In 2008, my family took a must-see trip to London to see the King Tut exhibit. The tour hit American cities, sure–some not so far from our home even–but we all agreed we wanted to see Tut in London. In England’s capital city we could hit the British Museum in the same week and see the Rosetta Stone on exhibit there (if you’re tall enough to see over everyone’s heads–it’s really popular). We made a list of all the great historical sites, Tower of London, Harrods, Victoria and Albert Museum, Greenwich, Kew Gardens, Stonehenge–you name it.
So we saved as a family to pay for the trip, watched every episode on London that Rick Steves and Samantha Brown ever shot, and made our plans. We ultimately kept our touring to the city of London proper–except for the Tut show, since it was in the Docklands area near Greenwich. Since we only had six days, we couldn’t see everything, but we surely did try. 🙂
I’ve already talked about the Tower of London (see a couple of posts back), and I want to devote another post to St. Paul’s Cathedral. But here are some of the rest of the sights we saw before our Thursday subway ride on the Jubilee Line to see Tut.
One of the sites I use in Counterfeit Conspiracies is Buckingham Palace–my main character loses a tail by a slight of hand maneuver that has a group of tourists followed instead. Here’s a shot right before the change starts, where the lead guards line up at the door, waiting for the rest of their platoon of uniformed guards to arrive.
The shot to the left is the top of the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace. If you watched the Queen’s Jubilee Concert last year, the stage was right in front of this area.
We all agreed we had to spend at least an afternoon in Harrods. On the plane to London I read where the doormen at Harrods would only let those “properly dressed” inside the store. At their discretion a patron could be refused entrance if they wore raggedy jeans, or shorts, or their clothes didn’t properly cover their extremities. Since I had a couple of teenagers with me, I brief them on saving an outfit just for Harrods. Of course they both thought I was crazy and “being a mom,” especially when we arrived at Harrods (with no ripped jeans or belly shirts–I might add) and no doorman was on duty. They fumed, but enjoyed the time in the store.
On the way out, however, I was vindicated when we witnessed a couple who was turned away because he was wearing jeans with holes in the knees and she wore a very skimpy top. I had to lead our two teenagers away from the scene and tell them to close their mouths, they were so awestruck.
Oh, and there is a bookstore inside Harrods. It’s Waterstones. And yes, I left with two books in my shopping bag.
At the left is the entrance to the British Museum. This is the new location, as it used to be combined with the British Library, I’m told, but the sheer volume of exhibits in both sites made a change in venue necessary.
In the British Museum we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, two items we’d always heard about. The Rosetta Stone is behind Plexiglass, and taking a good picture of it was nearly impossible with all the crowds. I got this shot (yes, that is my profile reflected in the glass). We were told this particular Rosetta Stone is a copy of the original–I don’t know where the original is, but with all the visitors crowding around this one, it makes sense to not have the original on display. Suffice it to say, we were happy with what we saw.
We could have probably spent an entire week just in the British Museum. But alas, we wanted to see other great sites as well. Outside the gates are some great little souvenir shops. The exchange rate was pretty high when we visited that spring, but we found several things to take home to friends and family.
One last shot inside the British Museum shows just one wall of the Elgin Marbles.
Wasn’t hard to understand why Greece keeps asking for them back, and England keeps a tight hold.
In front of the British Library, pictured below, is a Rodin sculpture. The idea of Rodin-like sculptures were used in the France section of Counterfeit Conspiracies. Inside the British Library are some of the oldest manuscripts you’ll ever see. We were amazed at what was available there to scholars. Much has to be seen by invitation only, but there was a wonderful room on the main floor with interactive displays that allowed tourists to ‘flip’ the pages of digitally delivered documents like the Magna Carta. Amazing!
The Tut exhibit took place at what was originally called the Millenium Dome, later renamed the O2, and we had to buy our tickets months in advance and pick a specific viewing time and everything. We were pretty jazzed. A bit of disappointment came, however, when we learned we couldn’t take any photos inside. The second disappointment came when we realized the gold death mask, the sight we all associated with Tut, was not on display. Still, it was a terrific show. There were even silent Egyptological movies taken at the ancient site. While I have no photos to show here, there are many websites that post the fascinating exhibits in the Tutankhamun tour, not the least of which is http://www.kingtut.org/
We also got to see a spirited debate in Parliament, and Winston Churchill’s underground bunker used as the office headquarters and living space for he and his staff through a lot of WWII. We didn’t get an opportunity to see the Old Bailey, and since we didn’t venture outside the city proper we had to miss Kew Gardens and Stonehenge. Still, having those sites to look forward to in years to come keep us always looking toward another London jaunt. And now that I’m setting a mystery series there, I have even more reason to go back. Maybe if I start saving now…
Do you have a dream vacation you’d like to take? Tell us about it in the comments section.