I know I said I would continue talking about museums, but that will have to wait. I just got back from a 10-day vacation and there is so much to tell! Igor and I went to London, Madrid, and Porto; a strange combination, I know, but cheap airline RyanAir has some strange flight patterns so we ended up choosing an eclectic mix of vacation destinations. How lucky we were, though! We went to Porto just because it was the only flight back to St. Etienne, the closest city to where we live. I knew nothing about it, and I never thought I would go to Portugal, but it was so amazing and I am so glad we took the chance! A little adventure is great on vacation and always leads to wonderful surprises. I will talk more about Porto later, but I would to go in chronological order and start with London. This was our only destination that I had been to before, but it was quite different the second time.
Our theme for London ended up being beverages and art. I was very excited to go to the museums, enjoy a traditional ‘afternoon tea,’ and go on the search for the perfect cocktail (since France apparently doesn’t know what a cocktail is, or care. At least rural France).
The first day, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was very excited to see a collection of corsets through the ages that I had heard about, but unfortunately it was not on display. Luckily, the V&A has a lot more to offer than corsets, and the people at the information desk were very helpful and had prepared a full list off all other fashion and accessory items throughout the museum, designed just for people like me! I saw some awesome samourai armor, Japanese kimonos, traditonal Chinese clothing for men and women (including a modern one that looked like Betsey Johnson), a dress from Alexander McQueen’s latest collection, a weird PacMan dress, a Coldplay costume, English clothing from several different periods, jewelry from ancient times to present day, garments made from Golden Spider silk (more on that later), a paper dress from the 60s (!), and an impressive theater costume collection that made me very nostalgic for the days when I worked at the American Repertory Theater. And those were only the clothing items! The V&A is a decorative arts museum, and it was extremely impressive. The building itself is gorgeous, and they have an extensive collection of all sorts of items – furniture, sculpture, fancy kitchen ware and other shiny things, and random decorative and practical items from history, like the original Tinker Toys, art nouveau tea kettles, a wood inlaid piano, swords, gigantic ancient pillars, and even one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks! We were also happy to see that the US was represented with a giant glass chandelier that was definitely by Chihuly (whose exhibit I saw at the MFA a total of 4 times I think. Go Chihuly!). Here are some of the highlights:
We also went to the Tate Modern, which I had been to before. Igor didn’t really like it, but I enjoyed it. A lot of contemporary art is quite strange, but as my mom would say, you just have to distinguish between ‘good weird’, ‘bad weird,’ and ‘weird weird.’ I interpret most contemporary art as good weird or weird weird. My favorites were the optical illusions of Bridgey Riley from the 1960s and a lovely circle of white rocks on a gray floor by Richard Long called “Small White Pebble Circles” (1987). His work is described as “a balance between patterns of nature and the formalism of human abstract ideas, like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world.”
The last museum we visited was the National Gallery, which I had already been to, and is not really worth mentioning because I was too tired to look at anything. I sat on the benches while Igor got his fill of British art, one of his must-sees in London. It is worth noting that they have a pretty nice impressionist gallery (obviously not British) which includes Van Gogh’s sunflowers, one of the first paintings (and artists) I ever learned about in elementary school. Last time I was in London, a fashion school was exhibiting costumes inspired by specific paintings at the National Gallery, and it was really amazing to walk into a museum and see a model walking around in giant sunflowers.
I was surprised to come across another near-museum experience that was not in a museum at all, but rather at Harrod’s, London’s huge fancy department store. The window displays were absolutely amazing. Clothing in itself can be considered art, but displaying clothing is another art altogether. I was going to post all the photos now, but I think I’ll just tempt you with a little sample of the eye candy that I will include in my next post!
The Londoners on the street were surprisingly nice about me getting in their way while taking photos of every single window at Harrod's. They even ducked and apologized for getting in my picture! They must appreciate art when they see it, even if it's in a store window on their way home from work.
Like I said, beverages were the other central players during our stay in London. We celebrated Valentine’s Day with a traditional English Afternoon Tea at the Kensington Hotel, which consisted of 3 courses: finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts. There was also not only tea, but unlimited hot beverages! Little did we know, tea time is actually a very filling meal. I think the pictures speak for themselves:
We also went on a very mediocre pub crawl where I learned 3 things: sambuca is disgusting, every bar should have a chandelier, and if you want a good drink you should go to Dirty Martini. The bars we went to all looked really cool, but the drinks were basically for college students who want to get drunk off of crappy beer or shots, and we weren’t really into that. So luckily, our crazy party boy guide recommended Dirty Martini for a good proper cocktail, complete with bartenders who sping bottles around and put on a show while they’re making your drink. It was awesome! Igor got a mango chili martini, and I got the bartender to make my favorite drink, the Bijou. The bartender had never heard of it, but he was really nice and willing to experiment, and the result was fantastic. I think that will hold me over until I can go to the Regal Beagle or the Beehive in Boston.
Chandeliers make any bar look classy
The other recurring theme that I didn’t expect was filling our desires for everything America, and being constantly reminded of Boston (oh how I miss it!). There were a lot of neighborhoods where the architecture looked a lot like Boston, and of course it was the first time we had been in an English speaking country in 5 months, so that reminded us of home. Then it clicked – London doesn’t look like Boston, Boston looks like London! I guess that’s why they call it New England. There was also a lot more American influence as far as shops and restaurants, especially compared to France. (Madrid also had a lot of American brands; I think Paris is the exception when it comes to metropolitan cities. They are a little more dedicated to protecting their coffee shops from being taken over by Starbucks. And rightfully so.) But, being American, we loved the American influences, and made the most of it – Starbucks, Subway, roasted nuts on the street (like New York!), even a pulled pork sandwich!!! And of course us Americans can probably take credit for the invention of good cocktails, too (the French are big on aperitifs, which is not at all the same).