Mary's trip to London, Oxford and Berlin travel blog

1785 Dutch gown

Firing mechanism of a wheel lock sporting gun

Recreated room of the Napoleonic era

A distraught Mary Magadalene at the crucifixion

Closeup of a scene on a medieval altarpiece

Tudor-era men's doublet

Early 19th century Samurai armor

Gold earrings set with Galconda diamonds, emeralds and pearls Hyderabad, India 1900

Tippoo's Tiger devouring a hapless European

Lebanese shawarma

Today was my free day with no scheduled activities so I decided to take the tube over to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A), London, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. It was founded in 1852. I've been trying to visit the V&A since my first visit to England in 2006 but always seemed to run out of time. So this time I was determined!

There is a tunnel from the South Kensington tube station that connects it to the V&A so I had no problem finding it. Once there I decided to start at level 0 showcasing European art from 1600-1815 and work my way up. I particularly enjoyed the Napoleonic-era furniture, exquisite gold clocks and richly embroidered clothing as it reminded me of my visit to Fontainebleau, the French royal palace where Napoleon was crowned emperor, in 2013. I am also interested in arms and armor and I found a variety of early rifles and pistols, jousting armor and crossbows as well as Samurai armor in the Japanese galleries. I also really enjoyed the Tudor-era galleries that included great beds used by Henry VIII.

I managed to cover most of three levels before lunch. I wasn't very hungry so I just had a rather generous-sized raisin scone and lemonade in the courtside cafe for lunch. Then decided to jump to level 6 labeled as containing furniture and ceramics. There I found a combination of historical and modern furniture so it didn't take me as long to cover as I really don't have much interest in modern items. Then I entered the ceramic gallery and found thousands of pieces all the way from examples produced by the ancient Han Dynasty in China all the way up to the present. The problem I had, however, was many were not labeled in the traditional way. I found some books listing the pieces with information but they were confusing and it was so time consuming I finally gave up.

I found a lift (elevator) and stepped inside and pressed level 4. The doors closed but it just sat there. I stepped out and saw a V&A attendant and told him the lift didn't seem to be working. He asked me where I was trying to go and I said level 4 and he just smiled and said "Well, then, the lift was working perfectly." I told him it wouldn't go anywhere and he just smiled again and said level 4 was closed. I told him then I wanted to go somewhere else. He just smiled again and said "Well, you need to use a different lift." I finally extracted from him the location of a working lift. All I can assume was his British pride would not let him agree that the lift was not functioning or he was having a bit of fun with me. I've been told I've got "American" written all over me without me saying a word so maybe they're right!"

As the day drew to a close I found myself back down on the ground floor but noticed there was a gallery labeled Islamic art and South Asia. I somehow had missed it when I was working my way through the medieval section with its spectacular gilded altarpieces. In the South Asia gallery I found wonderful examples of Mughal clothing and bejeweled weapons and turban ornaments. One of the featured pieces was a life-sized mechanical tiger devouring a man that looked quite European!

I finally left the V&A and caught the tube over to Westminster. I had promised a couple of friends I would meet them at Westminster Pier for an evening cruise down the Thames. We boarded the glass-enclosed barge and were warmly greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne. Then as we sailed past so many iconic London landmarks like Tower Bridge, we were treated with live jazz music and trays of hors d'oevures. It was a really pleasant two-hour cruise and helped me unwind after a busy day. It also only cost 20 pounds if booked online and definitely worth every penny.

My friends and I reboarded the tube at Westminster and headed back to our hotel at Marble Arch. We decided we were still hungry enough to eat dinner so we walked a couple blocks over to a Lebanese restaurant. There I discovered the delicious flavor of mixed grill shawarma, a dish where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, carabeef, or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit in restaurants), and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. My shawarma was thinly sliced chicken and lamb served with salad and creamy garlic sauce. My only distress was we were seated near the outside wall where we were assailed by the smoke of hookah pipes from the outside diners!

We finally got back to the hotel about 11 p.m. and I had to repack my suitcase because we leave for Oxford in the morning!

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