Category: London

Late November

Late fall is a rusty crown on tree tops as the first white dots cross the sky line and disappear on the cracking pavement. The first lights twinkle in branches and building tops as the sun sets. Our breath takes shape in the air. I remember this feeling; the first snow, the cusp of winter. The anticipation of what’s to come - the cold nights and warm lights and the scrapbook moments.

Today is laden with memories of another day. It is a slow motion reel playing on the walls behind us as we talk about how things have changed in the last two years.

A day spent with her reminds me of a weekend two years ago, with cold and winter hanging in the air of another city, another country. London, 2009: an adventure in small indulgences. Champagne, high tea and the best of brownies. A misguided attempt to walk the city in brand new heels. A failed venture to eat dessert for dinner. A hilarious experiment in balance on ice; we were skating at the Tower of London and she fell when I fell, to laugh with me on the ground.

In late November, I think of how time passes. How can London be two years ago? How can we be where we are now? How are we going where we’re going?

Late fall, or early winter: it’s the first of many snow falls. A different country. A different day. But still an adventure in indulgence, filling the walls of spa with the same chatter, despite the “Silence Please” signs all around us.

Chandra and I at Westminster Abbey, 2009

The Tower of London

As I start to think more seriously about a career in museums, I find myself actively evaluating the way that the museums I visit are set up. There are so many different things you can do to attract and engage visitors, and to teach the history of the site.

I went to the Tower of London on Wednesday. It’s one of the places I didn’t get to see the first time I was in London, two years ago.


I was a bit hesitant at first, because it costs quite a bit of money to get in. Especially when a lot of great things in London are free. Nevertheless, I decided it would be worth the gamble.

I didn’t know how much was in the Tower of London. There are three distinct sections (I lost my map halfway through so I’m hoping I didn’t miss any). There’s the Medieval Palace, the Jewel House and the White Tower.

I started in the Medieval Palace (Inner and Outer Wards on a map), and to me this was the most interesting part. It was built by Henry III and is still set up in medieval fashion. The most interesting part, for me, was that they had a display that outlined the different layers of the King’s bedding in the Royal Chamber. Underneath they had samples you could touch of what silk filled with feathers feels like, or linen filled with horsehair. There was a chapel set up as well.


It was here, too, that you could see the place where they later kept the prisoners and the really interesting carvings done on the walls by the prisoners. They had all of these covered by glass panes and then beside that they had the stories of the prisoners who carved them.


I thought both techniques were really good ways to give visitors the feeling of what it was actually like, back then. I loved touching the different fabrics. They also had sample tiles and other things you could touch. This is really important, I think, because I know that I always stand behind the barriers just itching to reach out and touch a wall or a rug or whatever. It makes it seem more real.

The carvings were great, it went along well with what people normally think of when they think of the Tower - imprisonment and torture. And to be able to read the stories right at the relevant carvings, it was like you could picture them sitting in the tower, making their mark on the walls.

There were also several videos throughout this section that told the general story of the royalty at the time it was built and stories surrounding the Tower. They were good movies because they were concise - they told the stories in an engaging way, but you didn’t feel like you were standing and watching a whole film in the middle of a historic building, like those videos often tend to do.

The next part I visited was the Jewel House and the enormous collection of the Crown Jewels. To be honest, I had no idea that these were here. It was a complete surprise to me (though I would’ve found out in about .3 seconds had I read the travel guide.) It was quite stunning, though. I liked the way they had this set up as well. There were cases with jewels and such, and beside was a text panel. The text was concise and interesting, focusing on the stories behind each crown or other jewel.


When you enter the bottom half, the very secure area which I believe is underground, you filter through a set of queues to go through the collection. While you stand in these queues you watch different movies on a screen in front of you. One shows the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The next show close ups of various pieces in the collection. They’re very interesting, but this is mostly designed to prevent a bottleneck effect and direct you through the building properly. I definitely found that about the Tower of London - they always know exactly where they want you to go next and you’re always being led up one way and down another, so that not only do you see everything without having to think too hard, but you also don’t run into people coming the other way. I’ve heard the Tower is extremely busy in the summer, so that’s probably why they have it so strategically planned. It’s interesting and something I’m not used to in museums - I’m used to people sort of wandering every which way.

