30 May 2015

London Trip Highlights

Oh London, how I love thee!  Each trip seems to top the one before, which probably has something to do with an increasing level of familiarity, but it's true once again.  So what was on my itinerary for this trip?



Unlocking the door to my room at the B&B at 1:00 pm I quickly changed clothes and by 2 pm was in Hampstead for a London Walk.  The sun was shining, it was hot by England's standards, and the fresh air after an overnight flight was exactly what I needed.  The charming cobbled lanes and quaint homes make this area one of my favourites to explore.  Our guide, Peter, had us gather around on a street corner and then told us to turn around and gaze at the horizon.  Far into the distance was the dome of St. Paul's cathedral through an open slice of neighbourhood and the wonder of that view made for a collective gasp.  My fellow walkers were a friendly bunch; two couples from Essex joined me at Polly's for something to eat afterward.  You couldn't ask for a warmer welcome.  After pointing them in the direction of Keats' house I made my way to the tube station and Piccadilly.  Cath Kidston's flag shop is close to Fortnum & Mason and I had my eye on a cross-body bag for hands-free flitting about.


The weather for my first full day was cool...I lie, it was cold...and rainy.  Perfect for a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Eric Ravilious exhibit.  It was such a treat to see so many pieces brought together; I had to go around twice.  Two of my favourites were Hampden Park (1928) and Wiltshire Landscape (1937).  The regular collection is also well worth a visit.  The train ride is just long enough to escape London's hustle and bustle and the walk to the gallery is leafy.


Once back in London my next stop was Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street to pick up a copy of Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes.  A relaxing cup of tea at the cafe across the way was desperately needed and just the opportunity to browse the latest Biannually.




 After dropping off a few things at the B&B, my next stop was Leicester Square for a six o'clock showing of.....


 I am hoping that the show coincided with everyone running home to dinner and had nothing to do with cynicism because the cinema seats 2,000 people and there were only twenty of us in attendance.  Luckily for me this meant a seat in the Royal Circle at no extra cost.  This film does take a fair few liberties but it was jolly good fun!


 Making the best of a better forecast the next day it was off to Paddington Station for a train to Bath...or as Eloise says....'Baaawwth'.  Now, my wheat- and dairy-free diet was in a precarious position but I was prepared to give the iconic Bath bun a try but once I saw the size of it.....it didn't happen.  The gorgeous architecture was enough of a stunning treat....


...just imagine walking up to this picturesque front door every day.  Whenever I see homes that have stood for hundreds of years it's impossible not to conjure up images of its former owners, visitors, and my favourite - the downstairs girl.


The fashion museum displays sumptuous dresses and gowns from many eras but it was the unbelievably tiny waists on some that made me stare in awe.  Luncheon could only have been a few crumbs from a daintily held tea sandwich or scone.


After a full day of strolling Bath's beautiful streets and shops...in a dress with bare legs in the increasingly cool weather....it was time to return to London.  But not before drinking in one last stunning view of the Pulteney Bridge.  Photos just do not do any sort of justice for this vista.

My evening was spent at Hatchards lazily browsing titles and then there was a stop to make at Fortnum & Mason to buy tea for a friend.  Dinner plans when I'm travelling alone have nothing to do with romance so my day ended with a take-away of lamb meatballs with rice from the Turkish restaurant next to the B&B.  A scrubbed face, jammies on, while filling myself to contentment before writing about my day in a journal with the BBC on for company is all I need.


Cambridge.  This was my favourite day.  My train partner was a lovely young man from Australia in London on a music scholarship and we chatted the entire journey.  The walk from the train station is very like most High Streets but the closer you get to the colleges the more stunning the architecture becomes.  A bit of light refreshment from Patisserie-Valerie was in order before getting on with things properly.


It was graduation day for many of the students and lovely to see so many proud parents and family members dressed in their finery.  It truly was a special day to be in Cambridge...congratulations to the graduates!


The market was heaving with shoppers and buskers.  One man, Warren Daniel, plays guitar, and if you're ever in the city centre, look for him.  There are videos on youtube if you're curious; he's quite talented.  Harry, the little boy in the photo above, could not have been more thrilled to be a magician's assistant - he absolutely glowed with excitement!  So sweet.


I was happy just to wander and see what popped up around the next curve but did end up at one of my itinerary items, The Fitzwilliam Museum.  Blissfully majestic, this museum is large but has an intimate atmosphere much like the Wallace Collection in Marylebone.  I was specifically interested in seeing the Treasured Possessions exhibit but had the added pleasure of seeing works by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and L. S. Lowry from the regular collection.

