Victoria & Albert Museum Showcases Treasures From Royal Courts

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has just opened a new exhibition about the development of trade and official relations between Russia and the United Kingdom.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” brings together more than 150 objects for a look at the interaction between both courts from the accession of Henry VIII in 1509. He and later Tudor monarchs were eager to expand contacts with Russia to tap into the lucrative fur trade, selling English wool and luxury items in return. The artifacts show how the courts affected one another through the reigns of two English dynasties.

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of the dynasty of the Romanovs, the exhibition focuses on gifts and cultural exchanges between the two royal courts instead of the rather humble trade that financed them. Included are Shakespeare’s first folio, a little-seen portrait of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s suit of processional armor and royal jewelry.

The exhibition also includes objects loaned from Russian institutions, such as this odd silver basin showing a dolphin from 1635. It’s part of a collection of English and French silver given to the Tsars by the British royal family. Examples of this kind of silver are rare in England because most of it was melted down to finance the English Civil War. What’s interesting about this basin is the way the dolphin is portrayed – more like those seen in Greek and Roman art than what dolphins look like in reality. It appears the silversmith had a Classical education but not much contact with the sea!

%Gallery-180975%There’s also quite a bit about the Muscovy Company, an English firm given a monopoly on trading rights with Russia from 1555 until 1698. The company’s captains made a fortune trading with Russia and even tried to open a route to China by sailing north of Siberia. The so-called Northeast Passage was as bad of an idea as it sounds and many sailors froze to death in the attempt.

The Northeast Passage remained a dream until 1878, when the Finnish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sailed the Vega from Europe to Japan via Siberia. Sadly for him, the Suez Canal had opened nine years before and there already was a shorter route to China.

“Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars” runs until July 14.

[Photo courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

Best Places To Live In United Kingdom Named

Thinking of relocating to the United Kingdom? Halifax Bank’s annual survey of the best places to live in the UK has just come out, with the district of Hart in Hampshire coming out number one.

Various factors were taken into account, including average wage, cost of living, crime, and average lifespan. While this survey is obviously geared towards residents and not visitors, a nice place to live is generally a nice place to visit.

UK media were quick to notice that all of the top fifty places were in southern England. Northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales didn’t win a single entry. As someone who has tromped all over the UK, I find this a bit surprising. The country grows steadily more beautiful the further north you go, and the people become nicer the further you go in any direction from London.

I suspect the Halifax survey is skewed towards economics. London is the UK’s economic powerhouse and the closer you live to it the better your economic opportunities are. Of course bringing cost of living and crime into the picture means London itself doesn’t score very well!

A favorite town of mine, St. Albans, ranked number 11 and may be typical of what Halifax was looking for. A prosperous town with a high average income thanks to its easy commuting distance from London, it’s generally safe and far cheaper than living in the city itself. It also has good shopping and leisure facilities. Click on the link to learn what there is to see in this easy day trip from London.

The Halifax survey also gets skewed to the south thanks to another criteria it takes into account: the weather. How the hell is Orkney supposed to compete with Hampshire when you take the weather into account?So what’s there to see in the Hart District of Hampshire? Its main town of Fleet is only 37 miles from London and there’s a train from Waterloo station. Besides the historic town itself, there’s the Fleet Pond Nature Reserve, shown below in this image courtesy Vicki Jull. Throughout Hart there are various historic sites and areas of natural beauty. The entire region is crisscrossed with historic canals, like the one shown above in this image courtesy David M. Moore.

So if you’re looking for a relaxing day trip from London, you might want to consider the Hart District.

Strike to cause delays at UK ports and airports tomorrow

A massive public sector strike planned for tomorrow in the UK will slow down travel in ports and airports.

An estimated 750,000 public sector workers will go on a one-day strike in protest over proposed changes to pensions, and this will include thousands of customs and immigration officials. UK ports and airports will remain open but passengers should expect delays.

Most schools and many other government buildings will be closed tomorrow. Strike organizers complain that the new public sector pension scheme will make employees work longer, put more money into the system, but get less when they retire.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]