For David’s December break from work, we decided to visit London to enjoy the Christmas decorations. Also, we had been to London before and knew our way around. For that reason, it was one of the more relaxing breaks. Since we had visited most of the museums and major tourist sites, we just enjoyed walking around the city taking in the holiday lights and decorations.
We had a cute apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood, off of Fulham Road. The apartment was only a 10 minute walk from Kings Road, the shopping (or high) street for Chelsea….most of the stores and restaurants are still the same from the last time we were in London.
I arrived a couple of days before David and went to two of my favorite museums….
The Victoria and Albert Museum
It is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and designs. From an inventory of over 200,000 items from around the world, 60,000 objects are on display. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have visited this amazing place. On both visits to London, the apartments that we stayed in were about a 20 minute walk to the museum. I just loved to “pop” in for a look at display or two. You can spend hours upon hours in this museum and still not see all of it! There are actually 7 miles of corridors.
Throughout the day, there are one hour lectures offered for various displays. One lecture takes you on a general tour of various artifacts in museum and there are other tours offered for a specific period of history….the Medieval or Renaissance period, British History, European History, etc. Of course, an hour isn’t enough time and as one of the guides said during a tour, “it is just enough information to whet your appetite so you will come back for more.” How true!
The V & A also offers lunchtime lectures that are free and courses that can be paid for. On this trip, there were not any lunchtime lectures, most likely due to the holiday schedule but my last stay in London, I probably attended a lecture a week. Just so interesting and so much fun!!!
Here are some of the items on display that I found to be very interesting –
This beautiful piece of art glass greets you as you walk into the lobby of the V&A museum. It is done by the American artist Chihuly.
This was in the art glass gallery and nearby was a piece done by Chihuly. This piece, done in 1951 is by Toots Zynsky who was born in Boston, MA. You cannot really see clearly in this photo but it is created by individual strands of glass threads layered on top of each other. Although it looks very fragile, the 30 layers of thread are very strong. Such a striking piece of work!
There is always a special exhibit at the V&A. The general entrance to the museum is free with a suggested donation of about $6.00. The special exhibits have an entrance fee. While there, I went to the exhibit “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970.” It explored the defining moments of this era that had an impact on the late 60s. Since this was the era that I grew up in, I found it really interesting. The only thing, is there was so much information!!! If I had known how long it was, I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the beginning of the exhibit. It covered fashion, music, the Vietnam war, the Women’s Rights movement, the Civil Rights Movement and Woodstock….that was my favorite part of the exhibit. They showed some of the clothes that the musicians wore and played parts of the movie. I just love the music from Woodstock….Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendricks, Richie Haven, etc, etc, etc……I really enjoyed the exhibit but wish I had paced myself a little better.
Another thing that I really enjoy, every so often, is a cup of coffee and English scone with clotted cream and jam at the museum’s cafe. It is just a nice way to end the day. The restaurant is in a lovely room which you can access either by walking through the museum or from the gift shop, through a courtyard. Sometimes, they have a piano player serenading the customers for added ambiance!
The National Art Gallery
My second favorite museum is the National Art Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The day that I stopped in, I had been walking and took a break by deciding to have a cup of coffee in the museum’s cafe. It was later in the afternoon and when I finished my coffee, the museum was still open for another hour and a half, so I made my way to the Impressionist exhibit….gosh, the museum was busy, busy, busy and especially the Impression section…Van Gogh’s paintings to be specific. I commented to one of the museum guards and he said it wasn’t actually that busy. I would not want to see a “busy” day!! Anyway, I got to see my favorite – Monet, as well as the other famous artist…Degas, Renior, Pissarro and Cezanne to name a few. The national museums don’t charge an admission which makes it so easy to just pop in for a short visit.
Portobello Road Flea Market, Notting Hill
What better thing to do on a Saturday morning then go to the legendary Portobello Road Flea Market? It was as crowded as we remembered it from 4 years ago and still very fun and entertaining. There were street musicians, antiques, gift items, clothing and a variety of food vendors. It was such a temptation to buy something……we didn’t though! At this point in our lives, we do not need anymore “stuff!!”
