Tuesday, June 5, 2012

London - The Dream City

I believe that life is very precious and it is a one time opportunity. No one knows where we were before birth and where we would be after death. It is just this space between birth and death which needs to be utilized to the fullest.

There are many people on this earth who are captured in the shackles of poverty and there are also those who do not have the physical strength. But for the others who are fortunate enough to have God's mercy on them, being ignorant of this gift called Life is foolishness. That's why I am a Traveler. I am driven by an urge to explore as much as I can of this beautiful world in this lifetime and acknowledge God's wonderful creations in my own small way.

I am writing this blog to share one of my most memorable traveling experiences. I visited London with my wife and son last month and it was a trip that will remain very close to my heart for a long time to come. I had heard a lot about the cultural centers, museums and galleries of London and so we decided to dedicate our trip to visiting these fascinating places. Throughout our trip, we stayed in the very renowned and luxurious Grange Hotels ( http://www.grangehotels.com ) located mainly in Central London. The cheap and cost effective accommodation attracted us to choose these hotels for touring London.

My tour of the museums started with the British Museum. The British Museum is one of the oldest museums is London, and one of the biggest museums in the world. Here we found some of the greatest treasures of all time under one roof. There were The Elgin Marbles, The Portland Vase, The Lewis Chessmen, The Sutton Hoo Treasure, to name a few of the wondrous collections. I was simply amazed by the Egyptian Mummies, and overwhelmed by the superb exhibition of prints and drawings. In fact, the British Museum is a vast storehouse of such scriptures and artifacts. We had little time and there was an unlimited number of things to see. We thought the best way would be to concentrate on one department at a time and moving on trying to cover as many sections as possible.

We were told that, in 1753, the Government of the day bought the collection of Sir Hans Sloan, a wealthy Doctor who practiced in Chelsea. The collection had of over 80,000 curios including fossils, plants, coins, medals and prints. This huge assortment formed the beginning of what has become certainly the biggest, and probably one of the best museum collections in the world. An act of Parliament established the British Museum as the world's first public museum. The Cottonian Library formed by the Harleys, Earls of Oxford, was immediately added to this collection. In 1757, George II presented The Royal Library to the museum. In 1823, George III conferred on the museum the right to a copy of every book printed. This right continues to the present day.

Designed in the Greek revival style, the grand building of British Museum has an Ionic colonnade and portico complete with pediment frieze. In the central part of the building is a Round Reading Room, surmounted by one of the largest domes in the world.

Even after expansion on various occasions in the past, space always proved to be a problem and a new home was found for the Natural History Collection; this was transferred to South Kensington in the 1880's; and is now known as the Natural History Museum.

Another major change to the museum took place when it was decided to remove the British Library to new purpose built premises at St. Pancras.

We was informed that today, the British Museum is home to no less than six and a half million objects and has ninety four permanent and temporary exhibition galleries. The Education Department provides a wide range adult and children services. Other departments are Coins and Medals, Egyptian Antiquities, Ethnography, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Japanese Art, Medieval and Later Art, Oriental Antiquities, Pre-Historic and Romano-British Antiquities, Prints and Drawings, and Western Asiatic Antiquities.

Another important museum in London is Imperial War Museum.
It was quite close to our boutique Grange Hotel and we easily booked a guided tour for the day at a cheap price. My interest in visiting this museum was to know about the details of the Second World War.

I was amazed to find that the museum illustrates and records all aspects of the Two World Wars and other military operations involving Britain and the Commonwealth since 1914 i.e. from the start of the First World War. The Museum has a vast collection of exhibits and employs all the latest technology to make its exhibits appealing to all visitors.

The museum has permanent exhibitions including Secret War - the clandestine world of espionage and Conflicts since 1945 - conflicts world-wide which have involved British Commonwealth troops. Apart from this there are art galleries, special exhibitions and workshops for children.

The museum has a continuous process of special exhibitions and events including film shows and presentations. There is a large amount of military reference material which can be accessed by the public.

