I hadn't been too excited about this exhibition, since there'd been some public disappointment that Tutankhamun's death mask hadn't been brought over. (Although since I saw that in the original 1970's visit, I personally wasn't too worried about that.) Also the web site was a bit amateur looking, and the venue is more of an event arena than somewhere for smaller exhibitions. However I was very pleased with the whole experience.
I never went to the Millenium Dome when it was open, so I don't know how it compares now, but they seem to have made it over to the O2 Dome quite successfully. It's very easy to get to from North Greenwich tube station (about 2 minutes walk) and has a large section given over to restaurants where I had a tasty Chinese buffet lunch. One big strike against it is lack of toilets, since I think they made the assumption that most people would go to the restaurants and attend the ones there. They have some portaloos outside, so perhaps they'll be sorting that out in the future. There were lockers available for a £1 where you could leave a coat and a big bag, so that made going round the exhibit easier. There were timed tickets and although it was busy and you had to wait to get in, they kept you moving from section to section so you felt you were making progress! I splashed out for one of the audioguides, presented by Omar Sharif, a treat in itself :-) , and that gave some interesting extra bits, but the exhibits were well labelled anyway so you get a lot of info that way.
There was a lot of information about Tutankhamum's predecessors which included Akhenaten who was the pharaoh who initiated the worship of one god instead of a pantheon. They had this famous stone image in one of the early rooms, and it was strange to see something I'd only seen on paper before then. They had his grandmother's mummy case which was magnificent, shining gold in a darkened room. They also had items belonging to other members of his family, like a chair which had the original rush seating, ointment jars, beautifully decorated chests. One of the features that struck me was how well-preserved wooden items were. Where statues made of wood had been damaged, the wood inside looked freshly cut. and yet it was over 3000 years old. It made more of an impact since you expect stone, jewels and gold to survive over that time period, but not humble wood. The actual golden items from the tomb were gorgeous, and you were able to get close for a good inspection. Another good point of the display, was that they had the black and white photographs of the original tomb opening next to items seen in the photos, and it gave you a real impression of how stunning it must have been for the archaeologists when they first saw everything.
All in all a very informative event; I know a lot more about Egyptian life and history at that time, and I'll be able to recognise the hieroglyphics for Tutankamun's name (which translates roughly to Image of the Living God for some time!
I arrived at the British Museum about ten past nine on Friday morning and joined the queue for tickets to The First Emperor. (For those who might be thinking of going and queuing, the queue was about 2/3 of the way back to the Court Cafe, I waited about half-an-hour and got a ticket for the 10:50 time slot.) It had been horizontal rain on the way there so you could almost see the steam rising off everyone while we were waiting. I've never been to the British Museum before so I can't comment on how it looked like before they roofed over the court, but I found it a really bright and welcoming space, and this was even with the grey skies above.
You had a 10 minute slot to enter the exhibition, and couldn't carry in umbrellas or large bags, which precipitated some mad gallops for the cloakroom for some people (another point to remember if you're thinking of going). As you might expect the exhibition space was very crowded. For the smaller exhibit cases this involved everyone shuffling past politely in single file with a small promontory every now and then where there was a wheelchair user. There were displays on the walls, including a couple of short documentaries, so that gave you something else to look at while waiting your turn. The actual terracotta warriors were in free standing displays and even with the crowds you were able to get a good look at them. Standing face to face with one of the figures was amazing. The amount of detail and the lifelike features (not so stylised as the Egyptian imagery) gave you a feeling of looking at a soldier stood at attention. There was one area where they'd one a small reconstruction of the original finds, where they had metal statues of geese, ducks and cranes which were placed about a river (in the actual tomb, a river had been diverted for this section) with musicians playing to them). There were also statues of acrobats and civil servants, so there were glimpses of civilians as well as warriors.
One exhibit portrayed how it was likely that the warriors were made, and it was very much like a production line for pots, producing similar figures which were customised in the last section to have different features. This part brought home the ruthless of Qin Shihuangdi who was the first emperor of China since many of the people who made the warriors were criminals, or prisoners of war, chained as they worked (shackles have been found at the production site). The exhibit showed just what an impact Qin Shihuangdi had. It had a map of the seven states that existed before he started his conquests, and about 10 years later there was only one huge state. He introduced a form of law where the populace was divided into groups of five, if one of the five committed a crime, all five were punished. He built the first great wall of China, where it is estimated 300,000 labourers died. He suppressed Confucianism, which is referred to by the picturesque but supposedly accurate title the 'Burning of books and burying of scholars'. But with all that, it's the works of his slaves that we all came to look at.
Saturday morning I travelled back to Winchester. I had looked at the trains ahead of time so knew the Waterloo line had engineering works, so planned to take the Paddington, via Reading, route back to Winchester. Unfortunately I hadn't checked out the Underground engineering, and the District and Circle lines between Earls Court and Paddington were not running, so I ended up taking a more convoluted journey which made me later, eventually getting back to Winchester about half twelve.
There to find a message from my dance teacher to say that the First Annual Circle Dance Party had been moved from the hall round the corner to one in a village a few miles away. Luckily she offered a lift in the same message, so all I had to do was get in touch with her, have lunch, have a bath and wash hair, and change to more comfortable dancing clothes before she turned up. Whew! In a more or less unfrazzled state I arrived at the party and a good time was had by all.
There were 5 dance teachers and a group of about 30 of us in all, which is a lot bigger group than we usually manage to dance in. It's really satisfying to dance in a big group, especially when there are evenings in your own group where you have to resort to semi-circles since there aren't enough for a circle. There was also a wide assortment of different dances since the different teachers all have personal favourites. Sometimes the dances were a bit too complicated to pick up quickly, but quite often we made quite a good attempt, and there's always a lot of fun in getting things wrong. There were some lovely dances that I hope our teacher can remember, so we can try them out in our group. We danced for about 4 hours with an hour break for a 'bring and share' meal together, which was a good way to chat to the other groups, and we then finished with some more stately dances so tea didn't get disturbed too much!
After all my walking in London and the dancing, I spent most of Sunday sitting down :-)