Taking it to the Streets

June 5th, 2012

One of my favorite kinds of art I discovered in London generally wasn’t found in any art gallery or museum.  As in any urban area, street art in London ranged from messy, slapdash tags to beautiful murals.  This type of art–and I do consider it a serious artform–can sometimes have negative connotations in society as it is associated with gangs or some sort of subversive culture. 

                                 (Taken near the Somerset House–is this considered art?)

However, more and more often, it seems that cities are embracing street art and even setting aside certain public spaces for local artists to express themselves through graffiti.  One of the best examples I found was located less than five minutes from where I lived in Lambeth.  Named simply “The Tunnel,” the local government dedicated a short tunnel that ran through the Lower Marsh area of Waterloo to local artists to use as a free space to express themselves through graffiti.  The sign shown below clearly states the guidelines for using the tunnel, including no profanities or racist comments (though part of the sign itself has been painted upon, making some of the guidelines difficult to read).

 

 

 

According to some of my British friends, the Tunnel has often been used for commercials and even music videos, and I was amazed that an area that seems to have become such a good representation of modern culture was located so close to my home.  I was also very impressed by the local government for providing such an excellent space for these local artists to express themselves through graffiti.  This is certainly an excellent example of how street art is becoming more accepted in society, and not just associated with gangs or criminal acts.  These pictures certainly show the talent of some street artists, such as the large “Maharaja” mural.  Also, street art often displays the most current social events and issues, as some can be politically motivated or inspired by local events.  “London 2012” seemed to be a popular theme in the Tunnel, possibly based off of the upcoming London Olympics and the prevalence of “London 2012” official paraphernalia that can currently be seen throughout the city. 

Other areas that were popular for street art were likely created over time, sometimes in devotion to a particular place or event.  Abbey Road Studios, located just next to the popular crosswalk at Abbey Road, is a great example.  The day I visited, a dozen visitors were attempting to recreate the famous picture of The Beatles crossing the road, much to the dismay of many drivers (though a popular tourist site, Abbey Road is still a working road and quite busy). The low brick wall in front of the Studios is covered with writing from visitors.  Many quote famous Beatles lyrics, others have messages for future visitors, and some are simply names with dates of visits.  My friend and I wished that we had known about this tradition, so that we could have brought Sharpies in order to sign our names, as well.

 

 

Amsterdam

March 5th, 2012

I had never really had a specific desire to go to Amsterdam.  It always seemed like a cool city, but if given the choice, I probably would have decided to visit other countries or cities.  However, I was given the opportunity to visit Amsterdam through a weekend trip sponsored by the University of Westminster that Katie somehow heard about.  All we had to do was pay a flat fee, which paid for transportation to and from Amsterdam, the hostel, and entry in to a club on Friday night.  The opportunity seemed too good to pass up! So at about 8:00 pm last Thursday night, I met Katie and her friend Ariel at the Baker Street Tube Station so we could travel out to Westminster’s Harrow campus to board the buses for the trip.  Travelling by coach was the most economic way to get so many students from London to Amsterdam, but it was also one of the slowest! We left Harrow at about 9:30 pm, and travelled to Dover, where we boarded a ferry across the English Channel to Calais, France.  The middle-of-the-night ferry ride was actually really fun—there’s nothing quite like being awake at such an odd hour, travelling across a world-famous body of water.  The three of us managed to sleep on the coach a bit, and arrived in Amsterdam early Friday morning.  After checking in at the hostel and dropping our bags off, we were allowed to set off and explore!

Katie, Ariel and I were most interested in visiting the Anne Frank House.  We had heard that the lines for the world-famous building could sometimes last for hours, so we made that our first destination.  It might have been because we got there so early, but we only waited in line for about half an hour, which was a pleasant surprise.  The tour began with a small museum in a modern building next to the original house.  This section was sparsely furnished, as the main focus was on several videos that played on the walls that described different events surrounding the Holocaust, including interviews with survivors who described their experiences.  Everyone in the room was completely silent, mesmerized by the serious nature of the videos.

