Tag Archives: London

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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Return to old London stomping grounds — Parliament, Covent Garden, south Bank, embankment

Francine and I met 39 years ago when we were both working for Labour MPs in The House of Commons. Today we returned for a program marking International Women’s Day, featuring 25 people – most black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women speaking in an elegant Commons meeting room on topics ranging from youth violence to sexual slavery to  increasing minotity women participation in science, business and artificial intelligence. It didn’t escape my notice that all this these attractive, smart and successful South Asian women were sitting in a room decorated with huge old oil paintings of white men. The times are a changing and, as one speaker noted, the art needs to also.

We drank tea and ate finger sandwiches, scones and macaroons afterwards at a reception in the House of Lords, overlooking the balcony and Thames on a rainy afternoon. Francine managed to get us back over to the House of Commons, through back hallways and we sweet-talked the nice guards into letting us join some other tourists inside the H of Commons chamber, which looked even smaller and more compact than I remembered. We walked through the glorious 12th century Westminster Hall, bits of it under repair. (Big Ben is completely shrouded in scaffolding.)

Continuing on our sentimental journey, we walked up Whitehall, past Downing Street and other imposing government buildings to Trafalgar Square and then Covent Garden, where I bought a rain hat (like my friend Una’s, which I borrowed in Dover) from Barbour (quintessential British) and tried on some shoes at one of three Allbirds stores in the world. Then we walked in the dark and drizzle through the crowds and past the shops in Covent Garden to embankment (Gordon’s wine bar, an old favorite, had an overflow crowd) and over the bridge to South Bank and the train from Waterloo back to Mortlake where we had Indian takeaway with Russ. Ahhh London….

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Petersham Nurseries, Thames Path, The Cricketers Pub — Richmond/Kew in London

0D50E19A-CFB1-4EE3-8FCB-EDDA56003AF0.jpegWe learned the hard way that you can’t pay cash to ride a bus, nor if you are American are you likely to be able to pay with your credit or debit card. (It’s missing some sort of chip that British cards have…and I don’t mean “the chip” of “chip and pin” which American credit cards now have.) We also learned that I can’t simply use my Oyster card twice on a bus to get a ride for myself and a friend (unlike in, say, NYC, where you can swipe your metro transit card twice or however many times needed to get your entire party through the turnstiles.)

So how did Merida get on the bus, especially given the unusually unpleasant nature of the bus driver? Another passenger, one of several older women trying to help us, used her bank card to pay Merida’s fare. Then there was a lively debate by no less than five kind older passengers on what Merida needed do in order to buy a return fare. (They suggested she get off the bus, before our destination, at the Richmond train station so she could pick up some variety of fare card.)

6519469C-7513-45C6-A4F1-6B84B70B3A33.jpegWe did finally make it to the sweet rustic cafe at Petersham Nurseries, where we learned (the hard way) that it doesn’t serve a proper English breakfast, as hoped, but we did have a nice flat white coffee and another scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam, surrounded by glorious flowers (hydrangea, camellia, daffodils) in bloom.

Onto the toe path along the Thames, since the sun was unexpectedly shining fiercely (although the strong wind should have been a warning of worse weather to come). We walked past Richmond pubs on the river and lovely Richmond Green, with stately red brick homes and blossoms on the trees. Unfortunately we learned the hard way (do you detect a theme?) that Google maps is not always accurate (especially when an entrance to a little country passage or lane is unexpectedly closed) and the walk back to Kew was longer than expected. The sun shrank, the sky darkened and the wind kicked up but fortunately it didn’t start raining (yet) and Marion, at age almost 82, was a trooper! We walked 17,070 steps/6.4 miles and climbed 18 floors, according to Marion’s know-it-all phone. We deserved our Prosecco and Eton Mess, see below!

Emerging from the Thames Path onto Kew Green, we stumbled into the nearest pub, The Cricketers, which turned out to be a winner. We had big glasses of hard cider, my pate and bread sufficed and we all enjoyed an “Eton Mess,” whipped cream with strawberries, bits of meringue and shortbread.

We are now happily gathered around a fire in the living room of our Kew Airbnb, Prosecco in hand, enjoying each other’s company on our last night together…this trip.

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Hampton Court/Kew — London

Marion, Merida and I are bunking in a lovely Airbnb on Sandycombe Road in Kew, a pretty village in the London Borough of Richmond. Our friend Pam, who lives nearby, picked us up in her sweet little Fiat 500 and drove us around Richmond, where we stopped for coffee at the pleasant Richmond Hill Bakery, up the street from a glorious view from on high of Richmond Park (and near Mick Jagger’s house, we were told.)

