Everyday Anthems

a woman sat atop the glossy bench,

and I averted my eyes like a wild thing,

glimpsed myself in a shopwindow

without a spark of recognition

until it all came rushing in,

there and back again

from that widening gyre where

synapses crackle and fly like fireworks

— oh, this is me, now.

ragged and composed, yes.

now, this is me. oh —

shining like some newly-minted anthem,

                                                                 (we fought for this)

                                                    fizzing like the sea of the flapper’s fluted glass

                                                                                                                              (we drink to this).

 

lapwing cacophony, a twiggy nest

in the branches initially beyond my reach.

sandwiches as sacraments; prayers like butterknives.

 

the crooked man with a limp

         rushes ahead to open the door wide,

                                          and i, fumbling, sashay inside.

                 the biography of a kindred spirit

                                                                                               is lonely, on clearance — $2.51.

 

coins jingle then nestle in my palm:

a shoddy imitation of the solar system.

the universe abounds in a teacup

but constrained, maimed.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

March 18: Israel

And so we return as Cyrus decreed,

creeping forth on bended knee,

seeking a once-home robbed of all hospitality

and ground devoid of fertile recompense.

 

We are the lost and aimless ones,

displaced, sent on mission of grace,

chosen, cast away, chosen again,

thrice-whipped and humbled.

 

We speak not

but carry sanctuary stones

on our aching backs.

March 5: Eve

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”        -Genesis 3:1-6 (NIV)

You were so lithe, so small.

We shared an elegance, you and I —

an acuity I did not find in Adam.

So I viewed us, vowed us, fastened as friends

for nothing ever seemed amiss in the garden —

all was emerald, juniper, moonstone awake,

a shining under the sun that dazzled without blinding.

 

For God was like that

when He walked among us,

so tender-softly you could not hear the

blades of grass bend beneath His feet.

You were just as quiet, but not soft.

You came with your violent geometry,

all diamonds and angles and sin,

and from A to B

 

                                                           we fell.

An Experiment in Midrash

Inspired by the beautiful words of Amy Bornman (https://www.amybornman.com/) of All Well Workshop and Marie Howe, I decided to design a project for myself in the month of March to allow for consistent moments in my days dedicated to rest, renewal, prayer, and quiet meditation. I had the opportunity to participate in an unforgettable poetry seminar last semester that nurtured my ardent love of the art and exposed me to Marie Howe’s Magdalene and her Mary persona poems in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. As I furthered my search in this genre, I encountered similar captivating poetry by Madeleine L’Engle, and it astonished me that, even with a tale told over and over like the birth of Christ, there was still so much content left to be creatively explored. As members of the Church, we know all about the manger and the angels and the frankincense and myrrh… but what about Mary? What were her excitements and doubts and fears and dreams? We sing together at Christmas, “Mary, did you know?” and I think she knew. I think she knew and felt so much about who her son was destined to be, though we never explicitly discover this. We are simply told that she “treasured up all of these things in her heart.” Midrash allows us to ponder what Mary pondered.

I am now one week into “Midrash March” — a poetic experiment intended to motivate me to delve into passages of Old Testament Scripture, derive new meaning there, and seek to give a voice to the (often minimized) women of the Bible through poetry. My goal is to write one midrash poem per day on a different biblical passage throughout March. In my Old Testament class, I have been struck by the sheer amount of women mentioned in the selections we are assigned. Yet many are present merely as the mothers of sons or as the wives of husbands, and their own thoughts and desires are seldom expressed. Midrash serves as liberation for these women from the constraints of a patriarchal society that often commodified them. Now, you may be wondering what exactly “midrash” is. It is a traditionally Jewish practice focused on attempts to interpret and apply the texts of the Torah/Old Testament to our modern age. These efforts may be literary, musical, or artistic in nature — often reconciling the holy with the mundane. By engaging with a sacred text and wrestling with its implications, we thereby affirm its sanctity and relevance in our lives. Midrash is a task to be undergone with awe for we stand in the presence of a living, active God who has proven to be faithful throughout the ages.

Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

A Year in Pages: 2018 (II: May-December)

At the beginning of 2018, in celebration, I read eight books! (see this blog post) The spring semester of my freshman year was a busy one, so I was unable to read recreationally until the summer (when I had a copious amount of time to do so in England on trains or the Tube). Listed below are the twenty other books that I read this year! A grand total of 28 books in 2018!

