent two days looking at the things in the Egyptian Museum (Museo Egizio). It’s being refurbished and re-arranged at the moment (again we knew this in advance), so it currently has about two-thirds of its objects on display in about a third of the space. It’ll re-open properly in 2015, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be going back in a few years time to see what they’ve done to it. I’m going to write another post about the museum when I’ve processed more of the pictures from it, I’ve only included a representative selection in this album, so I’ll only say a few words here. Because all of the stuff is crammed into a relatively small space it felt a little overwhelming at times. The rooms that were in their intended space were much better – this included the room with all the tomb goods of Kha and Merit, and also the sculpture gallery. The sculpture gallery was the most striking part of the museum, it makes clever use of lighting and mirrors combined with dramatic dark red walls and I think it enhances the impact of the statues. There are also many Sekhmet statues, which was pleasing πŸ™‚

Statue Gallery
Middle Kingdom Coffin of MereruModel of Nefertari's Tomb
Statuette of Kha, On a Chair

The fourth day, our last full day in Turin, we visited some of the other touristy buildings that we’d seen the outsides of on our first day. I’d particularly wanted to see the Palazzo Madama, which has art and other objects from the whole history of Turin – and some really spectacular interiors. It also had a rather nice & peaceful garden, where we saw several sparrows and lizards basking in the sunshine. Again I’ll write another post about that when I’ve processed more of the pictures. We also visited the Cathedral, and saw the box where they keep the shroud (tho I was more taken with the copy of da Vinci’s Last Supper, myself). We’d been in another church (associated with the Dominicans) on Monday – the interiors are an odd blend of plain and ornate. The overall space in both felt clean and open and dominated by the white-washed walls. But along the side walls there were several places to pray to particular saints and those, the side chapels and around the high altar were very ornately decorated (which somehow didn’t affect that first impression of plainness).

Garden at the Palazzo Madama
Church of San DomenicoA Good Mirror To Take Selfies In
Turin Cathedral

Of course Italy is also well known for food and wine, and we did eat nice food πŸ™‚ We kept our lunches pretty light, and then in the evening we generally had a glass of wine in a cafe/bar followed by dinner somewhere. Despite most places only having Italian menus (requiring much looking up of words in my phrase book) we almost always managed to get something we liked. Only one disaster – but I suspect even if I’d known more Italian I still wouldn’t’ve known I wouldn’t like that particular cheese sauce (and sadly I don’t remember what the cheese was to avoid in future as I didn’t see the menu again after eating!). And of course much ice cream was eaten! πŸ™‚

Ice Cream!
A Nice Glass of Wine Before DinnerIce Cream!
At Dinner

It was a good holiday, nice city and we saw lots of cool stuff πŸ™‚ Do go & look at the rest of the pictures! πŸ™‚

A Wander Around a Little Bit of London

When we go to London we’ve normally got a plan – going here to see this, then there to see that etc. But last Thursday we left ourselves some time just to wander about a bit, taking photos of the things that caught our eyes. This post consists of a selection of those photos – J took the ones with me in fairly obviously!) and they’re from a variety of cameras (both phones, the Lumix but not my DSLR as I didn’t have it with me). As always, click on a photo to see the larger version on flickr πŸ™‚

The main point of the trip was to see the Cheapside Hoard Exhibition (post) so we started at the Museum of London:

Salamander on the Museum of LondonMuseum of LondonMe as Anne of DenmarkMuseum of LondonMe in Museum of London Cafe

Afterwards we walked back down to St Paul’s before having a drink in The Old Bell at the start of Fleet Street – built by Christopher Wren to house his masons before it became a pub. J had a pint of stout from a northeastern brewery we hadn’t run across before!

The Old Bell"The Northeast Brewers"Pints

We then strolled along Fleet Street towards the Strand looking at the buildings. I wasn’t quite sure what Mary Queen of Scots was doing on the facade of one of the buildings (tho she was near the building for the Dundee Courier etc, so there was a Scottish theme).

Fleet StreetFleet StreetFleet StreetYe Olde Cock TavernPub Window DecorationTwinings Tea

We saw a sign pointing through a gate and followed it to discover Temple Church (famous for being round, and for being for the Templars) – not open but we had a look around the outside, including a sneaky snap of a ceiling in one of the buildings near the gate! (And one of the buildings was called Goldsmith Building, which seemed thematically appropriate for the day!).

