statues

London: The Havering Hoard @ Museum of Docklands

Much as I’ve missed visiting museums, I have to admit that I am primarily a food-driven individual, and I have missed visiting markets even more. One of the places I’ve been dying to go back to is Greenwich Market, solely for the sake of getting a Brazilian churro, surely one of the most delicious foods ever invented. But Greenwich is an awfully long way to travel just for the sake of a churro (though I have been known to do it in the past), and so I tried to tie a museum visit into the experience. The National Maritime Museum is usually a prime candidate, but their special exhibition is currently just portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, and I frankly don’t see why I should pay to see that when I can just wait until the NPG reopens and see it for free. But the Museum of London Docklands is not terribly far from Greenwich (I tend to think of everything on the DLR as being close together, even though it’s actually not, but it’s fun to ride, and where else can you find places named Mudchute and Island Gardens right next to each other? (Spoiler: Island Gardens is not any nicer than Mudchute. The names are meaningless)), and they currently have a temporary exhibition on the Havering Hoard, which is on until 22 August and is free – you just need to pre-book a free general admission ticket to see it.

  

My interest in hoards is admittedly pretty minimal, but Marcus was interested in seeing it, and when a friend wanted to meet up that day, I suggested he join us as well. Even though it was a Sunday, the museum wasn’t all that busy, especially the Havering Hoard gallery. I guess we should have researched what the Havering Hoard actually was before turning up, because we were all envisioning a collection of precious objects in silver and gold, maybe some coins and jewellery, you know, nice stuff that someone would keep hidden away for a reason. Well, the Havering Hoard is not that. Instead, it is a collection of late Bronze Age pottery shards (sherds) and other practical items, like axe handles, found in the London Borough of Havering (that I had really only heard of because they were one of the few London boroughs that voted for Brexit, which pretty much automatically put them on my shit list) in 2018. It is apparently the third largest Bronze Age hoard found in the UK, consisting of 453 separate objects, though if most of those objects are broken pieces of pottery, is it really that exciting?

 

Well, maybe to archaeologists, but not really to me or Marcus or our friend. The exhibition wasn’t very large because only a selection of the objects were on display (either because all sherds basically look the same, or because they just didn’t want to excite us too much), but we did take the time to read all the signage, which mainly consisted of descriptions of how the objects in the hoard would have been made, and theories as to why they may have been buried (personally, I would say it was because it all looked like garbage, and that was actually one of the theories! The others were to keep it safe, as an offering to the gods, or as a symbol of status, though I can’t see how the last one could be true. How could you show your power by hiding everything away where no one could see it?). In my opinion, the best part of the exhibition was the foot pedals that illuminated x-rays of the hoard on one of the walls. Covid safe and fun! My friend had somehow never been to the Museum of Docklands before, so we went for a stroll through the permanent galleries, which looked the same as the last time I visited, except for a cool treadwheel thing I had somehow never noticed before (maybe because it was always full of children in the past), so Covid be damned, we had to give it a go (there was a hand sanitiser dispenser nearby, so we just sanitised before and after) and it proved to be super fun but also kind of dangerous, because it was very easy to fall over once it got going.

   

Having finished with Museum of Docklands, we finally headed over to Greenwich to grab that sweet, sweet dulce de leche filled churro, and god was it worth travelling for. I just wish they’d get another stall somewhere closer to me (if I ever have a belated wedding reception, I’m going to ask them to cater it). And more delights awaited us when we walked over to Deptford to see the Peter the Great statue. I don’t know how I’ve lived in London as long as I have without laying eyes on this masterpiece, but it is seriously one of the most hilarious statues I have ever seen, and so inexplicable. Why is Peter’s head so small? Why does the little person have flies on his coat? Why does the throne have what is either Pan or a demon head on the back (I assume the eyes and ears are to show that Peter was all-seeing and all-hearing)? Why are there random dishes of food on the back of the sculpture? So many questions.

 