The signs said a “Victorian Christmas” at Kensington Palace, decorated by description taken from Queen Victoria’s diary. I thought how quaint and fun…especially in the heart of London and at Christmas! So, we went and we were disappointed. There are three apartments open to the public in the palace. Queen Victoria’s, The Queen’s Apartment which is where William and Mary resided in 1689 and the King’s Apartment which was lived in by King George II and Queen Caroline (ruled from 1727-1760). I thought that all the apartments would be decorated with a Victorian Christmas theme. That wasn’t the case. None of the apartments were decorated. The hallway going to the Queen’s apartment was decorated, as well as the stairwell, for the Queen’s apartment had a tree. When I asked why, I was given some lame excuse about compromising the displays in the apartments.
I had gone through the whole palace when I was living in London and would not have gone through again, except for the expectations of seeing the decorations. We zipped through Queen Victoria’s apartment. I did make certain David saw a couple of things that I felt were important. I didn’t take very many photos….
These photos are from the Queen’s apartment. It is the Queen’s Gallery and was originally decorated with Turkish carpets, embroidered wall hangings and a collection of oriental porcelain, some which is on the mantel. This is where Queen Mary spent her days, walking, reading and sewing.
This photo is of the ceiling from the Cupola Room in the King’s Apartment. It is the most elaborately decorated room in the whole palace.
There was a nice exhibit of Queen Elizabeth’s, Princess Diane’s and Princess Margaret’s gowns at the end of the tour. When asked if I enjoyed my time in the palace, I was polite but shared my disappointment about the lack of decorations and tried to soften my criticism by saying the gown exhibit was lovely.
The Theater District
We saw a couple of great plays while visiting London and after David left, I went to a few more!
Beautiful was about Carole King and how her career evolved. It was a 2 1/2 hour show that seemed to last for just 15 minutes. It was so excellent! I couldn’t believe all of the songs that she and her husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote together. By the end of the play, I was dancing in the isle!
Book of Mormons was the second play that David and I saw together. We had amazing seats for this play! We were 9 rows from the stage! I thought the play was good but not great! I was very disappointed as it has received so many awards and it seemed to me that everyone who has seen it just loved it. When the play was over, I honestly thought that I had missed something very important during the play because I didn’t LOVE it.
The play is about 2 young men who were missionaries for the Mormon Church. They went to a remote village in Uganda where people were struggling to survive…there was a famine, drought, people were sick with aides and living under the rule of a brutal warlord. There was no hope for a better life. When the missionaries arrived, the leader of the village said that the people had an expression “Hasa Diga Eebowai” which translated means “F-You, God.” I am sorry but I found this extremely offensive and disrespectful to my God.
I understand that it was to make a point, that without God in your life and faith, you have very little hope. In the end, the villagers are baptized as Mormons and realize that with God in their life, that their faith will help them through difficult times. I just wish that they had done it in a different way.
The play certainly had some funny points….so, out of 5 stars, I would give it about 3 1/2. Just not one of my favorites compared to others that I saw while visiting London.
Oh my goodness, I LOVED this play. It was upbeat, great music and just fun! Plus, I got a “day ticket” to see the play for $25 and a front row seat!! The story is of a shoe factory that is affected by a bad economy. The owner has to reinvent his product and find a new niche to keep the factory open. The “new niche” he thought of is making stiletto boots for cross-dressers. Remember the name “Matt Henry” who played the lead role of a cross dresser and did a phenomenal job!
I didn’t realize that there was a movie Kinky Boots. When I got home, I watched the movie. The play closely follows the same storyline as the movie, although the songs were not the same.
Run…don’t walk…to see this if you ever get the opportunity. I give this play 5 stars!
Dreamgirls was another very good play. It was very much like the movie and used many of the same songs, if not all of the songs that were in the movie. It has been quite a few years since I have seen the movie. I think in the show I saw, Effie White was played by the alternative, Ruth Brown. I have to say that she was excellent. She sang the song, “And I Am Telling You, I Am Not Going” with such emotion that I was feeling her pain. She did a great job with the songs “I Am Changing” and “One Night Only” as well. I felt that this was a more serious story line and although I didn’t feel like I wanted to get up and dance, I would give this a 5 star rating as well. It was excellent.
Finally, the last play I saw before leaving London was Motown!
This play is about the career of Berry Gordy who founded Motown Records. It was a fun, uplifting musical with music from the Temptations, Four Seasons, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and many other singers who had Motown hits. I was definitely dancing in the isle at the end of this play….another 5 star rating!
