Category Archives: London

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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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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Changing plane, train, ballet tickets due to Covid (or presumably due to another illness or issue): what I learned

I am very glad I opted (uncharacteristically) to pay $100 extra per ticket for our flights to London so we’d get “changeable” tickets. When my husband tested positive for Covid this week (He’s ok. Bad cold symptoms and initial high fever) it was five days before our flight to London. I discovered it was surprisingly easy to rebook our tickets, pushing our trip back a week (in case I get Covid. So far so good.). We even got $90 per ticket in travel credits. (Never would have guessed the cost would drop.)

London friends I can’t wait to see!

Meanwhile, rebooking our train travel was NOT easy. I couldn’t just change the dates of travel. I had to buy new tickets, which was very easy. Then I could apply for a refund, which was ridiculously difficult. No surprise that it was easy to spend more money but not to get money back. Shame on you, Great Western Railway! This was compounded by the announced rail strike days…with no service on 3 days of our trip. Grrrr.

On another cancellation front, after failing to find someone to give my Joffrey ballet tickets, hours before the performance, I looked closer at the fine print on the Joffrey website and learned that I could exchange them for a credit to use for a performance later in the season. I called the box office and voila! Now I can go to a performance through April 2023 (the current season).

Who we don’t want to see in London

Back to the airline situation: Our “ main cabin” tickets, I learned allow us to change them —- specifically to rebook the same trip and do it several times, if need be, without charge, beyond paying more (or less, as it happened) due to the new flight possibly costing more than the original one. Good to know and handy in case I develop Covid.

Google tells me: “The main difference between main cabin and basic economy is cost. For cheaper airfare and more money in your pocket, you trade flexibility for flight changes and/or cancellations, seat selection options and the ability to earn miles at a high rate. Love them or hate them, basic economy fares are here to stay.Apr 22, 2022”

I asked the American Airlines agent what would have happened if we had the cheaper “basic economy” ticket and she said we would not have been able to change/rebook the ticket. Or that’s what I understood her to say. Surely, I said, if someone is sick, especially with Covid, you don’t want them flying and would help them stay off the plane. She then said something to the effect that they could rebook once. (Not sure about the other particulars ex: change fee? Paying the possible difference in fares? Etc.)

Last January, when I decided not to go to a gathering in Atlanta, due to a Covid spike, Delta gave me travel credits with my basic economy tix (or some such), which I am using for thanksgiving flights to NY. But that was cancellation not rebooking flights.

The fine print on the American website specifies the policy for a variety of what I loosely called “changes” and the varying options, depending on the ticket type/cost. Another variable: the airline you choose. For an American Airlines basic economy ticket for example: if you cancel a trip, you can’t exchange the ticket or get a refund. But if you need to rebook the trip, you can sort of. The process/options are more “restrictive” than higher priced tickets. (The fine print doesn’t mention the possible option of getting travel credits if you cancel.)

Moral of story: ASK what is available and politely but firmly stick up for yourself. Play the pity card if need be. Or appeal to the airline to be reasonable, although this doesn’t always work.

I still have not forgiven American for screwing up my daughter’s (expensive, albeit “basic economy”) flights to a family wedding in New Mexico in early June. They cancelled her flights (for non-mechanical, non-weather reasons! It was due to their staff shortage) and then gave her awful options for other flights. She came close to missing the wedding. And the changes added even more stress to the trip. I was particularly incensed that they would not give her an available seat that was a decent alternative because it was a much higher fare seat. She’d have to pay considerably more.

American has improved its customer service, although I don’t doubt my latest experience had to do partly with having a higher fare ticket. I braced myself for a long wait on the phone for an agent (several hours in the recent past with an airline) but got a call back in a matter of minutes and the agent was efficient and accommodating (again, perhaps in part because I had a pricier, more flexible ticket but still…)


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Bonnard show at Tate Modern, Zizzi Italian, Oliveira Brazilian vegan food, Cote for brunch — London

I met another friend of 39 years, Jemima, who came all the way from her home in the northern town of Ludlow to meet up, for the first time in about four years. What a treat! She suggested an exhibit of work by Pierre Bonnard at the Tate Modern, one of my favorite London “it” spots. The exhibit itself turned out to be stunning (Go! Go!)

South Bank was packed with people, many speaking languages other than English, strolling along the Thames on a sunny day with a brisk wind. Such a buzzy place. London seems so vibrant, healthier than ever and yet Brexit looms, creating an odd sense of doom.

We had a good lunch at Zizzi, a chain Italian restaurant with surprisingly good food that, even more surprisingly, arrived at our table very quickly and still tasted good. (We shared pizza and a salad.) We also had a really nice view of the Thames and all the hubbub along the South Bank.

on Saturday night, Francine, Russ and I had highly unusual vegan and veggie Brazilian food at Oliveira in East Sheen. We are now back on Shalstone road where Russ is engrossed in a chess channel on YouTube that he swears by (Power Play Chess, should you be so inclined.)

On my last day in London, Francine, Russ and I had a nice brunch (English breakfast for Francine and I) at Cote restaurant in the pretty Richmond village of Barnes and then were blown by an intense wind along the Thames path, back to Mortlake.

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