Posts Tagged ‘Trafalgar Square’

A Perfect Day in London: Art, Music and History

westminster abbey, London
Westminster Abbey

Our first whole day in London, Evan and I decided to do some touristy things we hadn’t gotten around to when we were living there. We started with a trip to Westminster Abbey. We were a bit turned off at the £12 entry fee to go into a church, but my parents had strongly recommended it, so we went ahead. Thankfully, that entry fee includes an audio guide that gives a great tour of the church. You can move from item to item on the tour without always stopping to punch in numbers, its segments are short and to the point, and there are extra info segments you can listen to if you want. It also has a full-color screen with titles and pictures of the things you’re seeing, and even a few videos about areas of the church that are inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. We were seriously impressed with the attention to detail, timing and the flow of the tour that was put into the place, which really helped us enjoy walking among the tombs of kings, queens and notable artistic and scientific figures.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square

Next we headed over to Trafalgar Square, where we noticed that St. Martin in the Fields was FINALLY free of scaffolding — we’d never seen it like that. We stopped in to check it out, and were surprised to find a concert rehearsal in progress. We sat down and listened to the small orchestra of about 15 musicians practice Mozart’s Requiem for a concert that evening. It sounded great, if a bit echoey in the mostly empty church, and we stayed for about 30 minutes. The free concert was a wonderful surprise.

Salvator Rosa, self portrait, from the National Gallery, London
Salvator Rosa, self portrait, from the National Gallery, London

Since we were already in Trafalgar Square, we decided to check out the National Gallery since Evan had never been and I’d only been on a rushed walk-through on the tail-end of my parents’ visit. They were holding an education program with artists leading drawing classes, and they were handing out pencils and paper at the information desk, so I grabbed one and went on a search for something to draw — next to a nice comfy couch for Evan to sit on. I didn’t join one of the bigger groups, but settled on Salvator Rosa’s self portrait, in which he looks like a pirate (though he was actually dressed like a scholar according to the information card). I would have worked on the drawing a bit longer, but the fire alarm went off, and we were evacuated.

Since the evacuation occurred right at closing time, we just headed up into Soho where we were meeting friends and grabbed drinks at the very cute new Las Iguanas on Dean Street before going to Gopal for an Indian dinner. We also made it to the last Tuttle Club at the Coach and Horses on Greek Street that morning, had a quick lunch at the yummy Just Falafs, which has a menu as punny as you would imagine, and warmed up with a hot chocolate break at Pret — they really have the most delicious hot chocolate.

Check out our photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

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.