D.C. and London have quite a few things in common: large metropolitan areas, with history, culture, and politics constantly overlapping. One of the things I take for granted when in other cities is one of those commonalities: free museums. Both D.C. and London have some of the best museums in the world, and a good number in both cities are free.
My attention span is short enough as it is, so though the Louvre has thousands upon thousands of pieces of art, I can only focus long enough for a room or two. When you’re paying for the museum, that’s not quite justifiable. (Shout out to that broke student life.) When the museum is free, however, you can pop in and out, based on your schedule, rather than your wallet.
I’ve seen a good number of London’s museums over the years and have popped into the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Natural History Museum in past months. The British Museum is literal blocks from my current housing and the Portrait Gallery is blocks from my job, so those were easy to pop in and out of. Though the Natural History Museum is a bit out of the way, I had gone with friends and spent an afternoon looking at rocks and animals. Because they are free, I feel no need to rush to see everything. I can always return.
The other day, I had a rainy afternoon free and decided to spend it somewhere other than my bed. So I hopped on the tube and went back towards the Natural History Museum with a new destination in mind. The V&A.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is a curious place. With a Chihuly hanging in their lobby, there is a little of something for everyone. You can marvel over fabrics or sculptures or jewels or wrought iron or paintings. I watched a class of retirees practice sketching sculptures and I watched a school group wander through the Buddhism collection. I followed a family of tourists through a collection of some of the most stunning jewels I have ever seen.
I find the most entertaining parts of museums to be the people. The ways that families and tourists and locals and art connoisseurs intermix and flow through the space, leaving careful room around a sculpture or a painting. The V&A offers quite a few balconies that allow you to look down at larger exhibits and watch the people as they wander.
So I spent an hour or so people-watching before I took a chance on the break in the rain to make a run for the tube. There was no regret in leaving, no worries that I must have missed something.
I guess that’s one of the perks of living in London. I’m free to make my way back to my favorite spots and blend in with the crowds, #stillatourist.