This section of the tour led in to the original house.  We began on the ground floor, which had been a shop during World War Two.  We went up the old wooden steps to the upper floors, and finally through the passageway to the section where Anne Frank and her family had lived for two years.  The rooms were left unfurnished, since the original furniture had been removed long ago.  Pictures remained on the wall from when the family had stayed there, though, which gave us an interesting look at how they tried to maintain normal lives while having to hide in what Anne called the “Secret Annex”.  Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only resident of the Secret Annex who survived the Holocaust, and it was his choice to keep the rooms in this sparse condition, with only the pictures and marks on the wall remaining.  The rooms were all so tiny, and it is hard to imagine how 8 people lived there in secret for two years.  The top floor of the building is used as another small museum space, with information cards from when they were taken to the concentration camps, as well as pictures and videos from when the camps were taken by the Allied troops and the prisoners were freed.  Anne’s original diary had been taken for conservation, which was understandable though disappointing, but the curators had left copies for visitors to look at.  The entire experience was awe-inspiring and sobering at the same time, and I am grateful that we got the opportunity to visit.

After leaving the Anne Frank House, we headed back to the hostel to freshen up (since we hadn’t gotten a chance to really stop and rest since getting off the bus that morning).  We all took some well-deserved naps before heading out to dinner that night.  Since none of us were familiar with what “traditional” food in Amsterdam was, we settled on a local Italian restaurant.  After dinner, we were content to walk around the city.  Seeing the canals of Amsterdam at night was absolutely beautiful.  Many of the bridges were lit up, which cast some amazing reflections on the water. Since the city is built around so many canals, many of the buildings are slightly crooked, and their traditional architecture looks like something one would find in an old storybook! I was in love with the buildings, and they looked even better at night, lit by the lights from the bridges and street lamps.  It was definitely a wonderful, relaxing end to what had seemed to be a really long day.

Saturday morning, we decided to sleep in until about ten am in order to let our bodies catch up on the sleep we had missed from travelling Thursday night.  We had no other real destinations or tourist attractions we absolutely wanted to see, so we were content to wander around and enjoy the sights.  We stumbled upon the flower market, which is a long row of stalls set up along one of the canals.  As the name implies, it sold hundreds of different flowers, including many variations of Holland’s famous tulips.  However, it was also a great spot for souvenir shopping, and every stall sold some variation on painted wooden clogs.  By the flower market, we found the most unexpectedly fun shop in Amsterdam—a cheese shop that offered free samples of every type of cheese they sold.  Yes, FREE samples.  To three girls travelling on a budget, this was heaven, and the cheese was absolutely delicious.  The best was probably the homemade Gouda, which I probably ate more than my fair share of!

 

After our lovely “appetizer” of free cheese, we headed to a large food court located in the commercial section of the city for lunch, which had come highly recommended from the people at the hostel who had organized the trip.  It was immense, full of every type of food I could have wanted—soups, smoothies, fresh sandwiches, stir fry, anything! It was also insanely busy, but the delicious food was worth fighting the crowd.  After this, we wandered to the Rijksmuseum, where the “I Amsterdam” sign is located.  The large letters are huge tourist attractions, and of course we all took turns taking pictures sitting in or standing around them.  Near the “I Amsterdam” sign was the Van Gogh Museum, which I gladly paid the entry price to visit.  It was amazing! The museum held literally hundreds of works by Van Gogh and his contemporaries, and provided an excellent collection of northern European art from just before, during, and just after Van Gogh’s time.  The colors that Van Gogh used were often vibrant, especially in some of his later works, and his thick brush strokes really accentuated these bold colors.

That night, Katie and I opted out of an optional bar crawl and chose instead to walk through the famous Red Light District.  This was definitely a memorable experience.  During the day, the district is quiet, filled mostly with coffee shops, cafes, and, as you would expect, sex shops.  The main street comes alive after dark, however.  We went early, at about nine pm, and though the street was busy, it was definitely still in the beginning stages.  Pictures were not allowed, for obvious reasons, and we likely wouldn’t have wanted to take any regardless.  We only walked through for about twenty minutes before leaving to get some dinner—as Katie put it, we didn’t want to be “two little American girls left in the Red Light District once it got busy.” I couldn’t have agreed more!

