Thursday, October 1, 2015

London, Part 3 (Brititsh Library) and Cambridge

It was raining when we checked out of our hotel in the morning. We stopped at The Kings Cross Post Office to mail some more packages home and then we sat under a cafe umbrella at a table in the rain waiting for the library to open since we were a little early. A queue started to form to see The Magna Carta so we were glad we had seen it the night before. We heard there were some really wonderful things in the special collections of the Library and we wanted to check it out before catching our train to Cambridge that afternoon.

Waiting for the library to open.
Central Book Stack at British Library--Kings Library.
We looked at the gift store for a few minutes and then we wandered around wondering where the special collections were housed. We saw the central book stack and wondered if that was it, but Anne said she thought we must be missing something. We finally found someone to ask and he pointed us to the Rare Books and Music room.

The room was full of display cases. I walked to the nearest one and looked. There were pages from Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook. I glanced behind me and noticed some sheet music so I walked over. It was the score for the Hallelujah Chorus written in Handel's own writing. Goosebumps. 

The room was full of world-changing original documents, musical scores and texts. For the next hour or so I reverently walked from display case to display case getting misty-eyed several times. Anne pointed out a letter that Galileo had written while he was in prison awaiting trial for heresy for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We both cried. 

It was a moving experience to see how so many people had sacrificed so much in the pursuit of truth. We both felt like there was more of God in that room than there had been in some of the churches we had been in. There was such an incredible feeling there.

When people ask me what my favorite part of the trip was, this ranks at the very top. 

25 of the Most Amazing and Inspiring Things We Saw at the British Library
 (in no particular order):
  1. Two of the original four copies of the Magna Carta (previously mentioned)
  2. Pages from Leonardo da Vinci's sketch book (previously mentioned)
  3. The score for "The Hallelujah Chorus" in Handel's writing (previously mentioned)
  4. Letter written by Galileo as he was awaiting trial for heresy for saying the earth revolves around the sun (previously mentioned)
  5. The original manuscript of Beowulf
  6. Mozart's notebook
  7. Handwritten scores by Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Puccini, Stravinsky and others
  8. Original manuscript of Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby
  9. Original manuscript of Jane Austen's Persuasion 
  10. Jane Austen's writing desk
  11. Original manuscripts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, turned to "Sonnet 43"--"How Do I Love Thee"
  12. William Tynedale's Illuminated New Testament
  13. Lab notebook from one of the first scientists to perform mouse embryo transfer (I geeked out over that since my husband is a biology professor and has done this himself.)
  14. Letter from Anne Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey concerning her marriage to Henry VIII
  15. Journal entry from South Pole explorer Robert Falcon Scott saying, "I hope and trust we shall all buck up again now that conditions have improved. . ." dated February 8. He died March 29.
  16. Several first edition Shakespeare writings
  17. The Gutenberg Bible
  18. Notes and early photographs from one of the pioneers of photography
  19. Scroll fragments of parts of  Exodus and Revelations from circa 300 AD
  20. Lots of really old Torahs, Korans and other religious texts
  21. Early copies of The Bhagavadgita
  22. Several paintings from eastern religions
  23. The original notes for "Yesterday", "Help" and "Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles written on scraps of paper by Lennon and McCartney
  24. A screenplay that Laurence Olivier had written on
  25. A letter from Michelangelo to his father stating that he had finished the work on the Sistine Chapel and he thought the Pope was "quite satisfied".
We could have spent lots more time at the British Library but we hoped to be able to spend a little time exploring Cambridge so we made our way back to Kings Cross Station and bought our tickets.

St. Pancras visible over the roof of The British Library.
Kings Cross Station.
Leaving Kings Cross Station for Cambridge.
We didn't have to wait very long--maybe ten minutes once we got to our platform. The train ride to Cambridge was pretty uneventful. Mom sat next to a girl who had just graduated from university and Anne and I sat next to each other. It was a Friday afternoon and the train was quite crowded. It was raining pretty steadily when we arrived and the taxi queue was pretty long but it moved quickly. 

