Posts Tagged ‘museum’

Finishing the National Portrait Gallery

Sunday, Evan and I finally made it back to the National Portrait Gallery to see the rest of the exhibits, including the Vanity Fair special exhibit.

The museum is consistently great — even on my third trip, I felt I was still learning things and being introduced to new people. And I was still interested in reading more. I think my favorite room was the large room with glass dividers on the first floor — it just had some really interesting people as well as really innovative portraits.

The Vanity Fair exhibit, however, put me off a bit. While I was interested in seeing the then-to-now photos, I wasn’t interested in being crammed into a small room with hundreds of other visitors, all moving at a snail’s pace, obscuring the photos and bumping into me repeatedly. I just couldn’t enjoy myself when so physically uncomfortable. I noticed that as we were leaving, the room was getting close to empty, though — I should have just waited, though we went in when it was our time slot.

There were plenty of iconic photos, many of which I’d seen before — it is Vanity Fair — and plenty more photos that weren’t really all that impressive. A lot of the older photos seemed to not have fared well over time or had very low contrast. The exhibit was also especially crowded for the first half of our tour, making it hard to get close to and enjoy the older photos. It also didn’t help that these were all much smaller than the more contemporary photos, too.

I really wish I could have just walked through without the crowds and enjoyed the exhibit on my own terms.

Trip #2 to the Tate Modern

Sunday, Evan and I went to the Tate Modern with Ceres and Hannah. We were really excited to see some of the exhibits we weren’t able to make it to on our first trip, mostly up on the fifth floor. There were also some new installments on the third floor. My favorite one was 30 Pieces of Silver by Cornelia Parker. The piece, which took up a whole room, was a collection of 30 circular arrangements of flattened silver items — everything from forks and spoons to trophies and trombones — hanging from the ceiling and suspended about six inches off the ground. It was incredible to watch it hover, and all the steamrolled flat objects were intriguing. I wish we could have walked around the entire piece instead of just along two of its sides.

There were also some extremely well-behaved and engaged children in the museum. There were stands offering workbooks to entertain the little ones, and many of them seemed absorbed in the activities, sitting on the floor, trying to copy paintings or create their own with stickers and pieces of paper. And I heard one little kid say, “It’s about the artist expressing himself…”! Someone’s doing something right in the education department.

We also spent some time just enjoying the view of the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the riverbank from the airy fourth-floor balcony.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge

New York in a New York Minute

MoMA Gallery SpaceI’m sure I’ll be posting a bit more, with photos and better descriptions, but Evan and I got back from our New York weekend today.

We left from Gatwick airport Friday morning and had a 2-hour delay off the bat since our plane didn’t arrive on time. After an uneventful flight — Evan slept and I finished reading Youth in Revolt (very funny) — we got to Newark, took the train to our hotel (the W, very nice) and got ready to go out to dinner.

We had Greek food (yum), went to see Towards Darkness (unfortunately the theater wasn’t very full, though it was well-received by the friends and family who came), and went out for drinks at the Thirsty Scholar (fun!).

Saturday we went to MoMA (very cool, check out the photo), walked through Central Park (always lovely), had Mexican food in DUMBO (quite an adventure to get to, though the food was delicious), and went out with friends at B Bar.

Sunday, we had brunch (I miss American-style brunch), Evan bought a camera, we had drinks with a friend, then spent a long time in Newark airport waiting for our flight (we were early). The flight was bumpy. Evan slept; I didn’t. I did, however, completely conk out on the train in from Gatwick. I also managed to take an accidental 6-hour nap this afternoon (oops) while Evan was at work.

More about the weekend soon.

Also, check out my latest Hitched article, “Online Tools to Keep You Organized.”

National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square and Dinner Drama

Today, I went to the National Portrait Gallery with Evan. We didn’t have time to see the whole thing — we got about halfway through, and the Vanity Fair exhibit was sold out — so we’ll have to go back again. Good thing the museum is free.

Though it rained earlier today, the afternoon turned out to be quite nice, and we got a few good photos in Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery and the large fountain there.

Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, London

After our time in the museum, we were ready for a snack and stopped at a nearby French cafe (I don’t remember the name and couldn’t find it when I searched online). I ordered a cappuccino, tap water and a Spanish omelet. Evan ordered sparking water and a panini. It took about 15 minutes to get my coffee, and more than 30 minutes later, we were still waiting for our food. And getting grumpy.

Nobody had come by to ask how we were, even though we were sitting right in front of the counter, and we finally asked them to check on our order. They found the order slip right behind the counter and asked us if we still wanted our food. Nobody had started on anything and they didn’t seem keen to. They weren’t apologetic about it at all, either. I also never even got my water. Serves us right for stopping near Leicester Square.

We were ready to get out of there, so we paid for our drinks and headed to Cookbook Cafe to get a good diner.

