Monday, November 16, 2015

Letters from a Golden English Autumn, Part 5: London Jaunts

View from my hotel window overlooking Cartwright Gardens

Sunday, October 4

At home in London…and it does feel like home, because I’ve stayed in the same place on most of my trips of the past 35 years, the George in Cartwright Gardens. A fairly low-priced (for London) b & b in Bloomsbury, it's lately been refurbished, so the rooms now have wood floors instead of dirty carpet, and modern marble showers.  It’s quiet because it’s on a small crescent park, not a busy street, and you overlook the trees. Good wifi, English breakfast, and all conveniences available round the corner: market, pharmacy, post office, excellent Indian restaurant, plus it’s near the Russell Square tube, a direct ride to Heathrow. Only down side is that you have to lug your luggage up several flights of stairs, but I figure it’s good for me. Arrived after 10 so had to ring the night bell, but am very comfortable. 

Breakfast room


In the morning, after my Full English breakfast (very full!), I sallied out to the planned Dove Meet. The Doves are members of the Dove Grey Books online reading group, that derives its name from Persephone Books (which are dove colored) but also includes other vintage works of middlebrow women’s fiction in addition to that published by Persephone Press. It’s a small and very congenial group, whose members, mostly English or American, have enjoyed a most peaceful and friendly acquaintance for at least a decade. I think we tend to measure it by the age of Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book, at  who was a 17-year-old Oxford undergraduate when we first knew him, and is now, unbelievably, thirty. (Still less than half my age, though.)  Several Doves, like Simon, are book bloggers; but all love books.

A Walk on Hampstead Heath

Path on the Heath

Doves Barbara, Claire, Deb and Carole
Barbara and Claire

After two weeks of solid gold English sunshine, there was the first light rain today, but it did not impede our plans for a walk on Hampstead Heath.  I arrived at Daunts Bookshop in Hampstead a few minutes late, having had a rather muddled time getting there - I was misinformed by a bus driver, couldn't find the right bus and ended up taking the tube to Belsize Park and having to walk quite a way uphill. But I was overjoyed to see Barbara, Deb, and Claire, already well launched on book chat. We walked out onto the Heath, and strolled for about an hour, by ponds and through fields and copses, enjoying lovely views. The soft drizzle was just enough to be refreshing, on the carpets of green. The only drawback was that the packed, exciting nature of my trip (Edinburgh - Lake District - Liverpool - Cambridge - Oxford - London, in 2 weeks) caught up with me with a thump, and I was more tired and lagging than at any other time on the trip. But I got a rest at the delightful Holly Bush Inn, tucking into a lunch of crab sandwiches and chips.

 Barbara arranged all the proceedings with the perfection that makes England so impressive on occasions from royal parades on down, and we re-entered the Heath and met up with another Dove, Carole, at exactly the precise moment at the precise pond!  Along the way Deb conducted a most efficiently illuminating discussion of the postal books we exchange throughout the year; it was fun to have read so many together and to be talking about them face-to-face for the first time!  Veering off the Heath, we took a peep at the house of Elizabeth Jenkins, where she wrote "The View from Downshire Hill." Then we parted, and I went to Keats's house, but it was closed. Not too disappointed, as I’ve been there before, and was so very tired I was staggering. So I took a bus directly back to Bloomsbury, and took a NAP. Revived in time for dinner and the second half of the Dove day, meeting Barbara, Simon and Julie at Ciao Bella near my hotel. We had lovely friendly Doveish chat, delicious prosciutto pizza and desserts (chocolate zabaglione), very cozy while it was noisy within and rainy without. A wonderful Dove Day, made special by seeing old friends Barbara, Simon and Claire, and meeting Deb, Carole and Julie for the first time in person, though I have known them long and loved them well!

"The View from Downshire Hill"


Had a good sleep, and rested completely after the trip down from Oxford and the walking day with the Doves. Today I took it easy, moving in leisurely fashion with no engagements. After my full English breakfast, I bought a new wheely bag for all my sundry acquisitions (books, jams) at the Russell Sq. tube stop and brought it back up to the room. Then took the tube to Covent Garden and had a leisurely wander, people and shop watching, stopping for a look at Henrietta Place where Henry Austen lived, and then enjoying cappuccino and a very nice eclair at Cafe Valerie.

