We barely slept a wink the night before departure. We were a bit excited, overtired and more than a bit flustered. We worked diligently through the countdown period, but the last minute details are always a trial. The list of to-dos grew and grew. The more items we ticked off, the more we realized needed to be done. We finally finished packing and had everything ready to go by around 11:30 on departure day. We couldn’t bear to wait any longer and coaxed Paul into leaving early for the airport. The flight was, however, delayed by 90 minutes and we ended up waiting impatiently at the gate. At least the baggage was checked and we were through security. We felt we were on our way even though we hadn’t left the ground in Las Vegas yet.
I checked the weather in London and found that rain, thunder and lightning were in the forecast for the days we would be there. And, as luck would have it, it was also forecast to rain in Rome for the days we’d planned our city tours as well as the first day of our Via Francigena walk. Though this didn’t bode well, nothing could dampen (pun intended) our enthusiasm at this point.
We finally boarded and breathed a sigh of relief as we found our seats… the last row in the rear of the plane. For more than two hours, we felt as if we were riding a roller coaster or perhaps aboard Nine of Cups in very choppy seas. At 40,000 feet, we bounced and bumped our way high above the USA… so tumultuous, in fact, I nearly spilled my wine. The turbulence finally subsided and we enjoyed a reasonable meal and some award winning films that we’d missed… A Star Is Born, Bohemiam Rhapsody, Vice, On the Basis of Sex. We napped on and off and before you know it… merely 10 hours after departing… we were landing at cloud-covered Gatwick Airport.
We had planned to take an Uber, but apparently the costs have risen dramatically for this service to the tune of £40-60 for a one way ride to our hotel in King’s Cross. We sipped a leisurelly ‘flat white’ while discussing our options. The Thameslink ticket counter was only a few feet away and offered two single tickets to St. Pancras Station for £24. Sold! It was our day for delays as this train was delayed ‘due to a fire at London Bridge station”. A few minutes later we were instructed to move to a new platform where a train appeared which subsequently dumped us at St. Pancras, across the street from King’s Cross station and only a couple of blocks from our hotel.
The weather forecast was wrong. (Glad to see that one of Mother Nature’s traits is universal.) Though gray, cold and raw (9C/48F), it was only damp as we walked from the station to the hotel, a familiar route from our stay last September. We opted for a nearby Tesco Express for dinner (read that a fresh salad from a local supermarket, some crisps (potato chips) and a cold Longbow cider) in our hotel room. After our picnic dinner and a hot shower, it was easy to collapse into bed around 9PM local time. We slept well until about 1AM, then found it hard to sleep. Another picnic of biscuits and cheese and an hour of reading and we finally fell back to sleep for a few hours.
When we were in England last autumn, we concentrated on walking the Thames Path and missed several sights we’d wanted to see in London, one of which was the British Museum. ‘The British Museum was founded in 1753, the first national public museum in the world. From the beginning it granted free admission to all 'studious and curious persons'. Visitor numbers have grown from around 5,000 a year in the eighteenth century to nearly 6 million today.’
We gauged that it was only a 1.5 mile walk from our hotel and set out to join the museum queue for its 10am opening. I’d read a British Museum Tips article that recommended Tuesday as being the best day to visit (unless it was raining). The article also described tips for ‘tackle the Biggies first’.
It wasn’t quite raining, just drizzling, but the long entrance line snaked around the block. We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the line moved through a security screening and within 30 minutes we were walking up the marble steps of the museum.
All I can say about the British Museum is WOW! With over 8 million artifacts, it’s a most impressive place. Everything about it is grand, humongous and colossal. Per the ‘tips’ article mentioned above, we headed first to see the famous Rosetta Stone. Discovered by French army engineers in 1799 during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, the stone is inscribed with a decree in 196 BCE by Egyptian priests extolling the virtues of their pharoah Ptolemy V. Written in three different languages, hieroglyphics, ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek, the stone became the code breaker that allowed translation of hieroglyphics.
The exhibit was predictably enclosed in glass and there was a mighty mob encircling it. We waited our turn and finally bullied our way to a spot that allowed a close-up view and a picture without heads or hands in the way. There’s a certain exhilaration and awe in seeing something so ancient and so important. Some 2100+ years ago, this stone was being inscribed by stonecutters and here we are in the British Museum standing in line to get a glimpse of it.
We were still following the ‘tips’ guide and made our way through the Egyptian gallery and past more mummies and sarcophagi than imaginable. I’m enthralled by ancient Egyptian statuary and mummies. I’m sure the entombed Egyptians never imagined they’d end up in Britain.
We made our way to the Ancient Greece gallery where the Parthenon Sculptures, better known as the Elgin Marbles, reside. Truth be told, we were not familiar with the ‘marbles’, but soon learned about them. Though much controversy prevails over these important marble sculptures from the famed Greek Parthenon being on display in the British Museum, it appears they were obtained legally as far as we can tell. ‘The most famous and significant [sculptures] were brought to London beginning in 1803 by the former British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the nobleman Thomas Bruce—more commonly known as Lord Elgin’ with the blessing of the Ottomon Empire.
The crowds waxed and waned depending on the exhibits we chose to visit, but since we were primarily seeking out the museum highlights, we mostly found ourselves crushed by the throngs of people.
The museum is so large and so diverse, it would be impossible to do it justice in a day… or a week. Our minds were reeling after just a few hours. There’s too much to see and comprehend and digest and battling crowds is not the best way to appreciate the museum’s offerings. That said, the museum is free for all to enjoy and many were taking advantage of it. Here’s a few more highlights for you to ponder.
One of the most wonderful thing about cruising for 18 years is the number of people we’ve met from all over the world and with whom we stay in touch. We met Gus on Wings in Annapolis in the mid-2000s and had mutual friends and acquaintances. We’ve stayed in touch off and on over the years and when he found we were going to be in London, he and his wife, Helen, invited us to St. Katherine’s Dock for a visit aboard Wings. An offer too good to refuse.
We chatted and exchanged stories as sailors often do, then headed to a pub in the Town of Ramsgate for dinner and a pint. All too soon, we were saying goodbye and heading back to our hotel for a next day departure to Rome. The Via Francigena is getting closer every day.