I made a new friend on Saturday. Our friendship formed quickly, easily. This friend is both foreign and familiar, but definitely amiable. My new friend is not a person, though I do have a few of those; it is the Victoria and Albert Museum. As I may have mentioned before, I love a good museum. I love wandering through grand, hushed halls, not knowing what will catch my eye, looking forward to learning something new. London is the city if you love museums – there are so many to choose from that it’s difficult to know where to start! I asked a local acquaintance last week for her suggestions and she simply gushed about the V&A, spoke of it as an old, dear friend. After a few minutes she realized she had gotten carried away and apologized, but in her passion I saw the sincerity of her recommendation. So, it was on my list and we headed over right after visiting Kensington Palace. As the Brits say, we got on very well.
To give you a bit of background (and to quote Wikipedia), the V&A “is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.” We were a little bewildered when we first arrived – where do you begin when there are over 4.5 million objects to be seen? – and a kind volunteer must have noticed our wide-eyes. She informed us that there are about 8 miles of galleries but thankfully she gave us a few ideas of where to start. The entrance hall is so dramatic – tinged with color, a mix of old and new – but we did eventually move on.
After looking at the map of 8 miles of possibility, we opted for the Medieval and Renaissance wing first. It was an easy choice when we looked to the right and saw this:
I really enjoyed seeing the detailed books from this era. Such skill went into making each page and letter, and the colors have been maintained beautifully.
There were interactive exhibits, audio stations, touch screen displays, quiet corners to sit, libraries, children’s areas, … This might also be a good time to mention that admission to the V&A is FREE.
The Medieval and Renaissance Wing sprawled over three floors but we only had time to explore two before we needed to move on. I had heard wonderful things about the V&A cafe so we decided to get a snack before heading home. The cafe is basically a museum in and of itself – famous for it’s impeccable design, and for being the first museum “restaurant.” Sam and I soaked it all in as we rested our feet.
We then passed back through the museum gardens, which was decorated with an interesting Chinese installation (we missed an exhibit on Chinese painting by one day).
I didn’t want to say goodbye to my new friend quite yet so we meandered through a few more areas: the Club to Catwalk fashion exhibit and the museum gift shop (I LOVE MUSEUM GIFT SHOPS and this one did not disappoint). But, it was time to catch the tube and head home. As I reluctantly said goodbye, I knew our new found friendship was one that would be easy to maintain. I’ll pop in and catch up when I’m in the city, knowing the invitation stands. I know our relationship won’t become stale but will change and grow, as all good relationships do. I’ll introduce my family and friends when they visit, hoping they appreciate it as I do.
It may sound silly. It just a museum. A building. But it’s more than that. It’s thousands of years of history, people’s passions and gifts, it brings a bustling city to near silence, causes couples to walk quietly holding hands and parents to point out new wonders to their children. It’s welcoming and intoxicating. And astoundingly beautiful. If you are ever in London you must go and say hello for me and maybe make a friend yourself.