We Ubered over to Hampton Court, which hasn’t changed much since I last visited with my kids about 14 years ago, except for the experience itself, which combined high-tech (a handy audio tour headset) and low-tech (a staged play in William III’s living quarters featuring the same characters portrayed in the movie “The Favourite,” part of which was filmed there.)4E49B1BC-94B7-4527-9A41-2F2C16416BB6.jpegWe got lost a time or two but it was a treat to be able to wander around on our own. We also had a good quick lunch in a cafe in an old room (baked potato with cheese, greens) and toured some nice gift shops, beyond the spectacularly ornate royal rooms and the great old kitchen rooms. 533C9AE4-E685-448B-A2E8-C5557DC67427.jpegMerida and I also wore borrowed long velvet capes, a nice option (that kept us warm) on a rainy day and made me feel a bit like a Hogwarts student. Undeterred by rain, we wandered around the formal gardens past bizarrely trimmed trees that looked  like hedges on stilts.

6DFB0B30-7913-4A01-B393-E0EE48E7F380.jpegMore memories of London visits with my kids when they were little cropped up when M, M and I  had cream tea at the famous old Kew tea house, Maids of Honour. Fourteen years ago, D and I ended up here with the kids after an attempted walk to Kew Gardens from Francine and Russ’s house in Mortlake ended abruptly, due to a downpour. Thank God for the Maids of Honour, which 14 years ago we stumbled into soaking wet. This time we were also wet but not as wet. The scones were as light and the clotted cream as rich as I remembered.

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Great Diary Project, Betjeman Pub at St. Pancreas Station and Granary Square – Hello (again) London

A very full day in London, first visiting the remarkable Great Diary Project at the Bishopsgate Institute, a quiet refuge in the bustling City of London that is home to a remarkable collection of diaries and scrapbooks donated by generations of ordinary scribblers dating back centuries. I spent some time talking to the director in whispered voice as she sat at a desk surrounded by presumably new dairy intakes in an austere old reading room and then looked through a few old diaries, one kept by a woman from 1957 through the 1990’s that began with the memorable words “Mother died today.” That grabbed me and kept me reading.

Onto the gorgeously revived St. Pancreas and Kings Cross stations, in a once grotty but now rapidly gentrifying North London chunk of Camden. Francine and I had a pricey shared Ploughmans at Betjeman Pub in St. Pancreas, named after the famous writer John B. who helped save St. Pancreas from demolition. I walked around nearby Granary Square, bordered by massive old dark brick industrial buildings that have been spiffed up and converted into an art college (with hipsters playing ping pong in an entry way with stories-high ceilings), fancy shops, an amazing looking Waitrose, of course, clever site specific sculpture and on the day I visited, a craft and food market. It seems like every time I visit London, I find another new dynamic neighborhood– and this at a time when Britons are heavy-hearted and deeply worried as the deadline for Brexit fast approaches.

Granary Square

I am now in a charming late 18th/early 19th century “terrace house” overlooking the sea on Beach Road in the charming small Kent town of Deal. Our friend Una kindly rented the place from friends but arrives tomorrow. Francine, Russ and I took the train from St. Pancreas, an easy, albeit pricey, 1.5 hour train ride. (Cheaper for Francine and Russ who now get incredible discounts on public transport because they are both 60.)

I should add that my day flight on American from Chicago to Heathrow was surprisingly pleasant. Only thing bad was the food. The flight was pretty empty. I wasn’t the only one who had a three seat row to myself. We arrived 1/2 hour early at Heathrow and at 10: 15 pm there was a very short line at passport control. I carried on my suitcase so I got out even earlier into the awaiting arms of my dear pals Francine and Russ who whisked me off to their lovely house in Mortlake. Ahhh England.

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Hanging out at Gatwick – London (sort of)

Playing post-vacation catch up:

It’s tempting to jump on a train and visit my beloved London during this 7 hour layover but a number of things are holding me back, including my arm, which doesn’t hurt but slows me down. “Been through the war?” the immigration woman said to me with uncharacteristic humor.

Fact is, I’d have only 3 hours max before I need to head back to the airport for check in. And protests are expected in London because Trump is visiting. (I just avoided him in Helsinki, where he and Putin are summitting in a few days.)

I wasn’t planning to go through immigration here but my Norwegian Air representative recommended this, even if I don’t go out of the airport because apparently it offers more comfortable options for waiting around than departures. Good to know for future reference.

