British Museum

Friday, May 21, 2012: I started early in Regent's Park, focusing on areas I hadn't visited last time. Most of the birds were repeats, but a Goldcrest in the inner circle was a lifer. Other highlights included several Song Thrushes and a seen Chiffchaff (most have been heard only).

I looped around the east end of the zoo (not open at that hour), crossed the Regent's Canal, and walked up Primrose Hill in the north end of the park. At 256 feet above sea level (the Thames is at sea level), it provides a stupendous view of London. Then I headed back across the park toward Baker Street. I had a croissant at Pret a Manger (in spite of their focus on natural food, they carry 100% artificial Diet Coke) while waiting for the Sherlock Holmes Museum to open at 9:30.

I was only a couple of minutes early to 221B Baker St. The lower floors do a good job of making you think that the place was once occupied by an actual Sherlock Holmes. The top floor contains various life-size figures of various characters from the Holmes stories. Makes you think you walked into Madame Tussaud's (right down the street). Anyway, I found it an interesting visit.

I then used the nearby Baker St. station to go to the British Museum via the Bakerloo and Central lines. This journey took me deep underground and involved long escalators. Quite a contrast from the Circle line! There was also an impressive wind tunnel effect today when switching lines, but I forget if it was at Oxford Circus or at Bank/Monument (on the way to the Tower).

A dozen years ago, I only made a brief visit to the British Museum due to construction involving some key exhibits. This time was different. There's still construction and closed exhibits, but they didn't have that much impact.

I tried to balance seeing a good selection of what they have against the certainty that my eyes would glaze over if I looked at too many exhibits. I think I did fairly well. I saw highlights such as the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles. One thing I found notable was the relative sophistication of the Athenian art even at a relatively early stage (700 BC). Statues, vases, stonework — these guys were good!

I was a little disappointed in the Enlightenment Gallery. They have plenty to show there, but just didn't seem to put it together right. The walls of books were impressive though. Part of the problem might be that part of the Enlightenment story fits more in the Science or Natural History Museums, or the National Gallery. Even the British Museum is too specialized now.

I was also disappointed with the money exhibit, which raised the question of the value of various old moneys (groats, ducats, etc.), but did not attempt to answer it. Yet at least approximate answers are known. Why didn't they follow up.

In spite of some disappointments in interpretation, the collection itself is simply amazing. Go there if you are in London.

After the museum, I headed to Tower Bridge, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering. The Tower Bridge Experience starts with an elevator ride up the northern tower. You then visit both walkways, descend the south tower (partly via stairs), and finish off with a trip to the engine room.

Before Tower Bridge was built, there were no bridges downstream of London Bridge. Tower remains the easternmost bridge. It opens to let ship traffic through into the upper pool of London. This was once of great importance when the port was at the pool, but is less important now. The rise of container shipping has meant that the port needed to be elsewhere. As in many cities, this has led to major redevelopment of the old port areas. The container system that has drastically reduced shipping costs and spurred globalization has remade port areas around the world, not the least at London.

By the time I got back to my hotel room, I'd been on the go for over 10 hours. Even though its a bit early, I think I'm done for the day.

This may be the last update before I get home.

I found 30 species today, including 1 lifer. That brings my trip total to 191, including 113 lifers.

Hilton London Metropole, London, England