Gate between Temple Church and Fleet StreetTemple ChurchTemple ChurchTemple ChurchGoldsmith BuildingTombOutside Temple ChurchCrusader ColumnCeiling

As we approached the Temple Bar Marker (there used to be a gate here between the City of London and Westminster) the Royal Courts of Justice were very definitely what caught the eye – quite the impressive building. And the marker itself is rather fine – quite Victorian in style, with a dragon on top.

Fleet StreetThe Royal Courts of JusticeTemple Bar MarkerDragonDragon!Dragon!Temple Bar Marker

The banks round here have a bit more history than you usually think of when you think of the big name banks. The Barclays branch used to be Goslings Bank, with a sign of three squirrels. And the Law Courts branch of Lloyds has a rather fine building and quite the spectacular cash machine lobby!

Goslings BankGoslings BankLloyds Bank, StrandLloyds Bank (with Beehive)Outer Temple (with Fish)Holding up the BalconyLion!Lloyds Bank Cash Machines, the Strand

By this point it was time for dinner. We caught sight of a pub that was offering pie & ale and decided that hit the spot. This wasn’t just in the Old Bank of England (the Law Courts branch rather than the HQ) but also in a spot between where Sweeny Todd butcheredbarbered and the associated pie shop. The food was pleasant, but rather small portions and I felt the price was down to the location & decor not the meal itself – it was very nice inside tho:

Old Bank of England PubJ in the Old Bank of England PubMe in Old Bank of England PubOld Bank of England Pub

After dinner we walked back to the train station, past St Paul’s again (which looked rather fine all lit up) and along Cheapside. A good day out πŸ™‚

St Pauls at Night

King’s College, Cambridge

A few weeks ago when we went to the Fish gig (post) we spent a little bit of time in Cambridge beforehand. The original plan had been to go to the Fitzwilliam Museum, but it’s shut on Mondays so we decided to visit King’s College Chapel – first time we’d been, which seems faintly ludicrous given we actually lived in Cambridge for a while!

King's College, Cambridge

I didn’t have my big camera with me (coz we were going to a gig) but we did have the Lumix so got a decent number of pics πŸ™‚ J took some of them – like the one above obviously – but I don’t think we can remember who had the camera when. This post is mostly going to be pictures – click through to flickr for bigger versions (and the whole set, not all are in this post).

King's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel Interior

The chapel was started by Henry VI – for all his failures as a King (and his mental illness) he was a deeply pious man, and his plan for the chapel was a monument to the glory of God. In his time it only got as far as the foundations & a few feet of wall. The chapel was finished off by Henry VII & Henry VIII, and is far more a monument to the glory of the Tudors than God πŸ˜‰

King's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel Interior
King's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel Interior

It’s not just Tudor though, there have been additions since. I did think some of the more modern bits & pieces looked a little incongruous though – like the lights at the side near the altar. And I thought the altar looked a little sparse after the over-the-top decoration of the rest of the chapel.

King's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel InteriorKing's College Chapel Interior

(That sign is modified to say “no flash photography” I wasn’t being a dreadful person & taking photos where I wasn’t allowed, despite how it looks!)

King's College, CambridgeKing's College, CambridgeKing's College, CambridgeKing's College, CambridgeKing's College, Cambridge

Outside we got to walk around a little of the grounds of the college – firmly kept away from the insides of the rest though. It’s a lovely setting – sightly unbelievable that this is right in the middle of Cambridge, the views across the river look like there’s nothing else around.

King's College, Cambridge

So finally seen more than just the college bar at King’s! πŸ™‚


Back in the middle of March J & I spent a long weekend in Berlin. Primarily this was to visit the exhibition about Amarna that was on at one of the museums, but we did manage to look at other stuff as well, even stuff that wasn’t anything to do with ancient Egypt! πŸ˜‰

Brandenburg Gate

I’ve got several photos up on flickr, there are some highlights in this post πŸ™‚ Not going to talk about things in chronological order here, instead I’ll group it into categories.

