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Delays during traveling is to be expected, but it is always sad when it eats into the viewing hours of your next location. I barely had two hours to look around the National Gallery before I was herded out the door for closing. Still, I was able to see a good number of paintings between the 13th and 17th century and was amazed at some of the details in the painting. I ran out of time before I set foot in the green section (18th – 20th century paintings) so that’s one more reason to return to London some day! Here are some of my favorite pieces from the National Gallery:

The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez
Sculptors and painters alike seem to have had a fascination with classical antiquity and mythology. This painting features the backside of Venus, goddess of love, with  her son Cupid holding up a mirror for her. I thought it was an interesting choice to have sort of blurred faces for both of them. It leaves some room for imagination yet still leaves a bit of an impression. I liked seeing the color of her cheeks in the mirror and the cute little wing on Cupid’s back. I also liked that the painting has deep colors yet maintains a soft feel to it.

The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens
The Trojan War has always been one of my favorite stories since I was a child. I still remember reading a picture book about the Trojan horse and being fascinated by the idea! Later on I saw the movie Troy and read the Iliad and found there to be so much more to it then just the Trojan horse. This painting is from the scene where Paris is judging the three goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite and having trouble deciding who is the most beautiful. The three goddesses offer a bribe and Aphrodite offers Helen of Sparta, who is known to be the most beautiful woman out of all the mortals. We all know what happens next!

The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi
Breathtaking detail and shimmering gold had this depiction of the annunciation stand out to me more than any other. If you follow the link to see the painting on the National Gallery website, be sure to click on the magnifying glass to the right of the painting and zoom in to see the details! I especially loved Gabriel’s wings and flowers beneath his feet.

Christ before the High Priest by Gerrit van Honthorst
Powerful and perhaps one of the most complex pieces I saw within the National Gallery! There are so many emotions at play in this painting of Jesus Christ. The facial expressions, the eyes, and the look just express something beyond the scope of my writing. I think I could stand in front of this painting all day and not grow tired of it. The lighting and color are just amazing and everything from the clothing to posture speaks volumes. There is so much tension yet peace and understanding that creates this extraordinary.

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
There were several paintings that surprised me by being bigger than I had ever imagined, but this painting surprised me by being rather small. I took a closer look and was surprised even further at the amount of detail. This is one that you’ll have to see in person for yourself, because it practically screams genius. The texture of the textiles and fur is unbelievable and everything element is expressed exactly the way it should be. Oh, and the mirror in the back? Mind-blowing. Absolutely mind-blowing.

Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens
Personally, out of all the paintings in the National Gallery, this one was the most meaningful for me. I had spent hours over this painting for a presentation back in college, so I immediately recognized it when I saw it in the gallery. It almost felt like I was seeing it for the first time because it felt different. I think scale can make a painting feel entirely different as well as the texture of the paint you can only experience in person. I envied all the art students living in London with easy access to the National Gallery. It must be incredible being able to drop by and sit in front of a painting after learning about it in school. For me it was more like a once in a lifetime experience!

I recently read somewhere that people don’t spend nearly enough time in front paintings and pass by to quickly in order to see the more famous ones. Personally, I think that famous paintings are famous for a reason and have higher priority as they usually don’t go on tour. I didn’t reach the Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh in time and still feel like kicking myself for it! I found that I felt much better if I saw the famous pieces that I wanted to see and then let myself be pulled in by the unexpected afterwards. Time is a luxury when you’re traveling and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see great pieces of art!

So if you can only stop by the National Gallery for a couple of hours or so, I recommend making a list of pieces you’d like to see before hand. You can look up the floor plan and the location of each painting through the National Gallery website. They have a list of 30 highlight paintings, but I think it’s always a good idea to make your own custom list to suit your personal preferences. Which paintings would you like to see at the National Gallery?

 

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I had always thought that the Tower of London was just a tower (given its name), so I was rather amused to learn that it was a royal palace and fortress! Before I learned that the Tower of London wasn’t merely a tower, some historical facts hadn’t made much sense. For example, I hadn’t understood why queens would stay in a tower before their coronation. Weren’t prisoners kept there before their beheading? Why would anyone want to stay there if they didn’t have to? Now that I know that the Tower of London is more than just a tower for prisoners, these sort of things have taken a new light.

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I had thought they were doing some sort of repair work but it was actually part of the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” exhibit that is currently going on at the tower of London! I wish it had been on display while I was there, but I’ll just have to appreciate it through the photos online.

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The Yeoman Warder tour was the most entertaining tour I have ever been on! The guides are nicknamed Beefeaters, and they are great storytellers with dramatic voices. I loved listening to both historical facts and myths while standing at the place they had happened.

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There was a long line in front of this building to see the Crown Jewel exhibition, and the line pretty much continues inside the exhibition all the way up to the Crown Jewel display. The Crown Jewels were magnificently decorated with gems and diamonds. The size of the Cullinan diamond was hard to believe! Of course, it must have been bigger before it was cut to have part of it put in the Sovereign’s Sceptre and the other in Imperial State Crown. I had mixed feelings about how the crowns were displayed though. They were aligned in a row with an escalator belt on either side. I thought it was a brilliant way to keep people moving, but felt slightly annoyed that I had waited all that time to get a mere passing glimpse at them.

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It looks like he’s peeping out from under his bearskin hat! I do wonder if those bearskin hats cause any neck or eye problems. I know that the Korean traditional headdress for queens caused a lot of neck problems due to their weight, even for actors today.

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I wonder what the ornament on the side of the bearskin hat means? Perhaps ranking?

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The Tower of London is right next to the River Thames where Tower Bridge is located. I think it’s one of the prettiest bridges I’ve ever seen! I didn’t actually get to cross the bridge for lack of time, but I will have to visit again some day. Perhaps go inside and see the exhibit there.

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You can also see the city hall across the river. I think the shape looks kind of like a motorcycle helmet. Anyway, I had a wonderful time at the Tower of London. I wish I had cut out more time to see it; 3 hours was not nearly enough!

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The Seoul International Fireworks Festival is an annual event that takes place at the Han River. I learned about the festival when I saw photos of last year’s event on Facebook and was excited to finally get to see it for myself.  There were several places to watch the fireworks along the river, but the best place was in front of the 63 Building.

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The fireworks started at 7:30 pm so I decided to get there a few hours early to find a nice spot. To my surprise, the whole place was already covered in tents! People had staked out their spots starting as early as 6am in the morning! People were sitting on whatever space they could find be it on rocks, walls, or steep hillsides. I found a small space between the tents with my friend and we ate an early dinner and played cards while we waited for the event. Once it got dark and the tents came down there was more room for people to squeeze in. After an opening commentary they had a countdown to set off the first of the fireworks!

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It was a glorious night! It was really nice just get out there and forget about all the stressful things in life and fill it with color. There were a surprising range of  fireworks and they were all well choreographed to the music. It was almost a shame that I had to stay sitting down, I felt like getting up and dancing! I hope to see the festival again next year and will make sure I get there bright and early. Do you have any fireworks festivals near you?

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