We spent the last two weeks of April and the first few days of May on our first foreign trip since landing in New York last January. The main goal was taking my brother and sister-in-law to Italy, but we decided to tack on a few days in London at the start of things. Oddly, in our 68-month adventure around the world (and around and around) we never once set foot in England. And since we have a friend there we wanted to visit, this was as good a time as any to stop by.
First, the friends. The first night we had dinner and drinks with Matt, a former employee who had since moved to London. Forgot to take pictures while we were talking and catching up, though, so nothing to see here.
Next up was a day with Luba and Natasha. We met them when we biked in Japan back in April 2017. A native Russian, Luba lives in London now and we’ve been eager to visit. She was joined on the bike trip by her childhood friend Natasha who was then still living in Moscow. Fast forward two years and Natasha has moved to Germany but entirely coincidentally was, with her six-year-old son Maxim, visiting Luba the same weekend we were there. So we got to see both of them!
You never know with something like that if the fun we had in Japan was a one-off deal, something about the bike trip or whatever, but we just had a fabulous time with the three of them. Little Maxim was cute; he didn’t speak English nor could he understand my very rudimentary German or Mark’s more accomplished Russian. Still, somehow we got along just fine. And visiting with Luba and Natasha – walking around, hanging out in a park, dinner – was just total fun. So that was good.
And, needless to say, there are some great museums in London. We managed to spend a lot of time in the British Museum and the National Gallery, both great museums, along with a shorter visit to the National Portrait Gallery for a good refresher course in post-Tudor England.
One of the interesting things to observe in the British Museum is their (appropriate) sensitivity to the issue of whether some of the items there – particularly the “Elgin Marbles” acquired (looted?) from the Greek Parthenon in the early 19th century – belong there. Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, claimed that he had permission, an official decree, from the central government of the Ottoman empire, who then occupied Greece. That document has never been found, though, notwithstanding that there are a wealth of documents from that period.
Meanwhile, the British Museum is careful to point out that other pieces from the Parthenon are in the Louvre, the National Museum in Copenhagen, and of course the Acropolis Museum in Athens. They explain that the sculptures that remain are “divided roughly equally” between London and Athens and that in fact they “cannot for conservation reasons be returned to the temple. Even those that have until recently remained on the building are now being removed to the New Acropolis Museum.” Umm, the issue is returning them to Greece, not to the elements on the Acropolis. And the fact that other museums have very modest collections of these sculptures is a very different issue from having fully half of the remaining sculptures. To put it mildly, the Museum’s justifications didn’t convince me.
Okay, so some controversy. Nevertheless we definitely need to make London a more-frequent destination.