Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 12 - Burough Market, Southwark Cathedral, British Museum

Saturday 7th April 2012

Late start.  We’re more or less taking the morning off. Journalling and resting until 11ish.  Destination: the Burough Market.  We head around and hop on a virtually empty no 17 bus.  We ride until it terminates on London Bridge (tick).  From there it is only a short walk to Southwark Cathedral and we arrive bang on 12 to hear the chiming of the clock tower. :o)  

The air is full of delicious foody smells. Everywhere we look people are tucking into tasty morsels.  
I have other immediate concerns. A small voice at the back of my mind observes that I may be developing some sort of cathedral mania.  I tell the voice to shut it. Southwark cathedral is made of flint, reminding us of Norfolk.  It is seriously old too.  A sign has given us the run down: this site has been a place of worship for at least 1400 years. The current cathedral was rebuilt in 1212 after a fire. This is much more interesting than the market. 
The churchyard is full of people picnicking and there are even some pink tables and chairs set up for people to use. The whole arrangement with the cathedral and the Burough market next door reminds me of the sign in Aylsham which said that originally the market there was in the churchyard until such an arrangement was outlawed in .. hmm I think it was something like 1285.  It makes me wonder how long a market has been located adjacent to this site of worship and whether there is something more than dire necessity that brings people to picnic in the churchyard.
We go in to see if there is a guided tour of the Cathedral, but no joy in that respect so hubby is keen to have some lunch then see what we want to do. I tear myself away. Just passing through we observe that the ceiling of Southwark Cathedral is quite different to the other cathedrals we’ve visited.  It is similar in it’s overall construction of the ceiling, but lots of individual bricks are evident and it provides quite a different effect… no photos as I didn’t pay the couple of pounds required to get a photo permit, nor did we give the voluntary donation for entry.
We wander into the market for a look and to find some lunch.  There’s a lot of people and a lot of vendors. We do a circuit to sus out what's around. One of the first we really notice is one which sells logs that grow all sorts of unusual varieties of mushroom.  Plenty of meat and meat product stalls, cheese stalls, bakeries, cakes and juice.  I am rather diverted by a stall selling merchandise decorated with produce related motifs on them.. pigs, cows/cattle, sheep, seafood and crustaceans.. some vegetables, but mostly it’s a carnivore’s kitchen fantasy. We almost decide to buy some for the kids but they ship all over the world and the lady serving is more interested in talking about the pros and cons of speaking English as opposed to Swedish with some other people than in taking our money, so that gives us enough time to think about the purchase and we decide to just take a brochure. Here and there when we can find a quiet position I try to capture something of the ambience.
First order of business: lunch. We track down Kappacassein.  They have a pretty smooth operation and have signage establishing a queue that snakes around the back of their stall. We line up among an international cohort and in due course pay our £5 to a fellow whose costume most closely resembles a bus conductor… for those too young to remember bus conductors, they generally got around with a sort of bum bag or sporran wherein they would put your money in return for issuing you with a ticket.  On entering the bus you show your ticket and in return are provided with transport.  Same deal here.  We reach the head of the queue and hand over our ticket, the idea being that we shall be transported to another place redolent of culinary ecstasy.  The toasted cheese sandwich is long and narrow. It is rapidly lifted from the hotplate and wrapped in greaseproof paper and a couple of napkins. We have avoided the ire of the cook and requested that ours is cut in half well before the paper wrapping part of the ritual.  
Thanks given we wander away with our treasure hot in our hands.  We nibble as we walk.  The sandwich is too hot to do otherwise. It is also too rich to do otherwise.  We examine: Rye (?) bread glued together with gooey, oozey cheese seasoned with just a little leek and red onion.  The outside of the bread is crisp, fried in the oil that has oozed from the cheese.  The cheese at the edges of the bread has fried into crispy wafers.  We’re away and join the churchyard picnickers briefly before we rebel and head over to an area that seems to have been set aside for, but scorned by, eaters.  No seats. Most people want to sit down.  
