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Sunrise, Somerset

12 Dec

Hello everybody!

It’s about time for another update. With only five days until my departure, everything seems hurried and rushed but also slowed down, all at the same time. Time seems to be inching by and then very suddenly flying past! It is a very strange feeling and it’s almost as if I’ve been in a funk over the past few days. Not happy or sad, just somewhere in between.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Somerset House on the Strand. When I say it’s next door, I mean it quite literally — King’s and Somerset House actually share a wall. And yet this was the first time I ventured into the massive courtyard. The first thing you see is a large ice skating rink right in the center, set up for especially for the holidays and sponsored by Tiffany & Co. The whole courtyard has lots of Christmas decorations including a large tree, the Wrap-Up Shop and Designers at Somerset Shop selling all kinds of little gifts and even a miniature Tiffany’s luxury sweets, gifts and yes – jewelry. Since I went in the afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, just a few kids squealing and laughing as they ventured out onto the slippery ice.

I visited two exhibits (both free) that were currently going on. The first was 20 Years of Dazed and Confused Magazine, which was essentially a visual journey through two decades of covers, articles and celebrity spotlights. I don’t know much about the magazine but from what I saw they must have a reputation for producing avant-garde portraits of celebrities (read: nude). Lots of Kate Moss. It was interesting, and some of the portraiture and fashion spreads were quite stunning, but it probably would have resonated more if I was familiar with the magazine.

The second exhibit I visited was called Amazon, a photography exhibition. The first portion centered around the work of Sabastiao Salgado from his project ‘Genesis’, and was largely aerial photos of Amazonian landscapes and portraits of indigenous, traditional peoples. The photos were all really beautiful and I especially enjoyed the various shots of the natives  – sometimes hunting, sometimes resting, sometimes just watching the world go by. The second portion of the exhibit featured the photography of Per Anders Pettersson from a recent visit to northwest Brazil. These photos were meant to illustrate the extreme devastation and destruction of the Amazonian landscapes due to deforestation and other non-sustainable practices that exploit both the land and the impoverished people who live on it. The exhibition works — seeing the photos of the people and the land, and then realizing what terrible things are being done there, made the crisis seem that much more real and relevant. It was incredibly sad, but I am glad they are raising awareness about such an important issue. The Amazon is a treasure and it should be protected instead of abused and discarded.

The last stop at Somerset, and the part I was most looking forward to, was the Courtauld Gallery. Since I was there on a Monday before 2:00PM, it was completely free! I got to see the exhibits and the gallery for absolutely nothing – awesome! But this small collection would have been worth paying to see. When you first step in, the gallery seems small (deceiving, as it spans several stories) – but the personal, cozy feeling was what I loved about it! After I visited, it felt like I knew a secret – all these incredible and famous pieces of art right there! Ten feet from the Strand! I promptly told everyone I talked to that they had to go! They have a modest collection of sculpture and decorative art spanning several periods and regions. They also had great drawings and sketches by lots of  artists – in particular, they had a special exhibit on Spanish drawings. Some were plans for later paintings while others were more just doodles and studies. My favorite, by far, was a 1906 sketch by Picasso of pigs. Just lots of little pigs. I fell in love with it.

But the crown jewel of the Gallery is definitely their collection of paintings. From medieval to Renaissance, Rubens to Impressionists, it was quite an impressive inventory. They have one of the famous self portraits of Van Gogh displaying his bandaged ear, and the first work from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – a sweet but somber portrait of a small child holding a dove. I spotted Manet’s familiar A Bar at Folies-Bergere and Cranach’s Adam and Eve (you might know this piece from the intro theme for the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives’). The collection was rounded out by pieces from Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. It was extraordinary and a definite must-see for anyone visiting London!

Thursday evening I got to meet up with some friends from Queen Mary’s and we headed over to O’Neills Pub in Leicester Square to see a live band preform. The band was awesome – we sang at the top of our lungs and danced the night away. We had a blast!

I was a little sick this weekend, but I am feeling much better. Now I’m just trying to crank out these last papers and fit in all the last minute things I’ve been meaning to do while here. I can’t believe I have less than a week left in London!

