London snapshots…

By Caitlin Kelly

Today is my last day in London, after eight days. I head back to Paris for a final week of vacation — having reported three stories here in England in three tiring days — then return home to New York on January 19.

I am also relieved that the terror standoff in Paris has ended, although not at all sure there won’t be more mayhem there to come.

I’ve enjoyed my visit here in many ways.

London costs a fortune! Bring money! Lots of it. This pile of coins is barely enough to buy a coffee...
London costs a fortune! Bring money! Lots of it. This pile of coins is barely enough to buy a coffee…

Did I see all the famous sights? I did not…

My visit, typical of how I prefer to travel, combined some work and much socializing. I walked everywhere and ate some great meals. Did some shopping, buying everything from an Edwardian hatpin to a 1920s fragment of handwoven Ghanaian silk. (Yup, ecletic ‘r us.)

I saw one great and moving show, on til March 15, of photos showing the aftermath of war, at Tate Modern. I walked there the long way from the Underground, along Queen’s Walk beside the river, so I also discovered the gallery for the Royal Watercolor Society and caught a lovely show there of small works.

Spent my life on the Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes
Spent my life on the Underground, using my Oyster card. Love this shadowy reference to Sherlock Holmes

Enjoyed the market at Portobello and the one at Spitalfields. Had a terrific chicken Caesar at Fortnum & Mason and ogled their legendary food hampers and mountains of truffles.

I’ve gotten to know Cadence, author of the blog Small Dog Syndrome, and her husband Jeff, who so kindly welcomed me into their tiny flat. We had never met. It takes three cool people to share a small space graciously, and with a 30 year age difference between us.

I also finally met — five years after first reading her blog, Sunshine in London, about being a South African transplant to London — Ruth Bradnum Martin, who treated me to G & T’s at The Swan, a gorgeous restaurant next door to Shakespeare’s Globe theater. We sat with a stunning view, directly across the Thames, of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Sunshine! St. Paul's across the Thames.
Sunshine! St. Paul’s across the Thames.

I caught up with my friend Hazel Thompson, a super-talented professional photographer who travels the world non-stop and whose work on sex trafficking of Indian women has won wide acclaim. We hadn’t seen one another in three years, and had a great dinner at Village East, a trendy restaurant in Bermondsey. Hazel discovered the place when she shot it for The New York Times; we met because my husband, a photo editor there, had assigned work to her for years.

And I met Josh Spero, editor of Spear’s magazine who I started following on Twitter just because he was so funny and smart. He took me to my favorite venue of the entire visit — a secret members-only room above Andrew Edmunds, a 30-year-old restaurant on Lexington Street in Soho. The house is ancient, the floors buckling. Two small dogs, Jezebel and Tess, hopped up on the sofa beside me or begged diners for food. The room was dark and filled with the delicious scent of hyacinths.

Heaven.

Here are some of my images, and impressions:

Looking down F & M's spiral staircase
Looking down F & M’s spiral staircase

Fortnum & Mason, on Piccadilly Circus, is a London legend. Typical of how I roll, I arrived at their door by accident — famished after racing around town to do interviews for a story — and grouchy as hell. “Toilets, food,” I growled at a lovely clerk with a pale aqua name badge. Shona literally took me by the hand, into their tiny elevator, and delivered me personally to their ice-cream parlor (which also sells salad.) Salad, a bottle of water, a pot of mint tea and a raspberry macaron came to 26 pounds — about $40. Pricey, yes. Elegant, soothing and memorable, also.

Thanks to the helpful London blog posts from fellow blogger Juliet in Paris, I strolled Marylebone High Street and loved it. One of the tricky bits in following others’ advice when traveling is…do they share your taste? The minute she and I met (spending New Year’s Eve together in Paris, another blogger blind date!), I knew I could trust her travel judgment.

IMG_20150109_144350479_HDR

I visited Burlington Arcade for a story. My dears! My dears! It is guarded at either end by a be-cloaked watchman and is an array of costly elegance — all fine leather goods and jewelers and N. Peal cashmere and, my favorite, Penhaligon, whose fragrances are to die for. (Try my standby, Blenheim Bouquet, a man’s scent from 1903.)

Portobello Market. Crazy. Overwhelming. Goes on for miles. But if you like antiques, a must-do. I coveted a gorgeous set of emerald-green Georgian wine glasses and learned a lot about them from their dealer.

Borough Market. Go! This was by far one of my favorite experiences of the week. It is — yes, really — 1,000 years old and is a bustling madhouse of extraordinary food and drink. We bought chai tea, homemade Turkish delight, fruit and veg and cheese. There are more than 100 stalls and, yes, you can sit down and eat as well!

Spitalfields Market. This one sells new merchandise, a wide array of soaps, clothing, shoes, jewelry. It’s covered and surrounded by plenty of great restaurants; we ate at Giraffe.