Our culinary must do of the market is now in strikethrough font and I could use something light and liquid. We head to a juice stall.  Luckily there’s a queue for service which gives me a place where I am able to consider the various options full of various nutritional benefits. They must be how else would you persuade people to consume wheat grass, barley grass, lecithin or perhaps guarana?  I opt for the paradiso the least adventurous choice and the most appetizing in colour.  A long list of ingredients but the flavor is dominated by freshly squeezed orange and strawberry.  The cup is covered which is a necessity in the crush of the market. The straw is narrow. They have thought of everything.  Cheek muscles are one of those areas that can occasionally use a challenge but seldom get one  ;o)
What next? Hubby wants to support the charity stall selling cup cakes and things, so we find our way back there.. and I fall for the cute shortbread Owls at the Cinnamon Tree Bakery stall, they’ll be handy over coming days given our propensity to find ourselves in between meals and venues with flagging blood sugar… and I don’t have to eat them now.  Phew.  Hubby can’t resist sampling a huge Cowboy Cookie… originating from El Paso texas. Packed with dark chocolate chips, morello cherries, cranberries, pecans, coconut and oats… I’m happy to let him have that one.. I’d rather sample the Cinnamon elephants. 
 I look at my watch. Can we leave yet? Hubby is craving a pork pie… he’s been on the lookout for a pork pie ever since we arrived in the country, but so far he’s not found many and what he has found was not nearly as good as the ones he gets at home. He must find a pork pie..cold with tender pastry and aspic.  He points into the dense wall of people across the way.. we haven’t been in there yet.  We shuffle through the pack.  Our dedication pays off. Pork pies and prize winners at that.  Hubby want’s these enough to get his own wallet out.  He’s noticing a trend with the local pork pies.  The pastry is very hard.  This pie today is a bit too salty to hubby’s taste. His brow is furrowed. I feel his disappointment.  The quest will continue.
I’ve reached my limit for both crowds and food and the time is a tickin’ away.  This afternoon is slated for the British Museum.  After our huge group on the London Walk yesterday we were a bit scarred, but by sheer coincidence we’ll be alighting at Holborn precisely at the time we would need to for the London Walk so we decide to test my new theory and just see how many people they have got turning up to this one.
We hang back, but as it’s looking like the guide is getting about ready to make a move I commit. Group size looks OK.  Rough count I made it about 20 odd people. We are actually second last to pay!  The thing I really love about taking the London Walks of the great institutions generally and this one in particular,  is that you don’t start inside the museum. You are guided from the rail station, which means that you take a route and have a couple of stops where you learn about the area as well as the context of the institution. Our route takes us through an attractive little Italian style courtyard and in to Bloomsbury Square gardens.  This is surrounded by attractive residential town houses and dominated by the Bloomsbury Ballroom which these days houses corporations and conferences. We learn about Dr Hans Sloane who lived in a nice townhouse just over there, and how he came to establish the museum which was originally located behind those buildings over that way. Importantly, when we arrive at the museum, we learn about the architecture and the symbolism built into the sculptures above the main entrance.  
Over to the far left is a crocodile. He represents the swamps of ignorance. Just next to the crocodile’s snapping jaws a man crawls towards an angel carrying the torch of learning as we move towards the apex the figures standing upright represent civilization and as we move across to the right with civilization which is symbolized by a woman holding a golden globe: she has the world in her hands. Why a woman? Remember the museum was built in the 1850s when Victoria was on the throne and at the height of her popularity.  As we move on further to the right, with civilisation comes music, science, theology and the arts.  Every single civilization known to have existed is represented in the British Museum.  There are 7 ½ million items in the collection. We will be seeing just a few highlights, but the tour ends before the museum closes so you can continue to explore afterwards if you have the energy and inclination.
We enter the museum and head into the courtyard which is now enclosed by a beautiful glass roof by Sir Norman Foster.  Norman Foster is also responsible for the cucumber shaped glass building in London. He seems to like working in glass.  His design for the British Museum is very beautiful and really adds to the ambience of the space. There's also a new glass roof at the maritime museum in Amsterdam.. It would be interesting to compare the two, but I'm not sure we'll get there.  Sigh.
