London Highlights (and tips!)

We had a wonderful vacation in London from Wednesday July 24th through Tuesday July 30th. I will share a few of the highlights and share a few photos as well. Image

Nancy and I flew to London and arrived around 12.30 am. We walked around a bit, had coffee at Cafe Nero and walked to Gray’s Inn. Gray’s Inn is one of the Inns of Court where lawyers have been trained since the days of Henry VIII’s. Edward de Vere,17th Earl of Oxford (I’m writing a screenplay about him as the man behind Shakespeare) was educated here as well. It is an oasis in the city, lots of locals and lawyers eat their lunch here on a sunny day. In the summer time there is an open air restaurant here which serves beautiful lunches between 12 and 2.30 when the Inns close for the public.

Nancy and I saw a beautiful and impressive exhibit about Pompeii at the British Museum. It made me realize the Romans were not all that different from us (apart from modern conveniences such as medicines and internet!).

Meanwhile, Victor drove with the kids to Calais, took the boat to Dover and drove on to our B&B Pretty Maid House. Sebastian had left his passport in Groningen and came later by plane and hitchhiked from Southend Airport to our B&B!

We all met up at the Pretty Maid where Andy and Sue Carr gave us a warm welcome! We had wonderful rooms and the most delicious breakfast ever! A great place to stay.

The next day we visited Heaver Castle near Edenbridge: an absolute must see if you are ever in Kent! We witnessed a swan attacking a mother duck and her six ducklings, which was horrifying to see. It was very sad and I kept wondering if I should intervene. The swan bit a duckling and we all thought it had died; one visitor walked into the water and saved the duckling, it lived. Very humbling experience.

The castle itself was beautiful, with many original Tudor period furniture and painting of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne Boleyn of course. It is quite a large house and tells the history of Anne and her family, and shows all 6 wives of Henry VIII as life size wax figures.

Afterwards we drove into London, dropped our stuff off at the Royal Foundation of St Catherine (an old cloister now hotel) while Sebastian and Henriette took the train to Victoria. We met at the Starbucks by Tower Hill and ate healthy asian food at Wagamama’s with a view of the river.

The next day the kids went shopping and we went to Borough market, a covered organic market behind London Bridge station that has been there for over 400 years. We bought a huge loaf of freshly baked French bread, local cheese and tomatoes and tomato chutney for lunch. Then we met the kids by Madame Tussaud’s where I picked up their tickets. We all went to Regent’s park to eat our lunch. It was a gorgeous day and we had a lovely picknick. Sebastian wore his UK flag suit and had his sushi. The others ate their lunch and we ate the bread and cheese. It was great fun! The kids then left to go to Madame Tussaud’s and Victor and I walked around Regents park a bit while Nancy relaxed on a park bench for a while. Regents Park is absolutely beautiful; all the roses were in bloom and there are many beach chairs for hire. We went back to Tower Bridge Apartments where we had a huge 3 bedroom executive appartment while Nancy went to Sloane square. She would meet the kids at the small Starbucks later to show them how to get to the Tower Bridge Think Apartments.

In the meantime, I went to do some grocery shopping. We had a nice dinner at the apartment. That night Victor and I had tickets for Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin’s concert at Ronnie Scott’s in SoHo and Nancy had arranged for a car and driver from Addison Lee to pick us up and drive us there and back. It costs around 15 pounds each way, but was wonderful and since the tube doesn’t operate after 12.30 pm also necessary. We saw London from the car by night, which is very different than during the day. The London Eye is lit by purple lights. There were huge advertisements covering entire buildings for the new film Wolverine, which I want to go see.

Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin were wonderful! I especially liked Dave Grusin’s rendition of Turn out the stars by Bill Evans. Lee Ritenour played old favorites and songs from his new album Rhythm Sections.  Ronnie Scott’s was a cozy, intimate jazz club. It was cold due to the AC and outside it was hot so I was a bit cold in my salmon colored summer dress. We had a great time, but had to leave at 12.30 since the car was waiting for us.

Saturday morning we had coffee at the Starbucks by St Catherine’s dock, which is to the far side of Tower bridge and is a nice quiet area with a view of yachts. I didn’t feel too well (nausea) and had to go back.

I had the same thing the next day but I took some tablets and the nausau passed. Victor took the kids to the British Museum and then the kids went to the Westfield shopping mall @Shephard’s bush. I met Nancy and Victor at Waterstone’s (a huge and wonderful bookstore) later on. We had a high tea there with scones, one bite fruitpies, and sandwiches. Nancy left from there to Heathrow for her flight back home.

On Sunday Sebastian and Valentine went to the Natural History Museum and the girls went to the Tower of London. Victor and I went to the Starbucks first (near the Tower on the SouthBank side) and then walked along the Thames. Victor took a lot of pictures.

