england,  europe,  travel

A gallery of greats


Being the industrious folks we are, we started our day with a few hours at the British Library and got some work in. D was feeling a little disappointed in his overall progress on his conclusion, but I assured him we’d have plenty of opportunities for more work. After making a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our things, we were soon on the tube, headed towards Charing Cross for a visit to the National Gallery, one of the museums we didn’t get a chance to see on our last visit to London. We’d had a rather limited breakfast (as we didn’t bother having the toast and instant coffee in the breakfast room), so we decided to grab some lunch first. Pizza Express looked relatively quick and tasty, and they had quite a diverse menu of pizza options. Their pizza was surprisingly tasty…I even had a “vegetarian” choice, with caramelized onions, goat cheese and spinach. D was pleased with his “American Hot” pizza, which was essentially composed of pepperoni and jalapenos.

From there, we wandered down to Trafalgar Square, a broad plaza stretching out before the gallery, with the Nelson Monument rising from the middle. I truly felt in London, with the view of Big Ben in the distance and the massive gates leading to Buckingham Palace. The square was teeming with tourists, climbing the monument and milling about taking snapshots. We headed into the gallery, dropping a few pounds as a donation. Unfortunately, no picture-taking is permitted inside, so we contented ourselves with staring upwards at the graceful columns and ornate ceilings. While we originally thought we’d just poke around ourselves, D suggested that we grab audio guides. Despite my finicky headphone jack, they were a worthwhile investment. We started off with the 18th to 20th century, browsing through works of Monet and Manet, Cezanne and Van Gogh. It’s always neat to view recognizable paintings and to really appreciate how a print often does not do it justice. Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting, for example, really came alive when you could see all the texture work of layered and stippled paint. The audio guides were quite nice, giving a bit of context to each work; although, it did have the tendency to do a lot of describing of the painting. After a brief bench break to give our legs a rest and figure out our next move, we headed off to the 16th century gallery (getting a bit lost in the 17th century gallery on the way). There, it was Titian, Velázquez and Hans Holbein the Younger to be had, as well as Raphael, Michaelangelo and Da Vinci. The Da Vinci work was actually a “cartoon”, essentially a sketch of what was to be later painted, but there was still such a presence to it. I enjoyed the epic-ness of the subject matter of these earlier paintings, often of mythological figures locked in dramatic struggles. We made our way out to the gift shop and picked up a few prints (a Monet and a Van Gogh) to put up in our room back home.

As it was too late to get any kind of real shopping in, we walked down to the water to take in a view of parliament and the London Eye. Rush hour saw the release of waves of the suit-clad and a surprising number of Dutch tourists, who wandered about in large hoards. From there, we walked along the water and headed up to a pub that I’d earmarked as being a place that served stouts (D was in want of a good stout after the odd and decidedly un-stout like offerings he’d been getting from the supermarket). We managed to find the pub, Porterhouse Brewing Company (an Irish brewery), which had a great interior, all wood and copper, but was apparently a popular venue. It was quite a labyrinth, with 3 floors and maze-like staircases. We grabbed tables in an out-of-the-way nook that was being populated by what looked to be a corporate party. The guest count burgeoned quite rapidly until it was a little unbearable and distracting, so we opted to go upstairs and stand at one of the tables. D consumed his tasty (if not quite strong) stout, and I was happy to have my first mojito in London. We left to find food, and amusingly came across the Maple Leaf pub (with a suitably Canada-themed menu, polar bears and mounties and such). I was surprised how close we were to Covent Garden and suggested we check-out the Soho district for some restaurant choices. It was nice to wander into Soho and come across familiar landmarks from the last time we came through. We decided on Amalfi, a crowded Italian joint, for some tasty carbonara before heading back to the hotel.

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