It was a spontaneous trip planned through a group message of mostly cat gifs and pictures of Ryan Gosling. It ended with me crying over old things, dropping my toothpaste down the toilet, and hitchhiking pigeons.
*drum roll please* Welcome to the recount of ‘Lads Hit London Town.’
On Saturday, I booked a cheap flight down to London to meet up with Ellie, Caitlin, and Sophie. All three of them live around the area. I flew into Gatwick by 4 pm, hopped a very humid and crowded train to Victoria Station to meet up with Elie and Caitlin. From there we walked past Buckingham Palace (Yes, the Queen was in.) through Trafalgar Square to Chinatown for dinner. It started to drizzle while we were walking. By the time we got to the restaurant, we were soaked. I had a huge plate of noodles, devoured them all, and felt much better. After dinner we walked to past Big Ben, Westminster, and the Houses of Parliament, then to Waterloo station to catch a train out of London to Caitlin’s.
The next morning we started bright and early as we had planned to go to Oxford to meet up with Sophie. My morning started extra exciting as I dropped my toothpaste in the toilet pre 8 AM. We took the train back into the city and grabbed the Oxford Tube (a bus not as the name would suggest a train). Unaware that ‘no hot food’ does not include ‘hot drinks’ like it normally does in America, I forced myself to down a large latte in five minutes before boarding the bus. I later learned that you could in fact bring drinks on the bus and I hated myself for the entire hour and half ride.
By the time we got to Oxford I was glad to be on cold, unmoving, ground. Sophie picked us up at the bus stop, we stopped briefly at her house which was built in the 16c (and omg it was so cool). I rushed to the bathroom because, again, I was stupid and downed a large coffee in five minutes.
We then travelled into Oxford. Oxford is such a pretty town, and is definitely dominated by the University. We went to the original Blackwells bookshop and then trekked over the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Museum had shrunken heads and swords. After the museum we stopped for tea and snacks at one of the older Church buildings in Oxford, boasting to have been used since 1230.
That evening, we returned to Sophie for dinner and watched the new iTV Victoria series. We only intended to watch an episode or two, until we realised that actual bae Albert did not appear until episode five… so we marched on. The next morning we took the Oxford Tube back to London.
Back in London, we took the underground to visit the British Museum. I was especially excited about visiting, as it has been a place I have wanted to go for a few long time. It’s a bit silly, but I’ve got this old postcard from the early 1900s featuring the exterior of the Museum. It has people walking in out of the museum on it with horse and carriages waiting like taxis in front. I’ve kept this postcard with me for a while, keeping it on my desk next to other old postcards of places I would like to go or places I have been.
Walking inside of the museum I was overwhelmed. I knew the museum was large, but it never really dawned on me just how spectacular the collection is. The first gallery I entered was the Egyptian gallery and I was greeted by the giant bust of Ramses II. The Rosetta Stone lay just beyond.
Another reason I was so keen to visit was that the British Museum has, in it’s collections, many artifacts taken (or stolen, depending on your viewpoint) from building on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. When I visited Athens back in March of 2015, I had given a report on the Temple of Athena Nike (a small temple located by the Propylaea near the entry of the Acropolis which was dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Nike). However, many of the original friezes and stonework were not located in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. While I had seen the building and some of the more famous pieces such as ‘Nike attending her shoe,’ I had not seen the major friezes that has adorned the exterior walls of the temple.
In the British Museum, I actually stumbled upon them rather unexpectedly, but was glad that I did. While, to be fair, I wish that I had been able to see the pieces in Athens with the rest of the structure, I was glad to have been able to see them at all.
This sentiment could also be said of the Parthenon Marbles. Two years after visiting the Parthenon in Greece, I was able to finally see the surviving friezes and metopes. The marbles had been taken by Lord Elgin in 1801. Seeing the marbles in London was more than a little controversial for me considering the circumstances that surrounded their original departure from Athens.
As an archaeologist, I have always felt that it is my duty to uphold and respect the cultural heritage of the cultures I study. This extends to the rights of autonomy over artifacts. However, I do understand that at the time of their removal, Greece was on the cusp of their Wars of Independence. The Acropolis was severely damaged over the following decades, with the Parthenon itself taking heavy hits from cannonfire. It cannot be certain, what the fate of the marbles would have been had they remained in Greece… but at least, then, having them removed and taken to London seemed to be the best option in the sake of preservation. Now over 200 years later… it has become a point of contention between Greece (who despite being facing economic collapse, has spend large sums of money developing and building a new museum to house the marbles) and the UK.
While personally, I would like to see the marbles return to Greece… I can understand the worries of the academic community.
Other highlights of the Museum featured the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial which many people relate to the time of Beowulf and the Lindow Man. The Sutton Hoo burial is an Anglo-Saxon ship burial dated to around the 7c AD. It was a truly incredible find as it links fact to fiction, archaeologists were able to lift portions of Beowulf that correspond to finds in the grave… drawing into greater question the text’s legitimacy as a historical source and not just an epic poem.
Lindow Man was one of the Iron Age bog bodies discovered in England. I’ve written quite a bit about him through essays, high school science projects, and on exams. This was again, a situation where I had turned the corner and stumbled upon him. It honestly took me a little bit by surprise to see him there before me. I had looked at plenty of photos of Lindow Man but to see him in person… I could still see the red of his hair and the stubble of his mustache, arms twisted in a sleeping position.
Like I said, the British Museum was a little overwhelming for me.
From there we said goodbye to Sophie and Caitlin. Ellie and I traveled back to her house for dinner. The next day, Ellie and I travelled back into London for a day of shopping and more site seeing. We ate lunch and then hiked up to the Royal Observatory.
The next day was back to Edinburgh. Ellie and I caught the 11 AM train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. The train ride was very calm and honestly, so much better than flying. The train did a brief stop in York… and then about twenty minutes later, the train conductor announced: ‘Could the person who brought the crate of live pigeons with them please return to Coach D to collect your pigeons.’ You could honestly hear the collective WTF across the train. I assumed then that the situation had been taken care of… until two train attendants said that no one had come to collect the pigeons and it was assumed that they had been placed on board the train in York. A crate of live pigeons was left unattended on the train. The conductor called ahead to Newcastle, however the station was unable to take the pigeons. We continued onto Edinburgh (passing Bamburgh Castle…more on that site to come) … where I am assuming the pigeons were taken from the train.
And that was the end to my trip to London. It was really wonderful to see my friends and have them show me some of their favourite places in their hometowns. Also a big thank you to Ellie, Caitlin, and Sophie’s families for allowing us all to stay at their houses along our escapades.
I’m back in Edinburgh relaxing after my yoga class ready to get back to University on Monday.