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And The Winner Is… Pt. 2

3 Nov


Several days ago you all voted in the second round of ‘Send Claire Somewhere’ and the winner was The National Gallery (although Kensington Gardens came in at a close second)!

Here are my pictures from my adventure to the Gallery! I brought my camera along, and once I got there I asked one of the staff if there was any photography allowed. She told me no, but she obviously took pity on me so she gave me one of the £1 guides for free!

The National Gallery is massive.. You think you’ve reached the end of the hallway and suddenly there’s five more rooms off of the room you’re currently in! There is such a diverse range of art there as well, from Rembrants and Renoirs to Rousseaus. It is really an incredible place, even the interior of the museum itself is beautiful.

I discovered the works of Venetian painter Pietro Longhi, the Gallery had about five pieces by him. Sadly, I had never even heard of him before but I really enjoyed his art like The rhino and Fainting.

They had a new acquisition by Monet, Waterlillies at Sunset,  that I was completely taken with, despite not being a very big fan of a lot of his later work. I also really liked The Beach at Trouville, which was apparently painted right on the beach rather than the studio because you can see grands of sand and shell embedded in the paint! I also really loved Jan van Os’ Fruit and Flowers in a Terracotta Vase as well as Murillo’s Heavenly and Earthly Trinities and The Infant St. John with the Lamb.

Although I couldn’t take pictures inside of the Gallery, I did take a few at Trafalgar Square (the doorstep to the collection) and of the nearby church, St. Martin-in-the-Field. I got to step into the church, and sat in on a wonderful little choir rehearsal — but they did ask that no photos be taken during the rehearsal so I just tried to take a quick shot of the exterior!

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Pictures from Bath will be up next! Thanks for reading!


Send Claire Somewhere! (Round 2)

22 Oct

Hey ya’ll!

Almost my entire flat has gone home for the weekend and of the remaining two, one’s mother is in town so it has been a very quiet weekend in Flat 6! Since I need something to do, besides laundry and grocery shopping, I thought I’d let you guys help me choose!

Please take a second and vote on where I should go tomorrow!

The Tate Modern

Admission: Free (£3 donation suggested)
Location: South Bank

While art critics have occasionally guffawed at the Tate’s populism, over 5 million visitors each year make this museum the most popular contemporary art gallery in the world and the most visited sight in London (just ahead of the British Museum). The permanent collections are devoted to early-20th-century avant-garde movements such as futurism, surrealism and cubism. And other galleries include emphasis on European and American painting and sculpture from the 1940s-50s and revolutionary art from the 1960s. More than 60,000 items are constantly on rotation through the museum, including works by Matisse, Warhol, Mondrian, Pollock, Mondrian and Lichtenstein.

The National Gallery

Admission: Free (£3 donation suggested for use of audioguide)
Location: Leicester, the West End

Despite being one of the largest galleries in the world, with over 2,000 Western European works on display,  the NG is renown for it’s quality rather than quantity. With chronological galleries ranging from 1260-1900s, poignant paintings from every important epoch in art history are on display including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Renoir, Van Gogh, Botticelli, Raphael, Van Eyck and Monet.

The Kensington Gadens
Location: Kensington

West of Hyde Park, these gardens are technically a part of the palace they’re named after. And, like Kensington Palace, these gardens have become somewhat of a shrine to Princess Diana. But, art is also a characteristic of these gardens with several famous statues including George Frampton’s ‘Peter Pan’. 

The Somerset House
Admission: Free
Location: The Strand, West London

Before it’s refurbishment in 2000, the magnificent courtyard of the Somerset House, with over 55 fountains, was  used as a parking lot for tax collectors. The House was designed in 1775 for use by royal societies, but it now houses several museums. (In the winter, the courtyard is flooded — and subsequently frozen — to make an ice skating rink!) The Courtauld Institute of Art is an on site gallery housing pieces by Rubens, Botticelli, Cranach, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.

(Poll closes 4AM Texas time).

I plan to take a few hours and head over to the British Museum on Monday after my morning class. I’ll bring my camera along and take a few pictures along the Strand as well (where I have class), because there are some really pretty buildings that I should show you!

Have a great weekend and Pony Up!

