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  • Writer's pictureDee Crute

Eschewing the ordinary: Steampunk Adventure in the Capital of Unusual.

Tired of the dull & dreary winter, we will explore the whimsical world of what was and could be - London.

Natural History Museum (by Dee Crute)

“I’m starving”, replies my adventure companion whilst packing our books to get off the train at London Bridge. I was ravenous and could not think about our adventure either. Excited? No, grumpy.

The resolution was simple - Borough Market.

It is one of those places that I am equally petrified and excited about for the same reasons.

When you live with autism - trillions of food stalls, sounds, lighting, smells, and throngs of people, are maybe a bit less exciting, especially if you are 'hAngry'.

But we took our chances.

After futile hunting for food, we were in despair - most stalls were packing up.

It was Sunday and way after lunchtime.

We passed a tiny place we had not paid much attention to.

Sitting was only on the outside - and it was rather chilly.

And, it was rammed with people - meaning standing and eating…

But it was the only open place left now!

And by Jove! That was our best meal ever!

Porteña, London (Photography by Dee Crute)

Porteña: This Argentinian Street Food makes the best authentic crispy buttery Empanadas and mouthwatering-heaven-opening Chimichurri Steak Sandwiches. That was our undoing! Ever since, I have been trying to emulate Porteña and recreate the feast - failing miserably, of course, as this was one of the most magnificent culinary experiences! It took you away from the City to the most emblematic wilderness of Argentina!

Content and with full bellies, we entered the innards of London - the Tube, the azimuth set on Natural History Museum.

Our final station is known to be a gate to the ‘Little Paris’ - a moniker given to South Kensington with its quaint boutiques, pavements studded with restaurant chairs, French language, French embassy, French Institute, and most importantly, French patisseries! It was also the abode of William Makepeace Thackeray - author of Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon. For all bookish people, there is enough to make us happy there - a plethora of charming bookshops and cafes.

But this was not where we headed to…

We took another road - the Kensington Subway. I could swear I felt static electricity in the air.

Something was afoot.

Victorian lightwell, South Kensington (by Dee Crute)

Or I read too many Wellsian time travel stories.

Before us - a vaulting tunnel glazed with yellow-brown bricks and heavily riveted wrought-iron beams, top-lit by lightwells giving it a nostalgic feeling of the XIX century.

This Grade II listed building*, a relic of the great and indomitable engineering minds, has been almost unchanged since it was built in 1885.

Running east from the station, it turns northwards - underneath Exhibition Road, named after the 1851 Great Exhibition, whose Royal Commissioner, Prince Albert himself, used its profits to purchase lands now known as South Kensington to create a centre of arts, culture, and sciences.

The subway, thus, takes you back in time and to the Albertopolis - home to, as per Prince Albert's wishes, free museums, galleries and cultural institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Geographical Society, as well as, of course, the Royal Albert Hall.

Natural History Museum, London (by Dee Crute)

We emerged onto Cromwell Road, overseeing the entrance to the Natural History Museum. Without rushing in, we took some time to appreciate this stunning edifice. A Romanesque terracotta cathedral of science houses numerous specimens amassed by many great naturalists.

Opened to the public on April 18th, 1881, stores more than just museum exhibits. Its interior was carefully carved and richly adorned with nature-inspired motifs.

The most notable and often overlooked is the Hintze Hall ceiling - one of my favourites. This hidden-in-plain-sight treasure presents more than just intricate hand-illustrated botanical tiles – it is our history and the one unspoken and often forgotten about.

162 tiled panels tell us about plants from all over the world and their explorers - great and intrepid people who created the era of exploration, such as Grumman Kwasi.

Kwasi, born and enslaved in West Africa, became a free man and an important natural history collector who contributed to science as we know it today.

Betwixt heaven and the earth, we can find Hope.

Or the Hope - suspended from the botanical ceiling above the central Hall - the most recognisable symbol of the Natural History Museum, the 25.2-metre Blue Whale skeleton. It reminds us of our collective responsibility towards our planet and the need to protect its biodiversity.

The Hope (by Dee Crute)

The whale became part of the family in the 1880s and is still the largest specimen in the Museum.

But those who visited the Museum between the 1970s and 2016 may still remember Dippy - a plaster-of-Paris replica of a Diplodocus carnegii skeleton displayed here before the Hope.

On each visit, I always head the display of specimens, manuscripts and photographs of fearless explorers: Lucy Evelyn Cheesman, Dorothea Bate, Barbara Yelverton, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

Cheesman is one of my heroines - head to further reading to know more about her!

I love all the specimens, but it's the place that has its magic upon me. I am in love with its architecture and often just stare and explore its walls and stairs! Surely to the amusement of other visitors! But, on this occasion, I did not become a weird specimen myself - we were on the schedule.

And thus, we left the old cabinets of the Museum behind and headed towards Royal Albert Hall.

Natural History Museum (by Dee Crute)

"It is my wish that this hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence, and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences". QUEEN VICTORIA, AS SHE LAID THE FOUNDATION STONE, MAY 1867

This was not my first visit, yet the building is still arresting as it was when I first stood before it - An oval concert hall with a glazed iron 800-tonne dome. Upon its creation, it was the first dome amphitheatre and the most technically advanced structure of the time.

Today it remains a Grade I building which saw not only converts but also historic events such as suffragettes' meetings and the speech of Albert Einstein.

The Royal Albert Hall truly deserves an article of its own - but on that day, we arrived for something else.

We came to see Cirque Du Soleil: Kurios - The Cabinet of Curiosities, but on this - next time!



Further reading

1. What are Listed Buildings by Historic England

2. Natural History Heroes - Evelyn Cheesman, Radio 4

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