Happy Birthday, Prince of Cambridge

After the new little Prince of Cambridge was born, photographers were ready to pack up their tents and cameras and head home. Even they are tired of standing around talking about nothing  20 hours a day.  The crowds have thinned a bit at St. Mary’s Hospital, but not at the Palace.  I walked through Green Park this morning and saw thousands of people crowding the gates, hoping to glimpse the Royal Birth Announcement (PS, it’s quite small a la the Mona Lisa effect).

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

It’s been a fabulous few days. Patriotic colors spun around the edge of the London Eye in celebration and the BT Tower proclaimed “It’s A Boy!”   It was a celebration all round the world.

Tip:  to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park

Tip: to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park 🙂

Today, crowds piled into Green Park and the Tower of London to witness two Royal Gun Salutes.  The  Green Park salute was a 41 gun salute, twenty more than the traditional celebratory 21 gun because it takes place in a Royal Park.  There are rules, you know.  The Tower was 62 guns…the standard 21, plus 20 for a Royal fortress and an additional 21 as a tribute from the City of London.  Got it? It is a spectacular thing to watch.  The band marched entertained the waiting crowd with a weird playlist that included the theme from Indiana Jones and a few Star Wars numbers, rounded out with Rule, Britannia.  Not sure what that all means, but it kept everyone quiet.  A few minutes before 2:00pm, The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery came barreling down  Green Park on horseback, caissons in tow , disengaged the guns and kept riding on.  If you’re wondering why I posted the YouTube video instead of my own, it’s because I had my camera on the wrong setting for the 45 seconds it took them to ride by.  Yes, I was sad/mad. Still am, but enjoy the concept.

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Happy Birthday, Little Prince.

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Warning: Not-For-Mealtime Reading

I feel the need to defend myself lest I be accused of having morbid fascinations. We’ve had a string of guests recently with an interest in science and medicine. Being a good host, I try to accommodate their interests, thus our visit to the Resurrection Men at the Museum of London and our visit to the Hunterian.  A friend told me my post about the Resurrection Men ruined her breakfast, so, in the interest of decorum, this post comes with fair warning and fewer pictures.

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The Hunterian Museum  located at Lincoln Inn Fields, within the Royal College of Surgeons, contains John Hunter’s spectacular collection of 3500 human anatomy and pathology specimens, fossils, paintings and sketches.

John Hunter (1728-1793), credited with being the father or “scientific surgery” was born the youngest of ten children and was fatherless by 13. After a failed attempt at being a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, John  joined his brother William in London as a dissection assistant in William’s anatomy school. John showed great aptitude for dissection and preparation under William’s tutelage and earned a place studying medicine under more experienced surgeons. He was commissioned as an army surgeon where he gained experience treating the maladies of war and upon his return to London, established a surgical practice and published papers on the etiology and treatment of gunshot wounds, venereal disease and the disorders of the skeletal system.  As his reputation as a surgeon and anatomist grew, so did his collection of usual and unusual specimens.  Fossils, mummies and skeletons (both human and animal) joined the beak of a giant squid, parts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, exotic insects, diseased body parts and other oddities. His collection was opened to the public in 1785.

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Hunter’s massive collection was purchased by the government in 1799 and subsequently turned over to the Company of Surgeons.  The established museum was restructured and redesigned numerous times between 1834 and WWII.

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On May 10, 1941, bombs fell on Lincoln Inn Fields, destroying the Royal College of Surgeons building and over half of John Hunter’s specimens. The remaining collection was reorganized and rehoused in numerous forms during the subsequent 64 years, reopening in its present form in 2005.

If you have more than a passing interest in nature and the sciences, the Hunterian Museum is well worth a few hours.  The depth and breadth of the collection is mind-boggling.  I particularly enjoyed the fossils, skeletons, insects and animals. Our medical student friends were riveted by the process of disease displays. Eeeshhh.  One of my children refers to the museum as the “parts in a jar museum” and refuses to return as the more graphic human specimens left her in need of the well-placed “fainting couches.” Check details here before you go.

