Sunday, May 3, 2009

May 3: Hyde Park, Changing of the Guard, National Gallery

The morning started with a tube ride from Holburn Station to Marble Arch, where we proceeded to walk across Hyde Park, a royal park first set aside by Henry VIII in 1536 and populated with deer for hunting.  We proceeded from Speaker's Corner (where individuals are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech about, well, anything - Sunday afternoons only) to the Grand Entrance at Hyde Park Corner, where I purchased a hot dog and a Coke to tide me over.  From here, we walked in the general direction of Buckingham Palace which was quickly confirmed by the throngs of people present as the specific direction.  

In an act of complete accident, we had stumbled upon the Changing of the Guard, which takes place around 11 AM.  We were able to get some shots of the proceedings, which was a more positive experience than a lot of the guide books made it sound; typically, the books indicated that it was so packed that one rarely gets much of a glimpse of what is going on.  Certainly, it was crowded; I suppose it also helps when one is tall.  As we tried to leave, before the ceremony was finished, we were stopped at a cross-walk at which we had the good fortune of watching the musical unit of the guard march immediately past.  We had to wait here for about 10 minutes with no crossing allowed from either side.  While we had no problem heeding the MP's command of "Off the road, please", others were evidently deaf, stupid, or answer to some higher road crossing authority than the Metropolitan Police.  Soon, the "please" was dropped from the command.  Towards the end, after the band had passed, 4-5 more people crossed about 50 feet down the road from us.  Dan and I both shook our heads in disbelief, to which the MP responded off hand, to us directly, "Well, you win some, you lose some".  

From here, it was on to a walk by Big Ben and Parliament, then across the bridge to walk along the south bank of the Thames beside the London Eye, the 434-foot-high Ferris wheel which moves at 1/2 mph and makes 1 revolution every 30 minutes.  I had this on the agenda for the trip, but at $26 per person I realized why the climb to the top of St Paul's (experienced last Friday) could be referred to as the "poor man's Eye" (even though the views from St Paul's are over 200 feet closer to the ground).  We'll see what the following days bring; there may be a ride on the Eye yet.  

Immediately past the Eye, walking east, the sidewalk was divided amongst 15-20 street performers of different profession and levels of talent.  An elderly man, hunched over slightly in a grey jumper and white long-sleeve shirt playing a harmonica with vigor while stamping his left foot to the beat; a silver-painted man dressed in a silver wizard suit whose principal talent, it seemed, was bobbing slightly left-to-right whilst wielding a silver stick; a copper face-painted man in a copper suit with 8 foot long arm extensions; an entirely blue man playing a blue guitar though not playing the blues; 2 people dressed in lizard suits...riding stationary bicycles; a bassist and a drummer jamming out.  

We crossed another bridge down river to head to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.  After visiting the V&A, the British Museum, and the British Library and being continually impressed with their scale and content, one might think that it stops somewhere.  I thought it might stop at the National Gallery; surely this museum cannot be as impossibly huge and complete as these other institutes?  Wrong again.  The National Gallery houses over 2,300 paintings from the 13th century to 1900 laid out over two floors and contains at least 2 works of nearly every painter of significant note.  In addition to my general appreciation of art, my primary destination in the gallery was Da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, one of two paintings of the same name (the other is at the Louvre) which were painted sometime between 1483-1486 (Louvre) and 1495-1508 (National Gallery).  As I rounded the corner into the room which housed, amongst other things, 2 Da Vinci works including the Virgin, I noticed an empty space.  In the space was an informational plaque which read: "The Virgin of the Rocks is temporarily off view for restorative purposes".  Well that figures.  Oh well, I'll be back someday.  The rest of the Gallery was consistently complete and contained many redeeming (in the sense of redemption for lack of Da Vinci) pieces including a number of works by Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh.  

From here, it was back to the hotel for a fairly relaxing evening with Bank Holiday Monday just around the corner.  

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