Paris, Part Two

2 Oct


Let me start off this post by saying Go Ponies! I am so proud of my team, and anyone who knows me knows how badly I would’ve loved to have been there last night. As a long time, die-hard SMU fan, one of the things I knew I would miss the most while I was away was football season! Last night was just more proof that good always triumphs over evil!

This will be my second post about my Paris trip, and I have included all the pictures from our second day there.

We started off the morning by heading straight to the Musée du Louvre. I was so excited to get there and as we walked into the courtyard, my mouth dropped. The serpentine queue snaked all around the courtyard and doubled back on itself several times. I immediately thought I would be standing in the hot sun all day waiting to get in to the museum; Tenley, on the other hand, had the foresight to purchase a museum pass so she breezed right in! I trudged over to the back of the line and quickly made friends with the people in front of me – an American couple and their friend. The couple was from Kansas City, and the friend was originally from the south of France but had recently moved to DALLAS!! Now what are the odds of that?! We talked for a while and before I knew it, I was at the front of the line! I was surprised by how quickly it moved, but mostly just thankful to get into the air conditioning. (Can you tell I’m from Texas?)

The museum itself is quite impressive, from the iconic glass pyramids in the courtyard to the huge stone halls and the big shops underneath (including an Apple store??).  I really enjoyed the beautiful sculptures and touring through the Napoleon Apartments – in which, I learned, Napoleon never actually lived. The Mona Lisa was more than a bit disappointing – I included a picture of the crowd jostling towards the famous painting. The whole scene was a little repulsive, with people shouting and shoving and holding up their camera phones just to snap a photo. No one was interested in actually looking at the portrait, just getting a picture to show that they had been there. I gave up trying to make my way to the front after I got whacked, hard, by several people (Unintentionally.. I think). In my mind, the Mona Lisa is a bit like Paris Hilton – only famous for being famous. The Louvre had much more interesting and beautiful works of art to admire, without having a sweaty German man elbow you in the face!

In fact, the only place I encountered any rudeness in France was at the Louvre. When I asked about the student rate at the ticket counter (after saying hello and politely asking if she spoke English, in French), she said you had to be a European citizen to get the student rate. I pulled out my money to pay for the full price ticket and she asked me what school I went to. When I told her, “King’s College in London”, she rolled her eyes and spat, “England is in Europe“. I smiled sweetly and apologized while she checked my student ID, all while resisting the urge to explain to her that enrollment and citizenship are two very different things.

In the words of Bonquiqui: RUDE!

I also purchased an audioguide – which I would not recommend. It cost me six euros and I only found the reference numbers for three commentaries. I asked other people who had them and they were just as frustrated. If you could find some sort of Louvre guidebook, that would be a much better purchase and much more helpful!

From the Louvre, we walked down through the garden and had lunch in the park. Sandwiches on baguettes, of course, what else!? We crossed the river via the Pont des Arts and got to see all the thousands of padlocks that lovers have written their names on and attached to the railings, before tossing the key into the river below. Then we made our way down the road to the Musée d’Orsay, which I loved! I am so glad we decided to stop in! It was less crowded, well-organized, quiet, calmer and people were really enjoying the art rather than rushing through. I got to see some amazing and iconic pieces by Van Gogh and Toulouse-Latrec, as well as a few smaller sculptures by Rodin and so many other beautiful impressionist paintings. It is definitely worth a visit!

After d’Orsay, we jumped on the Metro (since we are basically underground professionals now) and rode to the Arc de Triomphe. From the monument, we walked down the Avenue des Champs Élysées and I had my eyes peeled for the black and white doors of Sephora!! Inside, I showed incredible self-restraint and purchased only ONE bottle of nail polish, in ‘Lotus Rouge’.

We made our way back to Monmarte, and up to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur — the highest point in the city. Inside, we got to hear a nun singing and watch part of a service. A woman in front of me pretended as if she couldn’t read the big signs (along with descriptive pictures) saying “NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED!”. Yet she immediately understood when a man came over to her and said, also in English, “No pictures. Delete those photos, please.” And he stood over her and waited for her to delete them off of her camera! I wanted to high five him! It was awesome. The basilica is gorgeous but it is the view from it’s front steps that absolutely stunning.

