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.

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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.