I slept a bit last night but was up by 3:30 a.m. to watch my cell alarm go off at 4. My Airbnb host Annamari was sleeping on the living room couch (I had her room) but got up to give me a hug goodbye. It was kind of an odd Airbnb arrangement but she was sweet and the price was good ($70 a night). The 11 minute walk to the bus was easy and because it was almost full daylight I didn’t feel spooked dragging my suitcase through neighborhood streets at night. Oddly, I had to pay with cash (5.50 euros) which is the opposite of other Scandinavian countries that have become almost cashless.

Kallio Airbnb

As I pulled my suitcase through the outskirts of Kallio, several young people were out and about, at a karaoke bar and the McDonald’s. The airport bus was packed at 4:30 am but Helsinki airport was very quiet at 5:15 am. My first flight was easy and not too uncomfortable. I think I slept. Next one could be a bear.

Airbnb room

But hey, just found some reclining lounge chairs here, looking down through the glass at people checking in for flood flights. Feels almost like a day at the beach except there is no sun or sea or beach and a baby is wailing nearby. And three security guards just passed by with a sniffing dog.

P.S. As it turned out, my flight to  Chicago was delayed two hours because the pilot was missing. not a promising sign.  He did eventually show and we flew on without incident. Forgot what a pit Gatwick is. Chicago Midway looked bright and shiny by comparison the next day.

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Latest London suspected terrorist bombing hits close to home: Parsons Green

On Hammersmith Bridge near Fulham, July 2017

Parsons Green was my tube station when I lived in London’s Fulham neighborhood in the 1980’s and remains a place I regularly visit old friends as I did again during my trip to London in July. The news of what appears to be a terrorist attack there jolted me this morning. Parsons Green is near a little park in a quiet southwest London neighborhood that has gentrified into a posh place since I lived there. It feels almost suburban although it’s not far from bustling urban areas. I’m trying to think of an equivalent neighborhood subway stop in Chicago or New York.  Maybe Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood or Chicago’s Lincoln Park? Yet again, I’ve emailed my London pal Francine to make sure everyone’s okay and she responded: Yes. But what a world we live in….

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Morning in Devon, long drive to London via (Dorset) West Bay, Netherbury and Beaminster/Dorset — goodbye (for now) England 

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Devon Airbnb

(a week ago…although it seems much longer…)

We hung around at the Devon farm Airbnb longer than usual, in part, because I needed wifi in order to checkin to my British Air flight 24 hours in advance and change my seat assignment, which as I suspected was a middle seat. (One of the annoying things I discovered about BA is that you can’t pick your own seat without paying $38, more than 24 hours before departing — a bit obnoxious for a round trip flight that cost over $1000…or in my case lots of credit card miles.) But I was happy to kick back, enjoy the lovely breakfast hamper that our host Sarah delivered to our cottage door with fresh homemade granary bread, multi-colored eggs from her chickens, raspberries and strawberries from the garden.

The Airbnb was deep in the countryside, north of Launceton, after a right turn at the pub in St. Giles on the Heath and a drive to the hamlet of Virginstow along another high-hedged, essentially one-lane, winding road that at times made me feel slightly claustrophobic. I generally love country lanes but the ones en this neck of the woods — literally the really wooded ones that form a tunnel, as opposed to the ones through open fields that you generally can’t see due to the hedges — were sometimes spooky, especially at night. (Maybe it’s a good thing I put off reading Daphne De Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”, a spooky book set near where we stayed in Cornwall, although now I am more interested in finishing it.)

Dirck and I wandered around the farm, past the sheep and “rescue chickens,” the fruit, veg and flowers in the garden, the wood fence and beyond, a bucolic valley of fields stretching far into the distance.

In the church cemetery across the road from our Airbnb, we found a 19th century headstone for a “Betsy,” which was surprising since I rarely see my name anywhere, let alone in England. I also had a nice chat with our 34-year-old host who recently quit city life and a city job i to buy the old farm, fix it up and start the Airbnb (which despite its remote location gets guests from Europe, South America and us Yanks).

The three Airbnbs we’ve stayed at in England were excellent! Part of it may be that I am getting pretty good at picking and I don’t go for the dirt cheap ones (if they even exist) but beyond that, the English hosts seem to be particularly good at hosting and providing a good approximation of the English country life admired by anglophiles like me.

Our drive home was longer than expected, in part because we got waylaid for an hour (argh) in and around Exeter when the nice big A motorway we were on suddenly became a town center traffic jam. We ended up getting out of it by taking another smaller A road in the wrong direction and then having to take a series of tiny no-letter/no-number/high-hedged lanes that often seemed to lead nowhere useful but eventually did. We were amazed at the variety of  roads we traveled on during a short drive and how close they were to each other, from a multi-lane motorway, to a two-lane  (barely) road to a high-hedged lane.