Travel & Getting Around

Our trip out went remarkably smoothly – no traffic delays on the way to the airport & the flight was on time etc. And we even managed to figure out buses & U-bahn trains to get ourselves into central Berlin to find our hotel. Even so, it was evening by the time we got there so we just got some dinner at a nearby restaurant and then went back to the hotel & crashed. Tiredness not helped by it being just a couple of days after the Marillion Weekend!

I’d managed to get us a hotel within walking distance of the museums (the ones we went to were on Museum Island), so even though it was bitterly cold we did that rather than figure out the buses or trains. And it was nice, we got to see a bit more of the city than we otherwise would’ve. We walked past the New Synagogue on the way to & from the museums, and several other neat looking buildings. Also lots and lots of graffiti ranging from basic tags through to very elaborate art – I’m not sure where the boundary between graffiti & “official” art was. I wish I’d taken more photos of that in retrospect, I’d only really got one (I was a wimp, my hands were freezing cold if I took my gloves off so the camera stayed in its case too much).

Berlin New SynagogueBerlin BuildingBerlin BuildingMural

And the less said about the flight back the better – getting to the airport was fine, but the airport itself was pretty crappy (busy, cramped, no decent food options, not much information on what was going on) and the flight was delayed. But we made it home to the miserable wet weather that the UK had waiting for us so it worked out OK πŸ™‚

Food & Drink

All my photos of food & drink were on my phone to put on G+ while we were away, except for one, so the quality is pretty crappy (I’m also not sure how to embed them in this post so that they’re a sensible size etc, so I’ll just say the album is here, on G+. The first night we just went for “close” as the primary criterion for food so wound up in an oriental place that did interesting fusion food that wasn’t quite to our tastes (not bad, just we didn’t like it). Breakfasts were in the hotel – a continental breakfast buffet which was rather good. Lunches were mostly in the Neues Museum in between looking at things, which meant club sandwiches or salad for me and slightly more variety for J (there was Egyptian themed stuff). In the evenings we tried to eat German food, which to be honest I found a bit overwhelmingly dense (I was coming down with a cold by the last day tho, so maybe that was it). We also drank beer with our meals, it seemed the thing to do πŸ˜‰

Berliner Pilsner

Neues Museum

As I said above, the primary purpose of the trip was to see an exhibition at the Neues Museum, and also to look at the rest of their Egyptian collection. I’m going to talk about the things we saw more in another post & share a whole load more pictures of the items (not uploaded yet, and only half-processed). We spent 1 whole day and two half days at the Neues, which for me was in retrospect a bit much – the last day I was feeling coldy and so very done with that museum, I should’ve gone off to somewhere else while J finished up the bits he hadn’t seen or wanted to see again.

J at the Neues MuseumGreek CourtyardJ

One thing I really liked about the museum was the remaining bits of the original decoration. The museum building had been badly damaged during the war, so there wasn’t a lot left, but when the restoration was done they’d preserved as much as they could. The Egyptian wing of the museum had previously been painted to look like an Egyptian temple, and the other wing (Greek, Roman and, pre-historic items) had things like murals of Odin in rooms which used to house the collection of items from Norway.

Paintings of Egyptian TemplesOdin Over the DoorMap on the WallPharaohPainted DoorwayBerlin Green Head

Pergamon Museum

On one of the mornings that we didn’t spend in the Neues Museum we went to the nearby Pergamon Museum. Which could have a sub-title of “Monumental Architecture We Nicked from Around the Ancient World” πŸ˜‰ The key piece is a Greek altar building from Pergamon, which is stunningly large to have as a museum exhibit. They also have rebuilt a part of the Ishtar Gate from Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar’s time, which is the thing that we went to the museum specifically to see. Again I’ll talk about this more in another post, as I’ve several photos of the buildings and artifacts they have in the museum.