Walking Along the Thames River
There is a lovely walking path that follows the Thames River. It is a great way to spend an afternoon as you can see many of London’s tourist sites.
I met my girlfriend, Stephanie and two of her three children, for a visit one morning at Battersea Park. Originally, we were going to meet at a different park but then she suggested Battersea and I am so glad that she did. This is such a pleasant park to visit. When I was in London before, it was an easy walk from where I was staying so I went to it often. This trip, I hadn’t been once. I had forgotten how nice of a park it is.
The park is located along the Thames River and this Peace Pagoda is the centerpiece. It is a Buddhist tradition and is meant to inspire peace for all. The park is on 200 acres and has a small pond where ducks and in warmer weather, paddle boats can be seen floating around. One thing I love about this park are all the dogs that are there running and enjoying their early morning walk! Such a variety and so fun to watch.
Stephanie and I met at the Tea Tree Cafe located near the pond. I was surprised that people actually brought their dogs inside the cafe while they enjoyed a cup of coffee. That would never happen in the states!
It was great seeing Stephanie and the children again. I just hope it isn’t another four years before we get to have another visit!
In 1539, the original building was built by Edward Seymour who became the Earl of Somerset under the rule of nephew, the “boy-king, ” Edward VI. Before the building, which was to be his home, was completed he was overthrown and eventually executed in the Tower of London. When this happened, Somerset House came into the possession of “the Crown.”
During the 17th century, various members of royal family inhabited the house. This ended during the English Civil War and in 1649, Parliament tried, although unsuccessful, to sell it. Over the years, there was little money for the upkeep of the building and it gradually fell into a state of decline. In 1775, the old Somerset House was demolished.
Just about this time, there was much discontent that there were no official building for government offices. Official offices were tucked in various buildings throughout London. With the growing sense of national pride and comparison to capitals in other countries in Europe, there became a great desire for a national building that would house various government agencies.
In 1775, Sir William Chambers, was commissioned by Parliament to design and build a new Somerset House. As with most construction, there were delays due to the war with France, lack of money and the death of Sir Chambers. Between 1829-1834, the east wing was built to house Kings College. Also, housed in the new buildings was the Royal Navy department and living quarters for the officials who worked there. Other government offices and scholarly societies were housed in this lovely building as well.
Today, King’s College is still in the east wing of Somerset House. The building now is a visual arts center as well. Along with various exhibits, restaurants and cafe, the Courtauld Institute of Art is housed in this building and the Courtauld Gallery, as well. I discovered the Courtauld Gallery on my last visit to London and was hoping to visit it again on this trip. The gallery has an impressive collection from old masters up through the impressionist period. So, when my friends suggested that we meet there to see the current “Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement” exhibit, I was happy to do so.
The Rodin exhibit focused on the end of Rodin’s career where he devoted his time to the study of movement and dance. He hired models who were acrobats and dance performers to pose in his studio and also, he did sketches while attending live performances. From these sketches, he created small terra-cotta and plaster figures known as the “Dance Movement” sculptures. These Dance Movement sculptures and sketches were on display. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed but it was interesting to see. Especially, the actual photo of Rodin, in Paris, sketching a Thai dancer who was in Paris for an exhibition.
I enjoyed going through the rest of the art gallery as well. Here are some of the paintings that I enjoyed the most….
The Fauve Movement is another art period that I really like because of the artist use of bold colors and strong brush strokes. The movement is the early beginning of contemporary art and is called Fauve after “les Fauves” which means “wild beast” in French. It is what the new artist were called who were creating this modern movement. It started in 1900 and lasted until about 1910.
It was a wonderful afternoon sharing it with my friend Adrien…sadly, Katherine, his wife couldn’t make the visit. One of the fun things about seeing London “through the eyes of a local,” Adrien showed me this amazing Tudor Barge. It is located in the basement of building and took Adrien awhile and a few times asking, to locate it. Had he not shared this with me, I would have not seen it!
When the Somerset house was first built, the Thames Embankment had not been been constructed. Originally, the Thames River came right up to the building. Up until the 19th century, there was even an entrance and boat landing for barges to enter and moor for people arriving or departing. The walkway along the Thames, as we know it today, wasn’t started until 1862.
You Never Quite Know What You Will See Walking Around London
On this day, I was actually heading towards the Somerset House and my walk took me through Green Park, past Buckingham Palace and down the mall, through Admiralty Arch and past Trafalgar Square.
