Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Border Control

I took the Chunnel from Paris to London but I almost wasn’t allowed on the train. When I went through the UK border control the guard didn’t believe me that I planned to leave after three nights and go to Dublin. Because I have been backpacking I did not have access to a printer and so had none of my records with me (printed) to prove that I did indeed have a departure flight. He told me that because I had been in the EU for 4 months already (actually it was 3 months and 1 week but I didn’t want to argue) and only had 150 Euro on my person that I posed a problem.

Apparently he thought I was planning to remain in the UK and try to work or live illegally, though he didn’t say anything so direction. Obviously that was not the case and I explained to him that I was leaving on the 7th for Dublin and then for Seattle on the 9th and that I had savings in my bank account and a credit card on me as well. I told him I was getting married in June and that my fiancé lived in Seattle. He still didn’t quite believe me. Earlier in our conversation I had told him the documents were on my computer to which he sarcastically replied, “that’s quite convenient isn’t it?” and said that they didn’t have time for me to pull through those documents.

In the end he took me aside and asked another agent to look at my computer to verify my flights. I also was able to show them a bank statement indicating that I had plenty of funds and would not be “stealing” a job from any UK citizens. Eventually I was handed my passport by the second guard (who was quite nice), told “thanks,” and that was it! I was “free” to go. For so much trouble that I seemed to have caused they let me through rather easily once I showed them my flight info. Phew!

I had a little bit of difficulty finding a place to stay in London. The hotels were all booked up for Saturday night. I had a place on Friday night fortunately but had to scramble to find something for Saturday. I ended up at a hotel a bit further outside of town. It was a hotel but they had a hostel/dorm room that was actually cheaper than anything I had found in the city and even with the cost of a day ticket for the tube I was only paying a few pounds more than what I would have paid for the hostel alone in the city! It was a great little place and the others in my room were quite friendly.

I enjoyed London and would definitely like to go back someday. I only really had two full days so I didn’t nearly get to see everything but I did do a lot. I went on a walking tour, visited a Christmas festival in Hyde Park, went to the British Museum, and walked by London Tower and Bridge, as well as several other landmarks like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I also walked across the millennium bridge and visited the Tate Modern museum. I saw Buckingham palace, but it is closed for visitors during the winter. I did a lot and had very busy days, but there is more that I would like to see and do – so someday I will go back.

One thing that really struck me about London was at the British Museum. I found it interesting that just about everything there had been taken from another civilization or area that the British had “conquered” or occupied at some point in history. There is one Caryatid column from the Erechtheum that was taken from the Acropolis in Athens. When I was in Athens the notice near the remaining five statues/columns in the Acropolis Museum seemed to imply that they would very much like to have the sixth statue returned, however in the British Museum the note next to the statue indicated that it was a good thing for them to have taken the statue, so as to preserve it better and save it from pollution and deterioration.

There were a few other articles that had similar stories (not that I necessarily saw places where the artifacts originated from) where I felt that it would have been more appropriate for the original piece to be in its historical setting (i.e. the Rosetta Stone). I don’t know that I think it is fair for one country to own a significant cultural artifact for another culture. In some situations maybe, where the country of origination doesn’t have proper means to protect or display the artifact, but countries like Greece where there are museums that are capable of displaying and protecting their national treasures, I think the items should be returned.

The other thing that struck me at the museum was that there were no restrictions regarding photography. People were using flash and video liberally – something that I know is not permitted in many museums across Europe. I do think that photography should be allowed in most museums, but I understand the need to not use flash, in order to respect and not damage the pieces. I was surprised to see no restrictions at the museum. It made me question if the items on display were actually original pieces or perhaps replicas and the originals were locked away somewhere else. I don’t know. Maybe I’m distrustful, but it seems strange that they wouldn’t respect their collection more.

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