UK Trip 2012, Day 3: British Museum, British Library, and Spitalfields Market

Today we mostly explored the British Museum and the British Library. We also checked out a pet store and Spitalfields Market. For all of the pictures from this day, see the gallery here, but you can read on for details!

After a free tasty breakfast at the hotel, we took the tube to the British Museum. Even though it is a “British” museum, it turned out to be mostly filled with Egyptian sculptures, including the Rosetta Stone (which allowed people to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics), Egyptian mummies, Roman and Greek statues, and some early relics from the people who lived in the England area (before the Romans conquered it). Seeing the Rosetta Stone was neat, but, as if often the case with old stone artifacts that are mostly famous because of a breakthrough in understanding that they allowed, it was a little underwhelming. It is basically a large stone tablet, dating from almost 200 BC and about the size of a small desk, that has the same thing written in three different languages, but before people rediscovered it (about 1800 AD) people had been unable to decode Egyptian writing.

Near the room with the Rosetta Stone were rooms with other ancient artifacts, mostly Egyptian, Greek, and Roman. There was one huge, long room with panels from the Parthenon (taken from the Acropolis in Athens), which kind of shocked me because I’ve been to the Parthenon in Athens and a lot of it is still there – I didn’t realize so much had been taken away. Apparently it had been largely destroyed a few centuries ago during a war, and people had taken some of the broken sculptures away to try and save them, and they ended up in the museum here.

One of the coolest things (I think) we saw at the British Museum was a “bog man” – specifically the corpse of a person preserved from around 100 AD in a peat bog, known as Lindow Man. His skin had turned to leather from the bog so he was amazingly well preserved – for example, you could tell that he had kept his nails and face well-trimmed, and it was even possible to determine what his last meal had been. I actually recently got a whole book about bog people (they’ve found many preserved bodies), so it was really neat to see one in person.

After the British Museum, we grabbed lunch at a Thai restaurant near the museum. It was great (we love Thai food) and very similar to Thai food in the US. We also walked by a huge cathedral that had been converted to a hotel, which we thought was neat.

After lunch, we walked to the British Library, which contained papers/scraps/journals/1st edition books written by famous authors, including Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Mozart, The Beatles, Leonardo da Vinci, and much more — it also included copies of the Magna Carta. (Unfortunately photos were not allowed, so there are no pictures from this part of our journey.) Seeing the original lyrics of The Beatles’ songs (and songs that were never recorded) in the different Beatles’ writing was pretty neat – I honestly hadn’t expected to see a whole showcase on them there. The notes by Leonardo da Vinci were interesting too – in one set of notes he was trying to show how another engineer’s theoretical designs were wrong because of a variable he hadn’t accounted for. The Magna Carta display explained the importance of the document and some interesting history around it (it’s basically the foundation for England’s government system, defining limits of the king’s ruling power and how he could treat his subjects), but otherwise the documents themselves just looked like old documents that were well preserved, dating from 1215 AD (they explained that some of the rulers probably did not even know how to read, which is funny to think about). There were two copies of the Magna Carta in the library, and only four exist now – there were 35 originally. A Beowulf manuscript from 1000 AD is normally on display, but was not out when we were there – same with some writings by Darwin. I think we actually enjoyed the British Library more than the British Museum.

We then stopped by a pet store because I enjoy seeing pet stores in other countries (I worked at one for 6 months and, well, I like pets) — they’re always a bit different. It was a reptile and aquarium shop. It was actually a whole lot like a pet store in the U.S. — the aquarium part had all the normal fish you’d see in an aquarium shop in the U.S. The reptile part was also very similar, although they sold colorful locusts as lizard food in addition to crickets! Locusts are apparently illegal in the US. They also had a type of baby Giant African Land Snails, which is mostly why I wanted to find a pet store — these snails get huge (bigger than a human fist!), but unfortunately are also illegal in the US. Maybe they won’t be someday…

Lastly we stopped by some shops in Spitalfields Market. It’s basically a big indoor, covered area with shops and merchant stalls. Unfortunately the stalls were closing when we got there (we were a bit late), but it was still neat to see and we got a good dinner in a nearby restaurant.

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