OK, if you can make it through this one more installment, the next one will be about our first day at Disneyland Paris! All you have to do is slog through 250 photos and a million bazillion words on the Tower of London and the British Museum and Wonder Woman… also not one but TWO toilet jokes!
On our last day in London, we threw out all pretense of being hip, live-like-a-local travelers and hit the city’s two most popular tourist attractions one right after the other!
We started with the Tower of London first thing in the morning because I’d read so much about crowds. It was an inauspicious beginning when our Uber driver dropped us at the exact OPPOSITE corner of the site from the entrance, with only an “It’s over there” hanging in the wind as he peeled out for his next paying gig. This meant we had to walk all the way around this ginormous castle, losing precious early-start time. We vowed right then not to use Uber for the rest of the trip.
However, we were in the right place to catch the adorable sight of one of the Tower Beefeater’s dogs living out his Born Free fantasies as he raced full-tilt through the moat, all the way around the Tower!
We did get to see some nifty incongruous ruins in the middle of a busy modern esplanade on our hike to the entrance. Well, Patrick did. If it didn’t say “Tower of London Entrance,” I wasn’t interested!
Halfway to the entrance!
As it turned out—and probably because we are Disney park nerds—we still got there earlier than anybody else. I had my handy-dandy Historic Royal Palaces membership card out so we wouldn’t need to waste time buying tickets, and we got to be first in line!
Patrick strolled over to the edge of the Thames to shoot Tower Bridge. We later learned it makes a great photo backdrop from inside the Tower too.
So, to recap, Tip #1 about visiting the Tower of London is to buy a Historic Royal Palaces pass and/or get there first thing in the morning. When they let us in, Patrick got some people-free shots as we did Tip #2….
Tip #2 is to RUN to the Jewel House like it’s Frozen Ever After on Opening Day! The first free Tower tour doesn’t start till 30 minutes or an hour after opening, so you’ll have plenty of time to knock out the Crown Jewels before the crowds descend.
The Crown Jewels are THE most popular attraction at the Tower of London, and they’ve actually built a Disney-style fake-out queue to contain the hordes who show up to see them. It starts out with some museum-style images and captions on the walls, then switches back with a few costume displays, and then there’s a wide spot where they try to trick you into stopping to watch scenes from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation (which are actually pretty great and you should definitely go back after you see the jewels all by yourself using these these tips). Then they take you by progressively more impressive artifacts until you finally get to see the Crown Jewels from one of two moving sidewalks on either side of the display case.
We were the only people in there for 20 minutes! We rode the moving sidewalk five times on each side of the case! It was fabulous to be able to take our time and really examine these things we’d seen countless times in our Monarchy documentaries and in photos and movies. Toward the end, a private tour showed up and I eavesdropped a bit. Apparently, the BBC just reunited The Queen with St. Edward’s Crown for the first time since her 1953 coronation and taped an hour-long interview where she talks about what it was like to wear the crown and what her father’s coronation ceremony was like.
As usual, no photos were allowed, so I dug some up to give you an idea what you’ll see….
This is the Imperial Mantle first worn by Queen Victoria in 1838. It’s made of gold thread and embroidered with a motif of golden eagles, pink roses, purple thistles, and green clovers (but sadly no yellow moons, orange stars, blue diamonds or purple horseshoes!) to represent the united kingdoms of England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Together with the tunic underneath, it weighs 23 pounds!
The thing about England’s Crown Jewels is they aren’t really that old, thanks to @#%$&! Oliver Cromwell, who destroyed as many pieces of the original Crown Jewels as he could get his hands on when the monarchy was abolished in 1649. The jewels were sold and the gold was melted down to be used for coins (thank goodness a couple of women had the sense to smuggle Scotland’s crown jewels into hiding around the same time—more on that when we get to Edinburgh Castle)!
There isn’t a lot of documentation on what the original crown looked like, but it’s pictured here with soon-to-be-headless Charles I. They think that crown dated to the 11th Century and was made for Henry VII.
After Cromwell died and the Commonwealth descended into chaos, Charles I’s son (three guesses what his name was, and the first two don’t count!) returned from exile to reinstate the monarchy. He had new crown jewels made, including a coronation crown and a state crown, an orb, a scepter, swords, spurs, ring and bracelets.