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Fascinating. Engaging. Beautiful. Enlightening. Informative.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dark. Thrilling. Intense.

Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Sympathetic. Vivid. Dazzling. Tragic.

The Popular Girl  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Decadent. Eloquent. Entertaining. Memorable. Brilliant.

The Rich Boy  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Dynamic. Unexpected. Satisfying. Concise.

Sidney Chambers  &  The Shadow of Death (Grantchester #1) by James Runcie  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Suspenseful. Metaphysical. Heartwarming.

Emily Brontë: Poems by Emily Brontë  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Melancholic. Vain. Existential.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Stirring. Revealing. Moving. Candid.

You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Life-giving. Insightful. Wise. Fruitful. Inspiring.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Horrifying. Sharp. Haunting. Unsettling.

Ada’s Algorithm: Lord Byron’s Daughter Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Mathematical. Intriguing. Unembellished. Illuminating.

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dramatic. Predictable. Cliché.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Riveting. Sympathetic. Imaginative. Captivating. Fresh.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Intriguing. Mysterious. Disappointing.

The Art of Losing by Kevin Young  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Relevant. Striking. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Sorrowful.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Simple. Refreshing. Encouraging. Lovely.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Breathtaking. Wise. Creative. Faithful. Candid.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Revolutionary. Truthful. Fascinating. Insightful. Tragic.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Witty. Brilliant. Genuine. Impassioned. Succinct.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Startling. Raw. Political. Realistic.

 

What novels did you most enjoy reading this year, friends?

I’d love to add them to my 2019 to-read list, so please comment below!

Stratford-upon-Avon: A Shakespeare Lover’s Dream

Yes, I have Sonnet 116 (and a few others) memorized.

Yes, I have read Othello three times and Hamlet four times.

Yes, I wrote a 20 page research paper on the feminist interpretation of Ophelia.

Yes, I would identify myself as a Shakespeare enthusiast.

With that being said, Stratford-upon-Avon was a bit of a giddy dream. Even if you aren’t well-acquainted with the Bard, it’s still a lovely, flourishing town worth visiting in Warwickshire, England. However, if you do plan on undertaking the full Shakespearean experience, which I heartily recommend, then a Full Story ticket is most definitely the best option for you. These are cheaper if purchased online in advance and, if you are a college student like me, then you receive a special “concessions” rate: £18.90 for entry into all five of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s historical sites. (Note: We did not visit Mary Arden’s Farm.)

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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It’s fascinating to think that a wee William Shakespeare once toddled around in this abode’s humble kitchen and likely played outside right here. John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden, lived in this cottage and raised eight children (of which, William was the third to be born). In 1568, John became the Mayor of Stratford, which was the highest elective office in the town and perfectly suited for owning this, the largest house on Henley Street. Because of his father’s lucrative position, young William was able to attend the local grammar school. For a brief time in the 1600s, part of this property was leased as an inn: The Swan & Maidenhead. Now, the home is protected by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and visited daily by eager tourists from all around the world. Surrounding the cottage itself is a garden full of herbs and flowers with literary significance in Shakespeare’s works. For example, fennel from Hamlet and lavender from The Winter’s Tale. Nearby, a devoted thespian recites Shakespearean monologues from heart. When we stopped to listen, he recited from scenes in Othello and Henry V. A gift shop beckons next door as well as a small Shakespeare museum with a copy of his First Folio.

New Place

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New Place was Shakespeare’s family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. Alas, the residence was tragically demolished in 1759 by Reverend Francis Gastrell in a fit of spite (who also infamously chopped down a mulberry tree planted by the Bard), so a garden is all that remains — assembled in loving memory of what was once present. Shakespeare bought New Place with funds he had earned as an established playwright, and it is believed that he wrote several of his later plays there, including The Tempest. Flagstones are scattered throughout the garden, containing snippets of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. There are also markers indicating the original blueprint of New Place and where each room would have been.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

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Anne Hathaway’s cottage was truly my favorite spot in Stratford-upon-Avon — a tranquil rural oasis tucked away on the fringes of the town. When we arrived, the place was charmingly decorated for a vintage garden party straight out of the 1950s — complete with a Victrola phonograph playing some lilting swing tunes and gals decked out in overalls and scarlet kerchiefs à la Rosie the Riveter. Built in 1493, this home belonged to the Hathaway family, successful sheep farmers, for generations. Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s future wife, was born here in 1556. It is also here that, during their courtship, they would reportedly huddle by the fireplace (seen in the center below) and converse with hushed tones, banter, and laughter. The grounds are extensive and stunning, even including an orchard. However, we were prevented from exploring fully as the site was closing down for the day. Unperturbed, we fled to the cute tea house across the road and ordered a (non-alcoholic) ginger beer or two.

