DM's London 2016 Diary

Day 4 - Natural History and Science Museums

Thursday, 29 September, 2016

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Evening

I woke early again, around 04:00, and dozed on and off until getting up at 06:00. I had a shower, and breakfast this morning consisted of some scrambled eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, and potatoes, plus some muesli with yoghurt.

The plan was to visit the Natural History Museum, but it didn't open until 10:00, so I had quite. bit of time to kill. I decided to use the time to walk all the way from Gunnersbury to South Kensington, where the museum was. This gave me another chance to go past Gail's Artisan Bakery and get some goodies there. I selected an almond croissant to round out breakfast, a half loaf of sweet potato and goat's cheese bread to have for lunch later, and a "reverse chocolate chunk" cookie, which was dark chocolate dough with white chocolate chunks in it.

Monkey in Ravenscourt Park
Monkey relaxing in Ravenscourt Park

I continued along the Chiswick High Street farther than I'd explored before, stopping at Ravenscourt Park to sit on a bench and eat the almond croissant. There was a school adjacent, and lots of parents were dropping children off. After eating, I walked a little way into the park to have a look at it, and saw people walking dogs, doing exercises, and there was one guy giving another man some sort of martial arts lesson involving swords.

Continuing on, I eventually reached Hammersmith, which was a big train and bus interchange, with lots of people emerging from the combined station and scurrying to work. I stopped to take some photos and get in their way. The walk up to this point had been reasonably pleasant, along the High Street, with various shops and food establishments providing some interest. But from Hammersmith the route took a blander aspect, as I walked along a very busy main road, which was lined with dull office buildings and duller residential buildings. The traffic was loud and it was generally unpleasant.

Hammersmith
Hammersmith

Partway to Kensington, however, my downloaded map showed an attraction: Freddie Mercury's last residence. It was down a side street off the main road, and this provided both a chance to escape the traffic for a block and to see the house. Well, to see the front gate of the block of flats anyway. It was obvious which one it was, as there were hundreds of messages and cards from admirers stuck to or drawn on the walls around an otherwise nondescript door in a brick wall facing the street. They'd been covered with perspex to protect either the walls of the messages - it was hard to be sure.

After returning to the main road, it was only a few blocks more to the Natural History Museum. However, the weather chose this time to let loose with a rain shower, which started lightly, but slowly built up over several minutes until it got quite heavy. I sought refuge in the covered doorway of a residential building to wait out the worst of it, as the clouds drifted across the sky and it didn't look like it would last very long. After waiting maybe five or so minutes, the rain eased off enough for me to consider making the last dash to the museum, to wait under shelter there until it opened. So I ventured forth, getting a bit wet in the dying sprinkle. What I hadn't counted on though was that the museum gates were closed and people were queueing up with umbrellas outside on the street, where there was no shelter at all. And it was still raining and there were still six or seven minutes to go until the museum opened! Rather than stand exposed to the drizzle, I waited under the partial shelter of a large plane tree, a little bit away from the end of the queue.

History arches
Architecture of the Natural History Museum

As the rain slowed, more people arrived, and I decided to stake a claim to a place in the queue, betting that the rain wouldn't get heavier again. This turned out to be a good move, and the rain eased right off, while some large tour groups of people arrived and tacked onto the end of the queue.

At 10:00 sharp the gates opened, like some Wonka-esque chocolate factory, and the people filed in. We went in in small groups, to allow the security guards to check everyone's bags. Once through, I dropped my jacket and the bag from Gail's Bakery at the cloakroom, carrying just my camera and Monkey while I explored the halls of the museum. The entrance hall contains the famous Diplodocus skeleton "Dippy", which is impressively large, though dwarfed by the immense architectural space it sits in.

Foyer of history
Natural History Museum foyer, with Dippy the Diplodocus

First stop was the dinosaur hall, which was organised in a linear tour through a winding passage created by informational panels. Most of the dinosaur skeletons were mounted in the air, above eye level, while on the floor were single fossil bones, eggs, skulls, and all of the informational material. The whole thing had clearly been designed with a modern eye to making it glossy and tell a story, rather than just show a bunch of fossils in a big room with no structure.

Stegosaurus
Stegosaurus skeleton

Next I explored the Darwin Centre Cocoon, which was an odd rounded structure within a modern wing of the building, filled with several floors of exhibits on what the scientists do in the museum, and with windows into the working offices of various people studying things and doing preservation work or scanning items, and other stuff like that.

Monkey with mammals
Monkey in the Hall of Mammals

From there I want into the hall of mammals, which contained several whales and dolphins mounted hanging from the ceiling, as thought the room were and underwater scene. The centrepiece was a giant blue whale model, and this was flanked by skeletons of a grey whale and a sperm whale. Behind them were models of a dozen or more smaller whales and dolphins. At floor level were elephants, giant elk and other deer, and various other large mammals.

Next came marine invertebrates, with lots of shells and corals in a room surmounted by a model of a giant squid. Then I passed along the hall of marine reptiles, which was full of astounding fossils of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, and mososaurs. Most people were just scurrying through this long corridor, as a connecting corridor between two halves of the museum, and not appreciating the astonishing things they were walking past.