The shops are fantastic!  There is one particular shop, Mistral, that would work perfectly as my closet and why, oh why, didn't I buy that gorgeous chartreuse cardigan?  The market is the perfect place for buying inexpensive gifts for friends back home such as really lovely summery scarves for £3!  I love you, Cambridge, and I'll definitely be back.

There doesn't seem to be anything in my notes about plans for the evening but by this point I'm sure there was a good night's sleep, something in keeping with a coma.


Intermission...



Sunday morning was bittersweet.  Before leaving for London I had been reading Ali Smith's How to Be Both for Emily's walking book club in Hampstead.  The time on my watch was off by almost half an hour and I can only assume that it happened while resetting it to London time while bleary-eyed on the plane.  Needless to say, I miised the walk and was thoroughly annoyed with myself.

But Hampstead's residents were enjoying the sunshine while eating breakfast on cafe patios dotting the mews and High street.  Hearing the church bells peel on a Sunday morning in Hampstead is a favourite memory from a previous trip so I was glad to have enjoyed it once again.  And I shared a sandwich with a pitbull named Honey who understood the word 'gentle' far better than my boy, Deacon.  The good news is that I did end up meeting the lovely Emily and a few of her book club members at Daunt Books and definitely hope to join the walk during my next visit.

Saying good-bye to Hampstead I rode the tube to Lambeth North and the Imperial War Museum.  This was my third visit but the first since the renovation.  The whole museum could easily take half a day to explore but my primary purpose was to see the Fashion on the Ration exhibit.  No photos were allowed; the dresses in the photo above are from the regular collection.  It was fascinating to see beautifully tailored dresses made from material featuring large mushrooms or illustrated balls of yarn.  I wonder if there were bolts of it lying about and when needs must....but the tailoring is so wonderful that you forget about the odd motifs!  The hand-knit bathing suit doesn't bear thinking about, a parachute silk bridesmaid dress would have made any little girl feel like a princess, and the foundation garments from a silk map of Italy were delightfully whimsical.  By the end of the exhibit there was a group of us sharing our thoughts on the clothing and I can honestly say I never experience a moment of loneliness while out and about in London.


There are several pieces of World War II art to see at the Imperial War Museum and fans of Persephone Books will instantly recognize The Queue at the Fish Shop by Evelyn  Dunbar (1944).  It was also thrilling to see Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-Ring by Laura Knight (1943).  I had a moment of gratitude when I bought the last postcard in stock of that painting.  Phew!

Monday was Mary day!  That didn't stop me from squeezing in a shopping trip to Marks & Spencer in Covent Garden; they open at eight am.  The half-price ticket booth opens at ten am and if I wanted to see Hay Fever starring the delightful Felicity Kendall this was the only day tickets were available before going back home.  With plans secure for the evening and a ticket in my wallet it was off to the Wallace Collection to meet Mary.  We've been emailing back and forth for yonks and have met before so it was simply picking up where we left off.  I adore Mary and wish we lived closer together.

  
When I think back to that visit it's this painting, The Strawberry Girl by Joshua Reynolds that stands out; it's incredibly haunting.  The poor thing looks like she's dying but Mary thought she's simply eaten too many sweets or the strawberries filling her apron.


With the skies clearing and the misty rain gone, Mary and I headed for Marylebone High Street.  Mary pointed out the blue plaque showing where Rose Macaulay lived after her previous flat was bombed during the Blitz.


After lunch we walked to Regent's Park.  The roses were only beginning to bloom, they're probably absolutely bursting by now, but there is lots of lovely greenery to enjoy.  See if you can spot the bird enjoying a bob on one of the platforms!  Mary and I had such a nice visit but it ended all too soon...I had a play to see.  Hay Fever was fabulous!!

May 19th was Strand day.  Did you know that the Savoy hotel has a mini-museum?  If you look smart they will let you in for a peek.


It's impossible to pass Twinings without shopping for tea.  I was hoping to find their Winter Edition Mulled Spice Tea but alas, I have to wait until October.  I did choose sixteen sachets of various flavoured teas which were duly placed into a very decadent, and large, shopping bag.  When you enter the Royal Courts of Justice, which is across the street from Twinings, you must be scanned and your bags x-rayed.  Just like at the airport, my bags were placed in a bucket and sent through the machine.  My purse came out but my impressive Twinings bag was pushed out of the bucket and now lodged inside the x-ray machine.  It did end up being pushed out eventually by the next woman's bucket but unfortunately my sachets of tea now dotted the conveyor belt in a most unbecoming fashion.  That didn't seem to put anyone off and they let me in.  It's not widely known to visitors of London but you can watch court proceedings.  Not only is it interesting but when you watch Law and Order UK you can say 'I've been there!'.  I love trumping my husband on London locales.

