London, Day 10 – Transport Museum

Covent Garden Market, NE
Covent Garden Market near the London Transport Museum

October 15, 2012

We started off this Monday at a leisurely pace, eating breakfast in our room and researching NYC on the computer. I had a coupon for a free newspaper from Starbucks, so I went downstairs and got me a drip coffee (as opposed to white ;)). One thing I noticed about Starbucks in the UK is that half-and-half is not offered. Actually, I don’t think half-and-half even exists in the UK. It seems odd that Starbucks has already introduced the British to American-style black coffee but doesn’t try to introduce half-and-half. Well, perhaps they have and there’s simply no demand for it. Anyhow, we left for the London Transport Museum at around 2:00 in the afternoon.

The British Library
British Library while waiting for the elevator

Previously, we had been in the area of Covent Garden but did not actually go there. This time, there was no missing it since the museum is located inside.

Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market

Although we were only passing through, I enjoyed the atmosphere and openness of Covent Garden. Similar places would be San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Vancouver’s Granville Island. I don’t quite know how to put into words the exact feeling I get when I’m in these locations. Eagerness and excitement are a couple of words that come to mind.

Soon, we were at our destination:

London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum

I was eager to enter the museum, but we first visited the gift shop and cafe, because we were starting to get hungry and we figured that by the time we finished we might not get a chance to visit the gift shop. The gift shop was pretty awesome. They had books, posters, maps, and other transport-related paraphernalia. I probably would have been happy just looking at all the bus books.

Finally, we were ready to go inside. The cashier informed us that our tickets were good for a whole year (still have over a month to use them!). The first area was the “World city walk”, a long walkway with a map of a fictional railway system containing destinations from some of the world’s most famous railways. I was very excited that I was able to recognize stations from Tokyo and Paris, two places that we had just visited. Looking at the photos now, I see that I also recognize stations from New York’s railway systems. We covered them all in those few months.

London Transport Museum Entry
The World city walk
Model of London Underground's Construction
Model of London Underground’s construction
1970s Underground Ads
1970s Underground ads
London Telephone Girl Recruitment Ad
I wonder if this ad is still up…
Visit London Ad
Yes, I will go to the Crystal Palace

As a history and transport buff, I really enjoyed the museum. I’ve included photos of some of the highlights above. The first is a model of a work site from the construction of the Underground. These men were the first in the world to do it, and they did it without modern machinery or safety equipment, or safety regulations, for that matter. The true definition of men. It is true, that without financiers and engineers, a project like this would never succeed, but at the same time, labourers and menial workers also play an important role in getting the job done. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Sadly, society gives far too little credit to blue-collar workers. I’ve never understood why.

The second and third photos are ads from the 1970s displayed on the Underground trains of the period. I actually got to step inside one and get an idea of what it was like to ride the Underground during my parents’ time. There was a lot more wood and a lot less metal on the trains. As a baby of the late 70s, I’ve always wondered what life was like back then, and the style, design, and wording of the ads provides glimpses into the past. For example, the third photo is a recruitment ad for “telephone girls”, which I would guess were telephone operators. It’s interesting to think that at one point in human history, recruitment for telephone operators was actually required. Back then, letters were probably the primary (economical) method of trans-ocean communication between common people, and when a long-distance call was made, it had to be done through an operator. Now, we have instantaneous email, Skype, and Google Hangouts.

Another item of note regarding the ad is that it includes a number to call to listen to a personal message from Jimmy Savile, a British DJ and TV presenter who was, when we were in London, all over the news due to sexual abuse allegations. In the 1970s, Mr. Savile was probably seen in a different light, as the celebrity endorsement in the ad suggests. Just as it is with long-distance calls, time changes everything.

The last photo is from a display of posters that have been displayed in Underground stations. It is possible that due to the London Underground, we now have posters in subway stations all over the world. The significance of the Crystal Palace poster is that it shows a picture from childhood: a sculpture of what 19th-century people thought the dinosaur Iguanodon looked like. It immediately brought back memories of hours spent reading dinosaur books. I had seen pictures of the sculpture dozens of times, and it never occurred to me that the real thing was nearby. I snapped this photo as a reminder to research Crystal Palace as a possible place to visit.

It was also at the museum that I finally realized why some of the Underground trains we had been on had tapered ceilings. I had thought it odd that an average-height man of Chinese descent would hit his head if he stood near the doors. Clearly things would be worse for the taller, English people that the trains were designed to serve. When I viewed the exhibits on the origins of the Tube, I realized it was the tunnels themselves that limited the height of the trains. These were the first subway tunnels ever bored in the entire world, and I guess for either financial or technological reasons they were never re-bored, and each generation of trains has been designed to accommodate the tunnels.

We stayed at the museum until closing time. Before leaving, I went to the gift shop and bought the book that I had been eyeing earlier, a physically tiny pocket-sized one that wouldn’t be a burden to carry around, a great way to commemorate our visit to the museum.

Covent Garden Market Interior
Walking through Covent Garden Market
Street Performance, St. Paul's Church
The half-naked man

On the way out, we walked through Covent Garden Market and saw a half-naked man on the other side. It was pretty cold, so props to the man for being half-naked. We continued walking all the way back to Charing Cross Road so that I could exchange the NYC book that I had bought the day before (I accidentally bought the full version instead of the pocket version, which IMHO is better). Then, we took the bus back to the hotel for a short break before having a hotpot dinner at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant nearby.

Luxury Hotpot Buffet
What a way to end the day

The weather had definitely gotten colder and the hotpot dinner was a great way to warm up. We both really enjoyed that meal, and then had a nice chat with the restaurant owner. A very fulfilling way to end the day.

Next: London, Day 11 – Crystal Palace Park

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