Hall’s Croft

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Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, lived here with her prominent physician husband, John Hall. The home actually served as a school in the 1800s and was not purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust until 1949 and not opened to the public until restorations had been completed in 1951. There are beautiful gardens to the rear of the residence, containing medicinal herbs that John Hall would have utilized in his practice. While some physicians of the time relied on astronomy or blood-letting, he valued holistic treatments made from plants, herbs, and geological minerals.

From the City to the Garden

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden is a bustling, quaint town in the British Cotswolds, complete with a traditional British High Street. We stayed at the most enchanting little cottage while visiting (found here). It was my favorite accommodation during my entire time in England — pristine, serene, and unbelievably cozy! The windows of the cottage cranked outwards, so I would open some whenever there was a drizzle of rain, plop onto a bed or chair, and read to the soothing sound of falling drops. There are so many cute shops in Chipping Campden, including Draycott Books, Stuart House Antiques, and — my favorite — Campden Coffee Co. (Warning: getting food to-go or as “takeaway” does not exist here.) By an act of complete chance, we happened to be staying in Chipping Campden during the 2018 Cotswold Olimpick Games, with shin-kicking and torch-bearing mobs included, which resulted in quite a ruckus in the evenings. Oops.

Snowshill

Our dear British driver and tour guide, Jim Gladwin, drove us to the small, picturesque village of Snowshill. It is said that, when snow falls in the region, it always falls here first. Snowshill is renowned for its unspoiled beauty and ancient architecture; Snowshill Manor, home to the expansive antiquity collection of the eccentric Sir Charles Wade and where Virginia Woolf once stayed as a guest; and Bridget Jones’s Diary, which it was a filming location for. There’s also a lovely lavender field (pictured above) at Hill Barn Farm in Snowshill!

Broadway

Broadway is one of the chicest areas of the Cotswolds. We only passed through briefly, but I wish I could have had more time to explore the Tea Set, the Bakehouse, and Cotswold Chocolate Co. (A scenic hike to nearby Broadway Tower would be a must to counteract all of those sweet treats.) Options for vegan and vegetarian meals were notably available here, at establishments such as Russell’s, contrasting with much of the traditional pub culture found elsewhere throughout the British countryside.

The Slaughters & Bourton-on-the-Water

Upper and Lower Slaughter share a fascinating (deceptively terrifying) name, which derives from the old English ‘Slohtre‘ — meaning ‘muddy place.’ Upper Slaughter is a ‘sainted village,’ meaning that it lost no inhabitants in the First World War. The River Eye runs through the the two villages, which have remained utterly unchanged for more than a century; no building work has taken place since 1906. In contrast to the bustle of Bourton-on-the-Water, the only attraction in the Slaughters is a restored nineteenth century flour mill — which now has a tea room and ice cream parlor for visitors. Bourton-on-the-Water is always positively overflowing with gawking tourists, so we did not linger long. However, simply driving about its winding streets, which often bridge over the river running through the town, was lovely.

Swinbrook & Burford

For Downton Abbey fans, The Swan Inn of Swinbrook may look familiar as this is where *spoiler alert* Sybil and Tom elope in Season 2. There are also some astonishingly beautiful churches in this area of the countryside, such as St. Mary’s Church (left), where the Mitford sisters are buried, and Burford Church (right).

Bampton

Bampton is affectionately known as “Downton Village” because many pivotal scenes of Downtown Abbey were filmed here! St. Mary’s Church (heralded as St. Michael and All Angels in the show) was used for filming various weddings (or not-quite-weddings *cough* Edith *cough*), funerals, and christenings in the series, and the nearby Churchgate House, also pictured above, served as Isobel Crawley’s home. The Bampton Community Archive was used to film the series’  World War I hospital scenes and now houses a Downton Abbey-themed gift shop.

