Spending too much time in London, or anywhere in the UK for that matter, can seriously put a dent in your traveling funds if you are on a tight budget. But it was my first week overseas and worrying about money was the last thing on my mind. It wasn’t until about two weeks into my trip, while I was in Edinburgh, that I realized I was already about $500 USD over budget. I quickly learned to sustain myself on one meal a day and whatever food I could scavenge from the hostels’ free breakfast. Most places had at least coffee and toast. Ham or some other unknown type of meat product was considered a luxury. It was amazing to see hoards of hung-over backpackers, who had obviously forced themselves out of bed, standing in line for breakfast, half asleep, knowing full well that this may be their only meal of the day. It gave a whole new meaning to the term continental breakfast.
Now don’t be fooled. Not all backpackers are on a budget. Most can afford much better. But who wants better when you can have a dirty hostel and 200 other travelers to share your experience with? I often wonder about people who take trips overseas and then come back only to talk about how nice the four star hotel was that they stayed in. What’s the point of leaving the comforts of your own home only to be in the comforts of a luxury hotel in a foreign country? Whatever happened to the visceral experience? Well, for me, the visceral experience was alive and well. And what better place to be poor than London, one of the most expensive cities in the world.
So what to do in London when money is scarce? Well, lucky for me, most of the museums are free, of course a modest donation is advised, but what better way to get rid of that pocket full of one and two-pence coins that had been weighing me down all morning. I know, I know, I should support the arts if I want them to continue to be free, but at least I’m giving something. Do you know how many well-to-do people, who obviously aren’t on a tight budget, walk right past the donation bin without even blinking an eye? Too many! Oh that’s right, I suppose they already gave at the office. Well, thank goodness for us backpackers who are keeping the arts alive and well with our pocket change. And to think, we could have spent that money on eggs to go with our toast. Of course, if you’re Australian, who needs eggs when you have Vegemite. (See brown, pasty, foul smelling, yeast extract).
So yes, museums became my friend. I could spend hours roaming the countless galleries while spending hardly any money at all. The British Museum and The National Gallery, arguably London’s two finest museums, were everything that I expected and more. The Tate Modern however, which showcases works from 1900 to the present, made me seriously wonder about the direction art is going. Now, I understand that from 1900 to the present is only a little over a hundred years, which means you don’t have much to pick from when compared to the centuries of works of art that non-modern museums have to pick from. But that should be no excuse for letting any yahoo calling his or her work “modern art” into a gallery. There is a work by Paul McCarthy, entitled “Rocky”, which shows video of the nude artist wearing nothing but boxing gloves, smearing ketchup all over his body, and repeatedly punching himself in the chest and face until he finally knocks himself out. I suppose it has some kind of meaning if you look hard enough, and I know not all art is suppose to be beautiful, but I have to ask myself one question. 500 years from now when McCarthy’s works no longer qualify as modern art, will you see “Rocky” proudly displayed next to a Picasso or a Monet as the height of 20th century art?