Tag Archives: British Museum

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Worth Doing In London (Part 1)

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I was having coffee with a friend the other day who may be leaving London soon to return to the States. Like me, she’s an American who’s been living here for several years. As we chatted about what it might mean to “Go Back” (capital G, capital B), she told me that when she mentioned this to a friend, he immediately asked: “Do you have a bucket list?”

A bucket list – according to the Urban Dictionary – is a list of things you need to do before you die. Presumably, this man wanted to know if my friend had a list of things she wanted to do in London before she departed. She responded that a. she doesn’t “do” lists of any sort (right on, sister!) and b. she’s made a point of already seeing everything she wants to see in London.

I know what she means. While I can’t profess to hate lists, my family has also made a point of really “doing” London during the four years that we’ve lived here. Precisely because we were never quite sure how long we’d stay, my husband and I always approached each year as if it were our last and tried to make the most out of our fair city.

Since I’m told that expats know best when it comes to travel tips, here are my suggestions for five things worth doing in London. (This week’s list focuses on some “obvious” places to see; next week will focus on the less obvious):

1. The Tower of London – Yes, it’s touristy as all get-out, but this historic castle on the North bank of the River Thames is a real gem. It’s loaded with…um…gems, but also armour, torture chambers and even its very own collection of ravens. Extra-special, supercalifragilisticexpealidotious tip? Go to the Ceremony of the Keys which is held every night after dark when the castle is locked up, and has been going on for 700 years. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel’s spectacular, Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall you will be dying to see this place up close.

2. Houses of Parliament – Don’t just go look at them, take a guided tour of them. We’ve done this twice, once when the kids were very little and more recently, when we could actually listen to what the tour guide had to say. These hallowed chambers of British government are chock full of history. And it’s very cool to meld that visual history with the live history that still goes on in the House of Commons and House of Lords to this very day. (After our most recent tour I promptly sent our M.P. a request to watch Prime Minister’s Questions live.)

3. Borough Market – London is famous for its outdoor food markets, and this is the largest of them all. Located just a stone’s throw from London Bridge, Borough Market is positively bustling every Thursday-Saturday with food, people and activity. I’m not much of a gourmand, but I love walking around and seeing the hares hanging upside down in the butchers’ stalls alongside the jars of English jam. It’s a fundamentally social experience.

4. British Museum – Yeah, yeah, I know. This is obvious. With items ranging from the Elgin Marbles (shhh…don’t tell Greece!) to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is one of the famous museums in the world. But what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate is how great this museum is for kids. If you wander into the small library that’s tucked away in a far corner on the first floor, you’ll find that you can take out back-packs for children ages 5-11 that will engage them with exhibits on Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and many more. And kids over 8 can become a Young Friend of the Museum, which qualifies them to spend an overnight there. (Warning to parents contemplating this activity: get an air mattress. Trust me.)

5. BBC Proms – If you visit London during July- September – and definitely if you live here – you’ll want to take in the BBC Proms. This series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall features leading international performers of classical, jazz, choral and world music.  There are even Family proms. And for those who don’t want to shell out a lot for tickets, you can queue the day of any performance (get there early!) and see it for 5 pounds, as long as you’re willing to stand!

*****

Speaking of London, I recently came across this list of 10 Things Not To Do In London. I agree with all of them, except for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which I do think is worth seeing, once.

Image: Changing of the Horse Guards – Buckingham Palace by Popov2007 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Night At The Museum: Why I Hate Camping

I figured out something important about myself over the weekend. Or, more accurately, I figured it out again:  I’m not a camper.

This realization came to me whilst attending a sleepover at the British Museum on Saturday night with my 8 year-old son. He’s a “young friend” at the museum and as with all things, membership has its privileges. In this case, he was invited to attend an evening of workshops surrounding the current Montezuma exhibit, followed by a sleep-over and early morning access to the exhibit.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, a lot, actually. At least if you’re me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in awe of the quantity and quality of things that British museums – especially this one – do in the way of inspiring and educating children about art and history. It’s one of the things I love most about living over here. By way of example, in a mere four hours on Saturday night we decoded Mayan glyphs, made a Mexican headdress, chanted to some Aztec Gods and listened to a Day of the Dead Story teller. In short: brilliant.

But then there was the actual sleepover. And here I was less charmed. As I lay there around 2 a.m., wide awake on a cold, stone floor amid the Assyrian statuary…in a sleeping bag (graciously loaned by a neighbor)…with my 8 year-old son lying next to me, grinding his teeth…in a room full of snoring strangers….under the watchful eye of “A Winged Bull For Sennacherib’s Palace” I thought:  Right. This is why I hated camping all those years.

I know. I know. It’s not real wilderness-style camping. But it bears enough similarity to warrant the comparison. To wit:

*relative deprivation from creature comforts (e.g. bed, heating–those statues are cold!, shower, normal food)

*living in groups and listening to/participating in other people’s personal rituals (e.g. sleep, eating, teeth-brushing)

*that curious modern creation that is the sleeping bag

It probably would have helped if I’d had an air mattress instead of the yoga mat I brought to add an extra layer of comfort. (Not.)

It probably also would have helped if I were ten years younger and didn’t yet know the aches and pains of that pesky piriformis muscle that’s been acting up so much lately.

And – to be honest – it probably also would have helped if I were just a different person. I don’t know. Someone who really excelled at Girl Scouts, perhaps. Or didn’t find it really strange to brush my teeth in front of 20 other people.

But I’m not. And much as I love my son, I don’t think I’ll be repeating that exercise anytime soon.

But I’m happy to have learned all of this – again – about myself. Because at the end of the day, adulthood is about realizing who you are and what you enjoy in life.

I had the exact same realization the other day when looking at a friend’s vacation pictures on her computer. As I watched slide show after slide show of her recent family holidays, I realized that in every single one, she and her husband were engaged in some sort of “extreme sport” – whether it was kayaking or mountain climbing or windsurfing.

Whereas when my husband and I take a holiday,we tend to go to a lot of museums (in the daytime!), frequent cafés and catch up on The New Yorker.

Which is, I suppose, a long way of saying “to each his (or her) own.”

It’s also a long way of saying that the next time I spend a Night at The Museum, it will be on film.

Image: Night at the Museum by Frangipani via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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