Sunday was entirely devoted to travelling back to London.  We left Amsterdam at about 10:30 am, and Katie, Ariel, and I managed to take naps on the bus to make the time pass.  Our first pit stop ended up being at none other than a Belgian Chocolate Factory.  Yes, indeed, we were able to shop at a small shop that made their chocolate on site. It was absolutely delicious.  I bought a bar of dark chocolate with dried cranberries for myself, and bought a large bar of milk chocolate for a friend back in London.  We caught the ferry at Calais about 2 pm, where we ate lunch and were able to use some of our leftover euros before switching back to pounds in the UK.  The highlight of this ferry ride was getting to see the White Cliffs at Dover in the daytime.  Though it was dreary and raining, the Cliffs still looked magnificent, and were a nice welcome back to England.

I never expected to enjoy Amsterdam as much as I did! It’s a wonderful city, full of history, excitement, great food, and adorably crooked buildings.  I was exhausted after the full trip, and spent most of Monday sleeping since I’m fortunate enough to not have class on Mondays.  London seems huge after being in such a quiet city, but once again I am glad to be back.

Edinburgh!

February 21st, 2012

This past weekend I travelled outside of London for the first time since I’ve been in the UK.  Really, I can think of no better way to start what I hope will turn out to be a nice tour of Europe with Edinburgh, Scotland.  I’ve never even been to Northern England, let alone Scotland, so I was really excited to travel to the city.  My roommate from Mary Washington, Becca, is doing an internship in the Leeds area, so we planned to travel together to visit a few other friends who are currently studying at the University of Edinburgh.  The trip was thrown together fairly last minute (as in, we bought our tickets the night before) but through perseverance and pure luck Becca and I managed to get tickets on the same train from York to Edinburgh.  I took an early train from King’s Cross in London to meet her there about midday.  We arrived in Edinburgh just after four pm and were greeted at the station by our friend Becky.  As to be expected, Edinburgh was cold and grey! London, located in the southern part of England, had seemed much warmer when I left.

After a quick stop by Becky’s flat so that Becca and I could see her room and meet her flatmates, the three of us headed over to the hostel where Becca and I would be staying. Royal Mile Backpackers was located, as the name suggests, on Edinburgh’s “Royal Mile,” one of the busier streets in the city.  There were ten bunks in our room, each labeled with a cute nickname.  Becca was assigned to the bunk “Late,” while I was assigned “Trouble”.  Appropriate? If you know either of us, I’ll let you decide for yourself!

The highlight of Friday night was the ghost tour of Edinburgh.  Becky bought us our tickets in advance—eleven pounds for the tour and a free drink after.  Not a bad deal, really.  We went in a large group of Becky’s friends, including Colin, another student from Mary Washington.  The tour guide’s thick Scottish accent made his words sometimes hard to understand, but he had an outgoing personality that made his stories very entertaining.  The tour began in the center of the city, where he regaled us with different famous ghost and horror stories from around Edinburgh. When we reached the square where, hundreds of years ago, criminals had been publically punished, he pulled two young men from our group to “demonstrate” how they would have been chained and whipped! The ordeal was sans actual chains, of course, though Becky was lucky enough to wield a whip and “flog” our two friends.  No one was actually hurt, though she did look a little too comfortable holding that rope…

While the first half of the tour centered on the streets of Edinburgh, the latter half was a tour of the underground crypts.  The group was led below an old pub, down some old stone steps, and through a small passageway until we were gathered in the first (and largest) room of the crypt.  Only the tour guide held a small flashlight, which created many creepy shadows.  We were told about different supernatural encounters people had had in these crypts, which gave most people chills.  By the end, the entire group was led into a smaller room with almost no light.  Normally close spaces don’t bother me, but I’ll admit I was getting a bit creeped out! After we left the crypt, we were led back into the pub for our free drinks, which seemed a just reward after standing below ground for so long!

When the ghost tour was over, Becky, Colin, and their friends took us to a local pub that was located just a few doors down from Becca and I’s hostel.  The best part was the live band that was playing traditional Scottish music the entire time! The trio made use of a guitar, small drum, and fife, and they were absolutely entertaining.  After such a long day of travelling, Becca and I soon went back to our hostel to get some well-deserved sleep.