Charles II is pictured with them here…
So those “new” pieces are what you see in the Jewel House. One of my favorite pieces is this spoon they use to anoint the sovereign’s head with oil. It’s one of the only original pieces of coronation regalia to survive Cromwell’s destruction of royal symbols and dates to the 11th Century! The other object pictured is a flagon for the oil, and I really really hope it spews out of the eagle’s mouth because that would be hilarious!
There are actually two different crowns used during the coronation. This one is St. Edward’s Crown, and it’s only worn during the moment of coronation (probably because it weighs 5 pounds!). This is the one Queen Elizabeth II hadn’t seen in 65 years…
This is the Imperial State Crown, which monarchs wear as they leave the coronation ceremony and then at the opening of Parliament each year. Elizabeth II is wearing it in her official coronation portrait. Supposedly some of Queen Elizabeth I’s pearl earrings are incorporated into it.
The Royal Scepter contains the Cullinan I Diamond. It’s a whopping 530.2 carats and is the world’s largest top-quality white cut diamond. The uncut stone it came from was discovered in 1905 and cut to create nine major stones and 96 smaller ones. Cullinan II (a mere 317.4 carats) is the second largest stone and is now set into the front band of the Imperial State Crown.
Apparently the No. 1 question they get in the Jewel House is “Are they real?” and it’s easy to see why. Even after looking at this thing 10 times, I still couldn’t believe it was really a real diamond! Most of the large stones in these pieces are on little hooks that allow them to be easily removed and reset into other pieces of jewelry (you know, like an Alex and Ani bracelet)!
There are a bunch of gold serving pieces to look at on the way out of the Jewel House, including a punch bowl big enough to bathe a Greyhound in!
It was getting close to time for the first free tour of the day, so we went back to the meeting point, in the moat.
Tip #3: Take the free tour at the Tower of London! They are lead by the Yeoman Warders (a.k.a., Beefeaters), who are members of the Royal Guard. To be a yeoman warder you must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, reaching the rank of warrant officer, and you must have been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. Also, yeomen warders live at the Tower with their families! I wonder what it’s like for their spouses to commute from the Tower of London to a boring old office building somewhere and then go back to the Tower every night.
The yeoman warder who led our tour was hilarious. He had a very dry, self-deprecating sense of humor and a nice booming voice for all to hear. He started the tour off with a posing session so we could all get a good shot of him in his dress uniform (day-to-day they actually wear a navy-colored uniform with red trim).
He lead us back under the entrance arch to the area just outside the interior wall and pointed out where his home is.
He told us about the various famous prisoners who were kept in this portion of the tower, but I forgot their names… Let’s call them “Kevin” and “Steve.”
This is the Traitor’s Gate, where prisoners were brought into the tower if they arrived by boat on the Thames. Queen Elizabeth I came in this gate when her sister Queen Mary I had her thrown in the Tower for a stretch, but she’s one of the lucky ones who got to leave again.
In fact, only seven people were ever executed inside the Tower. Supposedly it was an honor and a “kindness” to be executed here instead of where all the rest of the executions took place: Tower Hill, which is where we visited the Tube stop and remains of the Roman wall on the first day of our trip.
They think those seven executions took place about where the drinking fountain is at the far right in this photo. (So, you know, bring a Bobble filter!)
The last part of the tour takes place in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, which you can see a bit of in this photo, behind the guys with silly hats and scary guns.
No photography is allowed—possibly because it’s still a working church for the yeoman warders and their families. It is only accessible via tour or by attending services on Sunday morning. Buried in the chapel are Tower victims Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII, respectively, and Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days in 1553.
The tour felt a bit short to me, but it was a good overview, you could ask the yeoman warder any question, and you can’t beat free!
One of the other main attractions at the Tower of London is the seven ravens. According to legend, six must be in residence at all times or the Crown will fall and Britain with it. The ravens therefore take great advantage of this by demanding a special diet and the finest care. There is a dedicated ravenmaster who looks after the six birds + a spare, feeding them restaurant-grade meat, cheese, fruit and the occasional blood-soaked biscuit (though I’m not sure if any restaurants actually serve blood-soaked biscuits).
