This past Friday brought our first excursion to London. I opened the blinds early that morning to gray skies and rain, walked to our meeting point in the rain, rode all the way to London in . . . . well, I think you get the picture. Things did change a bit after noon. The rain became heavier, the temperatures dropped considerably, and a heavy wind blew incessantly. Definitely not what I'd hoped for in the way of weather, but thankfully the excursions for the day were indoors (except for the 15-20 minute walk between the two).
Even in the rain and under metallic gray skies, London was/is beautiful! The Thames and dockyards, the architecture of the buildings that surrounded us everywhere we drove or walked, the vibrancy of the city, and so much more all combine to make an absolutely gorgeous city.
Our guide for this excursion was a joy as well. On the journey to London, she shared some interesting information to prepare us for our day, and as we drove through London to our first stop, she provided an interesting and engaging play-by-play of the "things" we were passing. sprinkling in interesting tidbits and humorous points to season some of the dryer facts (thank you, Dawn)!
Our first stop was the Churchill War Rooms (http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms), the underground bunker from which Churchill and his team conducted the business of war from 1940-1945. The individual audio guides provided a very interesting commentary as we wandered through the hallways and looked into various rooms such as the Cabinet War Room, the map room, Churchill's bedroom, Mrs. Churchill's bedroom, and so on.
After leaving the Churchill War Rooms, we took a fairly leisurely 15-20 minute walk (in light drizzle, for a welcome change) to the National Gallery, stopping along the way so the tour guide could explain points of interest and pictures could be taken. Westminster Abbey was a popular photo subject for many of the students, but possibly even more photos were taken of the 2 horses (with guards) posted outside the queen's stables and of various students standing by one of them. I even got my picture taken by one of the pair!
As we neared the National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk), the rain grew heavier and the wind began picking up. We stopped outside the Gallery so the guide could remind us of our meeting place and time (15:40 under the "giant blue cockerel, which you must see to appreciate, so I hope you'll google it), and then everyone quickly scattered, some to find an eating place, others to tour the Gallery, and others to do whatever interested them.
I didn't even hesitate. I'm no art connoisseur, but this was a no-brainer. Braving the rain and wind to find a pasty shop or visit shops OR entering the warmth and dry of the National Gallery to see first-hand paintings by Cezanne, Michelangelo, van Gogh, Titian, Rubens, da Vinci, Monet, van Dyke, Manet, Rembrandt, Botticelli, et al? I scurried across the road and into the Gallery, where I wandered for a couple of hours through the almost-70 rooms, with works from each period in its own grouping of rooms.
I had already looked at a map of the Gallery and identified the artists whose works I most wanted to see, so I moved from one cluster of rooms to the other on a fairly-loose schedule that allowed me to see each of my "must-see" pieces and quite a few others as well. What both surprised and impressed me the most (based, remember, on not seeing every single work of art) was the vibrant colours of the paintings in the Sainsbury Wing, which houses pieces from the 13th-15th century. I had expected those pictures, the oldest in the Gallery, to have dimmed and darkened most with age, but they were, almost without exception, the most vibrant and brightly-coloured. The various shades of blue and red were especially striking, and I was simply amazed at their clarity and beauty. Without a doubt, these were my favorite works
I also enjoyed most of the 16th-century paintings I had the opportunity to see. Some of these works were as richly-coloured as the earlier pieces, and the subject matter was more varied. I also enjoyed many of the pieces from the 18th-early 20th century, as I've always appreciated the light, bright colors of Monet, Van Gogh, etc. I have to admit I least enjoyed the works from the 17th century. The darker colors, portraits of unsmiling people, still lifes, etc., simply didn't appeal to me as much as the other periods.
The afternoon passed quickly -- in fact, I forgot to eat lunch -- and soon I was back on the bus heading out of London. We left right on time (15:40, or 3:40 p.m.), and already the traffic was horrendous. Between the pouring rain & dark skies (it gets dark quite early here in the winter), bumper to bumper traffic through London and quite a ways outside of the city, and motorcyclists that kept cutting in and out of traffic, our poor drive had his hands full! I was so glad to be able to sit in my nice, soft seat and relax during the drive back to Canterbury.
After arriving back in Canterbury, I enjoyed a nice dinner of fish and chips at Wetherspoons (as it's called by the locals; its real name is The Thomas Ingoldsby), a popular -- and very lively -- pub about 10 minutes from my flat. I then braved the wind, rain, and cold back to the flat, changed into some warm, dry clothes, and did some quick research on the National Gallery.
At the Gallery's website, I immediately saw an "Artist A-Z" tab. Curious as to whether or not there was an artists for every letter of the alphabet, I made my way through the alphabet. As I neared "Q", I thought I might find my first "artist-less letter", but Peter Quast from the early-mid 1600's put a stop to that notion. I was surprised to find only one artist with a surname starting with "Y" (what, no Youngs?) -- Ysenbrandt, and even more surprised to find 8 artists whose names begin with "Z". Alas, the Gallery currently does not house any works by an artist whose last name begins with an "X".
Now you see what I do on evenings when I have nothing to watch on TV, and I don't feel like settling down to any of the real work I need to complete. :)
We've now been on 3 excursions and have visited 7 historical or cultural sites. One of the students asked me during the bus ride back to Canterbury which so far has been my favorite and which my least favorite, and to be honest, I was stumped. I posed the same question to her, and she couldn't answer it, either. We both have enjoyed each one for different reasons and considered them all equally-wonderful. We also noted that the rainiest days have been those on which we have been on group excursions, but even the rain (and wind) has had no real effect on our enjoyment of the experiences.
Great experiences in a beautiful country -- what more could anyone ask for?