DM's London 2016 Diary

Day 5 - Sir John Soane Museum

Friday, 29 September, 2016

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Evening

I had most of a free day ahead before my flight left from Heathrow at 21:30. With no ideas in mind, I searched online for "quirky things to do in London". I found an article listing a top 30, and the number 1 item was the Sir John Soane Museum. Apparently the titular John Soane was an architect and collected a large array of drawings, paintings, and architectural bits and pieces, which were displayed in the house where he lived. It was pretty central, so I decided to try it.

For breakfast I had muesli, followed by a croissant with some of the cheeses that were available. Then I showered and packed my bags to check out of the hotel, leaving a complete change of clothes on top for when I returned to pick them up.

I went to Gunnersbury station to catch a train to Temple, from where I would walk to the Soane Museum. Unfortunately there seemed to be some issue with the trains, and they were all running late. As the numbers of people waiting piled up on the eastbound platform, another train pulled in westbound and quietly announced that it was terminating and turning into an eastbound train. I only noticed because I was watching it and listening to the internal train announcement. There was no announcement over the platform PA system. I got on the train with a handful of other people. But most of the others waiting for a citybound train remained standing on the platform, as the doors closed and the train pulled out.

At Temple I alighted and walked north through the Aldwych circle and along the main road, until turning right towards a green square surrounded by houses, once of which was Soane's. I was there about five minutes before it opened at 10:00, and there was an older couple and a younger woman waiting already. Staff came out and prepared to open up, getting us to form an orderly queue as another couple of people arrived. When they let us in, we had to put all our carried stuff in large clear plastic bags, presumably to protect the things in the house from dirt, and no photography was allowed.

Sir John Soane Museum
Sir John Soane Museum, exterior

I bought a small guidebook as I entered, which was recommended as the house was left as it was when Soane died, without any explanatory labels on anything. This turned out to be a very good decision, as the booklet definitely helped appreciate the house and its collection. I went upstairs first, seeing a couple of drawing rooms, which were moderately interesting, with period architecture and decorative elements, and some large framed drawings of architectural designs by Soane. I expected the rest of the house to be similar, simply showing off the domestic styling of the day and some more of Soane's architectural drawings.

However, back on the ground floor, the house really started to show off its uniqueness and the richness of the things Soane had collected. Walking through a tiny office gave views to an outside courtyard, which contained a large "pastiche" column, encompassing several architectural styles. The office led to the painting room, which contained dozens of fantastic paintings, stuffed into the room by the use of hinged panels, so that each wall could contain twice its area in canvas. There were three Canaletto views of Venice which were marvellous, but the most famous pieces in the room were two series by William Hogarth: Humours of an Election, a series of four paintings detailing Hogarth's rather obviously disillusioned view of Tory versus Whig politics, and A Rake's Progress, a series of eight painting showing the allegorical journey of a young man who squanders an inheritance.

With two overlapping panels in the painting room opened, one wall opened out into a view of a space beyond, populated with more paintings and sculptures, and open to the basement floor below, showing a view into what is known as the Monk's Chamber, which was actually a fiction Soane used to impress visitors that his house was built on a former monastery.

This glimpse into the deeper bowels of the house opened up more wonders as I continued on the tour. The property was actually three conjoined houses that Soane bought and redeveloped into a single large house. In this space, he created a large area with open floors, columns, niches, and an intricate maze of connecting passages, skylights, and shafts, which showed off his collection of architectural fragments, sculptures, and statues from around the world. There were decorative stone pieces taken from classical buildings across Europe, as well as bronze and marble statues, and the entire sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I of Egypt, which was intricately carved from a single chunk of solid alabaster, decorated with hieroglyphs and figures of people and gods inside and out.

There was another painting room, though not as impressively stocked as the first. On the main staircase there was a niche dedicated to William Shakespeare, with a life sized bust and two paintings, one depicting Shakespeare and his muses, the other King Lear lamenting the death of Cordelia. And in the basement there was the period kitchen, with two cast iron stoves, though none of Soane's collection of artwork. All up, it was an amazing house, both architecturally, and for the things contained within.

Monkey at Borough Market
Monkey at Borough Market

By the time I was done exploring, it was lunchtime. I decided to catch a train from the nearby Chancery Lane station to change at Bank for a train to London Bridge, where I could walk to the Borough Market. I planned to look for some sausage rolls to try, and to review for my blog. After walking around for a bit looking at the various stalls, I found one called Northfield Farm that had a tray of sausage rolls on display. They weren't hot though, but the woman said they could heat one up for me. She gave it to a man who threw it on the grill they were using for making hamburgers! He rotated it around to warm all sides and asked if I wanted it sliced in half. Not thinking, I said no, only to have the sausage roll, when handed to me, be warm on the outside and still cold in the middle. Later I saw others having their rolls sliced in half and spreadeagled on the grill to warm the inside through. (Read my full review of the sausage roll here.)

