What I Missed While Running Around Trying Not to Miss Things

“I literally ran in and out of the British Museum.”

These were the words of a friend over lunchtime at Herstmonceux Castle.

Mondays were the days all the students rehashed their weekend excursions to London. With such a short study abroad program of only 6 weeks and many of us never having crossed the Atlantic before, our weekends were packed with sightseeing adventures in the country’s capital. And weekend trips to London here and there were definitely not enough to see everything this fabulous city has to offer.

British Museum in London (Photo from Wikipedia)

Hence my friend’s comment, which I laughed at because it sounds silly to run in and out of a museum that one could easily spend a full day in, and yet totally understandable because sometimes it’s easier to step in and step out of a place just to say you’ve been there.

Turns out in her haste, she had missed the Rosetta Stone – the crucial text in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the most visited object in the British Museum. I guess it’s easy to miss what you don’t know is there.

The Rosetta Stone behind glass

“I’ll need to go back now,” she concluded.

I chuckle at this story but I have my own Rosetta Stone that I need to go back for in the British Museum. Except it’s not the Rosetta Stone – it’s something much less easy to miss and therefore that much more embarrassing – the Reading Room.

I even snapped a photo of the outside!

The Reading Room in the Great Court. Kind of invites you in with that stairway . . . (Photo from Wikipedia)

This gigantic dome room sits in the middle of the Great Court, a two-acre public square. Inspired by the domed Pantheon in Rome, The Reading Room is built of cast iron, concrete and glass, and the roof is surprisingly made of papier mâché. Until 2000, it wasn’t even open to all museum visitors. People who wanted to read here had to apply in writing and receive a special ticket by the Librarian to access it. Such people included Karl Marx, Lenin, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and Oscar Wilde. How I would have loved to step into the space that Oscar Wilde sat in, studied, maybe even penned The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of my all-time favourite books.

Here’s the beauty I missed:

Panoramic view inside of The Reading Room (Photo from Wikipedia)

Sadly, I didn’t know at the time what this room was or else I wouldn’t have walked by it in my rush to see other things. Have any of you had a similar experience with a famous sight you accidentally missed out on?

I’ll leave you with some images I did manage to see:

The Egypt Collection

A larger-than-life Pharaoh bust

Aphrodite caught unawares

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Replica of Parthenon in Greek collection

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Elgin Marbles, East Pediment of Parthenon

The British Museum Reading Room by Louis MacNiece

Under the hive-like dome the stooping haunted readers
Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge —
Honey and wax, the accumulation of years —
Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
Some because they have nothing better to do
Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
The drumming of the demon in their ears.

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
And cherishing their hobby or their doom
Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent:
This is the British Museum Reading Room.

Out on the steps in the sun the pigeons are courting,
Puffing their ruffs and sweeping their tails or taking
A sun-bath at their ease
And under the totem poles — the ancient terror —
Between the enormous fluted Ionic columns
There seeps from heavily jowled or hawk-like foreign faces
The guttural sorrow of the refugees.

The Object I Photograph the Most

While flipping through a scrapbook I made after a trip to the UK in 2009, my friend commented, “You take a lot of pictures of bridges.”

She said it casually but her comment stayed with me. It’s like someone drawing your attention to a phrase you always say that you weren’t aware of before, and now that you are, you’re almost paranoid to use it in any subsequent speech.

I looked through my scrapbook again. She was right. Bridges were everywhere.

The drawbridge of Herstmonceux Castle I studied at that magical summer

London’s iconic Tower Bridge

My favourite pedestrian bridge – Millennium Bridge in London

Another shot of this bridge with St. Paul’s in the background

If you love bridges, go to Newcastle – it’s a feast of bridges for your eyes!

Another Newcastle bridge – how cool is this design?

somewhere along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Why do I love bridges so much? I love their silhouette against the night sky, their shape on a city skyline. I love what they represent, their liminality – neither here nor there. In between. Connecting places, connecting people. Crossing what was previously uncrossable.

I love how I feel when I walk and drive over them – a little bit nervous, like the good kind of nerves you get before you’re about to go on a roller coaster and you know it’lll be fun and you’ll love it, but you’re not there yet so you’re still nervous. Caught in a middle space. I love how the very act of crossing a bridge changes you, how walking across time and space makes you different somehow when you reach the other side.

new Port Mann Bridge when completed

Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves bridges. On Global news a month or two ago, Mike McCardell did his human interest feature like he always does at the end of the news hour (my favourite part), where he interviewed a young couple in Surrey who spent their summer evenings watching the new Port Mann Bridge get built from the deck of their home. In fact, I think the man said he built the deck just so he and his wife could have front-row seating to view the graceful white cables of this bridge stretch out over the Fraser River, supporting what will be a 10-lane bridge, 65 m wide – the widest in the world.

The couple said watching the bridge after they came home from work was how they liked to unwind. When asked why, they said it was peaceful. No irritating construction sounds from their idyllic spot in the distance. And the view changed each night before their eyes, like their own home theatre – the landscape their screen. Movies aren’t the only things that move you.

If this couple felt moved just by looking at the bridge, imagine what you feel when you drive over it. A little bit like reaching for heaven.

View looking up from Port Mann Bridge. Photograph by Lisa King