I went to Tate Modern and visited the exhibit Poetry and Dreams which was about modernism, surrealism and dream-like paintings. I thought it was a very inspiring and eclectic exhibit but I missed the poetry. It got me thinking about how poetry is so very distant from our lives, somewhat inaccessible. You have to know where to find it, but there are no galleries or museum dedicated to poetry. I decided to write some poems to go along with the paintings. A few pieces really impressed me:

  • Germaine Richier, France, 1902-1959, made sculptures of women, a bit like Giacometti but fatter with thin arms: Diabolo 1950 and Water 1953-4
  • Picasso: Grieving woman, 1937, detail from Guernica
  • Alexander Calder – small mobiles, maybe studies for his larger pieces. These appeared so innocent and whole. There was a huge Calder sculpture at Penn (University of Pennsylvania where I studied).
  • Meredith Frampton (British, 1894-1989) Portrait of a young woman 1935, Marguerite Kelsey 1928 – very elegant and sophisticated realist paintings, almost too perfect
  • Meraud Guevara (1904-1993) seated woman with a small dog (1939)
  • Sidney Nolan (1917-) Inland Australia – a red almost alien landscape. You can feel the heat from the desert.
  • see
  • I also enjoyed the photography by Graciela Itubride (1942 Mexico) and wrote some poems to go along with them.

Unfortunately no photos were allowed, or I could have taken some to illustrate my poems. I will publish my poems in a separate post. Can’t seem to stop writing.

Anyway, we continued along the Thames, crossed the river over the Millenium bridge and followed the Thames until we came to Somerset House. If you’ve never been here before, go the next time you’re in London. It is a huge palace like museum, relatively quiet and has wonderful exhibits. Some are free. I loved the photo exhibit about fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The photos were printed from digitally restored transparencies as there were no prints founds in his archives. He was a very humble man, a true artist who managed to make art from his work as fashion photographer.

Somerset House also has a fountain built into the courtyard where many children were playing in the water. From Somerset House we walked to Covent Garden which attracted huge crowds so we skipped that and took the tube back.

That night the kids all went to the cinema at Westfield Stratford to see Man of Steel which they really enjoyed. On the tube they were singing and a young lady named Charlene heard Barbara and asked her to call her. How exciting!

The next morning Victor drove back to Pretty Maid with the kids while I went to the National Portrait Gallery. It’s one of my favorite London museums. This time, I saw nearly everything. I first looked at the contemporary portraits, some of which looked like photos but turned out to be oil paintings! Very impressive. There were portraits there of writers and actors such as Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Germaine Greer, a self portrait by David Hockney and more. Also very interesting was the exhibit Creative Commons. In my field this term means that the intellectual property is public domain, here it was used to connect pupils from schools to famous people from their neighborhood, a novel idea.

The picture that inspired me most was a photo of Gandhi (1896-1948) who was trained in the UK as a lawyer, had worked in South Africa but stayed at Kingsley Hall for a convention for 3 months in 1931. Kingsley Hall Powis Road was a centre for the poor.

There was a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who was a fervent and eloquent supporter of women’s rights. Her daughter was Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus 1818. The story goes that Mary and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed at a lake with George Byron when they challenged each other to write a ghost story. Mary wrote the beginning of what was to become Frankenstein. Her husband and friend very so delighted that they encouraged her to finish it. I really like that story. Percy Bysshe Shelley – a poet best known for his Ozymandas – was an advocate of love and disliked for being an atheist and for having abandoned his first wife while she was pregnant, the reason the Shelley’s moved to Italy where he died in 1822 while boating.

Op wikipedia staat het volgende over hem: “Tijdens de wanhopige en onrustige jaren in Italië schreef hij zijn beste werk. Het weerspiegelt zijn idealisme en zijn hoop dat er verlossing mogelijk is door de liefde en de verbeelding. Volgens hem is er geen zekerheid, alleen hoop.”

I saw the Tudor paintings, did my best to appreciate the entire 17th and 18th century galleries and the Victorian galleries. I liked the portraits of Albert and Victoria, especially the fact that Queen Victoria herself presented the copy of the portrait of her late husband personally to the National Gallery. I thought that was a very kind gesture on her part. See the movie The Young Victoria, it is a kind portrait of two young people destined to rule.

I left to visit the Benjamin Franklin house which, despite its proximity to Trafalgar Square, is absolutely impossible to find. It is located on Craven Road, just behind some tall buildings. I had just missed the tour so I will visit it next time. I’m a big Benjamin Franklin fan. He said “Energy and persistence conquer all things” and I think that is very true indeed, it certainly has been true for me.

On that note I will end this post which has gone on far too long anyway, being a very haphazard mix of all sorts of ideas and experiences. I hope next time to create something a bit more coherent for you, my loyal readers.

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