The free sample!
Free samples of sweets

The sausage roll was quite small, so I sought more food, finding another stand called Boston Sausage selling sausages in buns, and also sausage rolls. I asked for one, but the man said they'd take another fifteen minutes to heat up. I said I'd be back and went next door to a place selling pies. They looked good and the second sausage toll also looked very small, so I figured I could get a pie as well for a full lunch. I chose a "Moo and Blue", which was beef and stilton. It was very good. Then I went back to the sausage place, where the man had just removed a big tray of rolls from the warmer oven and was spruiking them loudly as "the best sausage rolls on the planet". He remembered me and sold me one. It was cheaper, bigger, hotter, and all around more delicious than the first one I'd had. (Read my full review of the sausage roll here.)

Suckling
Fresh roasted suckling pig

Now I considered getting something sweet, thinking of returning to a cake stall I'd seen early. But as I headed there I passed a third place selling sausage rolls! The place was called The Ginger Pig, and these rolls looked absolutely amazing. They were big and fat, much larger than the ones I'd already had. Despite being almost full, I had to try one. And then I had to decide between two types: traditional pork, or pork and stilton! I went for the traditional as the fairer test if sausage roll goodness. And it was very good, but so large and I was getting so full that I couldn't finish it. And that also pushed me over the limit where I could consider a sweet for afters, so I didn't get anything else. (Read my full review of the sausage roll here.)

Monkey likes cider
Monkey enjoying a refreshing cider

Leaving the market, I walked west towards the Tate Modern. I passed the site of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, which was now mostly buried under a row of houses. In the back yard, amongst the cars and bicycles, is inlaid a stone marker in the ground indicating the site of the theatre. Further west along the Bankside walk was the new Globe, built a few blocks away.

The woman in the pink cardigan
In the Tate Modern

At the Tate Modern I was intending to see if the exhibits were free so that maybe I could go in quickly and have a look at some of them. This was a good move, as it was indeed free, and I got to see some amazing works of art, including works by Monet, Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi, Dali, and many others. I went at a bit of a rush to race through as many galleries as I could before I had to leave. I think I got most of the free ones, but not all of them. After quickly buying a bag for M. in the gift shop, I went out to find the quickest way back to my hotel.

Monkey likes Mondrian
Monkey enjoying art by Piet Mondrian

This turned out to be walking across the Millennium Bridge to Mansion House station, not far from St Paul's Cathedral. Here I caught a train straight back to Gunnersbury, just beating the evening peak hour as it was a bit after 16:00. At the hotel I collected my bags and asked where the changing room was. The lady told me there wasn't really one, but I could use the disabled toilet on the basement level. I did so, changing into fresh clothes for the flight home.

Crossing the Millennium
On the Millennium Bridge heading towards St Paul's Cathedral

Back to Gunnersbury station, I caught a train to Turnham Green, where I would reverse direction down the other branch of the District line to Acton Town, where I could pick up a Piccadilly line train to Heathrow. This turned out to be a bit of a problem, as the District trains were again running late, and I had to wait on the platform at Turnham Green for almost half an hour, while watching Piccadilly trains to Heathrow fly by without stopping. Eventually a District train to Ealing Broadway stopped and I caught it to the two stops to Acton Town where the Piccadilly line trains stopped. And when the next one stopped, it was packed full of people, many with large luggage and obviously going to Heathrow. I wondered how I would fit on, as there were lots of people waiting on the platform, but fortunately most of them must have been waiting for a different train, as only a few squeezed on, me among them.

The rest of the trip to Heathrow was uncomfortable, standing in the squished carriage and trying not to fall on the adjacent people as the train rocked. But we arrived at Terminal 3, where there was a long walk from the station to check in. I checked in right away as there was no queue at the Qantas desk. I asked the lady if there was an exit row seat available, and she said no, but that I was in an aisle seat with an empty seat beside me, so that wasn't as bad as it could have been.

I had time to kill after passing through security. I used the WiFi a bit, and then went into a bar to get a gin and tonic. I figured I could spend some of the £7.96 that I had left over. But after ordering a double pour of gin, I found to my dismay that it cost £8! So I had to pay by card and leave the country with all the cash.


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