Now you can’t take pictures in the Jewel House. I’m sure this is for security purposes. But I was a bit disappointed because I would’ve liked to have a few pictures of the collection, it was so stunning. At the same time, I also appreciate that if you were allowed to take photos than the very important line would be endlessly held up by people trying to take a decent picture of something behind glass and inevitably failing quite miserably.


The next part of my visit was to the White Tower. The White Tower is apparently the oldest part of the Tower of London. I say ‘apparently’ because I just learned that from Wikipedia, and didn’t know that when I was looking around it. This their temporary exhibit space, and it’s unfurnished save whatever exhibit they have at the time. The exhibit this time was called “Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill.” It shows the evolution of King Henry VIII’s armour. They have little diagrams showing him getting fatter through the years, it’s quite entertaining. On the glass cases they have quotes from primary sources, first painting him as a glorious, brave and handsome soldier, and then in the later years talking a bit about his obesity and disease.

It was a very interesting exhibit. They had computers set up where you could see close ups of the detailing on his armour, which was really the most interesting part.

My only criticism of the White Tower is that because of this exhibit, you didn’t get to learn much about the history of that building or the architecture. Which was surely interesting.The other side, opposite the exhibit, had some information, but mostly it was just games and simulations aimed mostly at children. The games, though, were quite cool. You could try to shoot an arrow, see what it’s like to look through a metal helmet, sword fight, etc. This room was crowded and the lines for such activities were huge. It’s a great way to appeal to all ages though, to keep the kids from being bored at walking around all day looking at jewels and armour.

Obviously, the Tower of London has a fair bit of money to do what it wants as a museum. This definitely shows. Museums are evolving, incorporating new technologies and tactics to make history interesting. Museums are no longer drab places solely for history buffs. They’re for everyone, now. They’re completely approachable. And if they do it right, like the Tower of London, they’re still interesting to history buffs too. It’s interesting to look at the top museums and attractions in the world and see what they can do, to think about what I’d want to do with a museum that I (hopefully) someday work at. And to think how I would incorporate these ideas (even just a little bit) in the museums I’ve worked at in the past.

Hez and Fae Rewind Moment #2

Also known as why Hez and Fae shouldn’t travel together.

When I was living in Ireland, Fae came to visit for the last week before I went home. We decided to plan a Great European Adventure. We were going to go to London, Paris and then drive around Ireland for a few days to see what I hadn’t been able to see on a bus yet.

First thing, we found out that without a substantial credit card and at the age of 20, we could not rent a car in Ireland. Or anywhere. So that part was shot, but we were still heading to Paris and London!

On Thrusday morning, 5am, I got on the bus to Dublin to meet Fae at the airport. I had already had enough of Dublin by that point, from the week I was there at the beginning and then a trip for the weekend to pick up Kristen, so I was very done with Dublin. So instead of staying at all, we just got on a bus back. And we were going to London via the Shannon airport the next morning at 5am. So of course we spent the night drinking at the pub I was working at, and stumbled home to bed for about three hours sleep. We got on a bus to Shannon. We arrived, walked right up to flight counter. We gave the woman our passports.

I realized that it was taking a little too long for her to find us as passengers.
“Do you have a printout of your ticket information?” she asked. I handed it to her. She looked down at it, and looked back up at us.
“Your flight left yesterday morning at 6am.”

For anyone who’s ever booked through RyanAir, you’ll know that they give you a bunch of dates close to yours so that you can find the cheapest. I thought I was just chosing a cheaper time, when I was actually choosing a different day entirely.

It was just after 5am and we had tickets to see Wicked in London that night. And, again, for those of you who know RyanAir, you’ll know that they are absolutely completely unflexible, and any time you have to book something less than two weeks in advance, it’s ridiculously expensive.

Needless to say, we freaked out. We had to wait until 6am for the ticket counters to open to find ourselves a flight. Finally, 6 came around and 150 euros later we had a new flight to London. Understandably, we were upset for being a whole lot poorer. But we were optimistic.
“Well, when we get to London let’s check all our tickets. It’s fine, we’re going to get there in time and it was just a little glitch.”

