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