Things to know:

*You must sign in at the Royal College of Surgeons front desk and get a little badge before proceeding upstairs to the Hunterian.

*No  photography allowed.

*The museum is free, but they do ask you to consider a £3 donation.

*While young children are permitted inside the museum, parents should seriously consider the ages and maturity level of their children before bringing them. The children WILL have questions.

Diary of a Wimpy Traveler

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I’m not a wimpy person, per se’.  I certainly appreciate the spontaneous, the adventurous and the unplanned things that make life interesting.  I do, however, like things a certain way when I travel. I don’t need luxury (although I appreciate it) and I don’t need someone to hold my hand and tell me what to do (never used a travel agent).  To me, half the fun of traveling is finding the place, doing the research and making a plan.  I volunteer to plan other people’s vacations because I think it’s fun.  I do all these things with excruciating precision, which makes me wonder…am I missing an essential experience of travel by planning and obsessing over every detail?   I know where we’re going, where we’re eating, how we’re getting there, where we’re staying and, if you’re traveling with me, I know those things about you too.

A friend of mine, who certainly embraces a no-holds-barred approach to everything, shared that her husband accused her of “being addicted to comfort.”  Now, in my house, that would end badly…for The Mister, anyway.  The truth is, after years of planning household moves (14), family vacations, other people’s family vacations and teaching a roomful of lively 5 year olds how to read (all of which require the planning skills of a 4 star general), the thought of not knowing everything ahead of time makes me uncomfortable.

My move to London is a game-changer.  I’m not moving, I don’t have to plan my day around those darling 5 year olds and my own children are adults (or act like it most of the time). Maybe it’s time to try something different.  Something outside my pre-planned comfort zone. Perhaps… it’s time for a little adventure. So, I’m making a travel list and checking it twice (or three times…old habits die hard).  I’m vowing to take advantage of the last-minute, the un-planned, the serendipitous travel opportunities I see on my travel account everyday.  I start this week with my first house-sitting job in the English countryside. Hey, you have to start somewhere.  I might even get crazy and call a travel agent.

Are you a planner when you travel?  Have you ever left on a trip without  “a plan?”

PS. To all those who are or will be traveling with us this year, fear not.  I still plan on organizing the hell out of your trips.  You’re welcome.

The Painted Hall at Greenwich

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When The Mister was an exchange officer with the Royal Navy (long, long ago), he received an invitation to dine in one of the holiest of Naval places, The Painted Hall at Greenwich. For reasons neither of us can remember, he didn’t attend. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that we had three small children under the age of 7, lived in Portsmouth and I wasn’t invited. Regardless of the reason(s), he didn’t attend and he’s still a little bit sad about it.  I couldn’t arrange a naval dining-in at The Painted Hall, but I did arrange a Maritime-themed day out in Greenwich, home of the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and the Cutty Sark.

The Painted Hall is the breathtaking crown jewel of Greenwich. The Hall, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, was meant to be a dining hall for Naval Veterans living at the Royal Hospital for Seaman.  The Hall itself is lovely, but the wall paintings by James Thornhill make it truly spectacular.  Mr. Thornhill was commissioned to decorate the walls with scenes depicting the glory and legacy of British maritime power.  He was either very confident in his abilities or a poor businessman as he failed to negotiate a fee before starting his commission.  It took Thornhill 19 years to complete the project for which he was paid £7000 and given (eventually) a knighthood.  Interesting side note: legend suggests that his commission was partially funded by the confiscated loot of the pirate, Captain Kidd.

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When The Painted Hall was complete, it was deemed too elaborate for use as a “mess hall” and  became a tour-able attraction where Royal Hospital Pensioners would act as guides in exchange for a small fee.

