Category Archives: England and U.K.

Ferry from Putney to Battersea Power Station & Park, over the Albert Bridge to Chelsea (Cheyne walk, Kings Road, Partridges), Hare & Hound Pub/East Sheen – London

On a foggy morning that later cleared, we took a scenic river ferry (and pricey ride: about 11 pounds, using our Oyster card) in southwest London from the pier in Putney to Battersea Power Station, a towering brick Art Deco landmark that operated from 1933 to 1983, powering buildings including Buckingham Palace and Parliament. It was once known as “the Cathedral of Power” due to it enormity. St. Paul’s would fit comfortably within its footprint, one of the many helpful signs around the revived station informed us.

Boat ride to Battersea

The station has recently been reborn, after decades of inertia, as the dominant feature (and main draw) of a new 42-acre tourist destination. It was fun to walk inside the station, admiring the original industrial structure, but I soon realized we were, in essence, inside a glitzy shopping mall with chain stores and restaurants (Ralph Lauren, Tag, Lacoste) often found elsewhere, including Chicago. Many are high-end, although there is a Uniqlo, Swatch and Pret. And some of the restaurants have cool designs, reminding me of Las Vegas offerings.

Inside Battersea power station

So one visit may be enough, although we might return when the new glass lift that goes up 109 meters through one of the four (rebuilt) circular chimneys opens. We were a day early for the opening of “Lift 109,” which promises great 360 degree views and should, given the cost (about 12 pounds). Some of the development’s future offerings, scheduled to open in 2023, including a food hall, might also make it more interesting. A seasonal riverside ice skating rinkmall Ferris wheel (“vintage funfair ride”) and outdoor sculpture add things to do and see.

The Battersea Power Station

The power station/mall is surrounded by huge new glass and steel luxury housing developments, adding a certain soullessness, compared to the edgy industrial-chic charm of the Tate Modern, another converted power station further east on The Thames, which is home to a fantastic art museum (rather than ritzy shops), plus surrounded by a mix of buildings, new/sleek/striking and old/gritty/full of character.

Albert Bridge

There is one gem near the Battersea Power Station — lovely Battersea Park, with its river views, small ponds with graceful trees and colorful gardens. We found a surprisingly good charcuterie board at what looked like a workers cafe near a put-put golf course.

Walking over the Albert Bridge, we landed on Chelsea Embankment, including posh Cheyne Walk, home at one time or another to many famous people (Keith Richards, Catherine Middleton George Elliot, Bob Marley, Margaret Thatcher….) as a helpful, detailed map in pretty little Ropers Orchard Garden reminded us.

The Kings Road was even posher than I remembered. We found a tower of classic American canned and boxed foods (Nestle’s Chocolate Chips, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, canned cranberry sauce, Stovetop Stuffing) on display for Thanksgiving shoppers at Partridge’s, the famous English fancy food shop. (I used to have to search far and wide for chocolate chips in London during the early 1980’s.)

Thanksgiving supplies in London

Back in Mortlake, we had drinks at the cozy Hare and Hounds pub in East Sheen, followed by takeaway fish and chips, so I could check off another food item on my to-eat list. Next trip: cream tea at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond Park.

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Burgh House/Hampstead Heath and Tapestry/Mortlake – return to London

Usually when in London, we spend quality time with our English friends. This trip we’ve gotten to do that again but also reconnected with a surprisingly number of American friends who are living here, as students or journalists.

Today we had a wonderful long overdue get together with friends from a paper I worked at in Connecticut during the mid-1980s. We probably hadn’t seen each other in 33 years. We spent the afternoon wandering around Hampstead, where they live, especially the Heath and 18th century village, with its narrow winding lanes dotted with cafes, posh shops and pretty homes (including Boy George’s). Lunch was excellent on the patio at Burgh House, off the Heath…toasted sandwiches with mature cheddar and sausage, robust soup, hearty quiche.

Tonight was delicious paella at The Tapestry, which we learned harkens back to Mortlake’s famous 17th century tapestry makers, whose handiwork can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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Castle/Ludlow, The Rodd and tour of country homes/Herefordshire – English countryside

The 11th century castle at Ludlow is spectacular, surrounded by stone walls, and almost intact in a few places with a circular tower you can walk up (only 50-some steps, one quarter of the number at the Ludlow church) for some fantastic views of the town and rolling green countryside with sheep dotting pastures.

Armistice day in Ludlow

As part of our sentimental journey/tour of charming country homes, Jemima drove us along narrow curvy roads lined with hedges to Presteigne, on the welsh border, where we dropped by her family’s former ancestral home that is now a public property showcasing artwork by Sidney Nolan. I visited what was known as The Rodd and the nearby Little Rodd about 40 years ago when it was a private home in Mima’s family. Still spectacular.

On the way back to Ludlow, we stopped briefly in the “black and white town” of Pembridge (so called due to its abundance of white stucco with black timber framed buildings) and then onto an enormous old farmhouse mansion in Herefordshire (near Shropshire) where my friend’s sister lives. Dinner was back in Ludlow at CSons, overlooking the river.