So we spent the weekend in London. We were supposed to leave for Paris on Sunday night. Sunday morning we went for a free walking tour of London. At the end of six hours of walking, we were wandering around Westminster Abbey.
“We should go soon so we can get back to the hostel in time to take the tube to Heathrow,” I say.

So we headed back. We’re sitting on the tube on our way to King’s Cross and Fae turns to me.
“You know, the flight might have arrived in Paris at 7pm…” she says. I stare at her. It’s almost 4pm, Paris is a one hour time difference and we’re about an hour away from Heathrow. We practically run back to the hostel to check our ticket. Sure enough, our flight leaves at 4:10. I look up at the clock on the front desk.
“Is there anyway we could get to Heathrow in ten minutes?” I ask the girl at the front desk. She looks at me like I’m crazy. The next hour or so would prove her right.

Our problem is now compounded. Not only do we want to go to Paris, but we have to get to Paris to get our flight back to Ireland, so that we can each catch our flights back home at the end of the week. I go downstairs to the computers to see if I can find us a flight last minute. I give Fae the number for the hostel in Paris and tell her to see if she can cancel our deposit on our room there that night.

As I’m scrolling through the fares on RyanAir, I’m getting prices like 300 pounds one way to get to Paris. I panic. At this point I’ve been living off my credit card and my parent’s charity for the last two months, and I definitely don’t have 300 pounds ($600 Canadian at the time!). Fae comes down from using the phone and looks flustered.
“I hate you!” she says. I blink.
“I don’t speak French!!” she says. I burst out laughing. I had completely forgotten that I’d booked the hostel in French, that she would need to speak French to cancel our reservation. Apparently, she managed to do it anyway, in English. Much needed comic relief.

Finally, the only affordable situation that I can come up with is to exchange our flight from Paris to Shannon into a flight from London to Dublin, and pay the difference. Which was still a lot of money. The flight would leave two days later, at 6am.

On the plus side, we got an extra day in London - which meant we got to see some of my favourite things: the British Museum, Abbey Road and Spamalot. We also went out for Chinese food that was very expensive and I didn’t even realize it until I got my credit card bill the next month. $120 dinner? At least it was good!

But we never did get to Paris.

We finally got back to Galway, exhausted and very poor. I decided to pick up a shift at the pub the next night, to get some money to pay my last week of rent. Everyone else thought all of our misadventures were hilarious (which, in retrospect, they really were.) So my roommate texts me and says:
“Callan (the manager) says you can work, but if you’re late he’s going to charge you 150 euro.”

And then we went on to lose Fae’s wallet, complete with her last 200 euro, and our ability to walk in Killarney. But that’s a whole other story.

Of course, the reason Fae and I are best friends is because somehow, after all of this, we ended up having the best week of our lives and laughing our asses off that night at dinner.

Grad school, pt. IV

Today I got a very strange e-mail. It was from one of the Professors at the University of London: King’s College saying that he was recommending that the school make me a conditional offer. This, he said, was based on the fact that he had been interested in what I wrote on my statement of interest in regards to my proposed field of research. He then went on to talk about heroic bone transfer (what I had talked about) for a few paragraphs, and to suggest the classes I should take should I decide to do my Master’s there. It was an e-mail specifically to me, about me….

Essentially, it’s an offer from the University of London. Which, to be honest, wasn’t one of my top choices because it’s so expensive. But it made it seem like they were personally interested in me and my research. This could very likely be a tactic to get me to accept and pay them a lot of money.. but it’s a tactic that certainly works.

I only have a couple of weeks to decide which school to choose…. I hate making decisions, but making THIS decision is way better than trying to decide what to do next year if I didn’t get in anywhere.

Distance and the space between…

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the plan that Fae and I had to move to London in September. We’ve been talking about it a lot too, about how we’re disappointed it’s not going to work. Ever since she was here last week, I keep thinking how unfair it is to have lived 12 hours away (at the closest) from my best friend for the last 8 or 9 years. It’s hard, because both our lives are going in very different directions, and we both have a lot of dreams for our futures.

Anyway, I love my Faerie and I miss her and I wanted to share with you the post she wrote yesterday, based on a book she’s reading. It describes us pretty well.

Btw, Fae, I’m trying to avoid the letter u because I’m on the laptop downstairs.. I love ewe!