We finished off the night by watching the sun set over the city, and then finding an outdoor cafe for some pizza and wine. It was the perfect way to finish off such a wonderful adventure! I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go and that I was lucky enough to have such a great guide/navigator with me! Thanks again, Tenley!

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I start school tomorrow for the first time since early May and I am both excited and terrified! Wish me luck!


And The Winner Is…

23 Sep


First, I would like to thank everyone who voted on where to send me. I thought I might have to vote for the choice myself, so thanks so much for taking the time to help me choose!

Yesterday I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum and spent just over four hours browsing the massive collection. The experience was incredible and I can’t even begin to recite all the many things I saw. I was able to take several pictures because they allow flash photography in almost every part of the museum!

The museum building is beautiful, and I could spot it’s tower from quite a ways away.


I was greeted by this huge blue and yellow blown glass chandelier in the main hall:

The collections are displayed in halls that compose a large square; in the center is an open courtyard area with a café, pond and garden. It was a sunny day and the weather was wonderful so I had my lunch outside and got to take a few photographs!




Two exhibits that were off limits to photography of any kind were the Raphaels and the Jewelry collection.

In the Raphael room, the canvases were massive, lining the walls all around a large set of panels. The fabric panels were in three layers, with the two outside layers inverted slightly to the center row, so that you could recline and look up at the huge drawings from different angles. The area was called the “Textile Field” and was part of the V&A special exhibit called ‘The Power of Making’. Several people were taking naps and I even saw one couple taking photos of each other while one would pretend to ‘swim’ in the massive sea of panels.

As far as the Jewelry display, I have to say it is quite literally the ‘crowning jewel’ of the V&A, if you’ll pardon my horrific pun. (Really, that was both unnecessary and inexcusable.) This exhibit alone was worth the tube ride to South Kensington! It was incredible. The entire room was dark, except for the rows and rows of jewelry. I’ve never seen so many diamonds or oversized stones in my life. I’m talking pendants that were easily a foot long, with flowers and leaves all entirely made up of diamonds. An entire crown made of the most flawless, pure orange coral. Amethyst chunks the size of credit cards, set in solid diamond pavé. Tiaras, hair pins, rings, bracelets, pendants, all glittering. I almost had an aneurysm. Or a fainting spell. Whichever is classier.

Alas, the two exhibits I was most looking forward to just happened to be closed! Both the Photography exhibit (more than 500,000 photos!) and the Fashion exhibits were both closed for updating. Nonetheless, I had a quite a good time wandering around and staring, agog, at all the antiquities.

Here are some photos of all the wonderful things I did get to see!  (Please ignore my reflections in some of these shots, most everything was behind glass!)

A fierce looking fountain spout

Stained glass from a Cistercian abbey, near Cologne, 1520

St. Peter in full papal regalia, holding the ‘keys’ to Heaven (Matthew), 1520.

St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr; complete with tacky robe and rock lodged in his head

I couldn’t really do this justice by photograph, but it was part of an altar piece and the inside was fired glass so it sparkled like an actual sun!

Bronze and gilt hairpins from the Koryo dynasty, 1100-1300.

A bronze amulet and pear-shaped jar from the Choson dynasty, 18-1900; 14-1500.

Bridal panels from a formal marriage ceremony, 1850.

One thing I learned in the Chinese art section was that Europeans sent prints, drawings, etchings, bank notes, etc. to China so that they could have porcelain replicas of famous paintings or specific images. But what was even more interesting were the Chinese free interpretations of European life, displaying a certain “naive charm” that the Europeans ate up! See how the couple on the right looks particularly Asian?, 18th century.

Porcelain figures were also really popular exports from China. This pair of figures had moveable heads mounted on long stems. 1740-60.


Wine pot in the shape of the Chinese character for longevity. From the Qing dynasty, 1680-1720.

This tea bowl was made using a technique developed by the artist, where some of the glaze develops sunken cracks and another glaze where the cracks protrude. 1997.

A tomb model from the Han dynasty, made of mostly hollow molded parts. 25-220AD.

