Travel To Relax – London Mod and Trad
Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of the
best of Europe. This time we’re in London again this city
just keeps on getting better. Thanks for joining us. London is quintessentially English…Yet cosmopolitan.
It’s a city where the new and modern seems to mingle enthusiastically with the old and
I keep coming back and always find a fresh travel experience. We’ll check out the new like the Millennium
Bridge and the British Museum’s Great Court and admire the old like a Leonardo and fragments
of the Parthenon. We’ll respect tradition… And do some shopping.
And after a bite of tasty
English cheese, we’ll hike the newly revived south bank of the Thames. London straddling the River Thames is
vast but everything we’ll see is within a few minutes by taxi, bus or tube. We’ll check out Hyde Park, the British Museum, the National Gallery, and, of course,
the Tower of London. We’ll walk from St.
Paul’s across the Millennium Bridge to visit the Tate Modern Gallery and
the attractions of London’s South Bank. London was cutting edge in the 60s…And it’s
back in vogue again for fashion, architecture, the arts, and food. Smokey pubs are giving way to trendy outdoor
cafes. London’s City Hall seems to endorse the wave of contemporary architecture which
studs the busy skyline and seems to clamor for attention.
Strolling through London’s parks is a reminder
that so many people call London not a world-class sightseeing destination…But simply home.
The parks like just about everything in the city–sit on a foundation of history.
These inviting green spaces once the hunting grounds of kings are now the sunbathing grounds
of commoners. And these Londoners may not realize that they very well could be speaking
French if it wasn’t for the heroics of the man who lived right here. Apsley House was the mansion of the Duke of
Wellington who beat Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The duke’s guests were greeted by the man
he defeated a larger than life, nearly ***** Napoleon.
The Duke of Wellington was
once the most famous man in Europe. His lavish living quarters are embellished by gifts showered
on him by a grateful Europe including 200 paintings still displayed much as the
art-loving duke hung them. Wellington’s victory over Napoleon and the
French set the stage for Britain’s glorious Victorian age when it was the world’s
only super power and the sun never set upon its empire. This was the reign of Queen Victoria
who ruled from 1837 to 1901.
The Victorian age was an exuberant time. The
neo-Gothic Albert Memorial reminds London how Victoria’s beloved husband Albert (the
only one who called her “Vickie”) did so much to promote technology and culture during that
industrial boom time. The statues at the base herald the great accomplishments of Britain’s
19th century glory days. Albert died in 1861.
His wife, Queen Victoria,
was possibly the world’s most determined mourner. She wore black for the standard two years
and then tacked on 38 more…For good measure. Taking mourning to new heights, she required
that the city’s once colorful finials be painted black as they remain today. The queen
built grand monuments to her Albert like the Royal Albert Hall.
The immense Victoria and Albert Museum is
named for the royal couple who did so much to support the many triumphs of their day.
Like lots of London’s top attractions it’s free. The V&A grew out of the Great Exhibition of
1851. This first “world’s fair,” housed in a temporary glass and steel people’s palace,
celebrated the Industrial Revolution and the greatness of Britain. The theme of the Britain Galleries is “style,
taste and design from 1500 through 1900.” Four hundred years of English fashion history
are corseted into a series of exquisite display cases.
This painting from around 1600 is of a woman
wearing this actual garment. It was typical formal daywear…Linen and silk embroidered
with silver thread. Nightcaps were fashionable among aristocratic men. This tortoise shell
and silver toiletries kit shows that in 1640, careful grooming was as important as dressing
magnificently In the 1670s shoes were called “straights”
and there was no difference between right and left.
Whale bone and lacing kept torsos
flat and long. Fans were tools for flirting. It was said, “While a man’s weapon was a sword,
a woman’s weapon was a fan and the fan did more damage.” In the 1740s a rich woman’s court dress was
an extravagant display of wealth even if it meant she entered rooms sideways. The huge collection illustrates the far reach
of the British Empire.
From it’s exquisite Indian art to its sumptuous hall of Chinese
artifacts. The hall of casts is filled with plaster copies
of Europe’s greatest statuary–made for the benefit of London’s 19th century art students
who couldn’t afford a rail pass. Students could compare the Renaissance genius of Donatello
whose David was Europe’s first male **** since Roman times and that of Michelangelo a century
later with his more heroic David. Around the back you’ll find that this David
came with an accessory…A clip on fig leaf.