Our taxi driver was a retired man who used to make thermal regulators for DNA amplification (Would you expect anything less in Cambridge?). First he took us to our Bed and Breakfast then after we dropped off our bags and got the keys we asked him to take us to The Eagle. He hadn't turned on his meter at first and said he'd just double the fare when we got there. He was kind of a crochety old guy--a bit prejudiced about the foreign cab drivers, grumbly about the traffic and the weather. We kind of got the uncomfortable notion that he wasn't really taking us the fastest route. The traffic was awful. He said it was the worst he had seen it in a long time and he kept zigzagging down back streets and it seemed we were going in circles. We weren't getting to our destination very quickly and the meter was running. We just kept talking to him about his family, England, America, his old job and trying to make pleasant conversation. And then Anne pulled out her map. Things seemed to turn around. We arrived at our destination pretty quickly after that and by the end of the cab ride I think he was either feeling happier or guilty for taking us on a wild goose chase through town. Either way he cut us a break on the cab fare and as a gesture of goodwill we gave him the benefit of the doubt and a nice tip.

RAF graffiti on ceiling of The Eagle.
RAF Bar--Graffiti of WWII airmen covers the ceiling.
The Eagle was crowded and the service wasn't super fast, but lunch was delicious. I had sausage and mash, Anne had the pie of the day and Mom had a pork chop. We shared a side of roasted butternut squash wedges with rosemary and sour cream. I've been looking for the recipe online ever since.

The Eagle is a hotbed of history. There is the RAF bar in the room where we ate--graffiti of WWII airmen covers the ceiling and parts of the walls; in the room next to the RAF room, Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA to the world saying, "We have discovered the secret of life."
For the wife of a biology professor this was pretty darned exciting.

The spot where Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA.

After lunch we walked to King's College Chapel. We walked in and just a couple of minutes later someone started playing the organ. We asked a guide about it and he said that it was just a student that had come to practice but we felt like we were treated to an unexpected organ recital and it was lovely.

Sundials on a domed roof in Cambridge.

We looked around, admired the architecture and craftsmanship and spoke with the guide for several minutes asking questions before deciding we'd try to make it over to Trinity College before everything closed. It was still raining and was kind of miserable so Mom and I ducked into a sweet shop while Anne went to try to find out where Trinity College was and if it was still open. We decided we needed chocolate and some other treats. We asked the girl behind the counter what her favorite sweet was and she told us toffee bonbons so we got some. When we tried them later that evening I told Mom I think the girl who sold them to us was lying. Either that or they were really old and stale because they were not the melt-in-your-mouth, buttery delicacy that we were led to believe they are. They were more like wear-your-jaw-out-trying-to-chew-them balls of powdered sugar with staleish-not-super-flavorful-caramelesque candy inside.

After what seemed like ages, Anne came back with the news that Trinity College was closed but the Fitzwilliam Museum was still open for another hour or so. We passed the Corpus Clock and Chronophage on the way to the museum. It is beautifully hypnotic and creepy. The locust thing on the top moves and is supposed to be eating time.

We didn't get to see the National Gallery when we were in London so the Fitzwilliam was a fair substitute. We got to see paintings by Cassatt, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Seurat, Monet, Breugel, Rubens, Van Dyck and Van Gogh, among others. There were no photos allowed in the galleries but I had to take one of the domed roof of the museum. No flash of course.

As it got close to closing time, Anne went to have the front desk call a cab for us but the lines were busy. The woman at the desk said that had never happened before. There were no cabs to be found because of the rain and the fact that it was a Friday night. The museum kicked us out because they were closing so we walked down the street in the cold rain wondering how we were going to get a cab. We ended up at a tea house and they were kind enough to call a cab for us and let us hang out in their restaurant out of the rain. Eventually a taxi did show up and took us back to our B&B. Our room was comfortable--nothing special. Most of the places we stayed had electric teapots in the room so we used it to make ourselves some hot chocolate. The bathroom light made a very loud popping noise--almost like a firecracker--and we all jumped any time someone turned it on, but at least that was mildly entertaining. 

We were glad to get out of our soggy clothes and climb into bed that evening. We never did get any dinner since we had kind of a late lunch. We stayed in the rest of the night and watched Doc Martin on  TV and and ate yucky toffee bonbons for dinner. We saw some beautiful things, but overall I'd say Cambridge was one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. I had such high hopes for Cambridge--punting on the Cam, city and university tours, gardens, The Bridge of Sighs. Unfortunately the weather, the traffic, and the crowds didn't cooperate. We just didn't have time to see very much of what was on our list. Our morning at the British Library had been a fantastic experience though so it all kind of balanced out at the end of the day. Sometimes you have highs. Sometimes you have lows. Sometimes you have them both on the same day. Sometimes multiple times on the same day.

To Be Continued. . .

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