The road that passes through Green Park (Constitution Hill) was blocked, as was the Mall and I realized it was close to 11:30, when they have the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the palace. I have seen it before and didn’t stop to see it again…plus, if you don’t get there early enough, it is difficult to see with the crowd of people.
As I started walking along the mall, in front of Buckingham…..
I heard the bagpipe music and the beat of the drums.
I continued on and soon heard the clopping of horse hooves…..
Through Admiralty Arch is Trafalgar Square…..
Walking around the square, I picked up The Strand and made my way to Somerset House. It was a very entertaining walk!
London at Night!
This handsome guy is Winston, a beautiful, two year old, Rhodesian Ridgeback. David and I had the pleasure, and luck, to meet Winston and his mistress, Iola, on Christmas Eve. We were walking back to our apartment and they were out for their nightly walk. We asked if we could say hello and the rest, as they say, is “history!”
Iola and I exchanged emails and she invited us to go on a walk with her and Winston. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen while David was in London but after he left, I went on a couple of walks with them. One was around the neighborhood and another was in the countryside of Berkshire, about an hour outside of London.
This was a far better option, especially for Winston, as he could run freely and really stretch his legs. I am so grateful for the short time that I was able to spend with Iola and her wonderful dog. Thank goodness for the internet as I know that we will keep in touch and I will be able to see them both the next time I visit London!
One of my favorite day trips out of London and such an easy one to make. Windsor is about a half-hour train ride from Paddington Station on the Great Western Railway, with a brief change of trains in Slough. Trains for Windsor leave about every half-hour out of Paddington. Speaking of Paddington, look who I met while at the station….Paddington Bear!!! Such a cutie.
Windsor Castle is the centerpiece for the town of Windsor. Windsor Castle is used by the Queen as her weekend home and as a Royal Palace used for state banquets and official entertaining. In April of 2013, David and I brought my dad to England and used Windsor as our base. It was a great place to introduce Dad to London…we took a couple of day trips in but spent most of our time in Windsor which was a slower pace for my dad.
While we were here, the Queen entertained the President from the United Arab Emirates and held an elaborate parade in his honor. We got to see the queen and the UAE President. My dad swears that the Queen smiled at him and waved to him!
Windsor was busy today. From Paddington Station, there was standing room only on the train. The shopping district at Windsor was crowded with shoppers. It was a gorgeous, sunny day but on the cool side. That didn’t seem to dampen people’s spirits though.
I really love St George’s Chapel. It was built by Henry III in the 13th century. St George’s Chapel is the Mother Church of the Order of the Garter. The Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 and is the highest order of knighthood. Every June, a special service for the members of the Order of the Garter is held at the chapel. Banners with the knight’s coat of arms hang in the upper stalls where the knight has a seat for life. This is all so traditional and British, no? I just loved it all!
We walked back through town and then headed towards the river walk. The Thames River goes through Windsor and on the opposite side of the river is the village of Eton, home of the well-known Eton College. Eton College is an independent boarding school that has produced 19 English Prime Ministers and many children of the aristocracy have gone to this school as well.
We both enjoy Windsor and if we ever return, long-term to London area, we would consider making it our base.
Odds and Ends
The first time I saw one of these birds, I was walking along the Thames River. First, I thought it was a parrot and then I was concerned, as it was cold. How on earth would a parrot survive a winter? So, I googled to see if I could find out more information about “parrots in London.”
These are feral rose-ringed parakeets that are a prolific Afro-Asian species. They first appeared in the wild in London around 1990s. Today, it is believed that there are about 6,000 living in the suburbs of London and in Southwest London; but possibly as many as 50,000 throughout the UK. Rose-ringed parakeets are popular as pets and can mimic human speech. No one really knows how they came to be living in the wilds of London. There are many theories….some believe that a pair was released into the wild and formed the basis for the existing colony; another suggest that a flock of birds escaped from a London studio during a filming; another is a storage container full of the birds broke open at Heathrow Airport and finally, a large aviary collapsed during a 1987 storm and the birds flew away. However they arrived, I think they are a wonderful addition to the lovely city of London.
This is a heron…I think a Grey Heron. He was standing in St James park watching all of the silly tourist walk by! It was rather crowded in the park that day!
I hope you have enjoyed “wandering” through London with me…..in February, we will be visiting Rome, Italy……until then, I wish you blessings!