Monday, January 12, 2009

Museums, museums, museums galore!

I’ve been in the U.K. for a month now. Wow, where did time go? As trite as it may sound, but I love London! It is not just the capital of Europe, but also the capital of the world! London has been great. I can see us staying here for more than two years, but like Keenan said, we’ll take it one year at a time. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up being UK citizens after five years?

Keenan returned to work on Monday, and to keep myself entertained, I’ve been visiting London’s many splendid museums (which are free by the way). Tuesday I found myself at the impressive National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, home to more than 2,000 Western European paintings starting from the 1500s. Since I recently visited the El Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, I skipped the Renaissance paintings and focused on the 19th-20th century paintings of Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, aka the Impressionist Movement. It’s a wonderful museum, so definitely stop by for an afternoon while you are in the area.

National Gallery on a cold London afternoon:

This week my friend Erin from grad school is in town. Since this is her first trip to London, we did some leisurely sightseeing along the South Bank, starting at the Millennium Bridge to the London Eye to Westminister/Big Ben, and then we stopped off at the Tate Modern on our way back to the London Bridge Tube Station. The Tate Modern is housed in a former power station on Bank side of the River Thames. Across the museum is the beautiful St. Paul's Cathedral. For all you modern art lovers, the Tate Modern is a must.

Walk along the Southbank, London Eye, Big Ben, and the River Thames (gorgeous!):

The next day we met up in South Kensington to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, another excellent museum. Entering through the main entrance, you'll see Chihuly's beautiful chandelier hanging from the V&A's main dome. I missed the Chihuly Exhibition at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco over the summer -- we were tied up with moving, getting married, and classes, but glad to see his art in person. I particularly enjoyed the Cold War Modern Design: 1945 -1970, which War – very interesting! The exhibition closed yesterday – very glad that we explores the developments in art, design, architecture, and film during the Cold were able to see it. One more museum on my hit list, the British Museum, and a return visit to the Tate Modern on the weekend (it's open till 10PM on Friday and Saturday).

V&A Museum:

Saturday morning Keenan and I went to explore the neighborhood of Notting Hill, a fashionable area with pretty white Victorian rowhouses. Of course, everyone knows Notting Hill as the set location of the 1999 film with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and home to the famous Portobello Market. It would have been lovely except it was freezing cold!! Keenan and I had to cut our stroll short and hide out at a local pub while our fingers thawed. We’ll be sure to visit Portobello Market when the weather is um…a bit warmer. I have the say, the weather in London is fickle-- it literally changes by the hour. No joke. The other morning, we woke up to snow flurries and then an hour later it was bright and sunny, albeit cold. Later on in the evening, we met up with a group of American ex-pats at Gordon's Wine Bar on the Embankment. Small, underground wine bar, and always packed! Good times!

Lovely Notting Hill and World War II masks on Portobello Rd. for the history buff:

Sunday our friend Jan invited us over for brunch at his flat in Covent Garden. You have to love the Europeans -- they sure know how to enjoy life. We ended up having a 5 hour "brunch" complete with polenta w/sausage, dessert, tea, and lots of wine. It was the perfect Sunday afternoon, and all his friends are wonderful. Many of them just returned from their holiday travels in Australia, Israel, and Switzerland. The Brits and the Europeans travel a lot! They use their 26 vacation days to the fullest, and weekends too! "Hey Keenan, how about a weekend at the Swiss ski-resort Davos in February?" Pleasure to meet everyone!

We're excited that Europe is our backyard -- just a hop, skip, and jump and you can find yourself in Italy, Croatia, Sweden, Russia, Turkey. We love to travel and we love food and wine. So over the weekend, we picked up several Lonely Planet guidebooks and launched into planning weekend excursions and long holidays. I'll be back in London over spring break and we're taking a long weekend to the Moroccan city of Marrakesh and the High Atlas Mts. We couldn't refuse RT between LGA-Marrakesh for GBP80 per person! That doesn't take me from San Francisco to Los Angeles back home.

All in all, it has been a good week exploring new neighborhoods, hosting visitors, and meeting new friends! This is my last full week in London before returning to Berkeley on Monday, and I plan on making the best of it. My father-in-law is stopping through London on his way home from India; it'll be good to see family!

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