The plaque on the sculpture wasn’t massively helpful, telling us that it was here because Peter visited Deptford in 1698 to learn more about shipbuilding, and the statue was a gift from the Russian people to commemorate this, though it wasn’t built until 2000. I did a bit of research online, and the stories about Peter’s time in London are frankly as insane as the sculpture. He visited London under an assumed name, though as he was almost seven feet tall and the ruler of Russia, this probably wasn’t all that effective in disguising his identity. He was trying to modernise Russia, and learning about shipbuilding in London was part of this effort. He rented the diarist John Evelyn’s house, and by all accounts, completely destroyed it with his drunken carousing. His entourage included a little person (Peter was known for his fascination with genetic abnormalities, and he had a retinue of people with dwarfism as well as an army of extremely tall people) who he allegedly pushed on a wheelbarrow through Evelyn’s famous gardens, thus wrecking them. His head was a normal size in real life, but the sculptor who made this (Mihail Chemiakin, who was forced to leave the USSR in the 1970s for being too controversial) seems to only be able to sculpt tiny heads, so I guess that explains that one. The rest of it is still a mystery, but it is glorious (Prince Michael of Kent did the unveiling, and I would have killed to be there. How could you not die laughing when the cloth got pulled off to reveal this?), and we spent a good hour sitting on a bench nearby, chatting and basking in the weirdness of this statue (and watching the reactions of other passersby also seeing it for the first time), and I decided that if I ever become emperor of the world, I will have a throne just like this one. Highly recommended, much more so than the Havering Hoard exhibition!

The Rest of Budapest

Relative to most of my trips, I didn’t actually visit all that many museums on this Budapest jaunt – in large part because we arrived on a Sunday evening when everything was shut, and were there over a Monday which is the museum closing day in Budapest, which only left us only Tuesday, and Wednesday morning for museums – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy. On the contrary, my feet were still aching days later from all the walking we did (and from uncomfortable shoes, because I always pick form over function). So this post will cover the rest of the things we did, with of course plenty of photos (courtesy of Marcus).

  

The first (and probably best) thing we saw in Budapest was Kerepesi Cemetery, a huge and absolutely gorgeous cemetery in Pest. There are quite a few famous people buried here (famous primarily in Hungary I guess, because we hadn’t heard of them) including their first prime minister, poets, artists, and all the rest.
  
The cemetery was taken over by the Soviets in the 1940s, who did their best to destroy it (even building a rubber factory on part of the cemetery), but happily, most of the cemetery lives on. I think even the Communists were won over in the end, as there is a pretty cool monument for the Labour movement here, and a bunch of graves that certainly look communist, as they’re all nondescript black markers with stars on them.
  
Actually, I wanted to come here because there is a museum in the cemetery about Hungarian funerary practices which sounded AMAZING, but when we got here the whole thing was closed for renovation, with no mention of this on the only website in English I could find (it said it was being “partially renewed” which made it sound like at least some of it was open), which was obviously super irritating, but walking around the cemetery totally made up for it, because it is the best. My favourite marker was Ady’s (he was a poet) because dude is giving MAXIMUM sass, but I also like the guy with the rams. (When I die, I want a statue of myself on my grave looking as sassy as Ady does. This should preferably be sculpted well before I die, so I can make sure it is sassy enough (and enjoy it in life).)
  
They also have a big funeral coach (the largest in Hungary) and many many other cool things. I highly recommend visiting – it’s free and you can’t really go wrong (unless the museum is shut without warning, but hey, you can still enjoy the cemetery).
  
We also went to Buda Castle (as you do), which is totally fine and worth seeing (especially if you just wander around the outside for free, and don’t actually pay to go in anything), but I’m sure other people have covered it well so I don’t need to (I regret not seeing the very cheesy looking labyrinth, but it was expensive), other than showing you some photos.
 
I was scared of mask guy outside the souvenir shop, because I was half-convinced a real person was inside who would jump at me when I approached, but I think it was all fake (if it was my shop, I would of course hide in there and scare people).  Buda Castle also has some excellent hooded crows (and apparently fancy-cakes, which I am sad to have not tried, though I ate plenty of cake on this trip nonetheless).
  
We visited the outside of the Parliament building to take some photos and ended up wandering into the Lapidarium (this was our first experience with lapidariums (lapidari?), and I was attempting to use my extremely limited knowledge of Latin to guess what was inside. Jewels? Rabbits? Sadly, no. Old statues). The gargoyles were pretty great though. There was another museum about Parliament which appeared to be free, but given how boring I found the European Parliament museum (sorry Parlamentarium, you tried your best, but it’s true), I decided to skip it, since I know even less about Hungarian Parliament than I do about the European one (which Britain shouldn’t be leaving).
  
Hungary is of course known for its cake shops, and though I’m not the biggest fan of Central (Eastern? Still not sure!) European cakes (they tend to be real dry), even bad cake is still cake, so I couldn’t resist. It didn’t hurt (or maybe I mean help) that our hotel had a cake section at the breakfast buffet, including my favourite “bland cake” (I think it was hazelnut, but it was hard to tell. Still, I really liked the texture, so I just spread it with Nutella and ate it that way, No wonder I gained two pounds on this trip!) and an orange cake that wasn’t half bad.  We also visited the Central Market to pick up some paprika (it’s what you do), because surprisingly, the paprika in the market is cheaper than supermarket paprika, and found these badass witch pickles (too bad I hate pickles), but also cake. I was a big fan of the Pyramis, which was just layers of yellow cake and a chocolate moussey icing covered in chocolate, but it looked hella fancy, tasted good, and only cost like 80p. Considering a similar cake would cost at least £4 or £5 in London, I think that was a damn good deal (and ate Pyramis more than once).
  