After a full day of exploring and buying confections to take back home, I met the lovely, and very busy, Rachel for dinner on Charing Cross Road.  If I'm not mistaken it has been five or six years since we've known each other through blogging - how time flies!  After catching up on news about her next exciting career move and some other interesting news, we tackled a few bookshops.  Well, of course....


The Country Set came from Hatchards.  It charmingly highlights wildlife from the English countryside with wonderful illustrations and is quite adorable.  It was love at first sight.  Rachel recommended Murder Underground as my souvenir 'London' read to extend that holiday feeling, They Came Like Swallows is a book Rachel blogged about ages ago and is one of those titles that leaves a mark once you've finished.  It was tagged as a 'staff favourite' at Foyles so I'm twice as curious now.  London War Notes....finally, it's been a long wait.  And Rachel plucked The UnCommon Reader from my hand when it came time to pay at Any Amount of Books and added it to her purchase.  Isn't she lovely?


It's Oxford day!  The Ashmolean currently has two exhibits that interested me but not only that, one of the nicest bloggers you will ever meet lives here and it has been too long since I've seen Simon.  He was working until five pm so more on that later.  Isn't this a nice photo of Radcliffe Camera?  I was just coming out of the nearby cafe.


The two exhibits were Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray and Great British Drawings.  If you have the chance to visit you will find plenty to please.  Some of my favourites were Rosetti's Proserpine, Ernest Howard Shepard's A Pre-Raphaelite Cocktail Party and Frederick Sandys' Nepenthe.  The photo above is a Delft tile, part of a grouping, from the regular collection at the museum.

If you are visiting Oxford and desire a cup of tea, or something stronger, I highly recommend visiting The Grand Café.  Sneak a peak....click here.  And don't leave Oxford without exploring the covered market.  The English robin was not to be seen during my stay but I found a lovely summery scarf with an English robin motif at one of the market shops, Ansari,  Lovely shop!

Simon met me at the Ashmolean after work.  We walked over to The Nosebag, a favourite spot of his, and laughed our way through tea and cake for an hour and a half.  A particular story about a lost crow still makes me laugh over one week later!  Thanks so much for meeting me, Simon, and eating cake before your dinner.


You would think I had the whole of Oxford to myself but there is a small army of students just out of range.  The skies were so gloomy but doesn't it make for a wonderfully atmospheric picture?

My last full day in London and the weather could not have been more stunning.  Such a relief as my plan was to finally take a London Walk I've had my eye on for ages, The Blitz.  It takes place on Thursdays at two pm and being smack in the middle of the day can be a problem but it suited me perfectly at the end of a busy holiday.  We met our guide, Fiona, at the St. Paul's tube stop and from there we walked to various sites and monuments while she talked about events relating to the Blitz and pointed out several monuments.  Such as this one...


...The National Firefighters Memorial to the men and women of the Fire Service who died serving their country.  There is a relief of two women on the other side of the plinth and tragically the list of names runs to the thousands.


Our guide, Fiona, speaking during a stop at Postman's Park.  The plaques are incredibly poignant but if you're interested in reading some of them there is a website.  Click here.


The rest of the time I had left in London was filled with strolling leafy Bloomsbury, watching dogs play in Russell Square, browsing bookshops on Charing Cross one more time, and shopping in Waitrose.  My cocky plans not to bother with a piece of carry-on luggage were a complete failure so I popped into Primark for a pretty satchel for my treasure, gifts, and keepsakes.


So there you have it, some highlights of my travels in London.  I'm already planning the next trip!

27 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I am going to print it out and paste into my "book" as I am planning a big trip to UK when I retire and you have provided me with ever so many ideas. I am so very pleased you had a wonderful trip.

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    1. How exciting, Margaret! The only problem you'll have is trying to fit everything in; there is so much to see and do. I would be glad to help with suggestions so if you have any questions when the time comes, please don't hesitate to email me. Our U.K. friends on the blogsphere would be more than pleased to help as well!

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  2. I love that you're such an intrepid lone traveller! I have to buck myself up for that but I'm good when I get there, I'll also be saving this post for future reference.

