Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 7: Uncovering the Past, Cataloguing the Present

Part 7 of my vacation trip diary. If you're joining the trip in progress, the prior entries are:
Day 1: Standing Stones | Day 2: Cotswold Way | Day 3: Don't You Know There's a War On? | Day 4: The Black Country | Day 5: Ironbridge to Shrewsbury | Day 6: The Enchanted Palace

6/30 Wednesday
Wednesday morning we walked around South Kensington and out to Earl’s Court. I chose an attractive-looking bakery more or less at random and had a pastry while JT went off and visited an ATM. We wound up at the Natural History Museum just as they opened. The building is quite improbably beautiful, and everywhere you look there are delightful little architectural details reflecting its purpose.
Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum detail

We went first to see the new Darwin Centre which opened last year. The Darwin Centre provides storage for many of the museum’s collections, and also open up the Museum’s activities to the public view. A fascinating self-guided tour introduces visitors to the collections, explaining what scientists do there and why it is both interesting and important. In various areas, the labs have viewing windows so the scientists can be watched at work, with an intercom so people can ask questions. We were very impressed, and thought that while it was a display that promised to teach the casual visitor a great deal about the work of the museum, it was also absolutely guaranteed to enthrall budding young naturalists and help steer them into a science-bound career path.

They also have a daily schedule of films and live presentations, and we thought the afternoon lecture, on an archeological dig in Morroco, sounded quite interesting, so we ventured out to find lunch nearby. We found it at a restaurant called Pain Quotidien, which in keeping with it’s name had excellent bread. They also had English cider, which proved to be quite strong. Since it was also a large bottle, and I was quite thirsty, I finished lunch feeling both refreshed and somewhat intoxicated. (I did not lose my memory or do anything embarrassing, no matter what JT tries to tell you, however.) By the time we reached the museum again, I was feeling quite myself.

The afternoon lecture was on an expedition which had uncovered very early human remains in a cave in Morocco. The cave had been occupied at two different periods in history, one much more ancient than the other. They showed slides of the excavation, and the archeologist talked about the history of the site (which had been partially excavated decades ago), and their discoveries. We were fascinated.

Next up was another London tradition, the bookstore crawl. Well, not much of a crawl this time—we stopped in one store, and then walked to St. Martin’s-in-the-Field for evensong. A new experience for JT who aside from an occasional wedding or funeral had never been to a religious service before. I found the Anglican service to be not all that dissimilar to the Catholic masses of my youth, though many of the usual prayers were sung rather than spoken. The choir was outstanding, and the whole very beautiful indeed.

We had dinner at another restaurant we’d been to before. Though the name had changed since our last visit, it was still Caribbean and very tasty. We walked back to the hotel and were pleased to note the John Snow Pub, not too far from the famous pump. (Dr. Snow had the pump handle removed to prevent people from drinking contaminated water during the last great cholera epidemic in London—it was his work that proved that cholera was caused by contaminated drinking water, not 'miasma' and his famous map that proved a landmark in the development of epidemiology as a science. Steven Johnson wrote an excellent book about it, called The Ghost Map.) We also made a stop at Harrod's, which we had never been to before. Not that we actually bought anything, but the building is simply gorgeous, and more than a little over the top. But then we like that kind of thing.

Slideshow of more London photos: (You can click on the show to see it with larger photos.)

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