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In January of 1806, three months after the Battle of Trafalgar, the body of Horatio Nelson lay in state in The Painted Hall. Over 100,000 people paid their respects before Nelson’s body was placed on the King’s Barge and floated up the Thames for his funeral.

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The Painted Hall became the National Gallery of Naval Art and remained as such until 1936 when the collection moved elsewhere. After an extensive restoration, the Hall opened again in 1939 as a dining venue for officers of the Royal Naval College.  When the Royal Navy left in 1998, the Greenwich Foundation took over stewardship of the site.

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Today, The Painted Hall is open to visitors almost every day of the year, free of charge. You can also book it for a special event or wedding venue (can  you imagine?) if you prefer.  The west wall paintings are currently undergoing restoration and visitors are allowed to climb the scaffolding and watch the master conservators at work.  Rumor has it that once a year, The Painted Hall hosts a Trafalgar Night dinner.  I plan on spending the next 263 days hunting down tickets so The Mister can, at last, dine amidst the glory of British Maritime history. Hopefully, I’ll be invited.

Things to know:

The Painted Hall and other venues are occasionally closed for private events.  Check here  before you go.

The scaffolding/conservation tours are limited.  Check for times and availability here    Children must be over 12 only to participate in conservation tours. 

There is quite a bit to see within the Royal Naval complex.  You can plan your day out by checking the main website before you go.

The Thames Clipper boat is a great, scenic way to see London and get to Greenwich. Oyster card holders receive a 1/3 discount! http://tinyurl.com/czcsrh

The Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark are all within walking distance.  Greenwich is a long day out, but well worth it.  Get there early and plan on spending a full day.

Lions and Tigers and A Few Polar Bears.

Do you remember me mentioning the photography exhibit I missed because I was playing in the snow?  I had the chance to go this morning with d3, so I woke her up early and hopped the bus to the Natural History Museum.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit is showing at the Natural History Museum until 3 March.  The annual contest (currently in its 49th year) is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.  The judging panel received  48,000 entries from 98 countries, which they distilled to the final 100 photographs on display.

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 Photograph by Larry Lynch, Warning Night Light, sourced here
Winner, Animal Portraits category, 2012

When I entered the gallery I was surprised to see that the photographs were not framed and hung on the wall. The gallery, arranged by award category;  Underwater Worlds, Wildscapes, Nature in Black and White, Creative Visions, Animal Portraits, Behavior: Mammals/Birds/Cold-Blooded Animals, Animals in their Environment, Botanical Realms as well as a “Young Photographer” category (10 and under, 11 – 14, 15- 17, presents the photographs in a stunning, backlit format.

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Photograph by Francisco Mingorance (Spain), Spirit of the Volcano sourced here
Commended, Botanical Realms category 2012

Each photograph was accompanied by an interesting back-story about the subject and setting and a map showing  where the photo was taken. The display also noted the technical details involved in taking the photo (type of camera, lenses, filters and other things I don’t understand but wish I did).

The photographs were stunning.  One made my cry. They all took my breath away.  Patrons filled out an exit questionnaire (voluntary) asking us to list our favorite photograph.  We argued for a bit, went back through the gallery and settled on our favorite seven.  It was a difficult choice.

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Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James (UK), Lookout for Lions, sourced here                            http://www.charliehamiltonjames.co.uk/ 
Specially Commended, Nature in Black and White category, 2012

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Photograph by David Maitland (UK), Sands of Time  sourced here
http://www.davidmaitland.com/
Runner up, Creative Visions category, 2012

Even if you have only a passing interest in photography, the exhibition is well worth it.  My daughter and I were incredibly inspired and spent a significant amount of time flipping through the photography books in the museum bookshop. Maybe there’s hope for my photography after all.

Things to know:

The exhibit ends 3 March.

Entry cost is £10 for adults, £5 for students/concessions, free for museum members.

Check for details here  before you go.

You can see some of the photographs online , using a search feature, although they are much better seen in person.