Thankfully, Cookbook Cafe yet again proved a good choice. We had salads and starters from the market table, a creamy onion soup, mushroom risotto and a nice selection of desserts from their pastry workshop table. We also had some delicious fizzy berry, elderflower and prosecco cocktails, with lots of muddled berries at the bottom of the glass.

Museum Hopping: Tate Modern, National Gallery, Portrait Gallery

The Crack at the Tate Modern

While my parents were here, I got to go to a lot of museums. More than I’d been to since I’ve been here. The first one we hit was the Tate Modern, which was incredible.

The first must-see was Shibboleth (pictured), also known as the giant crack in the floor that spans the whole building. The size and scope of the project is quite impressive, and seeing people interact with the piece was really nice. We went and put our feet up to the edge, straddled it, crossed it, looked down it and walked most of its length. It was especially cute to see the little kids examining it, and waddling along with one foot on either side of the split.

The rest of the museum housed an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures as well as other forms of art. We didn’t go in the special exhibits, since we got there a bit late in the afternoon, but I would gladly go back for those and see everything else all over again, too.

On a different day, we went to both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery, though it houses an impressive collection, got a bit boring after a while, since most of the art is old and religious. Things picked up once we hit the Constables and other 19th century pieces, but they only comprised about three rooms of the gallery.

More surprising, though, was how interesting the National Portrait Gallery was. I’d read good things about the place but I didn’t quite believe them. Portraits tend to bore me, but how they were presented, and how quickly they passed through the centuries in the gallery was great. It starts with the Tudors on the top floor, and you work your way through the galleries — which are all numbered to keep you going chronologically, which was a big help — and make your way to today. The portrait captions were also really interesting, mostly displaying facts about the sitter and often bringing some new info to light, especially for me, since I’m not quite up on my British history.

Once again, we didn’t have time for the special exhibit — a Vanity Fair portrait exhibit — but I’d be interested in going back to see it.

On the upside, not making it to any special exhibits made these museums entirely free. Amazing.

Churchill Museum and Chinese New Year

London Chinese New YearSunday, Evan and I went to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, then went to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year. The museum had some interesting displays, but the part about Churchill seemed a bit disorganized, since we were skipping around through different parts of his life. There were some really neat interactive exhibits, though, like a very long, tabletop timeline that had folders you could click on to expand and open.

The cabinet war rooms were actually pretty interesting, but we were a bit rushed getting through them since we got to the museum about an hour before closing time. It was definitely a bit creepy down there, since there were of course no windows and everything was pretty cramped. I read in my guidebook that it wouldn’t have survived a bomb, either. And it was in a pretty obvious spot to target, since it’s right by 10 Downing Street. Guess they got really lucky.

We walked to Chinatown after the museum closed, just in time to miss all the shows and fireworks. It was still pretty ridiculously crowded, but we fought our way beneath the festive red lanterns to a Chinese restaurant Evan had been to before called Fung Shing. We had a bit of a wait and ended up chatting with a couple we were sitting next to while waiting who were a bit ahead of us in line, and they invited us to join their table.

ChinatownI had a great tofu and stuffed peppers dish and Evan had duck. Our new friends, Robert and Annette, had curry crab and lemon chicken. It was great to talk to some new people — he is from Manchester, she is from Zurich — and we all shared a bottle of wine.

Evan and I went to see Juno afterwards, which was great. I’d seen it already, but liked it just as much the second time, even though the ending makes me sad. I don’t know why the happy ending is so sad for me. Maybe it’s the dad telling her that she’ll be back there someday on her own terms. Or maybe it’s the sweetness of the love story and how everything magically goes back to normal. Whatever it is, despite the sometimes over-the-top dialog, the movie has a lot of heart (wow, that’s so cheesy, I can barely believe I just wrote that).

Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

Parliament and Big Ben


 We headed over to Parliament, just down the street from Horse Guards Parade, and stopped to take some photos. The building is very ominous and ornate — the kind of thing that makes it unsurprising that Harry Potter came from a Brit’s mind. And it couldn’t be more different from anything you’d ever find in Washington, DC. Big Ben and the Sovereign’s entrance — the other big tower — are the most impressive parts.

Westminster Abbey, which is just across the street, closes pretty early on Saturdays, so we weren’t able to go in, but the outside is a bit confusing. It’s so crowded with architectural supports, additions and multicolored stone bricks that it’s hard to see it as a cohesive building. I imagine I’ll be much more impressed when I get to go inside. We didn’t get any great phots of it, so that’ll have to wait.

After walking down the street side of Parliament we crossed the river and checked it out from its more iconic angle, which was quite nice (see the big photo above). And we braved the crowds of tourists at County Hall on the other side of the Thames and spent some time in The Dali Experience, which was an interesting exhibit, though it seemed a bit underfunded despite its relatively high entry cost and large museum store. The art itself, though, was expectedly surreal and bizarre and sparked lots of questions. There was also a small and less impressive Picasso exhibit in the basement of the museum.