Next we visited the Museum of London. This museum is located in almost Central London and digs deep into the history of London city through its rich collections, presented to the visitor in innovative reconstructions and displays that use state of the art technology and the latest design techniques. The Museum is truly London's own museum. It stores information about all aspects of London: people, culture, royalty, heritage, buildings, hotels, services, transportation and lots more. It keeps having a varied and comprehensive programme of events to complement its exhibitions and displays. For adults these include gallery talks, lectures, guided tours, curators' workshops, walks, debates, visits, seminars, evening courses and special evening events. A lively choice of activities is also available for families and children at weekends and in school holidays.

Next in the line was the Natural History Museum.

It's a unique museum dedicated to the fantastic story of our planet. It presents a very interesting journey into Earth's past, present and future, exploring its many natural wonders - and uncovering a few of its mysteries too!

I could know about some of the most incredible creatures, both living and extinct. Some I knew, others I could never even have imagined, except maybe in my nightmares. In this museum, you can take a trip into the centre of the Earth and out again to the far reaches of the universe and discover how our tiny world developed from a tiny, hot fireball into an incredibly diverse living planet. They tell you that on our planet, nothing stays the same for long. You can see the dynamism of our planet and feel its immense power.

This Museum holds a mind boggling 70 million specimens from all around the world, many displayed in the most imaginative way possible, often using the latest interactive technology. We were told that behind the scenes, over 300 scientists are working to extend our knowledge of the natural world even further.

Following are some of the rare attractions of this Museum:

- The Pieces of Life's Jigsaw

- The Dinosaurs

- Earthquake and Volcanic Eruptions

- Journey into the Centre of the Earth

- Close Encounters of the Creepy Crawly Kind

- The Biggest Animal - Ever

Situated in Exhibition Road, South Kensington, the Science Museum contains all the wonders of our industrial and technological age. There are exhibits of early scientific experiments on display and many industrial and transport-related exhibits from a full-size replica of Stephenson's Rocket to a detailed reconstruction of the Apollo landing craft.

The Science Museum is home to a number of interactive displays and demonstrations. Ranging over seven floors, it was indeed a great experience to find on display items representing every area of the sciences, space travel, computing, medicine, telecommunications, chemistry...the list is endless.

The ground floor is devoted to Power, Space and Transport, starting with James Watt's steam engines first used in the 18th century.

On the mezzanine floor is The Synopsis Gallery, it shows a scaled-down history of science dating from the stone-age up to 1914. Also, on this floor, there is the Space exhibition depicting the development of rockets since the 18th century.

On the first floor there is a The Launching Pad, a specially designed play area children. Another gallery on this floor is Challenge of Materials, where there are hands-on displays to be explored and enjoyed. Also on the first floor are Telecommunications, History of Gases, Agriculture, Time Measurement and Food for Thought.

The second floor encompasses Chemistry, Nuclear Physics, Computing, Printing and Ships. The third floor houses Early Scientific Instruments and has a section on Health Matters. On this floor what I enjoyed most was On Air section, set out as a recording studio. There is also a Flight Lab, including a full-size model of the aircraft the Wright brothers flew to make their power-assisted flight in 1903.

The fourth and fifth floors are devoted to Glimpses of Medical History and The Science and Art of Medicine gallery.
For us this visit was indeed a new realization of the contribution of science and technology to the world and to us as its occupants.

The last but not the least in my line of museums was The Victoria and Albert Museum. It can be called the greatest museum of art and design in the world. It is rather a treasure house with collections of fabulous scope and diversity.

There are 3000 years worth of amazing artifacts from many of the world's richest cultures. Be it ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewelry, metalwork, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings, everything is here. This place is also the largest collection of Italian Renaissance sculptures outside Italy. There is John Constable and Raphael work in abundance.

Inspirational, beautiful and unmatched in scope, the stunning British Galleries 1500 - 1900 tell the story of British design from the Tudor age to the Victorian era. It was quite amazing how the Grange hotels, located mainly in Central London, also took so much inspiration from The Victorian and The Georgian era. It showed the popularity of these periods.

London is an insatiable experience and you always have more and more to see and explore. It had been a wonderful and quite an eventful vacation till now, but we were not finished yet. After having seen all the major museums and galleries in Central London and elsewhere, we decided to visit other tourist destinations in London including monuments, churches, malls, shopping arcades, clubs etc. about which I will be writing shortly in my next blog. So do return back to find out more about this wonderful city called London.

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