Pergamon AltarJ Photographing Non-Egyptian Stuff!J in Front of the Ishtar Gate

Brandenburg Gate (and assorted nearby buildings)

One of the things I’d wanted to see was the Brandenburg Gate, so on the second full day we were there we walked there from the museum. Getting to it just as the sun went down – took several pics despite the cold, including the one at the start of this (massive) post πŸ™‚ On the way we walked past several statues and grand buildings, including the memorial to the victims of war & tyranny. Oh, and quite a few bears – this being the tourist trap bit of Berlin. In one of the shops we also spotted the most appallingly tacky plates embossed with the image of Nefertiti in gold (on white) and a couple of cartouches (which didn’t have Nefertiti’s name in). It was awful. J has a pic somewhere I think, but I don’t know if he’s sharing it or not πŸ™‚

Memorial for the Victims of War and TyrannyBrandenburg GateBerlin Bear

Berliner Dom

Berliner Dom

On the last full day we spent the afternoon looking at the cathedral that’s next to Museum Island. The physical building of the Berliner Dom has had a bit of an odd history. Underneath it is the crypt where the Hohenzollern family were buried, and this family played a major role in German history from the 12th Century through to the early 20th Century. They provided several Electors, Kings & Emperors of Prussia, Germany and Romania. And the Protestant branch of the family that ruled in Prussia are buried in Berlin from the mid 16th Century onwards. The church building appears to have been pulled down and rebuilt several times – each time to make something grander and more fitting for the family status and aspirations. This finally stopped when the existing church was bombed in the Second World War. It was subsequently rebuilt exactly as it had been pre-bombing, for the first time restored rather than replaced. (My understanding here is based on one small leaflet in English, a skim-read of wikipedia for dates and some attempt to understand the German signs in the church – take with requisite large barrels of salt).

Dome ExteriorCherubDome Interior

The existing building is grandiose & ornate, and by this point this was built the family clearly thought very well of themselves indeed (I think they were Emperors by then, so you can see why). The outside is floridly carved with all sorts of bits & bobs. The inside has mosaics, reliefs, statues, grandiose tombs – you name it, it has that sort of decoration. Around the dome are mosaics of all four evangelicals, statues of four great reformers (e.g. Luther & co), reliefs showing scenes from the acts of the apostles. Higher up in the dome are yet more mosaics. The stained glass actually looks like paintings rather than windows. In the church itself there are also some ornately carved tombs or grave monuments of some of the Hohenzollerns.

Evangelical Mosaic & Reformer StatueAltarGoose!Death Writes in His Book

Upstairs there was a small exhibition of models of the church they didn’t build last time round (ie the ideas that got turned down), plus we could get up to the inside walkway round the dome & look out through the windows. There’s also an outside walkway but this was closed due to bad weather (I’m guessing they were worried about ice & snow). Unfortunately the windows for the inside bit were clarty beyond belief and so the pictures I have are a little spoilt by the grubbiness of the glass.

View from the Dome of the Berliner DomView from the Dome of the Berliner DomJ

Downstairs was the crypt laid out with coffin after coffin of the Hohenzollern family. Quite depressing actually – rather than being glorious monuments these felt very personal and sad. Mostly black coffins, with maybe bits of velvet and the occasional dead bunch of flowers. Even when there was decoration it didn’t lift the sombre mood. And the relatively large number of child coffins dragged it down further.

Hohenzollern CryptCoffins of Kings

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall Memorial

On the last morning we were there we managed to pack up our stuff way before time to go to the airport, so decided to walk to a place where we’d seen on the map the Berlin Wall used to run. I had a little guidebook, but it hadn’t mentioned where the memorial stuff for the Wall was, so we were very pleased when by chance we walked directly to the area that’s been set aside for that. This morning was also the only point in the trip we were actually in what used to be West Berlin, and that only briefly. There are some sections of the wall still standing, with several small information points that tell you what happened to whom & where. There’s also a memorial to all the people who died crossing the wall trying to escape to West Berlin during the years the wall was standing. And a section of the wall has been rebuilt so that you can see what it looked like.

Berlin Wall MemorialBerlin Wall MemorialBerlin Wall MemorialBerlin Wall Memorial

It’s almost incomprehensible, to be honest. The Berlin Wall coming down is one of the first current affairs events I really paid attention to (as I said yesterday in my post about Doctor Who) and the mindset of the people who ordered it built in the first place just makes no sense to me. “Oh look, all our people are defecting in their droves because they hate their lives here so much, so lets not change a thing, let’s just wall them in and kill them if they try to get out”. We didn’t end up staying long here, too cold and we had a plane to catch, but I’m glad we managed to see it before we left.

Overall, a good holiday πŸ™‚ A new city I’ve now visited, and we saw quite a few things as well as the Egyptian stuff. I think I’d like to go back sometime, but preferably in the summer!