This horse from the Tang dynasty was really intricate and represents a breed of horse from Central Asia, imported to China for it’s speed and endurance. 700-50.

A Qing dynasty water dropper in the shape of a squirrel. I want one of these! 1662-1722.

Vase with bat design from the Qing dynasty. Not to be confused with the later works of Leon Piepenburg’s ‘Blue Period’.1796-1820.

Japanese vase


Tiny Japanese vases!


Netsuke! Since traditional Japanese costume had no pockets, tobacco, medicine and other day to day items were carried in pouches. These pouches hung from a cord which passed behind a belt and a netsuke was tied to the other end of the cord to keep it from slipping. They are about the size of two fingers, and incredibly intricate! 1700-1800.

This bust of the 9th Earl of Pembroke had marks along his face, purposefully put there by the sculptor almost certainly to represent the smallpox scarring of the subject. 1747.

This was the top of a monument to Emily Georgiana, Countess of Winchilsea who died fairly young. I found the inscription particularly moving. 1850.

Eve Listening to the Voice of Adam by Edward Hodges Baily (the same artist of the monument to Nelson in Trafalgar Square) illustrates the passage in Paradise Lost, where Eve sits by a lake in the Garden and describes a watery shape to Adam. He warns her that it is her own reflection. 1842.
The statue of the left is a replica of the original bust on the right. The one of the left, however, was created using 3D imaging. A computer reads the data for a three dimensional image and recreates it. In this case, the artist added a fancy hat but I think it suits her!

The bust of Lady Catherine Stepney, who wanted her likeness made as Cleopatra. Do you see the asp curling around her wrist? 1836.

In this sculpture, Truth rips out the double tong of Falsehood and has pushed away his mask, revealing his terrible face. You can see Falsehoods serpent tails beneath the drapery. The full size model of this and it’s companion, Valour and Cowardice, are part of the monument to the Duke of Wellington in St. Paul’s Cathedral. 1857-66.

Portrait of Nita Maria Schonfeld Resch, Nita was the wife of the scupltor, Conrad Dressler, who added red to the terracotta to enhance the naturalism of this bust. 1856.

The Age of Innocence, modeled after the daughter of one of the sculptor’s, Alfred Drury, friends. This became an icon of the New Sculpture movement in Britain because of it’s naturalism and 15th century Italian style. 1897.

Albert Toft’s The Bather. 1915.

Instructions for the modern lady for how to and how NOT to get into an automobile with grace and style. 1950.

Indian jewelry during the reign of the British empire.

Venetian fan holder with ostrich feathers, 1550.

Tassels from old British tapestries

This dress was from another example from the “Power of Making” exhibit of 3D creation. A computer “printed” this nylon in a technique called additive manufacturing. No sewing machine or handwork was used to make this dress, it is completely seamless. Pretty amazing, huh?

A British porcelain vanity with gold detailing! Beautiful!

A mantua and petticoat. A woman had to turn sideways to go through doors in this court dress. No thanks. 1740-45.

British portrait of Janet Carmichael, later Countess of Hyndford. 1750.

The ‘Bloom’ Light, from the “Power of Making” exhibit. This lamp has an articulating shade that allows you to decide how much light you want diffused. All of the moving parts are created in one “print” and the lamp emerges from the printing machine complete with no assembly required!

Moschino bag meant to look like an ice cream scoop

Another baby enjoying the outside fountain

Diamond and jeweled snuffboxes. The last two were from the personal collection of Frederick the Great of Prussia who had a great passion for boxes. He even banned the import of French gold boxes in an effort to prop up Berlin goldsmiths. A box even saved his life once by deflecting a Russian bullet at the Battle of Kunersdorf. 1765-75.

Tutu for a Japanese ballet called Bugaku. The skirt is meant to resemble the petals of a chrysanthemum and the sleeves a kimono. 1966.

A beautiful wooden marionette horse.
Currently, I am planning a quick getaway to Paris for a few days this week since I don’t start class until October 3rd. My friend Drew has given me some tips on where to stay and what to say! I’m a little worried since I don’t speak any French whatsoever. I know the French just love clueless American tourists!! Maybe we can come to some sort of diplomatic agreement and just speak Spanish?



