Sunday, May 31, 2009

For Danielle

Danielle, over on A Work in Progress, loves books more than anyone I know so it wasn't surprising that she requested a photo of my book purchases (The Priory was a gift from Kristina). So there you are and I couldn't resist sandwiching them between the obligatory tea and mug purchase from Whittard. Enjoy! p.s. - Umm, on further thought Simon, Elaine and Lynne are all fantastically book-obsessed so Danielle has some company.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Parting Shots

Good-bye Fortnum & Mason, I'll miss your most beautiful displays.
Good-bye Charing Cross Road. Until we meet again, and we will.
Good-bye shops carrying things we don't have at home like AGA cookware.
Good-bye Patisserie-Valerie, perhaps it's best. You could be a bad habit!
Good-bye back garden at Arran House. You'd think that I could have kicked the garbage can out of the only photo of myself from my trip, sheesh.
Thanks to everyone for sharing in my adventures!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life in Hampstead

As I was making my way to Kenwood House I passed this home in the most lovely of settings. Tea in the back garden anyone?
I couldn't resist taking this picture, what a welcoming front walkway.
These Victorian glazed tiles are in the tube station at the Hampstead stop.
A boy and his dog. These two must have been told to wait outside the shop as I didn't see any adults around. Aaah, village life.
I could live quite happily in a house like this. The roses aren't over a cottage door but close enough.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day Nine

Last night had me wondering if there was a place that I hadn't thought of going to. The lounge at the B&B has a stack of guidebooks so I took one up to my room for a browse through. Eureka! The Tate Britain has a small collection of Hogarth paintings, I knew where I was going first thing in the morning. Upon arriving I made straight for that gallery. There was a self-portrait of the man himself with his pug, Trump, the dog's tongue hanging out of his mouth to one side. Missing a few teeth was my guess. Whilst studying another painting, 'Strode Family', I noticed a pug with it's tongue hanging out on the same side. I burst out laughing, apparently, Hogarth shamelessly slipped his dog into another family's portrait! Before leaving I was thrilled to discover 'Ophelia' by John Everett Millais, an unexpected treat.
So just what would I do with my last evening in London I wondered? On my way through Leicester Square to the TKTS booth I spied this movie poster outside the Odeon and knew my quest was over. This was perfect! I stopped into the lobby and the young lady at the wicket said that the movie was being presented in a small showing room and you had to purchase a designated seat. With my ticket for seat C7 in my hand I went off to explore for the rest of the afternoon. Charing Cross Road was nearby, I really had no business buying more books but a stroll for research purposes only couldn't hurt. I browsed in Foyles, Blackwells, Borders and some independent shops with second-hand books and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Knowing that I had several months worth of reading, waiting for me back in my room, kept me from being tempted to purchase more books, well that and a clerk at the British Airways check-in counter waiting to weigh my luggage.
I took the tube over to St Paul's to visit Leadenhall Market. There has been a market on this site in Gracechurch Street since the 14th century. The covered market that stands here now was designed in 1881 and is so beautiful! Look it up on the internet to see it in a wide shot. Unfortunately, the market was closed! This was Saturday but it's located in the financial district so outside of business hours this area is pretty quiet. Still, it was quite lovely to look at the architecture if not a bit eerie to be one of only 4 people that were browsing there.
Well, things are hotting up! The Piccadilly Whip man is getting busted by the local constabulary outside of St Paul's Cathedral. Okay, that's being a bit dramatic, he was just told to move along.
This is the view from the back of St Paul's from the Millennium Bridge. The old and the new, I prefer the old. Just after taking this photo I spied some young men sitting off to the side, one of them with shoes and socks off bemoaning some nasty blisters. They turned out to be German but my holding up Band-Aids broke any language barrier and they were gratefully accepted. Having done my good deed for the day and feeling quite weary I headed back for home to have a cup of tea, some dinner, change my clothes and get to the Odeon. It would seem that most of the people attending the show liked sweets over popcorn, they were filling small bags with all sorts of candy to be paid for by weight. I chose to pass since I was starting to wonder what the effects of having a full-english breakfast and scones every day would have on my backside! Young Victoria was everything that I had hoped for, Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend were fantastic, they absolutely became Victoria and Albert for me. Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Paul Bettany were also wonderful in their parts and watch for a cameo of Princess Beatrice in the early part of the film. I have goosebumps writing about my adventures over the past several days even now, a more perfect holiday I couldn't have wished for, well meeting The Dowager Duchess would have been pretty bloody fantastic but still...Stay tuned for tomorrow as I still have a few more photos to share that didn't make my story lines if you can bear it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day Eight

