Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Windsor Castle

About three weeks ago, I went to Windsor Castle, a trip organized by Boston University. Windsor Castle is one of the Queen's main residences and the one she considers "home." Moreover, this is where the House of Windsor found its name. Before WWI, Queen Elizabeth's last name was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. But after WWI, it was thought that the last name sounded too Germany, so the royal family was asked to changed its last name. Ultimately, they chose Windsor because it sounds more English.

The castle has an incredibly long history dating back to the 11th century. What used to be a medieval fortress with a donjon is transformed into a royal palace. During the visit, I went through all of the areas opened to the public. Within the Castle, no photos are allowed so you just have to believe me when I say it's pretty amazing. (Sadly, while thinking back, I can't remember much of what I saw.) There were tons of gold, silver, porcelain, and paintings, of course.

This is St. George's Chapel which is within the grounds of the castle. Many royal wedding took place here and many famous people are buried here as well. Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's favorite wife, is buried here.

The donjon is the oldest part of the castle. The hill that it sits on is man-made so that there will be a good view of the surrounding area in case enemies attacked. Even today, you can still a remnant of a moat. The ditch is still there but there is no more water. It's been converted into something resembling a garden.

Changing of the guard.

Just outside of the castle is a statue of Queen Victoria. This was the meeting point for our tour guide to take us to Eton College. Our tour guide was this little tiny lady with really dry skin and three backpacks/messenger bags. When we were touring the castle on our own (she couldn't guide us in there), she went grocery shopping. She pretty much looked like a homeless person and the two additional grocery bags didn't help with her appearance. Nonetheless, she was a great guide.

A very crooked house next to, what is thought to be, the shortest street in the UK. Charming eh?

After a walk next to many antique shops, we arrived at Eton College which is across a river. I posted a panorama picture of Eton College earlier and wrote a little bit about it. The statue in the picture is King Henry VI who founded this private boarding school in 1441. Because of its centuries old history, there are tons of traditions to be followed at the school. School boys wear these elaborate uniforms with long coat tails. They also wear badges to identity which dorm they live in. It's like Harry Potter almost. There is also a group of boys who enters the school as "King's Scholars." They scored the highest on their entrance exam and is rewarded a scholarship. In addition, they receive special privileges such as being able to wear a more special coat than the others, play this weird sport in their first year when others have to wait till their last year, and eat in special areas.

There is also a great emphasis on seniority. Older school boys tutor younger students while younger boys do things for the older boys like cook dinner, clean their dorms. (All these facts are only true if my memory isn't failing me, and I have a feeling my memory is failing me.)

Students who are admitted to King's College at the University of Cambridge are allowed to carve their names into the window shutters. There are seemingly countless names. I thought the carvings are a bit haunting because you can tell that they look extremely old. This is also the oldest part of the school. After 600 years of continuous operation, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a handful of ghosts on campus.

I think this is one of their classrooms. Isn't it amazing? I love the pale blue patina of the dome.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fun on a Budget

It costs a fortune going to the famous tourist attractions of London even with a student discount.

Palace of Westminster - £7.80
Westminster Abbey - £12
London Aquarium - £14
Buckingham Palace - £15
London Eye - £17.50
Madame Tussauds - £22.50

St. Paul's Cathedral costs £8.50 but lucky I got to go in for free. Mass is open to anyone...even tourists. ;) However, during service, you won't get the same experience as when you pay to go in. Everything beyond the transept is blocked so the best part, the high altar, cannot be seen. In addition, you won't get to climb up the magnificent dome.

What you will get, however, is the angelic sound of the choir. Maybe this doesn't always take place but the service was completely sung when I was there. I didn't understand one bit of the songs but it sounded fantastic! Hopefully I can get myself to "attend" the service at the Westminster Abbey one day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Update: This is just to say

Hi from England!
Natural History Museum, 12 September, by Sheryl

Regent's Park, 4 September, Thames River cruise, 31 August, by Ali

Bath's Royal Crescent, 19 September, by Jenn

Thank you all for taking these photos of me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's a New Day Everyday

My favorite spot in London as of 23 of September is Trafalgar Square. Built in 1845, the square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar where Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon but died. The center of the square is Nelson's Column where he stands on top. There is a carved roll of rope at his feet which I really like. (I always really like how sculptors are able to carve something soft using a hard material. It must be the contrast between the two materials.) At the base of the column are the four icon lions that you always see in pictures of London. People climb them and take pictures with them.