Send Claire Somewhere! (Round 1)

21 Sep


Well, we are finally a complete set! All of my flatmates have officially moved in. Our newest resident is an international student from Canada named Kirk. All the rest are UK students, and most are from about an hour and a half outside of London. While some felt sorry that he had to live with all girls, I think he lucked out! After all, I have lived with boys and I can tell you right now that girls are typically much cleaner, much quieter and much better cooks. (Except me, since I’m loud, messy and a rather unaccomplished chef). Last night we all went to Roebuck’s, our pub next door, for a drink. I am lucky to have gotten such a great group of flatmates.

From left to right: Afsha, Portia, Lizzie, Robyn and Kuljit

From left to right: Portia, Afsha, Lizzie, Kuljit and Kirk

I am getting a bit better at using the public transportation system since I’ve been practicing a lot with my daily trips to Strand Campus. The bus routes are more complicated than the tube, but often more direct. And while the walk to the bus stop is a bit farther than walk to the tube station, it is considerably cheaper. I feel very accomplished when I reach my destination, even more so when I get thoroughly lost and still manage to find my way!

Send Claire Somewhere! (Round 1)

Tomorrow I will have my departmental welcome meetings for History and Classics and then I have a 5 hour break before I have to be back at the Strand Campus for a ‘Living in London’ session. Which means it’s time for an exciting game of “Send Claire Somewhere!” It’s like one of those ‘choose your own ending’ books, except that it’s my real life adventure and you’ll get to read about it!! (That didn’t sound as exciting once I typed it out…)

Here are your choices for tomorrow. Please read the descriptions and vote for your favorite choice! Once an adventure is completed, it will be replaced with a new one from my London ‘To Do’ list, along with the choices that don’t win and are recycled next round. I’ll be sure to write a thorough post about my experience and I’ll do my best to include photographs as well (depending on the museum photography rules).

The British Museum

Admission: Free (£3 donation suggested)
Location: Bloomsbury, in the West End 

Formed in 1749, this museum houses over seven million items expanded through both “judicious acquisition and controversial plundering”, including the Elgin Marbles (or Parthenon Marbles) and the Rosetta Stone. The massive BM features galleries devoted to Roman and British medieval antiquities, Egyptian, Western Asian, Greek, the Orient, African, the Estruscans, the Romans, Italian and pre-historic cultures.

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Admission: Free (£1 donation suggested for purchase of museum map)
Location: South Kensington

Opened in 1852 as part of Prince Albert’s legacy for the “improvement of public taste in design”, the V&A specializes in decorative art and design with nearly 4.5 million objects (some dating back as far as 3,000 years). Spread over 145 galleries, the museum holds the largest collection of decorative arts: from Chinese ceramics to modernist architectural drawings; cartoons by Raphael to Elizabethan era gowns; dresses from the Paris runway to Islamic art. One popular item is the plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David, and a detachable plaster fig leaf that was used on royal visits after Queen Victoria expressed her shock over the statue’s nudity.

The Tate Modern

Admission: Free (£3 donation suggested)
Location: South Bank

While art critics have occasionally guffawed at the Tate’s populism, over 5 million visitors each year make this museum the most popular contemporary art gallery in the world and the most visited sight in London (just ahead of the British Museum). The permanent collections are devoted to early-20th-century avant-garde movements such as futurism, surrealism and cubism. And other galleries include emphasis on European and American painting and sculpture from the 1940s-50s and revolutionary art from the 1960s. More than 60,000 items are constantly on rotation through the museum, including works by Matisse, Warhol, Mondrian, Pollock, Mondrian and Lichtenstein.

The National Gallery

Admission: Free (£3 donation suggested for use of audioguide)
Location: Leicester, the West End

Despite being one of the largest galleries in the world, with over 2,000 Western European works on display,  the NG is renown for it’s quality rather than quantity. With chronological galleries ranging from 1260-1900s, poignant paintings from every important epoch in art history are on display including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Renoir, Van Gogh, Botticelli, Raphael, Van Eyck and Monet.

Vote Here!
Poll closes at 2:30AM, Texas time