Well, we haven't to Bath yet. The weather forecast has been looking a bit chancy, so we decided to stay in London where we could do plenty of things indoors if the weather required it.
Monday morning, we took a stroll through Whitehall and Westminster, looked at the queues at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and decided to come back sometime when we'd booked advanced tickets. So, instead we went to the British Library. Which is awesome. They have all kinds of amazing stuff: Jane Austen's writing desk (and the manuscript of Persuasion
)! The only surviving medieval manuscript copy of Beowulf
(plus some draft pages of Seamus Heaney's translation, which give some sense of how hard he found it to get the opening right)! Handwritten sheets of Beatles' lyrics! Plus more gorgeously illuminated manuscripts than you can shake a stick at.
After lunch and a nap, I went to the National Gallery, to indulge my love of 16th and early 17th century painting. I particularly wanted to see the three Caravaggio paintings there. I particularly enjoyed seeing "Salome receives the head of John the Baptist"
- I like the way Salome is looking away from the severed head with a slight expression of disgust, while her maidservant peers intently over her shoulder. I also got a kick out of Domenichino's "Saint John the Evangelist"
, in which two little cherubim struggle to hold up enormous books for John to write in, while the distracted saint stomps on an irate looking eagle which appears to be thinking about making lunch out of the cherub on the right. Plus, when you enter the room from the entrance opposite this painting, the first impression you get is of being mooned by pudgy cherub butt.
Yes, I love early 17th century Italian painting for all the wrong reasons, but I do love it.
Tuesday, we went to see the Tower of London (having booked tickets in advance). We spent a good portion of the day there. There's a pretty cool exhibit about coinage and the royal mint, plus a really nice collection of royal arms and armor. I hope some of my armor photos come out well. And we stood in line to see the crown jewels. Which are definitely impressive. If I had to pick only one exhibit, I'd choose the armor over the jewels, but the jewels are definitely a one-of-a-kind collection.
Later, we crossed the river and visited the Golden Hinde, a reconstructed Elizabethan sailing ship. We joined one of the guided tours, which was organized around the conceit that we were a batch of new recruits and our guide was an officer showing us the ropes. It was both fun and hugely entertaining. I don't usually go for guided tours, preferring to poke around at my own pace, but in this case I'm glad I made an exception.
Today we took a train to Cardiff. We visited Cardiff Castle, which is an interesting agglomeration of different time periods. Lining one wall of the gift shop/cafe is a remnant of Cardiff's old Roman wall. In the middle of the complex is a semi-ruined Norman keep, which you can climb to the top of for some pretty nice city views. And then you can tour the part of the castle that the Marquess of Bute used to live in. Which is basically an illustration of what happens when a Victorian coal baron with a taste for medieval gothic architecture gets to indulge himself. It's a bit ludicrous. Carved and painted ceilings, stained glass, more coats of arms than you can shake a stick at...I hope some of my photos come out. It's very impressive.
We had dinner at Mint and Mustard, a very good Indian restaurant. (We've been to a couple South Indian restaurants here in the U.K., and the food is like nothing I've ever had in the Bay Area.) Our waitress asked if we were on holiday, and then, in rather mystified tones, asked, "If I may ask, why did you come to Cardiff?" My answer was, "the castle and the Doctor Who Experience," which seemed to be a satisfactory answer.
So, tomorrow we'll see the Doctor Who Experience. And if it doesn't rain on us too hard, maybe do some more sightseeing.