What I like about Trafalgar Square are that there are so many different people, so much liveliness, and such a great and awe-inspiring view. For one thing, the square is a tourist spot. Right behind it is the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. (This is why I have been going to the Square so often--for my classes.) But for another, the area is also a hang out spot. You'll see many locals hanging out, enjoying the view, sunbathing; you'll see homeless sleeping on the same patch of grass as where the locals are enjoying their day; you'll see businessmen in suits eating lunch there; you'll see young people practicing on their skateboards and roller blades; and sometimes, but rarely, you'll see a naked someone on the empty plinth.

From the square, you can also see Palace of Westminster's iconic Clock Tower aka Big Ben and the London Eye. These two icons really make you realize that you are in London. London is such an international city with people from all over the world and everyone speaks English so sometimes I forgot I'm an ocean away from home. Seeing these two London architectures makes me realize that I'm not in the States anymore and that I'm in an exciting city called London!

The following photos were taken during my different visits to the National Gallery. Despite the column, lions, and plinths never change, there is always a different feel to the place thanks to the unpredictable and fickle weather of London and the time of day. The first visit was extremely sunny, perfect for a tan. The sun in the second photo was just not really good; it was sunny but also hazy resulting in a bad mixture. In the third photo, the cloud was dramatic and heavy but the sun, with its intense sun rays, was able to pierce through the clouds, occasionally. The last photo, which was taken last night, was on my visit to the museum on Friday. The National Gallery opens late on Friday nights and there is a little party with wine and some food for purchase. My friend and I went through the wrong entrance and were not able to enjoy this event. Anyways, the point I want to make is that Trafalgar
Square is different everyday thus it never gets old visiting the area.

1 A few steps away from the center are four plinths. Three of them have statues of historically significant Brits on top; and by the time to make a statue for the Fourth Plinth, the money for the project ran out. As a result, there is an empty plinth. Currently, an art project named One & Other by Antony Gormley is taking place on the Fourth Plinth where ordinary citizens can apply to go on the Plinth for one hour and do whatever they wish. This project is thought to be significant because this is a space reserved for the statues of generals and monarchs. So about this naked someone...On one of my more recent trips to the area, a topless woman was on the empty plinth! She wasn't promoting anything which I thought she should be. She was simply shaking them for the crowd and enjoying herself. She stayed on for the entire hour. The night before, however, a completely naked man only lasted 20 minutes after people complained about his public display of nudity.

The empty plinth is on the right hand side.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Still Obsessed!

I ran into this wonderful table at Selfridges. Completely unexpected, didn't know such a book was getting published, but what a wonderful surprise! So I bought it. The book is like an interview with Charles Saatchi the co-founder of Saatchi & Saatchi and founder of the Saatchi Gallery.

My favorite answer so far is this:

Page 100
Question: I know very little about contemporary art but have £1000 to invest. Any advice?
Answer: Premium bonds. Art is no investment unless you get very, very lucky, and can beat the professionals at their game. Just buy something you really like that will give you a thousand pounds' worth of pleasure over the years. And take your time looking for something really special, because looking is half the fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Prom 72

In the beginning of the month, I was able to catch one of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. The Proms is a concert series put on by the BBC for eight weeks during the summer. I attended Prom 72 on September 9. Queuing up 30 minutes before the concert started, I got a £5 ticket for the standing room in the "arena" or the center pit of the music hall. Although the acoustic in the area supposedly doesn't sound good, I thought it was just fine to my untrained ears. I also liked being up close to the orchestra, being able to see the performers' faces and just barely being able to see their music sheet. Overall, I think it was a more exciting experience standing so closely with the rest of the audience, knowing that they're holding their coughs, trying not to move, and having to peek through all the other heads and bodies to see the show.