Gorgeous
Gorgeous…all mint green, white and gold

St. Marylebone Church. One of the challenges of this trip is my left knee, which is severely arthritic and can get really painful and tired after a day of walking and stairs. Just in time for a needed rest, I found this gorgeous church and settled into its pews for some quiet contemplation. The organist was practicing. I read a book of names of those who lost relatives in WWI — one family lost 33 men. A plaque on one wall said simply “He did his duty.”

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Liberty. I never fail to stop into this store, mostly to admire its quirky/elegant/bohemian choices of fabric, clothing, shoes and accessories.

The city is so huge and there are so many things to see and do. I’ve been here many times, so have seen some of its best already — Sir John Soane’s House, Freud’s house, the Imperial War Museum, The National Portrait Gallery.

Next time: The Wallace Collection, the V & A, The British Museum and possibly the Tate.

I’m not one for “tourist attractions” ; my favorite things to do are: walk, eat, shop, take photos, visit with friends. Slip down a narrow, crooked side street and discover something new and unexpected.

Even just sitting down with a pot of tea for a half hour or more offers a lovely, needed break from this crazy, overcrowded city.

My definition of great travel?

Just being there.

33 thoughts on “London snapshots…

  1. I love London – I live about an hour away from there by train and The Bloke and I try and visit at least three times a year. If I had the money, I would move there in a heartbeat… Beautiful pictures!

  2. I think I may have eaten at the same place in Soho. A friend of mine is a member. When I wanted to take a picture of us to post our mini-college reunion, I was asked by the waitress to destroy the picture. Even though no one else was in the picture, they have a strict no cameras policy due to the clientele. So posh, but cool rustic atmosphere.

    I will be anxious to hear your reports from Paris and the mood there. It has been a tenuous few days here in Germany with Pediga marches and now the terror in Paris.

  3. It’s funny to see one’s own currency spread out as an image of ‘faraway travel’. It always strikes me, when we travel and pick up foreign currency – Norwegian krone with designs like a pocketful of Viking art or Egyptian pound notes, with their camels and Pharoah, how it never looks or feels quite ‘real’ to us. It’s always a little like exotically illustrated play money. You have to live somewhere for quite a long time not to find the local currency unusual, don’t you?

    I remember when I first went to live in America, seeing a real, live dime for the first time. Having heard the Great Depression song, it felt like one of those handling sessions in museums to touch the real thing.

  4. I need a bay window on my car!! LOL. But I loved London and want to go there again. It was rapturous and historical in the older parts of the city. Not too long ago, you mentioned some silly blogs with their iconic pictures and dimestore philosophy and bad poetry. I see that more and more. Boring stuff….

  5. So jealous right now, I think I’m literally turning green. Good luck in Paris. Please let us know how things are going. I heard a kosher supermarket got held up by someone related to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so it’s a bit personal for me. I’d be grateful if you can give us some firsthand information on what’s going on there.

  6. debra

    Although a born and bred Scot, but living in Canada for decades, I still remember the magic of my first trip to London in 1973 when I was just 17. Start of a lifelong love affair. Thanks for the great read and the wonderful shots especially of St. Paul’s Cathedral. By the way, glad to have found your blog. I remember you from a first year English course at U of T. I think it was 20th century literature and our professor was especially enamoured of a paper you wrote.

    1. That’s a seriously long memory, missy! 🙂 Both of London, and me.

      That professor gave me the confidence I needed to choose this profession. I never had anyone else like that at U of T so was very grateful for his enthusiasm.

  7. It would be interesting to read your take on Paris in the wake of recent events. I’ve been to London once, exactly one year after Diana’s death. I was surprised (but not disappointed) to see there wasn’t any commemoration re: the anniversary. Anyway, my trip was a whirlwind week’s visit jamming as much into each day as was possible. I left happy and exhausted.

  8. I’m smiling here… I had a bet with myself I began reading. But first a sigh of relief that you have been in London lo these many days.Tough time to be abroad and apart. Glad you’re safe and hope everyone you visited is as well.

    Having spent so much time in London, my go to R&R destination ( the Millennium Bailey’s hotel in Kensington is my fav), I wondered if you were a fan of Liberty’s eclectic style. If you hadn’t mentioned it I would have had to ask! It was 50/50, but I bet you would be a fan of the global mix and traditional textiles. Thanks for settling the friendly wager… 😉 Stay safe!

      1. Today’s headline in the Washington Post, “We’re at War” quot8by the French. It is both awe-some (in the real meaning) and fearsome to be at the epicenter of developing need of this magnitude. I can relate it with being in Muslim territory on 9/11. We know you are safe., just know people are thinking of you this week especially.

  9. this sounds wonderful. the human connections are what make it so special, along with the views and inside looks at unique places. i agree with your approach to travel.

  10. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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