Like Lost Cows
|London Map - Our Friend, Philosopher and Guide in London
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The first half, of our first day in London was a disaster. Like Christopher Columbus, who set sail for India and landed in America instead, we went in search of Baker Street and ended up in High Street Kensington. Like lost cows we'd been walking around for two hours in the wrong direction.
We managed some damage-control by buying a London map at this little kiosk outside the tube station. Ingenious! I should have done that in the first place. We might have saved our soles two hours of drudgery. Anyway, it was worth the £1.80p spent; at least we knew where we were.
We'd lost precious time, so we had to make good. At the street corner opposite Hyde Park we poured over the map, looking for any sights in the vicinity. There was one - The National History Museum, just a short walk down Kensington Road. We hastened pace, turned off onto Queen's Gate Road and in 10 minutes we were at the museum, at the junction of Cromwell Road .
Now, I've seen museums before but none like this one. The first thing that strikes you is its stunning architecture. Described as a 'true temple of nature', the entrance to this world-famous landmark of London was inspired by basalt columns of Scotland and the Romanesque influence in its architectural style is pretty much evident. It's also known as the Waterhouse Building, as a tribute perhaps to its architect-designer, Alfred Waterhouse from Manchester.
It's so huge that getting around can be a jigsaw; but the museum map available at the reception is of immense help. In the Central Hall of the Life Galleries with its cathedral structure, frescoes and sculpture, a giant 'Diplodocus' dinosaur skeleton stands massively before you . This dinosaur lived 150 million years ago and, at 26 metres was one of the longest animals ever to live.
Undoubtedly, the dinosaur gallery is a major draw. Especially with school children, who come here to find out about how dinosaurs evolved, how they lived, and sort out the facts from the myths about why dinosaurs died out. Most popular display is the giant animatronic model of T. rex as it moves, grunts, wags its massive tail using its 'super-senses' to terrify visitors, as one kid found out, screaming 'Mommy' hiding behind his mother. Visitors can examine T. rex's fossilized jaw and teeth that measure a staggering 15 centimetres.
A tour of the Life Galleries is fascinating. You discover amazing facts of life, the planets, the environment and about evolution. Not to miss is the historical bird collection and the outstanding collection of minerals housed in Victorian wooden cabinets. In the Fish, Amphibians and Reptiles Gallery you can see displays of a giant tortoise, huge snakes and fish. In one of the glass cabinets there was this skeleton of an Indian Python and until then, I never knew snakes had such a long and flexible backbone and lots of vertebrae to support its long body. That's why they can wriggle around only in 'S' movements.
I was never a science student; that ought to explain my ignorance.
Besides visitors like us, lots of school children and art students were all over the place. This was no picnic, it was serious study; the primary objective being to observe, learn and back to school to work on an assigned project. Art students were seen squatting on the floors in front of the glass-cased displays, sketchbooks in hand as their HB pencils went on a sketching spree.
Most museums in England are so impressive simply because they're well-maintained. Rare artifacts, specimens, fossils are methodically preserved for posterity's sake. Any simulation done is so life-like and almost to perfection, such as the animated model of T. rex. Displays are well-arranged and not squeezed in to every bit of available space.
I can't remember having seen any museum in India that's so well-preserved. Most are neglected, decaying and in bad shape. And how many have 'free' entrance as do most museums in England? Can't say I remember of any .
It was past 3 in the afternoon and time to move on. We weren't particularly hungry; the full English breakfast at the hotel had provided much sustenance.
Consulting our map, we walked towards South Kensington tube station. At the crossroads, we entered a phone booth and called home - we hadn't called since reaching - and it was nice to hear that all was well. Feeling good, we decided to go over to Victoria, yet another vibrant part of London. We got into a single-decker bus and the lady at the wheel helped me as I fumbled around with all sorts of coins to pay the fare of £1.20 each. I hadn't quite come to terms with the various coin denominations, but seriously, I think England has too many.
The lady driving the bus was most certainly Indian. Seated inside, we quizzed about which community she could be from. South Indian? No chance; not with a fair complexion as that. She could be Gujarati; I ruled that out as well. The Gujarati's are a business community to the core. They'd never drive a bus even if their life depended on it. Parsi? Possible. Punjabi? Probably yes.
Alas, when we got off at Victoria Station, we forgot to ask her that.
We had some sandwiches and coffee and then we simply wandered around Victoria looking for nothing specific. I showed Mona the place where I had my picture taken 15 yeas ago on an open-top bus, my first sight-seeing tour of London. We popped in at the tourist office at Victoria Station enquiring about the Great British Heritage passes, a pass that would save us money - and time - when we visited various Palaces, Castles and so on. 'They'll be available at the Tourist Office at Piccadilly,' we were informed.
It was already 5 pm and we needed to get back to the hotel, freshen up and head for Chiswick. Nigel had asked us over for dinner at his home and he was expecting us 'around 7-ish'?
And I like to be on time. With me, old habits die hard.
Next: What's Up at Chiswick, Doc?