Exhibitions (and Cheese Tasting) in London

Captain Thomas Coram

Captain Thomas Coram

For visitors to London, it is always interesting to find undiscovered tourist attractions outside the main tourist draws. I have written a few posts on some of my favorite London places and this post continues on this theme.

BBC Tours

For media and television fans, a tour of the BBC Broadcasting House (and “New Broadcasting House”) is a must. Located just a few minutes’ walk from the Oxford Circus tube station, this tour includes a fascinating history of some of the famous politicians and celebrities who have visited the BBC.

The ninety minute tours, which must be pre-booked at a cost of 13.5 pounds, begin in the BBC cafeteria known as the Media Café. Included on the café walls are famous television quotes like “Sweetie darling” from “Absolutely Fabulous” and “I have a cunning plan” from “Blackadder”. Our guides, Laura and Rich, were extremely enthusiastic and obviously love their jobs. From the Media Café, visitors might be lucky enough to look through the windows and see the weather forecaster giving live television updates.

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The tour begins with a walk to the original Broadcast House with history about the architecture and the controversial sculpture outside of Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. Inside, visitors are given a chance to see celebrity dressing rooms including hearing some gossip of famous faces that have appeared on the BBC. I was interested to hear that Rod Stewart apparently carries a refrigerator with him whenever he travels.

Controversial Art Outside the BBC

Controversial Art Outside the BBC

The tour includes details of some of the BBC’s key contributions to world history. For instance, samples of the radio microphones are on display from 1922 (which visitors may recognize from the film, “The King’s Speech”). Television began in 1936 for a limited audience and in 1939, during World War II, television transmission was suddenly blacked out for seven years (without notice) during an episode of “Mickey Mouse”. In 1946, “Mickey Mouse” reappeared on the BBC with an apology for the delay in the broadcast.

1920s Microphone

1920s Microphone

The BBC served a key role in helping to contribute to France’s resistance movement in World War II as Charles de Gaulle was able to broadcast in London during the German occupation. Tour visitors will see a tapestry presented to the BBC after the war from the people of France.

French Tapestry Presented to BBC

French Tapestry Presented to BBC

Visitors will also get to see how radio drama is performed (a few “volunteers” will be picked from the audience to perform a play—I performed the role of a London tourist named Anna) and get to see the inside of a studio. It was interesting hearing what shows were especially popular for tickets as “Top Gear” has a three and a half year wait list!

Included in the studio tour is radio footage from the BBC during World War II when Broadcasting House was bombed. To my amazement, while the horrific sounds of the bombs are very clear, the announcer continues the newscast without a hitch, even though seven people were killed in the building during the attack.

The tour ends with a view of the newsroom floor, which is split into world news versus local news. This visit was one of my favorite stops on the tour as since I studied journalism in school, I always have an interest in the media. I was surprised to hear how many journalists the BBC employs and how all news is handled from one location.

The BBC has played a critical role in many world events and this tour is still undiscovered. For visitors to London, the BBC tour gives an overview of the BBC’s impact around the world and I found that the ninety minutes flew by. I left easily wanting to hear more.

BBC Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London W1A AA

The Foundling Museum

Located near the Russell Square tube station, the Foundling Museum gives visitors an overview of life in London during the 18th century for abandoned children. During this period, statistics for abandoned children were grim as society made little provisions for these babies. Looking at the museum’s exhibits, 18th century London was a tough contrast between the rich and the poor. The museum includes displays on the horrible living conditions that existed including the high numbers of childhood deaths before age five.

The Foundling Museum

The Foundling Museum

Luckily for some children, there was a hospital, the Foundling Hospital, which could take some children. Founded by Captain Thomas Coram, this hospital provided children at a chance at survival and a chance at a future. The girls taken in by the hospital typically became domestics while boys generally found careers in the military or in various trades. Healthcare provided by the hospital was very good and forward thinking for its time.

Admission to the museum is 7.50 pounds with few tourists. I found some of the rooms almost heartbreaking as some of the paintings and the displays of tokens left with children (in case their family came back to claim them) are very emotional. Tokens could include crosses, rings, bracelets, ribbons or even playing cards.

Foundling Museum Wall

Foundling Museum Wall

Interestingly, artist William Hogarth and composer George Handel were active in the Foundling Hospital. Hogarth encouraged artists to display their paintings at the hospital which was the first permanent location in Great Britain for artists to exhibit their work. Handel performed concerts, including the first performance of the Messiah at the Foundling’s chapel. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to some of Handel’s work.

Finally, this museum includes a bright, cheery café (sometimes playing Handel’s music) for visitors to enjoy tea, scones and cakes. This café is quiet and a nice respite from the crowds of London.

While the subject matter of this museum is not an easy one, I definitely recommend a visit. The Foundling Museum gives visitors a moving presentation of how difficult life could be for children but with the hospital, some children did have a chance at a future. It was also encouraging hearing that the charitable work performed still continues today under the charity name Coram.

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
Phone: (0207)841-3600

La Fromagerie

Eating in London is expensive but sometimes a treat is in order. A few years ago, while walking along Marylebone High Street, I suddenly smelled the most amazing cheese and had to investigate a shop on Moxon Street.

La Fromagerie on Moxon Street

La Fromagerie on Moxon Street

Owned by Patricia and Danny Michelson, the Moxon Street location of La Fromagerie has been in existence for roughly ten years, with the original location located in Highbury Park. For just under nine pounds, visitors can order a cheese sample plate, with samples grouped by location. The menu changes daily but typically there are cheese plates from Italy, France and Great Britain, with the United States or Scandinavia sometimes sprinkled in. Wait staff are helpful as they will leave a copy of the menu with the cheese names, explaining how the cheeses are arranged on the plate, which can be cow cheese, goat cheese and sheep cheese.

French Cheese Plate

French Cheese Plate

A small plate may not seem like much food at first but these cheeses are rich, delicious and very filling. Other menu items like quiches, salads and cakes are available but for me, cheese is the draw. Seating is limited so I would recommend stopping by during off hours (avoid the lunchtime crowd). The crowd here is, however, from all over the world, which adds to the café atmosphere.

A browse around the shop is also fun just to look through the cheese room and see all the impressive choices available. Books on cheese by Ms. Michelson are for sale as well as pretty pottery lining the walls.

Inside La Fromagerie

Inside La Fromagerie

Anytime I am in London, I stop here for cheese. I have a weakness for cheese anyway and without question, La Fromagerie offers some of the best cheeses I’ve ever tasted. For me, London is now synonymous with cheese.

La Fromagerie
2 – 6 Moxon Street (near Bond Street tube station)
London W1
Phone: (0207)935-0341

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