To see photos and videos of the Tower ravens talking, playing dead, guzzling from drinking fountains and flying in slow-mo, check out the ravenmaster’s fascinating Twitter account.
To see photos of a raven standing and pecking, scroll down.
We decided to check a couple of the places the Tower’s more famous prisoners were kept, starting with the ghoulishly named Bloody Tower. Apparently it was originally known as the Garden Tower but got its new nickname after the 1585 death of Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, which may or may not have been a suicide. Frankly, I’m surprised the whole complex hasn’t been renamed The Tower of Murder, considering how many stories of foul play we heard.
This is the one of the two rooms where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned for 13 years, apparently with his whole family! He’s probably best known to Americans as the founder of the vanished colony of Roanoke Island and the guy Raleigh, North Carolina is named after. He’s also known for popularizing tobacco smoking in England—way to go, Walt! He did not get murdered, but he did get beheaded.
This is supposedly the room where the ill-fated two Princes in the Tower were kept, or at least it’s the one they’re using for display purposes. Edward V, King of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York—then only 12 and 9 years old, respectively—were sent to the Tower by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. However, they disappeared after a few months, paving the way for ol’ Dick to become King Richard III. The story perpetuated by Shakespeare in Richard III is that he had the boys murdered, although modern historians point out that his successor, Henry VII, also had motive to kill the boys. In 1674, workers found a box containing two small human skeletons under some stairs in the White Tower, and it has been assumed ever since that these were the two princes. However, their bones were interred in an urn at Westminster Abbey, and the Crown refuses to let modern scientists examine them to verify the claim.
If, like us, you fall asleep halfway through the venerated 1955 film adaptation of Richard III starring Sir Laurence Olivier, you’ll get to see all the highlights running on a loop in this room.
Running the length of the building is a lovely promenade where prisoners could go for a great view of the Thames when they were not busy being murdered in the Bloody Tower.
The basement of the Bloody Tower has a slightly cheesy exhibit on torture that seems to be aimed at bloodthirsty children (you should have heard the squeals of delight from the school group that followed us in).
Something you’ve probably noticed about the Tower of London by now is that it isn’t just one tower—there are actually 21 of them! The whole complex is named for this, the White Tower—it used to be more white, I promise—which the official website calls the most famous castle in the world (but we Disney fans know better)! It was built by William the Conquerer in the early 1080s, but Henry III had it whitewashed in 1240. You know how new owners are… gotta put their own stamp on everything. We can just be grateful that shiplap and chevrons weren’t as popular back then.
Tip #4: Don’t waste all your time in the White Tower unless you are reeeeeeeaaaally into armor and weapons. Cuz that’s what we did. I was trying to be all breezy and impromptu, but I really should have read up on what’s inside each of the buildings at the Tower of London so we could have focused our measly 2 1/2 hours there. We ended up spending way too much time here walking past rows and rows of suits of armor—they even had armor for the horses!—and then rows and rows of swords, crossbows and modern guns when we coulda been looking at the (far more interesting to me) furnished medieval palace of King Edward I, which we only discovered at the very end, when we were down to our last seven minutes.
One kind of funny thing about the exhibits in the White Tower is how much shade they throw on the old exhibits of ages past. Pretty much every plaque snarkily describes how inaccurate previous displays were for whatever you’re looking at.
But keep your eyes peeled for this room, where you’ll find Patrick’s absolute favorite thing at the Tower of London….
…The King’s Medieval Toilet! It emptied directly into the courtyard below (and they wondered why everyone was always getting the plague and stuff)!
Patrick helpfully provided this diagram in his journal entry for the day:
This was not a toilet, it was a fireplace… without a chimney… so, also not great for your health!
One thing I thought was pretty cool was St. John’s Chapel, which dates from 1080 and is arguably the oldest in London. They still use it occasionally for services.
After that… more weapons!
An entire dragon made out of weapons (but this is a modern art piece, not something the bored knights of the 1200s did to pass the time…)
And a replica of the Coronation Spoon, for some reason!
From the top floor of the White Tower you get a neat view of the Jewel House.
This cannon is from 1607, but the elaborate carriage was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington in 1827.
Upon our escape from the White Tower, we dropped into the Tower’s New Armouries Cafe. We were really impressed by the selection and quality of the food, and we highly recommend it!