Food-wise, most of the vegetarian options seem to be fried, which is admittedly a guilty pleasure in moderation (my stomach can’t handle too much fried these days!). There actually are veggie establishments with healthier options, but I indulged in fried cheese and chips (I love the whole fried Emmenthal dipped in cranberry jam thing that is big in Central Europe), falafel and hummus (not Hungarian, but still, fried), and these giant potato pancakes from the Spring Market that were topped with more cheese than even I could finish (so amazing though. We also tried Langos at the market, which is fried bread topped with cheese, and I was not such a fan. The bread was sweet like an elephant ear, and would have been a hell of a lot better with cinnamon sugar than cheese!). Kurtoskalacs (chimney cake) are also a must, and there were enough stalls throughout the city to fill all my kurtoskalacs needs (cheap too! Way cheaper than Prague).  My favourite food is one I didn’t try, but was advertised at the Spring Market, as seen below (if anyone can tell me what Clod with Two Kind of Cummins is, I’d love to know. I debated going up and asking what kinds of cummins were available, just to find out what it meant, but it felt a bit jerkish, since I’m sure if I tried to translate English into Hungarian, it would come out even worse).
Budapest is a town of statues, and there are so many amazing ones, from derpy lions, to famous Hungarians, to good old Bela Lugosi at Vajdahunyad Castle. The one I was most excited to see, however, was Columbo and Dog, which was a good half an hour out of our way, but so worth it! We also saw Reagan (meh), Imre Nagy (he was prime minister of Hungary, and was executed by the Soviets) on a bridge, a fat policeman, and so many more, but Columbo was definitely the highlight (I’m still not exactly sure why Columbo is in Budapest, but I’m not complaining).
  
Transport-wise, Budapest is pretty easy to get around. They have the third oldest Metro system in the world (after London and Liverpool) and trams and buses (the trams are the most fun, as is Metro Line 1, which is the oldest and still has really old-fashioned trains (probably not the original ones, but I felt Michael Portillo-esque riding them, which may not be a good thing…at least I didn’t try to make awkward conversation with strangers!)), and I loved how they tell you when a train is expected in 30 second intervals. There’s nowhere to hide with 30 second intervals, unlike in London where a Tube minute can sometimes last like four actual minutes. Actually, the whole system was pleasant to use as people are very polite and stand well to the side to let everyone off the train before boarding, except for the escalators which seemed way faster and scarier than normal escalators, and I was nervous the whole time I was riding them. We got 72 hour transport passes (which were only like £10) and we used them a lot, because Budapest is pretty big.
  
I wasn’t always the biggest fan of the museums in Budapest, but there’s still a lot to like about this city, not least the architecture and cake. I enjoyed it much more on this visit than on my earlier one, probably because I wasn’t staying in a hostel with a sexual harasser, or getting talked into tagging along to a festival I had no interest in. I think 72 hours was probably the perfect amount of time here, as my feet couldn’t have taken much more. Definitely make sure you see Kerepesi Cemetery if you ever find yourself here, and take some time to check out all the statues in the city. And eat some cake!

Kinderhook, New York: Lindenwald – It’s More than O.K.

P1090428

Marty and Me. Statue can be found on the main street of Kinderhook, in the village square.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I love presidential history. It probably has something to do with being given The Buck Stops Here by Alice Provensen as a child, which appealed enormously to my love of memorisation, catchy rhymes, and history (highly recommended if you have kids, by the way, though unless they’ve issued a new edition, it might be a bit out of date.  My copy concluded with Bush Sr.).  At any rate, I particularly love the obscure presidents, and picking up trivia on them that I can trot out at parties (hmmm, perhaps this is why I never get invited to parties).  I suppose being in New York, I should have been aiming for Millard Fillmore, but his house was more towards Buffalo, and not at all on our way.  So the Little Magician it was, as we headed for Martin Van Buren‘s lovely home, Lindenwald.

P1090390   P1090386

Upstate New York was in the full flush of autumn when we visited, so the “Careful Dutchman’s” estate was ringed with scarlet and copper foliage, setting off the house to full advantage.  My boyfriend remarked that it reminded him a bit of Osborne House, and in addition to the colour, it does have Italianate features that were added on around the same time Osborne was built.  However, this wasn’t the only connection with Queen Victoria, as you shall see later.  The house is run by the National Park Service, and you can only go inside via guided tour (ugh!) which costs around $5, and is offered every half an hour during the summer season.