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    1. The best thing about travelling alone, if you're super sociable, is the people you meet during your travels. If I were with my husband there would be loads of friendly banter gone by the wayside! Buck yourself up, Audrey, and give it go!

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  3. What a wonderful trip, Darlene!

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    1. It really was, Karen! I have all sorts of memories to daydream about while washing the dishes and shelving books at the library. Until next time...

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  4. Such a trip Darlene! Tempting to save this post for very careful future inspiration
    In a minor key, how did you manage a wheat free dairy free regime away from home? Of great interest !

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    1. I could have managed it without too much trouble as there are plenty of salads of all sorts of variety available but I really wanted a scone and wasn't leaving London without enjoying a Byron Burger! I did ask the Turkish restaurant beside the B&B to substitute couscous for rice which was never a problem and I ate sushi several times. There are several hotels serving gluten-free afternoon teas and small grocery stores with all sorts of food options for grab-and-go eating so I wouldn't worry about restrictions at all!

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    2. Thanks so much for great suggestions
      I did love your shot of entry steps to Fitzwilliam Museum bringing special memories of visiting there over 12 years ago. One of my haunts when we were living briefly in Cambridge

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  5. It was so lovely to see you! And I love the idea of Mary Mondays! I was thinking of you yesterday in a wonderful bookshop in Aberdeen - and bought a Rose Macaulay novel that jumped off the shelf at me.

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    1. A Rose Macaulay?! You lucky woman...and you're not going to share the title? That's me sending you an email....
      Hope you didn't freeze too much while in Scotland and had a thoroughly wonderful time.

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  6. Liked the post and the images are so lovely.

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    1. Thank you, Mystica! I didn't bother with a proper camera this trip and just used my iPod. No zooming and sometimes I couldn't see because of the sun but all things considered, I was quite happy with the photos!

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  7. So many familiar sights (and sites!) - I lived in Cambridge for ~5 years, so you make me very nostalgic. What a lovely holiday. So many exhibitions too that I would love to have seen.

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    1. Wouldn't that be wonderful?! Of course, we tend to take our surroundings for granted just a little but on sunny days I would be down by the river and at the museum on rainy ones. Cambridge is a must during every trip from now on!

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  8. What a lovely account of your travels - the places really leapt off the page. And although I visit London fairly regularly (I have a daughter there) I hadn't heard about the Ravilious show or the Fashion on the Ration exhibition, so they're pencilled into my diary for my next trip.

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    1. Check the dates, Christine! Hopefully you're heading that way soon and will be able to catch them. My husband brings home an English paper at least once a month so I'm constantly moaning about the fabulous exhibits I'm missing out on but this time things worked out! All the best for your next trip.

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  9. Thank you, what a wonderful trip, I feel as though I was there with you! I'm glad you had such a lovely time.

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    1. Not only is everything I adore a tube ride away but no dishes or housework...or work! Mind you, not sure how long I could keep up that pace...
      Came home to Home Front downloading again....hooray!

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  10. What a wonderful trip! It makes me want to do a similar one of my own. Which I really should considering I live to close to all these places.

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    1. You have no excuse then...and aren't you lucky?! London, and so many surrounding cities, do such a splendid job of offering up interesting things to see and do and your museums are just stunning. The admission charges to museums in Ontario can be prohibitive to some families so I am always in awe of what you can access for free! Take advantage of it, and often!

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  11. What a wonderful write-up, Darlene! And what an absolute joy it was to see you. If only we lived closer to each other! We would laugh through so many tea-and-cake sessions.

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    1. Oh my goodness, we could end up barred from tea rooms from Ontario to Oxford! You and that wonderful sense of humour are very good for the soul, Simon, and I am so glad to have made it out to see you!

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  12. What an amazing trip! You certainly made the most of your time. The Blitz walking tour in particular sounds fascinating. I'm putting that on my list for next time I'm there.

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    1. It's a good walk, Claire, and Fiona is one of my favourite guides. She quoted here and there from Boy in the Blitz: The 1940 Diary of Colin Perry. It's a favourite of hers and one I'll have my eye out for.

      We can't stay away for very long, can we? It would be perfect if our paths crossed again!

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  13. I'm long overdue for a trip to Cambridge. Loved your account and pictures and that Cath Kidston bag!

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    1. I would be happy to meet you there the next time I'm over! I can't tell you how many times I've retraced those outings while going about my day...I'm such a gifted daydreamer. The bag is absolutely perfect, just big enough to hold everything for back and forth to work and looks pretty with dresses. I could have sold it to envious friends several times over since I've been back!

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