Not all of the different stations are available all the time, though. I stopped at the shuttered carvery station and asked, “What time does this one open?” The girl replied, “April!”
A red velvet…. hand grenade? It was pretty dry and the frosting not very cream cheesy—you might say it was a bomb (ba-da-bing)!
The Shepard’s Pie with Root Vegetables was quite good, though!
By the time we’d finished lunch, we were dangerously close to the time we needed to leave to meet our guide at the British Museum. With seven minutes left, we decided to duck into the one place we hadn’t seen, the aforementioned medieval palace built by King Henry II and his son, King Edward I, comprising St. Thomas’ Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower. This is where kings and queens who visited the Tower of London would stay.
I was so bummed we hadn’t gone here first! St. Thomas’s Tower contains a re-creation of Edward I’s bedchamber based on Edward’s financial records, which noted a payment of “11 shillings and a penny for timber, boards and sawn panels for a bed for the lord King and for transporting it through England.” No mention of how much was paid for the king’s jammies and fuzzy slippers….
In the next room they had a re-creation of Henry III’s throne and were doing a living history tour for a school group.
Off to the side in this room is the Chantry Chapel, where King Henry VI was murdered while at prayer. That’s right…. more murder! The Tower of London is not for the faint of heart…
This murder was deemed worthy of a tablet marking the spot. I imagine they’d run out of money if they attempted to mark ALL the spots where somebody got murdered in the Tower of London!
Patrick got a few more shots in as we dashed along the balcony and then out to the street to find a cab to the British Museum.
So… the British Museum is huge. Like nearly 1 million square feet huge. And we only had half a day to visit. Initially I tried to book the museum’s own one-hour introductory tour. But the booking page was broken every time I checked! A few weeks before we left, I realized the tours were probably only on Saturday and Sunday anyway (they are) and wouldn’t work for our Tuesday visit.
I decided the best way to see the types of things we were interested in, along with the greatest hits, was with a private tour, which I booked with Babylon Tours via Viator cuz I had a coupon. We met our guide just outside of the gate, and she escorted us through the security tent (not pictured).
Back when I lived in London, this was the foyer…
Now they have THIS, the largest covered square in Europe, carved out of a courtyard that had been closed off for decades.
My No. 1 regular tip for visiting the British Museum is to book a tour—more on that in a minute. But my No. 1 Secret Tip for visiting the British Museum is something we didn’t learn till the end, but I’m going to tell you now…
When we visited, every single restroom on the two main floors of the museum was closed! The only one open was the tiny ladies’ room directly under the Great Court, and the wait for that was 30 minutes! In desperation, I asked at the gift shop and got this great tip: Take the elevator down to the Clore Educational Centre on Level -2 and use the totally empty restrooms for the theater! And if there happens to be an event at the theater, there are also restrooms at the Ford Centre for Young Visitors on Level -1. Bonus: The WiFi works way better down there too!
OK, so that guy is Sir Hans Sloane (not to be confused with Sir John Soane, whose house museum we visited earlier in the trip), a doctor and naturalist who bequeathed his 71,000-object collection of books, manuscripts, natural history specimens, prints, drawings and antiquities to King George II on behalf of the nation. The King agreed to an Act of Parliament that used the collection to establish the British Museum, the first national museum in the world.
Sloane’s bust hangs out in the Enlightenment room, where our guide said she likes to start all her tours. It’s a series of galleries that celebrate The Enlightenment, the age of reason and learning that flourished across Europe and America from about 1680 to 1820. What’s cool about this gallery, and what makes it a great starting point, is that it is set up the way museums used to be set up back then, with books behind glass and antiquities displayed willy-nilly on shelves, regardless of origin or time period. This room also houses a replica of the Rosetta Stone that visitors are allowed to touch (since touching seems to be such a big deal for us humans)!
Our tour guide was named Becky, and she was great! She’s getting her Masters in…. something history-related and is a HUGE British Museum nerd. Like, she knows all the other guides cuz she’s there so often. We told her that we were particularly interested in Egyptian artifacts, so she combined that with an excellent overview of the museum’s collection that took us to the greatest hits (the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles) and some lesser known treasures that we surely would have missed.
For example, I’m pretty sure we would have skipped the Americas rooms, because we’re from there and already know every single thing there is to know about them, obviously!