In Dorset, we drove in and out of West Bay, where the TV show Broadchurch is filmed, long enough to see the back of the big sandy beach cliff where some dramatic scenes were shot. Way too many tourists. Fortunately my friend Marion had mentioned a lovely little Dorset village  nearby where she stays, Netherbury, so we sought refuge there. If only it had a pub. By the time we got to the larger town of Beaminster nearby, the pubs weren’t serving lunch any more so we ended up a a little bakery cafe for a few savory tarts.

To get back to our friends’ house in Mortlake, we pulled out the “Sat Nav” which was a big help. (Most of the time I relied on an AZ book of road maps Francine kindly lent us.) Driving in residential southwest London is not easy. The windy streets are narrow and confusing but with the help of “Tracy” (our friends’ name for the Sat Nav voice) we made it to the Mortlake house and even found  a parking spot (several actually) in time to have dinner one last dinner with Una.

This morning, without Tracy’s help, we gave ourselves extra time to drive the rental car to Heathrow  and even though I’d made several screenshots of the google map to Heathrow, we still made a few wrong turns. Fortunately a woman walking her dog at 7:45 a.m on a Sunday morning helped us and we were soon out of the tangle of neighborhood streets and onto the M4, heading to sprawling Heathrow, where we eventually found rental car return signs (near terminal 4 and 5 for future reference) and gladly returned our car.

Heathrow was packed thanks to the start of the school holidays so I was glad to have 2.5 hours of time. BA flight attendants were on strike, which affected our service  (no second meal although the first one included a surprisingly edible Chicken Tikka, scant ice for the drinks, a non-functioning computer map and iffy movie reception).  A few nice touches — free newspapers available before stepping onto the plane so I loaded up on the Times and the Mail (The Observer wasn’t offered but fortunately I’d already bought one.) Goodbye England. I’ll be back.

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Bike riding in Richmond Park, late Sunday lunch with English and Aussie friends

( a few weeks ago….)

Flat out gorgeous weather today, for the first time during this trip. And we put it to good use. Francine and I hopped on bikes and rode a few miles to Richmond Park, which was full of Sunday strollers and riders and deer with antlers moving in great packs. Blue sky, sunshine, light breeze, gravelly dirt paths. We rode the circular path all around the park about 7 miles. It was largely flat except for one big hill. Just  beyond some of the entrance gates I could vaguely see posh brick homes in “The London Borough of Rich People on Thames” (a phrase coined by my friends here…)

This afternoon, Francine’s relatives came for a late lunch and we had a great meal including Pavlova prepared by someone who knows her pavs…Francine’s step mum who lives in Sydney and grew up in New Zealand. (Lesson learned: pile on a lot more fruit than I have done in the past to offset the sweet merengue. Try kiwi as well as berries.)

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The Dove/Hammersmith, Kew Gardens – lovely London

( a week or so ago)

 

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Francine and Russ at Kew

It has been such a treat to ride bikes in London. When I lived here in my early 20s, I rode my bike all over the city but not along the Thames Path, that I can remember. Today, we rode toward Hammersmith from Mortlake (I think we were riding east on the south side of the river but the river is so curvy it’s hard to tell.) I never noticed how beautiful the Hammersmith Bridge was until I walked a bike across it. On the north side of the river, we lucked out with an outside table overlooking the river at The Dove, a great old pub with excellent food (fish and chips, chicken liver “parfait” — pate with sprinkles of pork skin crackle and a dab of homemade applesauce). We chatted with an interesting English couple who just moved back to London after 10 years in D.C

After lunch, we discovered that we’d parked our bikes in front of the William Morris Society — my second encounter with WM and the place offered some interesting sounding  classes or lectures. The bike/walking path was a little harder to follow on the north side but we rode past pretty old houses and boat or athletic clubs and a golf course before crossing Chiswick bridge and riding the path to the Brentford  Gate of Kew Gardens to meet Francine and Russ. We had a scary time trying to cross several lanes of traffic on the bridge so we could get back on the Thames Path (next time, we need to ride across the bridge’s east side.)

Kew was lovely. We had Pimms (a tad overpriced but location, location, location) on patio at The Orangery, overlooking gardens and huge gorgeous trees, visited the crazy clever “hive” – a sculptural depiction of a giant bee hive with lights and soft music somehow aligned with real bee activity in real hives nearby, and took in the veg gardens. Also enjoyed Sackler Bridge –  a pedestrian bridge across a narrow lake. Our only complaint was the signage, especially to out of the way spots like Queen Charlotte’s  cottage. I love London.

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