The pieces played that night were by Mendelssohn, Augusta Read Thomas, Beethoven. Thomas is a living composer and her music was played by an Asian female violinist--it sounded awful, awful, awful, dreadful, awful. But I thoroughly enjoyed the other pieces of music. Being able to go in the Royal Albert Hall and watch the concert all for £5 was well worth the price.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Let it Rain Macarons

I had to go back to Laduree after stumbling upon the boutique at Burlington Arcade near Bond Street. It's Tuesday and I turned in a paper earlier in the day. So I had to treat myself to something nice. This time I went to the boutique at Harrod's which is much larger, airier, and carries a larger selection of desserts. I got five macarons again. It was actually cheaper at Harrod's.

The flavors I got are bergamot, caramel with superfine salt, coffee, pistachio, and orange blossom. The caramel is good but a little too strong in flavor. My favorite is still the bergamot.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet--my new favorite artist.

Limbour as a Crustacean, 1946, Oil and sand on canvas, Hirshhorn

Actor in a Ruff, 1961, Oil on canvas, Hirshhorn

I first saw Dubuffet's works during the summer in Washington, D.C. at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. I immediately found his works intriguing. There's something so childish, cartoonish about Dubuffet's artwork. Yet, there is something strange, nightmarish about the way he portrays his subjects. The crustacean man looks so disturbing. And the actor looks somewhat guiltless, yet with all the roughness, darkness of the background he looks a bit sinister.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Backtrack: the Getty Center

Back in August, I visited the Getty Center with my family and some family friends. This was my second visits to the Getty. The first time was when I was in middle school or early high school. This time around, I really really began to like the architecture. There is something so organic about the complex designed by Richard Meier, who, I am proud to say, received his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell; yet, the structures are also constructive and geometric.

The material that Meier chose to use for the cladding of all the buildings is travertine. It is such a natural material and Meier really plays with it. Some parts of the building, he uses polished travertine; sometimes he uses unfinished travertine that is extremely porous and rough. What makes travertine even more beautiful is that sometimes you can spot leaves and shells that either have left imprints or are embedded within the stone. On the other hand, the complex is very constructive because some of the buildings are very geometric. For example, the building at the bottom has a large, imposing cubic section that dominates the view. I think the fusion of the organic material and the geometric shapes create a beautiful contrast.

Next time I will talk about the artworks housed at the Getty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

15 Sept, 2009 - 8 hours

After visiting the National Portrait Gallery with my class, I took a little trip by myself to Goodge Street. I was craving a burrito. You can't find Mexican food here like in California, so I was very excited to go. The place was quite convenient to get to from where I was at and a very easy walk from the tube station. The restaurant is called Benito's Hat.

The food was pretty good and fresh. It's just as good as Chipotle. The atmosphere of the place itself was clean, nice, and bit cool. Many of the people eating there were Americans. In my burrito, I asked for the spicy sauce. I wasn't expecting it to be spicy at all because non-Asian restaurants always tend to be less spicy than they claim to be. Even the spicy sauce at Chipotle doesn't do much for me. But I was very glad that this sauce at Benito's Hat packs a punch.

In my burrito, I asked for guacamole (50 p), and I ordered a horchata which is pretty authentic (£1.50). Everything together cost £7--it's a bit expensive but the burrito by itself is £5 which is not too bad.

Afterward, I walked on Regent Street and to Oxford Circus. My discovery of the day was this beautiful building:

This is actually the Liberty department store, a pretty high end store. It's a Tudor revival building constructed with the timber from two decommissioned naval ships. What is also amazing about it is that it's built in between all these taller Regency architecture. They are quite contrasting.

Along the way, I also saw these birds that were taking shelter under a roof. It was raining all day long, pretty much non-stop. Once again, my boat shoes are completely soaked. The leather stained my feet and toes so they are now brown.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

For Wendy

Dear Wendy,

Here is a photo of a very large uncut emerald from Colombia. I took the picture because it immediately made me think of you and your great great great grandfather. I still love the short and incomplete tale that you told me about how he left China in search of emeralds. It's still one of the most magical thing I have ever heard. And guess where this emerald if from? Colombia!

Sorry for the poor picture quality. It was taken in The Vault at the National History Museum where there were only spotlights on the jewels. The National History Museum, which I wrote about earlier, is fun for one visit but the collection isn't as good as the one in Washington, D.C. So you don't have to be jealous. I hope you are doing well and enjoying senior year. Please find me a job.