I could get used to having a full-english breakfast laid out for me every morning and I'm not shy about being one of the first guests in the breakfast room at 7:30 am either. There's another Persephone Books on Kensington Church Street that I wanted to visit so it was back onto the tube, boy do I ever get my money's worth out of a Travel Card! As you can see, the High Street Kensington station is quite lovely in design and just the place if you happen to be hungry for a snack. The bookshop was very quaint and it had literary works other than Persephone titles. I spied One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes on the front counter and couldn't resist as Nicola Beauman had mentioned it as being such an excellent read during the book chat the day before. After a lovely visit with the sales assistant I strolled around the shops for awhile. Then, I spied a nail salon and decided that my pre-trip manicure was looking a little worse for wear. There's nothing quite like a holiday abroad to make you suddenly start acting as if you're a lady of the world! Before I knew it I had my hands soaking in a little tray. With my cuticles looking smart I departed once again for Piccadilly, Hatchard's was my destination. The Dowager Duchess was popping in to do an informal signing of her latest title, Home to Roost. I was told that if I arrived after 12:30 that I would probably get to meet her, oh the excitement! Sadly, it was not to be. Upon arrival at the specified time I noticed two neat stacks of both her latest works, bearing labels that said 'Signed Copy'. I carried one of each up to the counter and said "The Duchess has been hasn't she?". The young man replied "Yes, she had a change of plans and left an hour ago". I felt like Hyacinth Bucket, my brush with aristocracy was not to be. BUT, the redeeming factor is that I have two excellent books with her signature and just knowing that her delicate hand brushed the pages of my books is enough for me. She probably wouldn't have noticed my beautifully trimmed cuticles anyway.
Well, it was time for another museum! Back at Lincoln's Inn Fields there's a place called The Hunterian Museum housed at The Royal College of Surgeons of England. I knew that there were interesting artifacts such as these skeletons (look closely, there are three) and a dental bridge that once belonged to Winston Churchill. What I wasn't prepared for was all and sundry pickled in chemicals and lined up in jars! There were rows and rows of every insect, amphibian, mammal and human to be seen, yes, human! No need to go into detail unless you really want to know. I'm not usually squeamish but this was a bit much, yet I couldn't look away. There were the skulls of children and now I can't look at a young child in the library without picturing their adult teeth, secreted away in their upper jaw just under their nostrils. We'll leave it there shall we. What do you know, it's time for dinner! This lovely window box, and many like it, decorate the gates at the Russell Hotel which I would pass every day at some point. Were the flowers diverting enough from the last topic? Charlotte Street is located in Bloomsbury near the Goodge Street tube station and has a nice selection of restaurants so I wandered into a Pizza Express. This was more than just a pizza place, the tables had flowers on them! I ordered the lasagna and a bottle of sparkling water, a scotch neat may have been what I really needed after my last experience. I digress. My dinner was delicious and you could tell that it was Friday night, the atmosphere was abuzz with couples meeting for dinner and drinks and girls dressed up for Hen Night. I decided on a quiet night in with a couple of newspapers, cups of tea and a scone from Patisserie-Valerie that I picked up on my way back to The Arran House. There was a young couple from New Zealand staying there as well and they usually watched telly in the lounge at night and we spent some time chatting. I loved how Kelly, with her Kiwi accent would say "Bean" when she mentioned her boyfriend, Ben. Tomorrow will be my last full day in London, sigh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day Seven