Saturday was a whirlwind of exploring Edinburgh.  Becca and I met Becky about noon for brunch, then walked around Edinburgh until nearly six that evening.  We saw everything! Walking up to the castle was my favorite part.  Taking a tour was too expensive, but we were able to walk right up to the gates to take pictures and enjoy the beautiful view.  Edinburgh is surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains, and from the castle we could see for miles (I thought.  This is probably an exaggeration, of course).  The weather was bitterly cold, so we walked through the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to get some tea and coffee in the café and take a look at the artwork housed there.  I think this was partially for my benefit, being the museum nerd in the group! The museum housed centuries of art, including depictions of Scottish generals wearing traditional kilts and other Scottish regalia.  I took dozens of pictures while we walked around the city, mostly of the beautiful scenery.  I’ll only include a small sample here, this blog post would go on for pages and pages if I included all of them! We ended the day by climbing up the Calton Hill, which includes several remnants of ancient ruins and probably provides the best view in Edinburgh, other than the famous Arthur’s Seat.  We were there right at sunset, and the hills of Edinburgh looked spectacular in the twilight.

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Of course, I had to get the bagpipe player

Absolutely amazing

The castle in Edinburgh–the long walk up the hill was worth it

Top of the Hill

Arthur’s Seat!

By this time, we were famished from all of the walking we had done.  We called Colin and the four of us headed to dinner at a local pub.  Always the adventurous eater, I was determined to try haggis at some point in Edinburgh.  This traditional pub seemed to provide the perfect setting.  Despite the, er, unusual description, the dish was actually quite tasty! It had an odd flavor that I can’t quite describe, and seemed to be a mix of herbs and spices.  All in all, I’m glad I got the opportunity to try it! We spent most of the night in that pub talking, relaxing, and enjoying the atmosphere with so many Scottish locals.  Becca and I had an early train to catch on Sunday morning, so we went back to the hostel early to pack and get some sleep.

Edinburgh was a beautiful city.  It is certainly much smaller than London, and it was nice to escape the business of the city for a couple of days and enjoy a city with so much history.  However, I love London and am really glad to be back!

Haggis!

The Courtald Gallery

February 8th, 2012

Yesterday I was met with a pleasant surprise while visiting a gallery with my modern art in London class.  We were set to meet at the Courtald Gallery, which is part of the Somerset House located along the bank of the Thames.  I had never heard of the gallery, and really wasn’t sure of what to expect.  However, as a lover of all things Impressionism, I was immensely excited to discover that it is most famous for its collection of Impressionistic art, including several great pieces by both Renoir and Degas, two of my favorite artists! I had no idea such an amazing collection was located in London, and only about a twenty minute walk from where I live in Lambeth! As any good art history student and lover of Impressionism would do, I took several pictures and excitedly wrote more notes than was necessary for my class requirements.

Bar at the Folies-Bergere, by Manet

One of Degas’ famous ballet portraits

The Courtald Gallery itself is comprised of three floors, which are connected by a beautiful spiral staircase inlaid with blue marble.  As part of our assignment, we had to traverse those stairs several times in order to view the paintings in the order our professor recommended.  I definitely felt like I got in my daily exercise in addition to my dose of beautiful Impressionistic art.

For regular visitors, the gallery is unfortunately not free.  Since I was part of a university class, however, I was able to get in without paying the required charge.  It’s a shame that such beautiful and famous pieces of art are not as accessible to most of the public due to the entrance fee, especially since there are so many great national museums in London that are no-cost.  The location, however, cannot be beat.  The Sommerset House is located on the Strand, a busy road that runs along the northern side of the Thames.  This section of Central London is a busy area, with many shops, cafes, restaurants, and even universities located nearby.  I knew I was close to home as soon as I saw my favorite landmark, the London Eye, right behind the building!

I am obsessed with the London Eye! This was taken right outside of the Sommerset House. Beautiful!

Outside of the Sommerset House

 

(Side note: As you readers may have noticed, the timestamp on my pictures is unfortunately prominent in bright yellow, and also claims that these pictures were taken in 2007…as of yet I haven’t gotten around to changing the settings on my camera to the correct day, or even the correct year.  So don’t worry, I did take all of these pictures, and I haven’t been time travelling!)