The Rodd, little and big

Before leaving town today, we loaded up on sandwiches and florentines at Watsons, the bakery in town (there was a line out the door) and then took one last walk through town, past the market and castle , down to the river and then back to Ludford and the bridge leading into Ludlow.


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Rhayader, Elan Valley Dams, Presteigne – Wales

We drove a scenic hour west of Ludlow to Presteigne and soon after entered Wales, where at first I couldn’t detect much difference between Wales and England except of course for the signs in unfathomable and unpronounceable (for yanks) Welsh. In another half hour we landed in the Elan Valley, outside the town of Rhayader. Elan Valley is famous for its dramatic dams that supply the water to the big English city of Birmingham. The scenery is also spectacular, a bit like Scotland, with mountains towering above the water, clad in vegetation in full autumnal glory, which here means browns, yellows, oranges (not red).

We started at the visitors center with sausage and bacon Baps (sandwiches), apple juice and tea, then browsed through the Wales-made goods in the gift shop, Then we ventured into the drizzle, which fortunately proved off and on, with dramatic bursts of sun that lit up patches of the mountains in the distance. We spotted at least three rainbows. Glorious.

In Rhayader, which bills itself as the outdoors capital of Wales, we stopped for a drink at the pub and then drove for dinner at the cool house of Jemima’s brother Francis, in Presteigne, where the England/Wales border runs though his back garden.

An agronomist who knows his seeds (and sells them), Francis and Dirck had lots to talk about. Francis has an interesting stone and wood cottage that used to be an old mill. The millstone and gears remains in the house, between the between the kitchen and dining room.

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Camden Lock market, Regents Park, 27 bus to Hammersmith – London

Today, met old friends in London at Camden Town contemporary apartment with fantastic views of Primrose Hill and Hampstead, in one direction, and downtown London in another, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and the BT Tower (which looks like something out of the Jetsons).

We stopped before lunch briefly in Camden market which was hopping on Sunday midday, full of people browsing in stalls filled with t-shirts, jewelry, jean jackets, junk…not as nice stuff as at Spitalfields but a much livelier, edgier scene. We picked up some delicious treats, fondly remembered from our trip to Lisbon years ago: Pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg custard tart pastry, dusted with cinnamon.

After an incredible lunch (how lucky to have friends who are such good cooks and generous hosts..last night another friend treated us to an elaborate dinner at her house in Mortlake) we took a walk through Regents Park as the sun was going down (early…at 4:30) and then took the 27 bus to Hammersmith, so I could do one thing always on my London list: ride in the front seat of a double decker bus. It never gets old! Thanks to our London pals for being such good sports in coming with and indulging me.

With old friends in Regents Park
Camden market
On the top of the bus!

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Neal’s Yard Cheese and Ole & Steen/Covent Garden; The Lost Goddess on Store street/Bloomsbury and Lucian Freud show at the National Gallery – London

There are certain touchstones for me in London and Covent Garden is one, even though it has changed a lot since I first roamed around it over 4 decades ago. Neal’s Yard used to have a hippie bakery that served whole-wheat pastries and tea on the top floor overlooking the yard. That’s long gone and there’s a more posh feel but Neal’s Yard Cheese is still there so I got a wedge of Cheshire and a blue from Shropshire.

View from Waterloo Bridge
Old favorite on Greek street in soho

We stopped for coffee at Ole & Steen, a Danish chain of cafes, and a lovely mezze platter and spinach and cheese pie at The Lost Goddess, a Greek restaurant inBloomsbury. It was still drizzly so we went inside to The National Gallery to see a retrospective of Lucian Freud’s work, which had not only obese nudes but early work that seemed also folk art style portraits, flat faces on blank backgrounds.

Early Lucian Freud, 1940s

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The Sun Inn/Barnes and Ted Lasso walking tour/Richmond — London

Ted Lasso Tour

It was a rainy day in London so we stayed close to home, or our temporary home, in Mortlake. Fortunately it was a light rain so we could walk, which we did along the Thames past scullers toiling in the drizzle, to Barnes, another suburb that feels more like a country village with a pretty green and old pubs and a good outdoor market with everything from cherry tomatoes, cakes and cheese to kimchee, beef jerky and sushi.

We took refuge in The Sun Inn, a pub that is kid and dog friendly so there were several of both. It proved a good place to come in from the damp, drink some cider, beer or coffee and nibble on halloumi fries, chips and avocado salad.

From Barnes, Dirck and I took the 419 bus to Richmond where we half heartedly joined the shoppers on George Street but more enthusiastically walked down the narrow shop-lined lanes leading to pretty Richmond Green and the grand orange brick Richmond theater. As befits the area that has become a film location for one of the most popular US TV shows, we soon chanced upon a “Ted Lasso Walking Tour,” a young woman holding a sign on a pole, guiding two tourists to see the sights.

Rainy day in Barnes

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Spitalfields Market, Gordon’s Wine Bar, Peckham, brick brewery, the tapas Room – “Evan day” in London

We chanced upon Spitalfields Market during a visit to the nearby Great Diary Project, a remarkable effort to “rescue” ordinary peoples diaries, housed inside The Bishopsgate Institute. The market has lots of stalls with fun clothes, jewelry, crafts and woolens and the street leading to it also has alluring shops.

