Friday, February 20, 2015

A Little Visit to London

I've had London on the brain lately (as in I'm trying to figure out when I can go back), so it's probably time I told you about last January when I was there for a whole day and a half.  One reason for the short visit was that it was planned rather spontaneously, which is out of the ordinary for me, and one reason for the spontaneity of it was that an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum was going to be closing soon.  The exhibition was on Pearls, which I couldn’t take any photos of, but I made up for that in the rest of the museum.
Although, being in the V&A’s costume hall was surprising in that I wasn’t surprised by any of the costumes.  I never thought about it, but after spending so much time exploring their collection online, and seeing random pieces on sites like Pinterest, the costumes on display were closer-up than I could see online, but for no piece was I like “I need to make you immediately”, because I had seen them all before—and I had completely expected to have that reaction to at least one piece.  But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend my entire first day wandering the V&A, because I totally did.  OMG the jewelry!  But of course those galleries didn’t allow photos either, so you’ll have to settle for a few costume pics and one of stained glass windows.

These may look familiar:

These, probably not:

My second day was much more surprising.  I spent the morning at Kensington Palace, which I only went to because I was trying to not stray from the Kensington area to make my mini-trip easier.  And it is the place I’m still recommending to people a year later.

I was up earlier than usual that morning and the sun rising over the park was really beautiful.

There were three main sections to the museum/palace.  The first told the story of Victoria and Albert and had several pieces of clothing on display.  In this section, the really fascinating thing, at least for the museum nerd in me, was how they wove (sometimes literally) passages of letters and diaries into the rooms: lines of text woven into the carpet, etched along display cases, and painted on the walls.  It was really beautiful and made for a fuller picture than some text panel telling me about their relationship.

You can see text on the carpet, the mirror, and the room divider.

This was really sweet. It reads "My dearest Albert put on my stockings for me.  I went in and saw him shave; a great delight for me."

Other rooms in this section featured later parts of their lives, and of course more costume pieces:

A riding habit for inspecting the troops:

And some interesting mourning pieces for after Albert died.  Of course, being black they proved especially hard to photograph, so I'll just show you an embroidered handkerchief.  Every piece had some mark of being for mourning.  I had never thought about embroidering a handkerchief or undergarments or anything that is usually white to distinguish it as mourning wear. It's really amazing to me how much time would have been put in to this, and how committed Victoria was to being proper about her grief.

The second exhibition area was in the Queen's State Apartments.  Not Queen Victoria, though they may have been hers as well, but the rooms focused on two other queens who resided there: Queen Mary and Queen Anne.  I always get this part mixed up, but Mary was the older sister of Anne, and ruled jointly with William (of the Netherlands, so we like him!) until her death, then William ruled on his own for awhile, and finally Anne became queen when he died, as William and Mary had no children.

The exhibits in this area were weird.  Like modern, surreal, weird.  But very cool at the same time--and not at all what I was expecting.  One room had 17 little chairs in it for all the babies Anne had lost. (12 stillborn children, 4 died before the age of 2, and 1 made it to 11 years).  I don't have any photos of that room, as it was really saddening to actually see it visualized like that, not just read it on Wikipedia.

Another room focused on gossip in court life, and as you walked through, different phonographs would turn on and you became surrounded by different voices telling different tales of something scandalous happening at court.

And finally, the third section was about more modern Queens and Princesses--gowns that Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana had worn.  Naturally, I didn't like much of Diana's section (too 80's and 90's for my taste), but there were some really lovely pieces from Elizabeth and Margaret.

A lovely blue number worn by Queen Elizabeth in the early 1950's.

A (then) daring dress worn by Princess Margaret to a film premiere in 1951.

 And a day dress worn in the early 1950's by Princess Margaret.  I just love how delicate this looks.

After Kensington Palace, I had a little time left before I had to catch the train, so I wandered over to the Natural History Museum, and found out that there's a back entrance which looks A LOT different than the front entrance.

This is the back:
Not the usual view of the Natural History Museum, is it? Though riding the escalator up through the glowing world of doom was pretty cool.

Eventually I wandered my way through to the front entrance hall.  Which was absolutely stunning.

And that was London!  Now to figure out when to go back...