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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Calm and order in the U.K.

Guest lounge at the Arosfa Hotel

"Don't forget to bring suntan lotion" is a reminder said to no traveler to Britain ever. So imagine our surprise to arrive in a London (and southern England) in the midst of its worst heat wave since 1995. Temperatures exceeded thirty degrees Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) each of the first five days we were in the United Kingdom, and it was muggy to boot. Sure, I've lived in hotter, more humid climates, but this is England, where air conditioning isn't commonplace, making a ride on a crowded, stuffy tube train a particularly unpleasant experience, for example. Our hotel room in London contained a single electric fan, meaning we slept on top of the bed covers with the room windows wide open, making the experience more akin to that of a cheap guesthouse on Khao San Road in Bangkok than that of a moderately-priced bed-and-breakfast in St. Pancras.

But in the end the heat didn't matter much to me (the same couldn't be said of my suffering wife) as I was back in London after 21 years. Britain's capital is also my mother's birthplace, and this was my fourth visit to the city that is home to my earliest childhood memories. We arrived in London from Heathrow Airport in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and checked into the Arosfa Hotel, which would be our home for the first three nights of our U.K. stay:



The British Museum is only ten minutes away on foot from the Arosfa, and with a couple of hours left before closing time, I took my daughter to see just a few of the eight million items in the permanent collection there (the heat was taking a toll on Shu-E, who elected to remain in the room with the fan going full blast):


There was a special exhibition on the great Japanese artist, printmaker and ukiyoe 浮世絵 painter Hokusai 葛飾北斎, but with our time limited, we contented ourselves with the Japanese gallery before moving on to some of the more well-known treasures in the museum (I would later watch a fascinating BBC documentary on the man while staying in Edinburgh):




There's the large collection of Egyptian mummies:




The Rosetta Stone, which enabled scholars to decipher the ancient Egyptian writing system:


Treasures from another ancient civilization, the Assyrians:




And, of course, the Parthenon Sculptures, aka the Elgin Marbles:





All this magnificence begs the question of how the British Museum acquired much of its collection, and the answer has a lot to do with plunder pursued through the processing of building an empire on which the sun never set. Possession of some of these treasures remains a political issue:


The Lely Venus marble sculpture, dating from the first or second century AD and a Roman copy of an earlier Greek original:


Amber poses in front of the huge bust of Pharaoh Ramesses II, Ramesses the Great:


Taking a lemonade break inside the museum (did I mention the heat?). So huge, so comprehensive, our two hours there were only a scratching of the surface. Were I a London resident, this would the kind of place I would come to on frequent, focused visits. Not only is it Britain's largest museum, and not to mention one of the world's finest, it's also free to enter:



After returning to the hotel, we retrieved a now-rested Shu-E and went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner:


Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun...to turn it down a notch and bring back those chilly, wet British summers I remember from years past:


Heat waves aside, it was great to be back in the ancestral homeland...



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