As this was the Victorian Age, when royal
ladies came to visit they’d hang it on the statue for modesty. If the delights of the V&A wet your shopping
appetite, London’s Victorian galleries evoke shopping in the 19th century. And all over
London you’ll find inviting little shops for whatever treasure you fancy. Harrods is London’s vast and venerable department
It’s huge 300 departments, a million square feet on seven floors–yet classy. The food halls with their Edwardian tiled
walls, delicious displays, tempting eateries, and staff in period costumes are lots of fun. A small shrine invites visitors to pay their
respects to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed–whose father owns Harrods. The Egyptian Escalator is a reminder that
Al Fayed is from Egypt and he spent a fortune revitalizing this historic department
store. Riding it you ascend into Harrods shopping wonderland. You’ll find everything from sprawling
halls of designer women’s wear to traditional men’s wear to a $12,000 mini Jaguar for
the kid who has everything. Huge European cities like London are made
manageable by excellent subway systems.
London’s mighty “tube” takes us anywhere in the center
for less than the cost of a cucumber sandwich at Harrods. We’re on our way to the British
Museum. At the peak of its empire, when the Union
Jack flew over a quarter of the planet, England collected art and artifacts as fast as it
collected colonies. This place, the British Museum, is the showcase for those extraordinary
Its centerpiece is the Great Court an
impressive example of Europe’s knack for preserving old architectural spaces by making them fresh,
functional, and inviting. The stately Reading Room–a temple of knowledge and high thinking–was
the study hall for Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and T.S. Eliot. Karl Marx researched right
here while writing Das Capital.
The British Museum is the chronicle of Western
civilization. You can study three great civilizations; Egypt, Assyria and Greece -in one fascinating
morning. The Egyptian collection is the greatest outside
of Egypt. It’s kicked off with the Rosetta Stone which provided the breakthrough in deciphering
ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Discovered in 1799, it told the same story in three languages
Greek, a modern form of Egyptian, and ancient Egyptian. This enabled archeologists to compare the
two languages they understood, with the ancient Egyptian, which was yet to be deciphered.
Thanks to this stone, they broke the code, opening the door to understanding a great
civilization. The Egypt we think of you know pyramids,
mummies, pharaohs, and guys who walk funny lasted from about 3000 to 1000BC. It was
a time of unprecedented stability very little change in government, religion, or
Imagine 2000 years of Eisenhower. Egyptian art was art with a purpose. It placated
the gods. The entire pantheon a cosmic zoo of deities was sculpted and worshipped.
And it served as propaganda for the pharaohs.
They ruled with unquestioned authority and
were considered gods on earth. And much of the art was for dead people for
a smoother departure and a happier afterlife. In ancient Egypt, you could take it with you. Corpses were painstakingly mummified: the
internal organs were removed and put in jars.
Then the body was preserved with pitch, dried,
and wrapped from head to toe. The wooden coffin was painted with magic spells
and images thought to be useful in the next life. The finely decorated coffins were put into
a stone sarcophagus, like this. These were then placed in a tomb along with the allotted
baggage for that ultimate trip.
The great pyramids were just giant tombs for Egypt’s
most powerful carefully designed to protect their precious valuables for that voyage into
the next life. In its waning years, Egypt was conquered by
Assyria present-day Iraq. These winged lions guarded an Assyrian palace nearly 900
years before Christ. Assyria considered itself the lion of early Middle Eastern civilizations.
It was a nation of hardy and disciplined warriors.
Assyrian kings showed off their power in battle…And
by hunting lions. This dying lioness, roaring in pain, was carved
as Assyria was falling to the next mighty power–Babylon. History is a succession of
seemingly invincible super powers, which all eventually fall. Greece, during its Golden Age roughly
400 BC–set the tone of so much of Western Civilization to follow.
The city of Athens
was the site of a cultural explosion, which, within a couple of generations, essentially
invented our notion of democracy, theater, literature, mathematics, science, philosophy
and so much more. An evocative remnant of Greece’s glory days
is the sculpture, which once decorated the Parthenon–a temple on the Acropolis hill
in Athens. Here a long procession of citizens honors the goddess Athena. The carvings of
the temples pediment even in their ruined state are a masterpiece showing gods and
goddesses celebrating the birthday of Athena.
