Arriving at Waterloo Station on the Eurostar from Paris last week was the first time I had been in London in 7 years! A lot has changed, but the magnificent buildings and monuments remain as imposing and familiar as ever. The most startling impression is one of enormous wealth - London is now the world leader in finance and the signs are everywhere. Posh stores, fancy cars, and expensive restaurants can be found in abundance. The number of foreign born people, either visiting or more often working in London, seems to dominate the native Brits. Everyone has come to either make a fortune, or spend one, as the dismal dollar makes one painfully aware with every purchase.
Fortunately it is still possible to enjoy some of the highlights of the city without breaking the bank. London is a walking town - armed with a good map and comfortable shoes, one can brave the streets and enjoy some local color while getting from point A to point B. The marvelous iconic structures and many of the great museums are free, and the theater is still a bargain compared with Broadway.
The National Gallery houses European art treasures from the 13th to the 20th Centuries. Located across from St-Martin-in-the-Fields and Nelson's Column, this huge museum holds such wonders as Vermeer's "A Young Woman Standing at a Virgil", Rembrandt's "Self Portrait at the Age of 34", Turner's "The Fighting Temeraire" and Vincent Van Gogh's "Sunflowers".
Contemporary art enthusiasts have the limited opportunity to see Damien Hirst's latest solo exhibition at White Cube. In the last few days, Damien Hirst has earned the title of highest priced living artist at auction, but for no charge, just a timed-entry reservation, the public can see his latest masterpiece. "For the Love of God" is a life-size cast of a human skull in platinum, covered entirely by 8,601 flawless pavé-set diamonds. This creation weights 1,106 carats and is installed in a dark room with a spotlight causing the diamonds to glitter like stars in the sky. Of course, all under heavy security!
Another great London institution is the Victoria and Albert Museum. Very close to Harrods and almost as large, this museum is dedicated to the applied arts and displays examples of items from textiles to statuary from ancient civilizations to modern times. The current special exhibition focus' on Surrealism and its practical applications. "Surreal Things::Surrealism and Design" does not dwell on the anarchistic writing and ideology of the movement, instead it presents the visitor with examples of how this artistic movement found its way into ballet, interior design, fashion and jewelry. It is a superbly curated show and a fresh and fascinating look at a subject that has been thoroughly explored in recent years.
If you've never visited the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery on the Strand, you've missed something fabulous. Founded in 1932 by Samuel Courtauld and some like-minded souls as an institution dedicated to training future professional art historians, this gallery also serves to present Mr Courtauld's superb collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in magnificent surroundings. Such masterpieces as Renoir's "La Loge", Van Gogh's "Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear" and a group of Cézanne's that will knock your socks off, are all on display. A brand new special exhibition is "The Temptation in Eden" a group of prints, drawings and oil paintings by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) and some of his contemporaries. The centerpiece is "Adam and Eve", painted in 1526 and as magnificent and pertinent today as the day it was created. It was hard to tear away from this stunning work of art.
The theater scene is thriving in the West End, and tonight's tickets are for "The Lord of the Rings". It has just opened to rather mixed reviews, but should be very entertaining if nothing else. Then it's on to new adventures on the high seas! The Queen Mary 2 leaves Southampton tomorrow afternoon and I plan to be aboard! Next stop, New York Harbor, with 6 days Transatlantic in between! Anchors away!