The Impossibility of Avoiding Darwin on my Vacation

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First of all, many thanks to Greg Laden for filling in for me on the blog for the last couple of weeks while I was away on my much-needed vacation. Where did I go? Mainly to Cambridge, England, but my travels also took me to Cardiff (in Wales), London and Paris.

I went to Cambridge to visit some friends, not to see any of the Charles Darwin-related sites, such as his room at Christ's College. And though I had intended to see the movie Creation about Darwin (which I will blog about sometime in the next couple of weeks), it seemed that almost everywhere I turned, except for Cardiff, I couldn't avoid the man.

The first hint came on a tour of Cambridge, where Darwin was one of the four scientists proudly touted as having a connection to the university (the other two were Francis Crick and James Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA while working at the university, and Rosalind Franklin, a Cambridge alum whose X-ray data was used in their discovery).

The next day, on the hunt for ichthyosaurs, I headed to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. The museum is tiny but crammed with an enormous number of fossils and rock samples in dozens of old-fashioned cases. At one end, easily overlooked in one glass-topped case, sits several small fossils that Darwin found while on his Beagle journey. And the other end is dominated by a brand new exhibition, Darwin the Geologist, which highlights Darwin's geological finds.

Even an afternoon in the Cambridge Botanic Garden had its Darwin connection: The garden was begun by Cambridge professor John Stevens Henslow, best known for inspiring Darwin in natural science.

In London, a few days later, I headed to the Natural History Museum. Surely I would not encounter Darwin if I skipped their new Darwin Centre. Wrong. Just last year the museum restored their life-size statue of the man to its original place in the Central Hall.

By that time, I realized that since Darwin was everywhere I looked, I might as well join my friends on a visit to Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum to see the Endless Forms exhibition about how visual arts influenced Darwin and how Darwin's theories and discoveries then influenced visual arts.

By the time I left for Paris, however, I thought that that was the last of Darwin on my vacation. But I was wrong. Strolling through the Jardin des Plantes, there was the man peeking up from little displays on topics such as pollination and co-evolution.

This truly is the Year of Darwin. At least on my vacation.

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