Before meeting Kristina for our book chat I had time to visit Lincoln's Inn Fields. This area is in Holborn, tucked in behind the tube stop of the same name. It contains a square, the largest public square in London and the setting for some public executions when that sort of thing was a source of entertainment. This photo shows the entrance into The Inns of Court, a place where all things concerning law are learned and practiced. If you're lucky you will see Barristers in their wigs and gowns.Rich lawyers are housed in many of the buildings surrounding the square. In Dicken's, Bleak House, the sinister solicitor, Mr Tulkinghorn, has offices in Lincoln's Inn Fields.The Sir John Soanes Museum was the reason that I came here and is housed in the light-coloured building between the two darker ones. Sir John owned all three of these buildings. The Museum contains everything from Egyptian artifacts including a massive sarcophagus to books and an impressive art collection. It is here that I discovered the wonderful artwork of William Hogarth and had to know more. A guide wearing white gloves spent quite a long time pointing out the details in 'A Rake's Progress' and 'An Election' to me. Have a look at these two series of paintings on the internet and read about them, they're absolutely fantastic! Soane died in 1837 and this house is virtually as it was on that day. Green Park was my meeting spot with Kristina so I hopped onto the tube and headed over that way. It was lunch-time so I stopped into the Marks & Spencer food hall and grabbed a roast chicken and stuffing sandwich, a yogurt and a drink. I was looking for a spot in the park to picnic and heard a marching band play, it could only be one thing. Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, what luck! I walked through the park and hoisted myself up on a stone wall to have lunch and watch the proceedings from afar. After a short while, Kristina emerged from the tube stop and off we went, we had some time to browse in Fortnum & Mason (another lovely window display pictured below) and Hatchards whilst we were on Piccadilly.
The tube is such an efficient mode of transportation, most of the time, and Kristina is a fast walker so we even had time to whip over to Covent Garden. She introduced me to the world of Orla Keily and we had fun noting that many of the styles reminded us of clothes we wore as children. We made our way to Lamb's Conduit St for the book chat at Persephone Books and settled in with a fantastic group of ladies and one gentleman. We discussed Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple with everyone, including the owner, Nicola Beauman, whom I quite liked. I've heard that she can be quite formidable. There was great discussion about single beds for a married couple, does that mean the marriage is out of spark or did it have more to do with it being 1953 when the book was written? You couldn't show a married couple in bed together then on any television shows. I could go on but there isn't the space, suffice to say that it was a wonderful group of people that I would meet with again and again and the tea and Devon seed cake were delicious. I asked Nicola if it were homemade and she replied (insert upper class accent here) "Well yes, and presumably by someone from Devon". I love it! Sadly, it was over all too soon and Kristina walked me back to the B&B where we said our good-byes. I so enjoyed meeting and spending time with her, we will have to do it again one day. After dinner, it was another London Walk for me. This one was called Old Marylebone and was full more entertaining stories and history. We even stopped into a pub called The Tudor Rose, right next door lives Rod Stewart. He must have been busy doing the dishes or changing light bulbs as he wasn't at the pub that night.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day Six

The Victoria & Albert Museum is my absolute favourite of all the museums in London. This is the courtyard where lemon trees grow and is a tranquil setting compared to the hustle and bustle of Cromwell Road. This fantastic sculpture hangs in the front lobby and has you gaping in astonishment the moment you enter the building. There was an exhibit called Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones which featured examples of millinery through the ages. There were leather hats worn by Cavaliers, bonnets worn by Royalty, the golden spray that Camilla wore when she married Prince Charles, a very exotic headpiece worn by Isabella Blow and even Madonna's cowboy hat, worn in her 'Music' video and so much more.Ladies, can you imagine wearing a dress like this? As women had to enter rooms turned to the side there was an hierarchy as to who went through doorways first. The lower you were on the social scale the longer you waited in line. The embroidery on this dress was stunning! I could easily spend a whole weekend here, three and a half hours went by so fast! But it was now after lunch and time for something to eat so I grabbed a window seat at EAT, had a quick sandwich and did some window shopping in Kensington. The tranquility of the V&A's courtyard is more my style than the high-priced atmosphere of Harrod's but while you're there you might as well have a look around.
Time to switch gears again for there was another museum that I was intrigued by. The Foundling Museum tells the story of 27,000 babies and children abandoned in a building adjacent to this one from 1739 to 1954. The collection is to be housed in this gorgeous Georgian building for a period of twenty-five years. The children were fed, cared for and taught basic skills so that they could go out and typically be put into service. Most heart-wrenching were the tokens on display that accompanied some babies when they were left behind such as a button, a hairpin or simply a few beads on a piece of string. My impression is that most of these children were loved but there was simply not enough income to provide for another mouth to feed. Journals show that many babies didn't survive very long due to illness and disease. This was a very tragic and emotional exhibit but sadly, reality for all too many.
Later in the evening there was a London Walk that I wanted to go on, what a fun way to spend an evening! You meet at a designated tube stop, pay your guide the meager sum of 7GBP and then you walk around that area for two hours learning all sorts about the history and people that lived there or live there still. This walk was called Ghosts, Gaslight and Guiness and started in Holburn. The photo above shows a pub in a narrow lane, there has been a pub on this site since the time of Elizabeth I. She was Protestant which was not good news for Catholics, so they would hold secret mass at this location. There were tunnels underneath the floor so that priests could make their escape during raids. It was a fun, albeit spooky fun, night of dark lanes and ghost stories with a stop at a pub for a pint. I would have preferred a cup of tea but that came later back in my room. The next day would bring the book chat at Persephone Books and I couldn't wait!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day Five