Poulton & Cirencester

There is nothing really to say about Poulton; unbeknownst to us before arriving at our cottage, there is only a pub, The Falcon Inn, and a small store to be found there. However, it must be said that The Falcon Inn has incredible pizza served outside on Thursday evenings in the summer. Cirencester has far more to offer the eager traveller: the stunning Abbey Grounds (that once belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539), the parish church of St. John the Baptist, the Wool Market (home to the vintage shop, Ava & Ida, where I bought the most darling green hat), Roman ruins, and The Bear Inn (where I arguably had the best pasta I have ever eaten in my life).

Bakewell

Bakewell was the first place in my England travels where my soul at last went, “Ah! Now this is a place I could call home.” I revered and adored the daily scenic hike into town along a softly murmuring brook (upon which ducklings would often play) from the beautiful cottage where we stayed (here). Seriously, imagine all of the pages of poetry that I could fill if I lived here and simply wandered around on a whim! Highlights of Bakewell include The Rutland Arms Hotel, where Jane Austen stayed and worked on her manuscript of Pride and Prejudice, and the adorable gluten-friendly tea room Because I Like It. For both the gluten-free and the unafraid, please do not refrain from sampling a signature Bakewell Tart while here! Hiking opportunities in Peak District National Park abound and Chatsworth, the site of Pemberley in Pride & Prejudice (2005), and Haddon Hall, the site of Thornfield in Jane Eyre (2011), are both only a short drive away.

P.S. A blog post solely focusing on Chatsworth is in the works. Yes, it was that good.

A Compendium of (Free) London Museums

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Highlights: 2-story jewelry exhibit, the Raphael Cartoons, Idina Menzel’s Elphaba costume from Wicked, John Constable room, teapot collection, stained glass hallway, the Vivien Leigh archive, a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David

The British Museum

Highlights: the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Sutton Hoo mask, a mosaic that is the earliest image of Christ in Britain

The National Gallery

Highlights: Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Venus and Mars by Botticelli, The Immaculate Conception by Velazquez, The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Delaroche, Bathers at Asnières by Seurat, The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly by Gainsborough, and many beautiful pieces by Renoir and Monet

The National Portrait Gallery

Highlights: try to spot portraits of Ed Sheeran, Emily Brontë, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ira Aldridge, Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, Dame Gladys Cooper, Winifred Radford, Prince Harry, Amy Johnson, and Sarah Siddons

The Natural History Museum

Highlights: Pompeii casts, Iguanodon and Hypsilophodon dinosaurs, breathtaking Hintze Hall and Hope — its gigantic blue whale skeleton

House of MinaLima

Highlights: all of the front pages from the editions of The Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter movies, textbook props from the films (such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard or Advanced Potion Making) that were actually handled by Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffegraphic art from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and even Eddie Redmayne himself (if you happen to be extraordinarily lucky like us)

Tate Britain

Highlights: Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, The Squash performance art

Tate Modern

Highlights: Monet’s Water-Lilies, Guerilla Girls, Untitled (for Francis) by Gormley, Salvador Dalí’s quirky Lobster Telephone, Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Museum of London

Highlights: London Wall (the remains of an old Roman city wall on the premises), a Victorian era replica shopfront, the Votes for Women suffrage exhibit

The Guildhall Gallery

Highlights: tour of the Roman amphitheatre ruins underneath (uncovered in the 1980s), letters between Augustus de Morgan and Ada Lovelace, The Garden of Eden by Hugh Goldwin Rivière

The Wallace Collection

Highlights: extensive armor and weaponry collection, The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Yes, this is the painting from Frozen), cream tea in their pink courtyard

The Mithraeum

Highlights: modern art exhibit on the first floor, interactive Roman artifact wall, temple of Mithras ruins underneath (with a complimentary spooky light show included)

Notes: The British Library is also a must-see but does not allow any photography in their special collection, which is why it is not included separately above; its highlights include the Magna Carta, Shakespeare’s First Folio, the Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen’s notebook, original sheet music by Bach and Handel, Da Vinci sketches, work by Ada Lovelace, etc. Basically, it’s heaven. The Cortauld Gallery, affiliated with the Somerset House, is free for college students and everyone under 18 but charges £8 otherwise. Though I vastly enjoyed it and would suggest visiting, that is why I refrained from including it above. Also, I would highly recommend The Charles Dickens Museum and The Sherlock Holmes Museum, which can both be enjoyed without spending a pence; they have very nice gift shops and immensely promising aesthetic exteriors for any desired photo opportunities. However, technically, neither is free, which is why they are not included above either. For adult admission and/or a tour, prices are £10-15.