Our first stop was the The Yaxchilan Lintels created by the Mayans as a dynastic record. These were commissioned by the Mayan King Bird Jaguar IV and depicted him dominating captives and participating in a royal bloodletting ritual. The amount of detail is amazing! You can read more about the symbolism here.
Next was the turquoise mosaics, fabulous masks and other works of art created from thousands of shells and semiprecious stones.
My favorite was the double-headed serpent, which was impossible to get a good photo of behind the glass.
The hordes of bloodthirsty children’s favorite was this human skull with shells and semiprecious stones applied.
Patrick’s favorite was Hoa Hakananai’a, an ancestor figure from Easter Island. We may never get to the island, so it was quite awe-inspiring to see one of these up close in real life.
We were also excited to see this house post carved by the Iatmul people in New Guinea, which looked exactly like something Rolly Crump would have cooked up for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room—or perhaps I should say, proved that Rolly Crump really did his research!
Another exciting pop culturally relevant item we saw was this crystal skull. I know everybody hates that Indiana Jones movie (you can’t blame Indy…. Blame Shia LeBouf!), but I’m fascinated by the idea of the skulls and was thrilled to see one in person. It doesn’t even matter that it is almost certainly a modern piece carved by a jeweler’s wheel and not by aliens. It’s just a cool piece of art!
We took the West Stairway to the Egyptian exhibit, passing these fragments of Turkish and West African mosaics.
My absolute favorite thing we saw in all of the British Museum was the Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun. I’m a big fan of Egyptology and the Amelia Peabody series of mystery novels, and this exhibit presents a mystery worthy of Peabody herself!
Nebamun was almost literally a bean-counter—officially he was a grain “accountant”—in the temple of Amun at Karnak during the reign of Amenhotep III. He was probably fairly well off, but definitely not of enough stature and wealth to merit the astonishing quality of the paintings that decorated his tomb, which display skill and detail that is leagues beyond most of what has been uncovered from the same period in Egypt. One of the curators at the British museum has called this collection “the greatest paintings we have from ancient Egypt… There is nothing to touch them in any museum in the world. Yet they were created for an official too lowly to have been known by the pharaoh.” So that is Mystery No. 1.
Mystery No. 2 is… Where is the rest of Nebamun’s tomb and what wonders does it hold? The Greek explorer/grave robber who discovered it and sold these fragments of its paintings to the British Museum in 1820 had a disagreement with the museum over his finder’s fee and vowed to take the location of the tomb to his grave. And no one has been able to find it since!
On top of that, it is believed that other fragments of these paintings may exist in the vaults below the Cairo Museum, but their exact location has been lost. So they sit, like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, locked away and forgotten…
Check out the more sophisticated use of perspective and the amazing level of detail on the animals. I love that this 3,500-year-old cat is doing exactly what a modern cat would be doing—trying to steal one of the birds his master caught!
The author of the article linked above notes that the circa-1820 grave robbers who cut these paintings out of the walls only took subjects that they thought British viewers would be interested in: gardens and naked ladies!
This is another example of ahead-of-its-time perspective. Instead of depicting all eight legs of the two white horses the way most Egyptian paintings do, this one shows more naturalistically that the horses are side by side.
Next, Becky led us past case after case of mummy cases! We didn’t have time to stop very long, so I don’t have a lot of history for you. But, as with the paintings, I had to sort of pinch myself to appreciate the fact that I was looking at something someone made by hand thousands of years ago, half a world a way.
The next item our guide wanted us to see was The Royal Game of Ur, discovered in a royal Iraqi tomb in the 1920s and one of the oldest examples of a board game in the world. The museum very cleverly sells replicas in the gift shop!
Next was a reassembled mosaic from the throne room of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who supposedly commissioned the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I always get excited when I see artifacts belonging to someone I learned about in Sunday School! Even more impressive, this lion was just one of three at the bottom of a HUGE mosaic adorning the throne room wall. You can see a re-creation and learn more here.
Our next stop was Scrooge McDuck heaven—the golden Oxus Treasure. It’s a cache of about 180 pieces of gold and silver metalwork found by the Oxus river (a.k.a. the Amu Darya) around 1880 and believed to be the offerings left at a temple.