Cath Kidston is a gorgeous shop in Marylebone and Covent Garden that carries items ladies would like and most of them are adorned in flowers and pretty designs. Now, you're wondering why there is a photo of some graveyard headstones. The shop didn't open until 10:30 am due to a 'mishap with the Manager'. Sounds grim doesn't it. I bought a tea and waited in a parkette where a church used to stand in the 1700's. Francis Bacon was married here and William Hogarth painted some of his wonderful art on the ceiling, I came to learn much more about him later. Oh yes, the wait was worth it, I purchased a new bag for summer with the encouragement of some ladies from Japan. They spoke no English but we understood each other perfectly.
There are free lunch-time concerts on certain days at St-Martins-in-the-Fields. Who says London is expensive! There were three boys performing from the Trinity School in Croyden. The youngest was all of 10 years old and when he played the violin I had tears in my eyes. The church was undergoing restoration when R and I were visiting in 2007 and it looks so fresh and bright now. You can have lunch in the crypt, even if you're not hungry you should go downstairs for a peek!
Since The National Portrait Gallery is practically across the street, I stopped in for a visit. Jane Austen's portrait by her sister, Cassandra is on display there. A light shines on the portrait every 30 seconds or so, I feel as though I'm stopping by to visit a friend.
It is just foolish to come to London and not see a play! I really wanted to see 39 Steps and it exceeded all of my expectations. There were only four members in the cast which required them to play several characters. It was absolutely hilarious and I must have had a silly grin on my face the whole time. At the end of the play there was a winter scene and the first three rows were treated to a snowfall! I was in the fourth row so I narrowly escaped.
I managed to take a shot of the balconies before people started to file in. The Criterion Theatre is so cozy and has a very old-fashioned feel about it and it should, it's been here since the 1800's. Step outside and you're in the heart of Piccadilly Circus. Be sure to visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for half-price tickets on the day of your favourite play. The tube station was just a few steps away so it was a short ride home to The Arran House for a cup of tea and to bed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day Four

It was so exciting to meet my friend from blog world, Kristina. She lives in Teddington and came in to meet me at the B&B. After happy hello's and an exchange of book gifts we set off on a stroll to Persephone Books. It was so wonderful to finally be amongst these fantastic books and as I stood there soaking up the surroundings, Kristina set about gathering the books on my list. I bought seven titles, a postcard featuring the shop and a package of watercolour postcards featuring scenes of Bloomsbury. The shop assistant kindly placed my books in a Persephone book bag as a free gift! It was over all too soon but Kristina and I would be back in a few days for the book chat to discuss Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. After walking back to the B&B to drop off my book bag of treasures we took the tube to Marylebone to visit some shops on the High Street. Window boxes are absolutely everywhere in London! I would love to suggest that they be mandatory in my city, so beautiful!
Emma Bridgewater was a fun, not to mention colourful, shop and I purchased a tea towel for a friend. It says 'Happiness is a cup of tea, a magazine and a bar of chocolate'. I couldn't agree more!
Daunt Books was a gem and is, as described on the internet, an original Edwardian bookshop. It was full of literary works, they go light on the commercial fiction, making this a notch above your local Waterstones. I couldn't resist picking up Stella Gibbons, Nightingale Wood, just reading the synopsis brings a huge smile to your face and the promise of a terrific read.
Kristina took me out to lunch, we had a lovely chat over baguette sandwiches and salad. It's amazing to me that with all the people on the internet I became friends with someone so far away and here we were having lunch together in London! After walking around a bit more we parted ways with plans to meet up again in a few days and I headed back to my room for a cup of tea and a rest. Later on, I rode the tube to Piccadilly Circus to purchase a couple of shirts for R from Lillywhites. They carry sports clothing and I had my eye on a Tiger Woods golf shirt. Once the dinner hour approached I made for the hustle bustle of Leicester Square. There's a pub called the Bear and Staff and upstairs finds you in a quaint dining room. They carry sausages by the people that supply Fortnum and Mason and they are delicious, I have been wanting more of these since my last trip. So a very English dinner of sausage and mash and by 8:30 pm I was knackered as they say. With the Evening Standard under my arm I made my way back to my room to send emails home and write in my journal about another lovely day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day Three

