Friday, September 26, 2008

Playing Tourist

There's been a lot happening lately, particularly with our impending move back to California (just a few weeks left!), so it feels like we're running behind with our blogging a bit. Last week we took a very memorable trip to Norway that left us wishing we could have stayed longer. But before we went to Norway, we celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary, enjoyed an evening of chamber music at the oldest surviving music hall in the world, and we spent a fun week with our friends Jeanne and Kelly who were visiting from California. We always love having visitors: not only do we get to hang out with our friends from home, but we get an excuse to play tourist and cross things off the "things we have to do before we leave London otherwise we'll feel stupid" list, which is still embarrassingly long.

Jeanne and Kelly got to experience a dose of typical grey and wet London weather during their visit, but luckily the weather more or less behaved when we visited Kew Gardens and saw a play at Shakespeare's roofless Globe Theatre.

Even Emperor Trajan gets a little tired of the rain

Some Londoners mind the bad weather less than others

When we last visited Kew Gardens, we were tantalized by the not-quite open treetop walkway, and vowed to come back when it had opened to the public. Jeanne and Kelly were more than willing to join us on this outing (in fact they suggested it), so not only did we get to try out the treetop walkway, but I got a whole new audience to bore entertain with random botanical facts.

The Xstrata Treetop Walkway

The treetop walkway (unfortunately dubbed the Xstrata Treetop Walkway, to make it sound more x-treme to appeal to hip youngsters), while an impressive piece of engineering and pleasant, was a bit of a letdown in terms of thrill factor. The whole structure felt incredibly stable and you feel almost enclosed when you're on it, so I never felt the "oh crap, I'm way too high up for my own good" feeling I was hoping for. Compared to the canopy walkway I went on in Malaysia, which was made of cheap aluminum ladders tied together in a questionably secure fashion and left me shaking in my leech-socks, the Kew treetop walkway felt like a calm stroll through a city plaza. Nice views, but not so x-treme.

The Xstrata Treetop Walkway contrast to the canopy walkway in Malaysia

At least the Evening Standard found something x-treme about the canopy walkway

We had both really wanted to see a play at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and we were disappointed when we had to give up tickets to see King Lear there earlier in the year because we absent-mindedly booked a trip on the same day, so we were excited to get another chance to go with Jeanne and Kelly. Even though the Globe is a recent recreation of the original, it was done very well and true to the original design and feel, so that it doesn't seem artificial in any way, particularly when you see how well plays work in the space and how you can hear each and every word spoken by the actors.

Sneaking a picture of the stage between acts

We went to see Timon of Athens; not Shakespeare's best known play to be sure, but the acting was excellent, the story entertaining, and the staging involved weird crow-like acrobats romping around on a big net suspended over the stage and occasionally dropping on bungee cords to bounce around over the actors. Since we were sitting on the top level, the crow-people were especially entertaining (if slightly creepy in a Cirque du Soleil sort of way). The only bad thing about the Globe is how much you focus on your own discomfort during the play due to the hard wooden bench seating, but even that is worth it for the chance to see Shakespeare where it is meant to be performed.

Another sneaky picture of The Globe

Somehow we have spent the past year in London without ever setting foot in the British Museum. Now that I've been, I wish we would have gone earlier because there is so much to see and enjoy. I'm certainly not the first to say it, but one of my favorite aspects of the British Museum is Norman Foster's amazing glass-roofed Great Court — this would have been even better on a sunny day but was much appreciated on the rainy Friday afternoon.

The Great Court at the British Museum

While the British Museum has wonders pilfered from all over the world, the Egyptian collection is one of the major strongpoints and certainly one of the big draws of the museum. I enjoyed seeing the Rosetta Stone in person, although it was difficult to get near it with all of the people trying to see it and tricky to get a decent photograph of it. Luckily, a lot of the museum visitors seemed to be going for the greatest hits and everything in between the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles was relatively peaceful and uncrowded.

Nice kitty

Beetle-mania is still alive and well in England

Evidence of why the British were never as feared as the Vikings

While the impressive historical collection was to be expected, we were surprised (and lucky because the exhibition was just closing) to find an excellent retrospective of American print making. The collection included some incredible prints from artists that I had only known previously as painters like Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper, and Grant Wood.

One of my favorite prints by the American artist Martin Lewis

At some point we'll just have to give up: there's just too much to see in London to ever feel like you've seen everything. Even so, it sure is fun to be able to explore the city while we have the chance, and it's great to get to experience it with friends from home.

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