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thames Festival Fireworks!

Thames Festival took place this passed weekend (9/12-9/13). I did not attend the festival which had some street vendors, markets, and carnival, but I did go to the grand finale that ended the celebration. What else is better to conclude an event than some fireworks? (Disneyland does it every single night.) The fireworks took place at 9:45 pm and lasted for just 10 minutes but it was pretty grand. It was over the Thames. From where I was standing, the Golden Jubilee Bridge, there was little to no obstruction to my view. And seeing the reflection of the fireworks in the river and having the city, prominently St. Paul Cathedral's dome, as the backdrop were awe-inspiring.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Charming Dulwich

My internship will be at the Dulwich Picture Gallery about 50 minutes away from where I live. There, I will be working in Development. On Friday (9/11), I went to Dulwich, the town, for my interview. I had a little bit of a trouble getting there. I almost took the wrong overground train thinking the next train is going to be at the same platform as the last one. The interview went well.

After my interview, Sheryl and I walked to a close by park which is directly from the gallery and then we went to the town's village for some food. Dulwich is such a charming little town; it's clean, quiet, and feels suburban. From the exterior, it's quintessentially British. I'm looking forward to starting my internship, not only because the gallery houses mostly old masters, but I think Dulwich will be a nice escape from the loudness, busyness, and crowd of London.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

London: Movie Edition

My tourist adventure day with Sheryl who is studying abroad in Paris became a bit of a hunt for film locations of some of my favorite movies. It was a day filled with so many stops and my feet and legs were in pain throughout the day.

The Da Vinci Code

Westminster Abbey (left) and Temple Church (right) are featured towards the middle of The Da Vinci Code. Temple Church was the English headquarters for the Knights Templar and was thought to house the Holy Grail in the film. After realizing he made a mistake interpreting a riddle, Professor Langdon with Sophie quickly went to Westminster Abbey where he cracked the code to the cryptex that held more clues to their quest for the Holy Grail.

On the day of my visit, both churches were closed. Westminster Abbey was opened a few hours earlier for tour at the cost of £11 for students which I probably wouldn't have paid for anyways. Temple Church is closed on Saturday and Sunday but would have been free to enter. I didn't take a picture of Temple Church because it didn't really have anything on the outside and is not very beautiful at all. The facade was yellowish like the column that has the Knights Templar on top and the stained glass windows are not pretty from the outside. On the other hand, Westminster Abbey is white and glimmering with emphasis on verticality. Personally, I'm surprised how good the picture came out on my phone. =D

V for Vendetta

In V for Vendetta, V blows up the Old Bailey in the "emergency demolition." Here, is the Old Bailey. Unfortunately, my shot didn't fit in the dome that probably would be more recognizable. The Old Bailey is actually the Central Criminal Court. Inscribed just above the columns are the words "Defend the Children of the Poor & Pvnish the Wrongdoers." I kind of like the quote.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This is the infamous Millennium Bridge also nicked name the Wobbly Bridge. When it opened, it swayed so strong that they closed it down for two years to modify the structure. The bridge is featured in the latest Harry Potter where the Death Eaters brought it down. The whole thing snapped and the people ran for their lives. Everyone got off safely, but if that happened in real life, I'm sure everyone would have died.

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I love Sweeney Todd. I've seen the play several times by various theatre groups and watched the film twice. Despite the story being semi-fictional/a urban legend, I was very excited to see what Fleet Street, where Sweeney Todd lived, worked, and killed, looks like. The film portrays Fleet Street as pretty dirty, dark, and crowded. Some buildings on the actual Fleet Street looks pretty dirty as well like the one in the photo. But the street now is lined with pretty tall structures on both sides and it's hard to imagine what it would have looked like 200 years ago.

While writing this post, I rewatched some part of The Da Vinci Code and found out the dragon statue from above can also been seen in the film. Temple Church is on Fleet Street so when Professor Langdon and Sophie ran out of the church to escape Teabing's servant, they were on Fleet Street. I didn't remember this scene so it was a nice surprise finding this out.