You can’t tell by the photo, but this chariot is TINY! And it’s still intact, even the little gold wires connected to the horses!
These remains of a mosaic floor once decorated a villa, but not in Italy, as I’d have guessed. This one was uncovered in what is now Thruxton, England and dates to 250—350.
This is the Sutton Hoo Helmet, and it is a very big deal. It was discovered inside a a ship burial—meaning that this Anglo-Saxon king (they think it was King Rædwald of East Anglia) was buried inside his ship, inside a big mound of earth. Apparently burial mounds are a thing in England, and when you excavate them, you find cool stuff! The ship found at Sutton Hoo was the length of three double-decker buses and, miraculously, had not been grave-robbed. This helmet was buried next to the king and may have served double-duty as a crown, because it is has his features on it: eyebrows, nose and even a golden mustache to shame the hippest hipster!
The museum has re-created what they think the helmet originally looked like, and it’s pretty boss!
Ladies love a solid-gold mustache!
These are the Lewis Chessmen, which may comprise one of the world’s oldest complete chess sets, although nobody knows for sure if it’s complete (or even if it’s chess! What if this was an early, boring form of Candyland?). It was made in Norway, mostly of walrus tusks, and found buried in a bay on the Isle of Lewis. It is a good example of how Norwegian and Scottish cultures interconnected via trading. Today, 82 pieces are in the British Museum, with the remaining 11 on display at the National Museum of Scotland, which is a good example of how English and Scottish cultures interconnect (i.e., the English get most of it and leave a little for the Scots)!
At this point we reached the window on the second floor (first floor, if you’re British!) that looks down on the Great Court.
Oh man, if I keep describing and researching every single thing we saw, this trip report is NEVER gonna get to the Disneyland Paris part! How’s about I throw in some links for the curious and try to speed this baby up?
The first coins!
The first Klingon dagger!
This one’s pretty awesome: a penny defaced by a suffragette!
The Portland Vase, the world’s finest example of a Roman cameo vase, dating to between 1 and 25 A.D. What is so cool about this thing is that it was smashed to pieces by a drunk in 1845 and not fully repaired until 1989 (the first guy who attempted to restore it ended up with 37 extra pieces—whoops!). Now the damage is almost imperceptible except in one or two places. It’s pretty mind-boggling that somebody could do that!
There are two Colossal Statues that guarded the doorway to the throne room of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria from 883 to 859 BC.
This one’s a lion….
This one’s a bull!
They each have five legs instead of four so that from the front they are standing and from the side they are striding.
But the coolest part is something we totally would have missed without our guide: Some ancient, bored guard scratched a board for The Royal Game of Ur into the base of the lion statue!
This one’s called “Now Where Did I Leave My Pants…?”
The British Museum’s so big, they can fit a full-size temple-y thingy in just one room! It’s dedicated to headless and armless ladies…
Even ancient cats liked to sharpen their claws on their owner’s best rug!
This room contains the Elgin Marbles, which were chiseled off the Parthenon in Greece. I was excited to see these because Regency novels are always going on about them, as they were brought to England in 1812 and set attendance records when they went on display. They were sold to the British Museum for less than Lord Elgin spent to recover them because he needed money quick for his divorce.
There is a whole big thing about whether they should be returned to Greece and whether Greece has the means to protect them. You can read about that in the linked article. In this article, we shall appreciate them from the point of view of this under-informed tourist….
Maybe they should put the horse head on one of the bodies so at least one of them would be complete!
This one’s called “Hair Pull vs. Nipple Twist”!
The last thing we saw with our guide was the actual, honest-to-goodness Rosetta Stone. This thing is a big deal because it’s the decoder ring that allowed scholars to figure out how to read hieroglyphics! It has the same message (our guide said it’s basically a party invitation) written in three languages: the “language of the gods” (hieroglyphs), the “language of documents” (demotic), and the “language of the Greeks” as used by the Ptolemaic government.
The last time I saw the Rosetta Stone, it was black. But in 1999 they cleaned off the layer of protective wax applied by earlier conservators, and it turned out to be gray!
After Becky bid us farewell, we did our usual uninformed wandering from artifact to artifact, naming everything we saw aloud.