Hall of marine reptiles
Hall of Marine Reptiles

There was an invertebrates room, full of creepy crawlies like spiders, centipedes, and millipedes. And then the eastern wing of the building was full of geology. An escalator gave a dramatic ride up through the centre of a glowing red sphere, leading to a floor of displays on volcanoes and earthquakes. A floor down was the vault of minerals and gems, which contained an amazing number of colourful stones and fantastically shaped and coloured minerals and ores. There was even a display showing two large chunks of uranium ore, in a thick lead lined container, visible b. means of a strategic mirror. Finally there was a hall showing off geological processes that produce rocks and the various shapes of strata and rocks.

The last stop was of course the gift shop, where I bought myself a T-shirt with dinosaur skeletons on it. I'd managed to do pretty much all of the museum by 13:30, and was getting hungry so left to find a seat outside and eat the sweet potato and goat's cheese bread I'd bought for lunch. There was some seating on stone street decorations not far away, where some other people were eating lunches as well. As I sat and ate, the sun came out from behind the clouds.

Louis Pasteur's flask
Flask used by Louis Pasteur, Science Museum

After eating, I walked the short distance to the Science Museum, which sits behind the Natural History Museum. Upon entering, it looked much smaller, with a single internal courtyard with two floors of balconies rising above it. I started by going up the stairs to the top, intending to work my way down. The upper floors contained a display on clockmaking, and one on medicine, and one on or something - honestly other than the clockmaking one the displays were a bit bland and the exhibit items not terribly interesting. Reaching the ground floor, I thought this museum was a bit of a bust.

But then I discovered that the ground floor extended back into another large room, which was much more exciting. This was an exhibit on space exploration, and contained much larger items, like rocket engines, replicas of various space probes and satellites, a complete V2 rocket missile, a replica of the Apollo moon lander, and the actual Apollo 10 command module. This was definitely worth the visit. And then at the back of the space room, there was a doorway leading to another huge room full of more big things!

Apollo 10 command module
Apollo 10 command module

But by this time it was almost 15:00, and I decided to take a break to walk the couple of blocks to Harrods to visit the ice cream parlour there and have a sundae, after seeing the giant ones that Kylie, Jason, and Nick had had when visiting there. I found the food hall area, but couldn't find the ice cream parlour, so had to ask a staff member for directions, leading me upstairs to level 2. There were two guys waiting at a "wait to be seated" sign, but despite there being several seats available in the parlour we had to wait a few minutes before anyone came to show us in.

Harrod's ice cream
Ice cream at Harrods

I got a seat at the bar and looked at the menu. I suspect the giant sundaes they had were from "for two to share" part of the menu. I wasn't that adventurous so chose a single dish consisting of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, wafers, a chocolate Flake, and hot melted chocolate fudge sauce. It wasn't so big and so my comparison photos will suffer for it, but it tasted good.

After the ice cream break, I returned to the Science Museum, intending to finish off the last room and then decide what else to do. But this last room was enormous, and full of fascinating things, and had two upper levels as well! It took some serious exploring. The top floor had a clock and watch collection, of which the earlier clockmaking exhibit was only a small sampler. There were displays of domestic technology through the ages, from the industrial revolution onward. And then there were the large items: an early passenger plane, hanging from the ceiling and gleaming silver all over, a Model T Ford, an early truck, several other cars showing historical development, including the gas turbine powered Rover JET1, the earliest surviving steam train engine in the world, a replica of Stevenson's Rocket, a Jacquard weaving loom, Babbage's first difference engine and a modern construction of his larger second difference engine design, the actual mirrors from William Herschel's telescope and another early large telescope, a speedboat that set an early water speed record, various early ship's engines, a Cray-1 supercomputer, and lots of other things.

Fresnel lens
Science Museum main exhibit hall

This all took so long to go through that I stayed until closing time, spending just a quick few minutes scurrying through the gift shop before having to leave. My next appointment was at the Hereford Arms pub to meet two Simons, the comic Kickstarter backers, and Roger, a GURPS author. It was only a short walk away and I had an hour to kill, so I checked my map for any nearby attractions, and found a park with a church in it. Expecting it might be picturesque like the one in Turnham Green, I walked over, to find the park was mostly a playground and some small football courts, and the church was a somewhat ugly structure that looked like it was made of concrete in a pseudo Gothic style, but without the interesting bits of ornamentation.

So I walked slowly over to the pub, along some streets with mildly interesting houses and shops, getting there about ten minutes early. I was right behind someone else who looked like he was searching for a booking made by someone else, and thought he was probably one of the people I was meeting, but he turned out to be looking for a completely unrelated party. And when I turned around to scan the pub a guy waved at me, and brandished a copy of my comic book. He turned out to be Simon number 1, who had made the booking.

Monkey at Hereford Arms
Monkey enjoying the Hereford Arms after a busy day

Roger arrived next, and then the final Simon, and we ordered some drinks and then dinner. I chose a lamb salad dish, which included a huge mound of lentils that I was still working through well after everyone else had finished eating. It was really good. We chatted for almost three hours over the meal, sharing lots of anecdotes related to my comics and to life in general. It was a pretty good evening.

Around 22:00 we called a close and walked back to Gloucester Road station, though Roger left us to catch a bus I think. The Simons were heading into the city, but I was going the other way and had to wait several minutes for a train. By the time I got back to the hotel it was almost 23:00, and I collapsed into bed, exhausted.


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