The Greeks prided themselves on creating order
out of chaos here symbolized by the struggle between half-animal centaurs and civilized
humans. First, the centaurs get the upper hand. Then, the humans rally and drive them
off. In Golden Age Greece, civilization finally triumphed over barbarism.
And where did this heroic triumph eventually
lead? Covent Garden. This boutiquish shopping district is a never-ending carnival of people
enjoying life. Nearby, Trafalgar Square is another vibrant
people zone. And over-looking it is the National Gallery,
with London’s greatest collection of European paintings.
The National Gallery lets you tour
the sweeping story of European art without ever crossing the Channel. From medieval altarpieces which told Bible
stories in rich yet two-dimensional detail–art enters the Renaissance. Here the Italian master, Crivelli, pulls out
all the stops to show realistic detail while portraying the annunciation. Notice the playfulness
he employs to show off his mastery of 3-D…From the foreground you go back, back, back and
then…Bam, you’ve got a pickle in your face.
And Renaissance painters revel in pre-Christian
classical scenes. Here, another Italian master, Sandro Botticelli paints Mars taking a break
from war…Succumbing to Venus and the delights of love while impish satyrs play innocently
with the discarded tools of death. It was the dawn of the Renaissance and there was
an air of playful optimism. Leonardo da Vinci takes Mary and Jesus out
of the gold leaf never-never land of medieval altarpieces and brings them right down to
a real world we can relate to.
Leonardo’s subtle play of light on the faces is masterful. And the National Gallery’s delightful sweep
of art history continues: From Baroque with dramatic fantasies (this one thanks to Rubens);
to frilly Rococo decadence. Impressionists like Renoir capture the breezy ambiance of
a boat ride and Czanne takes us to the brink of the modern world. Many of London’s top sights front the Thames
River, which has become a transportation thoroughfare for tourists.
We’re sailing from Westminster,
under Big Ben to the Tower of London…Enjoying an informative narration with the views. Narrator: …Somerset House which over 200
years ago was a private residence for the earls and dukes of Somerset. Tower Bridge looks medieval but it was actually
built with a steel skeleton in 1894 in faux-medieval style to match its famous neighbor just
a few steps away. The Tower of London goes back to the Norman
William, duke of Normandy became William the
Conquer when he crossed the English Channel in 1066 and took the throne of England. To
help establish his rule, he had this awesome…And really awesome-in-its-day fortress built. Its purpose: put 15 feet of stone between
him and his new subjects. This original tower the White Tower gave the castle complex
The style of the age was Romanesque… Which the English call Norman for the invaders
who imported it. This charming chapel of St. John dating
to 1080 and one of the oldest in England–provides a rare look at pure Norman architecture round
Roman-style arches and thick walls.
You’ll see an intimidating collection of medieval
weaponry and armor. Your entry includes a peek at the most dazzling crown jewels in
Europe no cameras allowed. …And an entertaining tour with one of the
Yeoman warders or Beefeaters. Beefeater: Please to note this is still a
royal palace although no longer a royal residence we should not lose sight of the fact that
all of our kings and queens they lived here for more than 500 years.
The tower marks the oldest part of London
a district called “The City.” Today this is the financial center of Britain. But these
days’ bank headquarters fill shiny skyscrapers and many of the elegant old bank buildings
survive as fancy pubs their vaults now filled with kegs of real English ale. In pubs you order at the bar. Lager is the
cold carbonated American style beer.
Ales and bitters are the more traditional English
choice. Only confused tourists leave a tip. While the tube takes me on long jaunts underground,
buses are great for quick hops. And, when armed with my cheap all day transit pass,
buses work perfectly for hopping on and off between sights.
Take advantage of public transit
and London gets much easier. In a move to alleviate its notorious traffic
problems, London levies a “congestion charge” on private cars entering the city center.
This leaves the streets mostly to taxis and buses things move along a little quicker…And
money raised helps subsidize public transit: more departures and cheaper fares. Somerset House, a grand 18th century civic
palace, now houses several fine galleries and museums. The Gilbert Collection displays some of the
best in European decorative arts.