At that point, we pooped out. We had an afternoon pick-me-up at the little coffee counter on the second floor, but it was one of those places were all the pastries look way better than they taste. After learning The Secret of the British Museum Restrooms, we tumbled out into the waning daylight and went in search of Wonder Woman filming locations.
Our first stop was Bloomsbury Square, where they filmed Diana, Etta Candy and Steve Trevor exiting Selfridges.
I dunno how they shot a whole movie scene here cuz directly across the street is a big ramp and NO sidewalk. Patrick was leaning precariously over the railing to even get these off-center shots!
There actually is a revolving door there and I actually did get my sword stuck in it!
Unfortunately, the security guard inside had been instructed to turn away giddy movie buffs. But he was pretty chatty, so at least we got to hang out in the vestibule (the only interior part of the building that’s actually in the movie) for a bit while he regaled us with tales from the sets of The Crown and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, another Chris Pine picture!
The inside of Selfridges was filmed across town at the Australian consulate (more on that in a minute). But, amazingly, the place that Steve and Diana walk through after they leave the department store really is right across the street: Sicilian Avenue.
From Sicilian Avenue, we headed down to the Strand to visit Australia House, the Australian consulate. Because we are, sadly, not Australian, we had no hope of getting inside, so it didn’t matter that they were closed by the time we got there.
The lobby of the High Commission served as the interior of Selfridges in Wonder Woman, but you may also recognize it as Gringott’s Wizarding Bank from Harry Potter!
…Actually, you will not recognize it at all on account of the many layers of smeared bulletproof glass between us and the lobby.
Looking back toward the entrance in Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone.
This is the perfect example of the all-but-impossible shots I am constantly asking Patrick for on our trips: “Patrick! Shoot the koala on the TV screen behind the two glass walls! It’s sooooo Australian-y!”
Speaking of Australian fauna… I think probably THE greatest thing about the nation of Australia is that they have a KANGAROO on their coat of arms! It’s high time we replaced our boring old bald eagle with something equally goofy, like a raccoon!
Just before the Australian High Commission’s guards began to get suspicious of the demented American couple photographing every square inch of the place, we struck out for our hotel and dinner. We took a double-decker bus in crazy rush-hour traffic and got to sit upstairs, in the front! It was the most exciting 15 minutes and 150 feet of my life.
It is a testament to the politeness of the British people that I saw scores of these real estate rental signs all over town and NOT ONE had an “I” graffitied in the middle! I was kind of itching to do it myself…
Ahhhh… much better!
Dinner was at Park Chinois, another place I picked exclusively for its interior design. They had me at “Shanghai supper club”! I was a bit nervous about this one because the Yelp and TripAdvisor ratings swung from “Best meal of my entire life!” to “Terrible food + rudest staff ever!” Which I guess they do for every restaurant, come to think of it…
I had trouble deciding between the upstairs, Salon de Chine, and downstairs, Club Chinois, which are two different experiences. Upstairs is sort of garden-like and more refined; downstairs is the dark, sexy club. I went for that one because it seemed more highly themed (theming, as you’ll recall, being my guiding principle for most of the restaurant choices I made for this trip).
For the third straight night, we had Chinese cuisine, but it was surprisingly good! It was super-dark in there, so we couldn’t get any photos, and I’m not even sure what we were eating, but my low expectations set me up to be thrilled by what we got. And when Patrick asked if it was OK to take photos, the manager of the restaurant came over and led us upstairs and down on a Grand Tour, even into one of the private rooms!
Here’s what Club Chinois looks like…
The manager led us up a secret staircase to Salon de Chin, but normally you’d go back up the dramatic main staircase:
Upstairs, I was bummed to see Salon de Chin had a live jazz band playing—I would have preferred to sit up there and get to experience that. Also, maybe it would have been bright enough to shoot our food for you!
When we got back to our room I decided to investigate these rumblings we’d begun to hear about snow in Paris. I read several hair-raising old articles about Eurostar passengers being stranded for hours or days at the station due to weather and then began frantically searching for weather updates. The only thing I could find on an official Eurostar media outlet was something about delayed arrivals because trains were having to travel slower. It’s funny now to think that I tossed and turned that night worrying about getting to Disneyland Paris, never once considering what would happen in the snow once we got to Disneyland Paris…