England and Wales Trip Diary - Summer 2001

The images accompanying this diary come from a variety of sources, including calendars, guidebooks, and postcards we bought as well as photographs my husband took. You'll also find two pages of unique door photos we saw on our trip; links to these pages can also be found at the bottom of the first and last pages of this diary.

Monday, July 30th

We're here...we're really here! After literally months of planning, we've just gotten off the plane at Gatwick Airport in London and are waiting to go through immigration and customs. I slept for maybe a half hour on the trip because a very noisy group of students was giggling the entire flight - gosh, I sound old, don't I?

As we stand in line and wait our turn, I'm listening to the two women behind us complain about how slowly and badly they seem to do things here in England. I want to turn around and ask them why they bothered to come if that's the attitude they're going to have. It's no wonder Americans are seen as obnoxious around the world.

We arranged in advance for a car to pick us up and take us to our hotel rather than braving the trains on no sleep in basically 24 hours, which was a good thing for a variety of reasons. We really are tired, and my husband is looking to me to know what to do and where to go even though I was a teenager the last time I was here and my parents did everything for me. That is disorienting in itself; my husband is a fairly take-charge kind of guy, if in a low-key sort of way. The ride to the hotel was great, but our driver just let us out at the end of a street with our luggage and told us "it's right there...in the alley." Then he left.

So, with a suitcase and backpack apiece, we traipsed down the alley, asked the proprieter of a sandwich shop for help, and discovered our hotel, the Knightsbridge Green Hotel, back on the main street. It is indeed lovely, but very understated in its outside signage (to say the least), and checked in. We set our travel alarm for a two hour nap and went to sleep.

We've woken from our nap and are about to truly embark on our adventure. Our hotel is a small, family-owned hotel just down the street from Harrods, and luckily there's a tube station very close by as well. We're about to ride the tube to validate our London Pass, which will allow us into many of the sights we're likely to see while in London over the next 2 1/2 days.

London is apparently in the midst of a heat wave. For us, used to 100 degrees of stifling humidity, this doesn't seem like much of a heat wave, but more on that later. We get our tube map and I slip it into my money belt and we validate our London Passes, then walk from the station toward the Victoria and Albert Museum. Something we noticed at the station was a sign that cautioned No Busking - £200 fine. We wonder what "busking" could be and decide it must be something pretty horrendous, which in England might just be spitting.

We notice during our walk some beautiful buildings in and around the Holy Trinity Brompton church. Whether or not it's the church itself or something nearby (the signs aren't the easiest to decipher), I'm especially taken by the building with a dome and a gorgeous façade and will assume it's the church.

I feel "in the zone now," and by the time we reach the museum, I'm raring to go. The museum itself is beautiful, and is the only art museum we will be going to on our trip. I know many people would find that sacrilegious when museums like the Tate are so close, but our time is limited and I want us to focus on the buildings and the history of the monarchs and such.


The Victoria & Albert Museum
(above and right)

We are in luck! The Victoria and Albert Museum is having a Dale Chihuly exhibit. Ever since I saw him on television a few years ago, I've been fascinated by the art he and his studio make out of glass. Lynette Jennings would be proud! His glasswork is even more beautiful than what I've seen in other museums and on TV. On the ceiling in one part of the exhibit is what I originally thought was a huge piece of glass. In actuality it is an installation of literally dozens (perhaps as many as a hundred) individual pieces. It is breathtaking and reminds me of the installation he has in his house in Washington state.

Amidst the antiquities housed in the museum there's more Dale Chihuly glass outside like an outdoor garden at the museum. The juxtaposition of his modern art against the fabulous old building is remarkable because the museum itself is so gorgeous with old carvings built into it. We don't know if the brownish-glass installation on the lawns are seals, birds, or chili peppers, though.

 

There's an interesting exhibition of dress from the 1600's to the present in the museum and I was amazed that I could discern a Regency outfit from a Georgian outfit from a Victorian outfit - all from reading romance novels!

We also saw a photographic exhibition of the work of Benjamin Brecknell Turner who took pictures beginning in the 1830's, mostly of the English countryside. The works were amazing, particularly when you consider how crude his tools were at the time. He also took some photos of the Crystal Palace. For those of you who live in Dallas, you might recall that the Infomart was designed to look like the Crystal Palace.

Some of the photos taken in this period took 30 minutes to complete, which is so different from the fractions of a second we use now. I have taken photos at night using time exposures of 15 minutes or so, but this was daylight.

At this point in history, photos were developed using the albumin of eggs. The albumin print was invented in 1850 and was the most common type of print for the next 40 years. It produced a clear image and was the predecessor to salt and paper prints. Paper was coated with albumin and salt to create a smooth surface. The paper was then coated with a layer of silver nitrate. Salt and silver nitrate react chemically and when this double-coated paper was placed in contact with a negative and exposed to the sun, a print was produced.

We've entered the Raphael Exhibit in the museum. All the paintings - or "cartoons," as they are called, are owned by Her Majesty, the Queen, and there is no photography allowed. There were also no postcard group or guidebook which focused on them, but I did find a photo of The Miraculous Draught of the Fishes on the Internet so you can see what they look like. Raphael did not have a long life; he was born in 1483 and died in 1520.

Each cartoon was at least 20 feet wide and 15 feet tall and all were religious in nature. In fact, these cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo the 10th in 1515 to be the basis for a series of tapestries for the Sistine Chapel and remain there to this day. These huge paintings, called "cartoons," are derived from the Italian word "cartona," meaning a large piece of paper. In actuality, each cartoon is made up of numerous sheets of paper glued together on which the design is painted. The coloring of the cartoons is very fine and precise which may suggest that while aware of their function and designs, Raphael also viewed them as independent works of art.

After the cartoons were created, they were sent to Brussels to be woven in the workshop of a master tapestry artist, who cut them into vertical strips. The weavers in his studio placed the strips under the threads of a loom, designed in reverse, because the weavers worked on the back of the tapestry, producing a mirror image.

The cartoon strips were reassembled in the late 17th century. Once the cartoons were sent out, they were made into tapestries more than once. There is a tapestry, which is huge, maybe 25’x20’ that is just astonishing in its beauty. It was created using wool, silk, and metal thread. Interestingly enough, the tapestries done later and made from copies of the original cartoons are more faithful to the originals than the set made for the Pope.

We left the museum at about 5:15 and walked to Harrods, stopping to notice the Empire House Building on the way.

Wow - we're in Harrods now, and I've never seen as many Judith Leiber bags in my life as they have here. All in all, our trip to Harrods was successful; my husband found a black porcelein swan by Rosenthal to replace one he'd bought years ago that was broken. We found a Beefeater Bear for our daughter and a proof set of coins for her as well.

We walked back toward our hotel and had dinner at Senor Sassy's Italian Restaurant in the alley behind it. The food was delicious and the people-watching equally so. There was a 50-something American man dining very closely to what appeared to be his much-younger trophy second wife, but what really caught my attention was a group of women who reminded me of my mother's friends, "the women," as she calls them - all friends since high school. One sounded so much like Diane I did a double-take. Sounds like they were having a great trip too, even if they were too focused on the amount of fat in the food. They're on vacation, after all.

We're going to get cleaned up and go to bed now. Good night!

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