While preparing our London trip, we wanted to scoop out some good addresses, unusual activities that were out of the ordinary. The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace are nice and all but we were interested in discovering what an average London tourist may not have a chance to explore. That’s how we’ve included in our programm those 3 odd, surprising et most of all free visits we are going to tell you about here. Enjoy!
The Hunterian Museum
Two brothers born in the 18th century, William and John Hunter, are at the origin of this surprising museum. William was a very respected doctor and taught anatomy and surgery. He managed to build a collection of anatomical and surgical specimens he used as an illustration of his teachings. John, meanwhile, was a very brilliant and recognized surgeon. He worked as a war surgeon and contributed in developing new processes for the care of the war injured. He built himself an important animal specimens collection that can be found today in the museum, as well as his brother’s collection.
It was the first time we went into this kind of museum and it is with great curiosity but also with apprehension that we walked through the imposing building grid. A badge of “visitor” borrowed from the reception and we found ourselves a higher floor in a huge room filled with many jars filled with formaldehyde. It’s strange but at the same time terribly exciting and impressive to discover these specimens, skeletons and organs of animals or man exposed there. We’ll remember this skeleton of a man who was 2.30m tall or the foot of a woman with elephantism. Sometimes awkward, sometimes fun, this collection literally blew our minds by its diversity but also the quantity of these specimens. We would have liked to see a little bit more human specimens nonetheless. The adjoining museum of surgery was also very interesting and allowed us to see the evolution of surgical techniques through time. We challenge you to hold on and watch a whole of one of those operating video exposed! Our only regret ?? The ban on photos! How frustrating to not to be able to capture anything! The photos below are therefore only pictures of illustrations found on the internet (it seems that everyone does not respect the ban) but they do not really do justice to the place. Let’s say it cultivates the mystery! Expect a good 1:30 or 2 hours to make this visit.
Here too, big frustration of not being able to take pictures but it is really worth going for a visit to the premises of the Grand Lodge of England, the cradle of English Freemasonry. It was just exciting and fascinating to walk through these rooms filled with History and symbols alongside a cultured and passionate guide. Every corner, every room, every fresco, each sculpture has its own meaning, its hidden meaning, purpose and it’s very interesting to learn more about this and to see the thoroughness with which each element has been chosen. We had the chance to close the visit by the Great Temple where most important ceremonies are held, including rites of passage and tablets, a kind of philosophical debates.
An imposing carved door of about a ton, made of fine, and now very rare, wood, allows us to enter this rather magical place. On the ground, a large checkerboard represents the vagaries of life and indicates that nothing is gray. In front of us, an imposing throne where the head of ceremony seats and on the ceiling, a huge fresco depicting the heroes of Greek mythology, symbols of the Freemasons or, more surprisingly, zodiac signs all arranged according to the 4 cardinal points. The vastness of the room (1700 seats) was quite impressive and it was very exhilarating to sit in those seats and admire the scene. We even came across some Freemasons going out of a meeting, in their impeccable black suit embellished with shiny medals, and were quite impressed with their charisma and presence. This was followed by a session of open questions answered naturally and honestly (or maybe not!) by our guide. He told us that the mystery surrounding Freemasonry came from persecutions from the time of Hitler. This movement advocating freedom of thought was frowned upon by the government forcing its members to hide their identity, even to their families, for security reasons. Today, the movement focuses on charities and fundraisers mainly and you have to be an active member and prove your usefulness in the community to gain access to higher ranks. A must-see visit!
The National Gallery
A little less unusual this time but so stunning that we had to talk about it here. Founded in the 19th century, this huge museum houses some of the finest works of the past 500 years. From Rembrandt to Rubens through Van Gogh and Michelangelo, most of the most famous and most talented painters of the last centuries are present to our delight. Our only regret has been to not have planned enough time to visit the museum. We planned a 1h30 visit and you largely need the double. It is not easy to get around in this maze in the middle of thousands of paintings and we unfortunately had to run and slalom between the many visitors to be able to find a Michelangelo painting, a few minutes before closing.
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