At Gordon’s with Evan!

A short tube ride from Liverpool Street Station got us to Embankment (a short bit also via the new Elizabeth Line) where we met Evan, a graduate student from Des Moines who we’ve know since he was born. Great to see him and his enthusiasm for London.

After an excellent lunch down in the dark cellar of the venerable Gordon’s Wine Bar (excellent cheese and charcuterie boards, the closest I’ve gotten to a Ploughman’s lunch) we met up with Francine and headed to Peckham, a southeast London neighborhood that is starting to gentrify here and there (Bellenden Road) but still feels like the African and African-Caribbean neighborhood it is.

Brew pubs aren’t as big a thing here as in the US but we did go to a funky one, Brick Brewing, that has outdoor seating and cheap prices. After attending a popup art show with work by a friend of Francine and Russ’s, (made by filling hollowed pumpkins with black tar and dropping them from a rooftop onto a white canvas, creating a black splatter paint pattern with pumpkin pulp…no surprise this was work created during the covid lockdown) we had an excellent bits and bobs (Padron peppers, jamon croquettes, picos blue cheese) at The Tapas Room (which has several other outposts including in Battersea.)

Peckham’s phallic bollards (road barriers) by British artist Anthony Gormley on Bellenden Road
pandemic lockdown-induced Tar and pumpkin pulp splatter art

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Kings cross, granary square/coal drops yard, Gail‘s, Russell Square, Lamb & Flag – “Marion Day” in London

Today was our long-awaited day with Marion, my dear friend of 43 years who graciously took the train from her lovely country home in an 18th Century tower in Hertford, to King’s Cross, where we talked and walked and talked, wandering around the commercial and residential developments. Construction cranes above buildings, rising every which way.

Coal drops Yard/granary square

As we drank coffee on a balcony in the mall-like station, a military band played below us. Not the oom-pah-pah kind of military band. These were energetic young women and men in military fatigues playing electric guitars. Unexpected.

We had a good light lunch at Gail’s, a bakery and cafe that apparently is a chain. A branch is opening in East sheen, near where we are staying with our pals in mortlake.

St. Pancras renaissance Hotel
Bagpipers at Charring Cross.

Last visit I was impressed by the old brick hotel at St. Pancras station so we wandered around more inside. Very cool interior with a restaurant featuring a former train tix counter converted into a bar counter.

We ended up wandering down one narrow alluring street after another, through Russell Square, past the British Museum all the way to my former haunts in Covent Garden, where we stopped for a drink at the atmospheric pub, The Lamb and Flag (circa 1623) for cider, beer and chips.

As seen near Russell Square in Bloomsbury

At Charring Cross station, before hopping on the tube, we joined a crowd watching bagpipers (a favorite of mine.) Oh happy day.

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National Covid Memorial Wall, Golden Fleece, The Guildhall, Self sacrifice memorial, St. Barthlomew’s, Prufrock Coffee in Leather Lane, Chook Chook- London!!

Lovely to be back in London, especially on a warm sunny November day, no joke. We stopped at the National Covid Memorial Wall, a long stretch of wall along the Thames across from Parliament, with thousands of red painted hearts, many with handwritten notes remembering people who died during the pandemic (about 200,000 in the UK). Sobering.

Where our great friendship began.
National Covid Memorial

We walked along the river on the south bank past the Tate Modern (where the blockbuster Cezanne show is the same show we saw earlier this year in Chicago) , walking over the wobbly bridge into the City of London past St. Paul’s to the third pub we happened upon, the Golden Fleece, which had something approximating traditional pub grub, although not my favorite (ploughman’s) and a good house beer of the same name. The scotch egg that Francine ordered was surprisingly delicious, with a very fresh egg with a soft orange yolk inside a savory mound of sausage and bread.

On to the Guildhall, the seat of government for the City of London which has an interesting free art gallery and amazingly, ruins of a Roman amphitheater (65 AD) in the basement. Who knew? Francine, of course. Nearby, we popped into a little pocket park near St. Botolph church that has a remarkable Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a wall with tiles honoring people who died trying to “save another,” including 19-year-old railway clerk William Donald of Bayswater who “drowned in the Lea from a dangerous entanglement of weed” on July 16, 1876 and 31-year-old inspector Frederick Alfred Croft “who saved a lunatic woman from suicide at Woolwich Arsenal station but was himself run over by the train” on January 11, 1878. Another Francine find!

St. Bartholomew’s

We dropped in at my favorite London church St. Bartholomew’s, a 12th century Romanesque beauty that still offers Christmas concerts that I remember fondly. (Also featured in movies including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare in Love.)

After wandering past the large colorful wrought iron gates of a Smithfield market, we landed at a trendy coffee bar, Prufrocks, in Leather Lane, where I recall my pal Marion used to shop when the NYTimes bureau was nearby on Shoe Lane.

Dinner tonight was superb Indian food at Chook, Chook, an “Indian Railway Kitchen” in Putney.

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