england – part ii: magical london

Back to our time in London. Do you ever see photos of a place and imagine what it’s like to be there, but then when you get there it’s so different from what you expected? That’s what our trip to London was like for me.

Usually when you have that experience, being in the real place feels less dreamy and magical than looking at photos of it. But there was something – maybe it was the colorful leaves still hanging on the trees in November, maybe it was the gray and cloudy yet rainless day, maybe it was being surrounded by people speaking in British accents – whatever it was, being in London felt MORE magical than it did in my imagination.

Being in this square in front of Westminster Abbey was way dreamier than my expectations. The gothic cathedral arching over the square, the green-ish brown tint of the stone, the double-decker buses and hackney carriages stopping in the intersection, the shade from the trees and clouds… well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll stop there.

We didn’t buy tickets to see the inside of the abbey, but peeking around the corner we found a corridor leading to the Dean’s Yard, a little tucked away square made up of historic buildings, used by modern business people and prep school students. (I’ll take an office overlooking one of those giant trees, thank you!)

St. Margaret’s church, on the other side of the abbey, is free to enter. We were so thankful for a few minutes to rest our feet!

If you’re wondering what all those little crosses are in the abbey grounds, they were set up as a memorial for Armistice Day (the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I).

Our next stop on this 100% tourist journey was obviously Big Ben and Westminster Bridge. I’d seen everyone and their mom’s pictures standing in front of Parliament on the iconic bridge; getting to be there myself felt like a rite of passage. Unfortunately….

Big Ben and Parliament building were under construction!! Oh well, you can’t win ’em all. (PS – I love that they kept one of the clock faces uncovered. How kind of them for visitors like us. Or maybe Brits just love to be on time? We did see a lot of clocks in the city…)

I had heard that London is big – a lot bigger than Paris – and I honestly didn’t really believe them. Ha! Paris seems pretty big to me, so I couldn’t really imagine a European city being much bigger. But yeah, the Thames alone is probably at least twice as wide as the Seine.

We would have loved to have spent more time on the river, but we had lots more to see and not enough time.

We’re museum people, and London has a lot to offer. We were both really excited about the Natural History museum – and, it’s free!

Visiting in the off-season is a little trickier because you have less daylight to work with. We were mostly doing things that were free, but due to daylight, most indoor and outdoor activities were done by 5 or 6pm. This meant we had to rush a bit to squeeze everything in. It would be so nice to visit during summer and have more time to walk around the city when it’s daytime!

There were TONS of things we wanted to see at the Natural History Museum. We could’ve easily spent a whole day there! Everything sounded interesting to us, but we tried to stick to seeing things that we couldn’t see at any other museum.

First, we took that escalator up through the red planet and learned about the beginnings of the universe. One thing I am impressed by is the people who are able to distill entire chapters of textbooks of information down to three or four sentences. These are extremely complex subjects, but the little informational plaques make everything sound so simple.

Then of course we had to see the famous blue whale skeleton! Navigating these hallways and staircases made me feel like I was at Hogwarts. To get there, we walked through the Bird gallery, which features hundreds of taxidermied bird species, including a dodo bird.

The London Natural History Museum has one of the largest collections of minerals in the world. We walked through a large exhibit showcasing geodes and ores and crystals and gems… and THEN we discovered the room pictured below, which has row after row of rocks and mineral specimens. (I gave Whit a hard time, quizzing him on some of the minerals. Did you know his degree is in Mining and Minerals Engineering?)

After THAT, we finally made it to the back of the room where the “Vault” is located. This room houses the world’s largest collection of colored diamonds (see picture below!), contains meteorites and gold nuggets and space dust, and has some epic-ally large gemstones.

Gosh, doesn’t this museum look exactly like what you picture when you think of a natural history museum? Also… looking at the website again has me wanting to go back right now!

Just in time before they kicked us out, we made it over to the Human Evolution hall. Their impressive collection features full replicas of Neanderthals and the oldest nearly complete modern human skeleton ever found in Britain. I’m a natural skeptic, so I wish we had more time to learn about hominins and ponder what the first humans were like when God created Adam and Eve.

Though we had limited sunlight, early November was a surprisingly wonderful time to visit because autumn leaves were still on the trees, AND Christmas decorations were already up! How adorable is this skating rink outside the museum?

What was a destination you dreamed of that was even more enchanting once you arrived?

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