 

 

February 4th, 2012

These past couple of weeks have been crazy! I’ve been so busy between classes, working on papers, exploring the city, and spending time with my new friends. Since three of my classes involve site visits to different museums, galleries, and monuments throughout the city, I’ve really been able to experience a lot of what London has to offer for someone involved in art history. Last Thursday, I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral with my Art and Society class. The outside was incredible, and I loved seeing the classical influences of the columns and pediment. We could only take pictures outside and not inside, but I used the opportunity to snap these:

Obviously, St. Paul’s is massive, and these were all taken right out front. It makes me wish I had some sort of wide-angle lens, as these pictures don’t adequately show how beautiful the facade really is.  The inside of the cathedral is gorgeous.  It’s several centuries old, and design elements from different periods are evident all throughout. However, my group leader pointed out that no one period completely took over or redecorated the entire cathedral–rather, you can see the different layers of influence from the past several hundred years. There is even a modern sculpture from the 1980’s near the apse of an abstract Mother and Child.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my trip to St. Paul’s was the Whispering Gallery. We climbed over 217 steps (someone counted) up a large spiralling staircase to the base of the dome. A balcony runs the entire circumference of the dome, and if you whisper right into the wall with a forceful breath, anyone sitting on the complete other side of the dome can hear you perfectly! It’s amazing, and really displays the science that was used to create this architecture.

 

The First Week

January 15th, 2012

I’ve spent just over a week in London. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here this long, since this last week seemed to fly by.  I”ve made several new friends, mostly British students who go to Westminster full-time. There are many other American exchange students living in my building, but many of them seem to stick together. I’ve found that I get along much better with the British students.

I’ve finally gotten to explore the city a bit more, which means I can actually start concentrating on the main point of this blog, which is the art scene in London. The city is huge and multicultural, so it contains a variety of arts, ranging from museums and galleries to street performers and a bustling theatre district.  I was able to meet up with my friend Becca last Friday, and we walked down to the Thames to see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and generally explore the neighborhood. I’ve seen The London Eye often this week, since it’s visible from the neighborhood I live in, but seeing all of these great monuments up close was incredible.  We went in the evening (which in London is between 3pm and 4pm—the sun sets quite early) which meant that the light shining over the river and the Houses of Parliament was amazing. It really emphasized all of the ornate details featured on the structure, which really aren’t used in modern construction. My pictures can do it more justice than any words I could use:

I wasn’t at all expecting to find a sculpture I actually recognized during our outing on Friday, so you can imagine my surprise when we stumbled upon a casting of Rodin’s the Berghers of Calais in a small park area by the Thames.  I’ve never seen this piece in person, and the amount of detail Rodin put into the figures and especially their facial features is incredible.  You can really see the anguish in some faces, and the determination in others. Here are a few other details:

Tomorrow!

January 5th, 2012

London Calling

Somehow I still can’t believe that today is my last full day at home. I’ve (almost) finished packing, and incredibly managed to fit most of the clothes I wanted to take into my suitcase and UNDER the weight limit.  Maybe I don’t need as many clothes as I thought I did? Now that is shocking.

I’ve flown before, but this will be the first time I’ve travelled almost entirely on my own.  Fortunately, I am on the same flight as Katie, another student from UMW who is also studying at Westminster this semester. Once the plane lands in Heathrow, I’m going to have to find my way from the airport to my dorm, and then from my dorm to the store to buy a cell phone, groceries, towels, and whatever else I need.  It’s going to be a huge adjustment from Fredericksburg, where I have a car and know how to navigate in the small city.  In London, I’ll have to learn to use public transportation–or just use my own two feet to walk where I need to go. Growing up in a rural area, I don’t really know how to live in such a large city, but it’s a challenge that I can’t wait to start.

Since I leave for London tomorrow night, “London Calling” by The Clash seemed fairly appropriate.  This is my first attempt at adding any media to this blog, so we’ll see if this actually works. I love music, so if I can I’ll be adding songs to a lot of my posts.  These posts will only get more interesting once I actually get to London, so stay tuned!

And so it begins.

December 29th, 2011

The first post! It will certainly be the first of many, and I can’t wait until I actually get there and have something to write home about (literally).  Whether or not you readers out there are actually interested in the art of London (though I don’t see why you wouldn’t be…) I hope you join me on this blog! For now, y’all have a happy new year and I’ll be checking in soon. Thanks for reading!