First stop is the Enlightenment Gallery where we head for a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone. It’s easier to assemble here and learn about it’s significance and have the various features of how they cracked the code of hieroglyphs than to fight the crowds milling around for a look at the real thing which is located nearby.
A little way away we stop by stone headstone with particulary sharp hieroglyphs.  Once they knew how to read them it was revealed that the inscription is a hymn to the Egyptian gods.  The headstone was never used for it’s purpose though, because the subject became pharaoh and was buried in the fashion that required.  We go on, dipping into the treasures of various ancient civilizations.  As we meander through the museum we pass cabinet after cabinet of clearly magnificent smaller items whose survival across the ages has been rewarded by their residence in this extraordinary collection.
As promised our tour ends at the mummies. We’ve had a detailed explanation about mummification with time to explore both the mummies and the museum further if we so desire.  We have wander through the mummies but we fall into the category of people that Margaret mentioned, who only want 5 minutes with the mummies. Other people want ages in there and this is why they finish here. People can suit themselves.
I have to say, I have a fairly limited level of interest in ancient cultures.  Start talking about pharaohs or Assyrians and in most situations and you may begin to wonder if I suffer from narcolepsy.  However the tour with Margaret moves quickly and is so densely packed with relevant information and guidance on how to read or interpret the object. Personally, I wouldn’t do the British Museum any other way, and I wouldn’t skip the British Museum.  It’s too important an institution. It’s been a great tour.  We emerge into daylight.  We sit on the steps of the museum in a quiet eddy out of the way of the currents of visitors drifting in or out of the museum.  4:30 pm, What next? It’s been a busy day and we have an equally busy evening. We’re keen for a break no matter how short.  We’re torn by the Cartoon Museum though.  We head to the underground and have a look for the Cartoon Museum on the way, which probably is an indicator of our fatigue levels at this point.  The Cartoon Museum is in another street altogether.. not in Great Russell St.. it’s in Little Russell st. In all honesty we’re not that upset not to find it.  In all our wanderings here and there we’ve managed to include a range of well known if not iconic streets and locations. Today I’m pleased to note that our route takes us through seven dials. I couldn’t tell you where I’ve heard of it, but I have and it’s satisfying to walk through noting the monument reopened in 1989.  Too tired to argue when hubby wants to press on rather than take a photo.  We drag our weary carcasses up the four flights of stairs to our room and kick off our shoes. Peel off our coats.  Collapse on the bed. Hubby is asleep in an instant. I journal briefly and sound the alarm when it’s time to head out.
We have a reservation at Bistro 1 for dinner, which works out nicely because no sooner are we seated than hubby notes that a queue has formed at the door.  Tables are packed in very tightly and this works to our favour because we end up in conversation with a nice elderly couple at the table next door.  They are sampling venues for an upcoming family trip to the theatre.  You know in the rush of conversation I have completely failed to note what we ate.. now lets see… I’d have been happy to skip the starter course, but hubby insists on the whole shebang, so I started with the crumbed brie.. or it might have been camembert topped with a berry coulis. I’d seen that recommended in a review. Hubby goes the calamari.  I was too busy chatting to sample hubby’s calamari but he says I won the first round. Mains come through: Hubby ordered prawns, if memory serves they were in some sort of wine sauce. I played it safe and ordered the Chicken Shish kebabs.  Again, on hubby’s judgement I won that round as well.  It’s a fairly plain meal, but that was what I was in need of after all our fine dining.. and the cheesy first course. The chicken shish was beautifully tender.  Dessert: hubby went for strawberry cheesecake. Very nice and light and home-made.  I opted for Apple tarte tatin.  The apple was good, but I miss the hat trick.  Hubby’s cheesecake was the winner in the final round.
No time to waste we’re off to the Noel Coward theatre to see Hay Fever. It’s funny but perhaps not quite as accessible as the previous shows we’ve been too in London and the competition is pretty fierce. We high tail it home. Tomorrow is another big day and we really can’t afford to sleep in. 

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