P1090381   P1090388

We wandered the grounds a bit whilst we waited for our tour to begin; there is a Martin Van Buren trail around the property which features about ten plaques with details of the Van Burens’ lives, and the operation of their 191 acre farm.  The gravel road that runs next to the modern road at the front of the property is the original Old Albany Post Road, which runs from New York City all the way up to Albany (and we did manage to drive up almost all of it!).

P1090418   P1090415

Other highlights of the estate include a small visitor’s centre, and most importantly, Martin’s mounting block.  Disappointingly for the dirty-minded amongst us, he only used it to mount his horse (No, not like that!  Jeez), since he was only 5’6″, and apparently the ladies took advantage of it as well.  (heh heh)

P1090391   P1090393

By this point, our tour guide had arrived, along with some other visitors, and the tour commenced.  The guide was a ranger, so I’m not sure if he didn’t normally work at the site, or just hadn’t been there very long, because he had a set of index cards to help him, although he did appear to have a good base of knowledge on Martin Van Buren, so maybe he just wasn’t fond of public speaking (I know I’m not).  He was very nice though, and made a point to welcome everyone and ask where they were from.  He explained each room as we passed through, but also threw in a few bonus details about the “Red Fox,” which I appreciated, as it helped elevate things above the standard Victorian home tour, and I even learned a few new facts!

P1090394   P1090398

One of these facts concerned Martin’s son, John, who was given the nickname “Prince John” after attending Victoria’s coronation, and subsequently dancing with her.  There was a portrait of Victoria hanging on his bedroom wall, but I’m not sure if it was original, or added later. Martin himself met Victoria as well, on a trip to Europe after his presidency.  Another connection  (well, not really, as it involves only me) between Van Buren and Victoria is that Martin died in the house, like Victoria did in Osborne House, so I have now seen both their deathbeds!  Which is quite the accomplishment, as far as I’m concerned.  There was a cane lying across the bed, which was given to Martin Van Buren by none other than Old Hickory himself!  Jackson had even had his name written on the cane, so Martin would remember EXACTLY where it came from (as if one could forget being given a cane by Andrew Jackson)!

P1090411    P1090408

Aside from the fun facts, the rest of the tour was fairly standard for an historic home (a bit of gossip about the servants, explaining the domestic details of the house, period furnishings, etc), although our guide managed to regale us with a few more stories specific to the Van Burens, including learning about Martin’s tubercular son and wife, and a detailed description of his political campaigns.

P1090414   P1090405

In the entryway of the home, there was a small case containing some artefacts pertaining to Martin Van Ruin, as his opponents called him, in reference to the financial panic that occurred during his presidency, and the subsequent depression (poor Martin), like a delightful card of him drinking from a champagne goblet.  His opponents in the election of 1840 branded him as a champagne-swilling aristocrat, whilst portraying William Henry Harrison as a humble farmer, when in fact the opposite was nearer the truth.  Harrison got his though; dying a month after taking office from pneumonia brought on by a combination of being long-winded and too stupid to dress appropriately for the weather (I can totally relate).

P1090419   P1090432

There was more to see in the nearby village of Kinderhook (Lindenwald is actually about two miles south of the village) – the best thing was obviously the statue of Old Kinderhook himself in the village square (see picture at start of post), so don’t miss the photo opp! (Side note, “Old Kinderhook” was abbreviated to O.K. on campaign materials, which is one possible explanation for the word, although even at the time, O.K. was also a “folksy” misspelled abbreviation of” all correct.”  The Whigs claimed that “oll korrect” was probably how Jackson would spell it, thus mocking his “down-home” Southern roots.  All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the post title is totally a pun!)  I have to say, the entire village was adorable; I’m adding it to my list of places I wouldn’t mind living.  Just down the road from the village is the cemetery that is Martin Van Buren’s final resting place; he didn’t go for an elaborate statue of himself there (as I probably would have), but a simple obelisk marking his and Hannah’s graves.

P1090409   P1090406

If you enjoy lesser-known presidents as much I do (cue the “Mediocre Presidents” song from The Simpsons “We are the adequate, forgettable, occasionally regrettable caretaker Presidents of the U-S-A!”… although, I couldn’t insult Martin by calling him mediocre after sharing a bench with him), then you should definitely factor in a trip to Lindenwald.  The house is quite pleasant, but I wasn’t going for the house so much as I was the Van Buren trivia (ok, and the statue.  Definitely the statue), and in that, I was richly rewarded.  3.5/5