It was a beautiful morning so being inside a museum wasn't an option. I was off to Hampstead Heath. The architecture is fantastic, you spend a great deal of time looking up. This is a view of the High Street and I'm on my way to Kenwood House. What I thought would be a short stroll ended up being a huge trek but the scenery was worth it. The houses are so quaint and church bells were pealing as it was Sunday. After walking around the town and then through the Heath I finally arrived on the grounds of Kenwood House. The rhododendrons were absolutely massive, May is a fabulous month to be here.
The back view of Kenwood House overlooks a lake and forest, a mystical setting. This country house dates from the 17th century and houses art by Gainsborough, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Rembrandt to name a few. There was also an exhibit of shoe buckles and portrait miniatures, so beautiful.
After a morning of tranquility it was time for some shopping! After a bite for lunch it was on to Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street and Carnaby Street. The sights, the sounds and the price tags oh my!
I use TripAdvisor quite a bit when planning my trips to London and one of the members organizes get togethers quite often for people vacationing in the city. We met at a pub just off of Queen's Gate Mews, absolutely stunning architecture for those of us that don't have anything close to this in our own city. I met some wonderful people, one of whom does security for the Royal Family, oh the stories he could have told! There was a lovely woman from Vienna, an American who has worked as a Barrister in London for 18 years and a woman from Vermont on her 11th trip across the pond. She's a librarian and had already purchased 40 books! An older couple were there but left shortly after I had arrived so I didn't get to speak to them very much. It was so lovely to meet up with a group of strangers that felt like your friends and have the best Pimms I've ever tasted. There was practically half an orchard of fruit in it! Once I left the Goodge Street tube station I realized that I hadn't had dinner. I spied a Subway that had its doors propped open but they were in the process of closing. I apologized and went to leave but they wouldn't hear of sending me off wanting and made me a delicious sandwich which I took off to my room. Pajamas on, kettle on, the days Evening Standard open on my bed and the telly for company...I am so enjoying myself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day Two

One of my favourite views in London, Trafalgar Square looking down Whitehall to see Big Ben in the distance.
Covent Garden and the classically trained musicians and opera singers entertaining in the Piazza. They bring tears to my eyes every time.
South Bank book market, what a treat but watch that you don't get a stiff neck from craning to see the titles!
The Imperial War Museum was absolutely fantastic! So many people have written that this was so much more interesting than they could have imagined. I couldn't agree more. I was brought to tears twice here by The Children's War exhibit and shrieked once in a mock bomb shelter. It's dark inside, smells of Cordite (used as a propellant for bombs) and there's a tape playing of loud bombing and people screaming - then your seat shakes as a bomb blast sounds. They don't warn you about that.
The letters and drawings from children were heart-wrenching, some never reaching their fathers as they had been killed in action only a few days before. There were fighter planes with 'kills' marked on the side, tanks, missiles and bombs on display. The German SS uniforms gave me the shivers, the skull and crossbones above the brim on the cap was sinister.
The way that family and community clung together at such a time was the prominent message for me. Allotments for vegetables, knitting for service men, soup kitchens and tea wagons for volunteers, women looking after evacuated children, the list goes on. Life was not easy by any stretch but to use the slogan they kept calm and carried on.
My day ended with a ride in a black cab. It was very amusing when the cabbie said that he loved MY accent! Too funny.