Snuffboxes are a highlight. These contained
powdered and scented snuff tobacco a craze among the aristocracy in 18th century Europe.
These fancy little boxes were popular as gifts. Diplomats and royalty gave them away like
jewelry. A fashionable man would have a different snuffbox for every occasion.
Frederick the Great owned over 300 boxes.
His best while considered part of the Prussian crown jewels are here in London.
This one from 1765 is mother of pearl, studded with precious stones and a profusion of diamonds. Micro-mosaics are another exquisite art form
from the 1700s. These were souvenirs for aristocrats making the Grand Tour. Scenes featured their
favorite sights–like post cards tourists pick up today.
Rome was the most popular destination
featured. Made from thousands of tiny fragments, the pieces are so intricate that the museum
provides magnifying glasses. To adorn their jewelry wealthy women brought mosaics home
where their favorite jeweler fashioned them into delights such as these. The Millennium Bridge connects the City of
London with the South Bank of the Thames.
It’s a suspension bridge but its pylons veer
out in order not to obliterate the fine views. Nicknamed the “blade of light” for its sleek
design it connects old and new– Trad and Mod; St. Paul’s Cathedral with the great
Tate Modern art gallery. The Tate Modern, opened to celebrate the millennium,
fills an old power station.
It kicked off the 21st century with a high voltage collection
of art from the 20th. Visitors enjoy an entertaining cocktail of
Dali, Picasso, Stella, pop art and dada. While you can simply wander — enjoying the refreshing
juxtaposition of bizarre images and surreal fantasies, you can also rent an audio guide
that lets you stroll through the collection accompanied by the voice of the artists describing
their work. The South Bank of the Thames once a depressed
industrial zone now thrives with restaurants, condos, and cultural centers all tied
together by the Jubilee Promenade.
This riverside lane popular with strollers, joggers and
bikers–stretches from the Tower Bridge to Big Ben with plenty of curiosities and trendy
pubs along the way. And at low tide you can actually do some beach combing. These are my favorite treasures these
are broken little bits of pipe stem, dating back a couple hundred years. Back when Londoners
bought and sold their tobacco in little disposable one-use pipes.
They’d smoke their tobacco,
and toss it into the Thames river. History everywhere. Here’s a piece of red tile. This
dates back from before they had slate roofs, when the entire city was covered with red
And just a block inland, at the Borough Market,
you can still feel a little of the grit of the South Bank before its revitalization.
A thousand years ago, this marked the edge of town and farmers brought fresh goods here
to the city gates. Today the descendent of London’s oldest vegetable market fills this
Victorian arcade. This gourmet cheese shop keeps its devoted
following happy and introduces visitors to fine English cheeses with a passion. Merchant: There’s a lot more British cheese
than people think.
Even British people coming in here are surprised by the variety. I mean,
you can see it comes in all different shapes and sizes. You’ve got cow’s milk, sheep’s
milk, goat’s milk…Such a wide variety of styles. These are all artisans, very small
Basically hand-made cheese. Everything we sell is handmade. Here we’ve
got basically cheddar, and a Stilton. A Stilton is unusual, unlike the cheddar, because it
has to be made in a specific area.
(Nottingham, Derbyshire and Leicester) It’s the only British
cheese which has that sort of control on it. There’s only six makers of Stilton in the
world. And of the six, these are probably the smallest, and do it most by hand. And
what you get is a creamier Stilton.
Try this, this is what we call a proper cheddar. It’s
made in the cheddar region, about two hours west of London. Somerset. It’s cloth-bound,
fifty-pound wheels, unpasteurized milk, and it’s their own herd of cows as well that it
comes from, the milk.
Our riverside walk finishes with a classic
view of Big Ben and the Halls of Parliament. And, for a cheap and easy flight over London,
we’re riding the London Eye. The world’s largest observation wheel is designed
like a giant bicycle wheel. A pan-European undertaking: it’s made with British steel,
Dutch engineering and German, French, and Italian parts.
It runs efficiently and almost
silently as visitors enjoy a 30-minute once-around rotation. From the top of the 450-foot high
wheel the highest public viewpoint in London Big Ben looks small and one of
the world’s greatest cities seems to stretch on and on forever. London. It’s a city you can enjoy coming back
to…For the rest of your life.
Thanks for joining us. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,