Henrietta Street, shades of Henry Austen

Eclair, Patisserie Valerie

 It was beautiful and sunny, so I walked down to the Strand to Somerset House overlooking the Thames. Never knew how impressive it was before, gleaming white and huge, with silver sculptures, and a beautiful river terrace. You could easily spend all day there, going from gallery to gallery.

Beautiful Somerset House

The river terrace at Somerset House

View of St. Paul's from the terrace

Canaletto's 1750 "The Thames from Somerset House across the City"

Better image than mine. It is thrilling to see Canaletto's view, and to be on the same spot. 

 I contented myself entirely with a visit to the Courtauld Gallery, the most exquisitely beautiful, small museum - not too vast in extent to be exhausting, but divine to move from one rapturously beautiful painting after another, some of which I photographed. Apart from the above Canaletto, my favorite was Monet's Vase of Flowers, 1880:

But I also loved these. The Courtauld has the best collection of Cezannes in Britain...

Cezanne, Farm in Normandy, Summer. 1887.

Cezanne, The Card-Players, 1896. 

Walter Sickert. Dawn, Camden Town, 1909.

Picasso. Yellow Irises, 1901. A very early painting, Picasso would have been 20 when he painted this

When tired, I repaired to the Courtauld's café, which friend Ron Dunning had mentioned was a specially good one. My eye was immediately captivated by a Giant Meringue with the loveliest summer berries and clotted cream!  I could see nothing else, and slowly ate the entire thing, with lots of tea. Despite my absorption in the meringue, it was also a great place for people-watching, especially chic rich yet artistic cultivated ladies and their daughters.

Then it grew time for me to meet Britt-Arnhild, another blogging friend from Norway, who does several beautiful blogs about her life there and her travels; these have made me determined to visit Norway someday! 

We had arranged to meet at 6, in the Italian Gardens in Hyde Park, at the top of the Serpentine. But the sun had gone in, and it was pouring!  Luckily I had provided myself with an umbrella, and the kind lady at the Courtauld told me exactly how to get to the Italian Gardens: walk up to Holborn, then a couple of tube stops to Lancaster Gate. Easy trip, but at rush hour what awfully massive crowds, five minutes of that exhausts you like hours of anything else. The gardens were right opposite the tube though, and they were beautiful, even with fountains dripping with rain. Britt-Arnhild and I had a pleasant Italian meal (spaghetti seafood) at ASK nearby, then she showed me her hotel, very similar to the George (though I like being in Bloomsbury). Then I took the tube back to Euston Square, and my shelter from the storm. 

Britt-Arnhild and me at Ask

The Italian Gardens


My clothes have, strangely enough, been just right for the trip. It’s been warmer than expected, so I never needed a sweater, but I did use two very light jackets. Several Chico tops, a couple pairs of Eileen Fisher pants, mostly worn with black sneakers but also with one pair of pretty flats, and that was about it. Essential to travel lighter as one gets older, though it’s a disagreeable algorithm!


After another good rest, it was time for (sound of trumpets!) my day with dear Ron Dunning. As his wife has been ill,* he didn’t drive in to pick me up, but it wasn’t hard for me to get to him. Direct line train from St. Pancras (which is right near my hotel) to Peckham Rye, where we met, and were soon briskly embarked on our day’s activities. First, we drove to the Dulwich Gallery, which I’ve long wanted to see, and it did not disappoint. Imagine seeing it and the Courtauld, such a pair of beauties, in two days! 

*Helena sadly passed away a few weeks after my trip. Gallantly brave, strong, gracious and beautiful, she was.

Me at Dulwich Gallery

Princess Victoria Age 4, by Denning

Head of an Old Man by Annibale Carraci, 1512 - I have fallen in love with the great Bolognese artist.

Another beautiful Venetian Canaletto to delight me.  The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day (1760). 

Prud'hon's beautiful young men, in a special exhibition, "Prud'hon: Napoleon's Draughtsman."

After a good browse round, and some judicious book purchases, we drove to The Red House, where William Morris designed and lived. The house is rather bare inside, though with some interesting features; the attractive windows looking out over the gardens were especially lovely. Beautiful gardens, where we strolled, ending with a nice Victoria sponge and tea at the café. 

Ron at The Red House

The Red House

My indefatigable, informative, intelligent guide.

The stove

A Rossetti painting at The Red House

But I liked the windows best...

Scarecrow in the garden - supposedly modeled on Morris himself

Pears in the garden

A final sentiment by Georgiana Burne-Jones

After The Red House we drove to a beautiful 18th century house, Danson in Bexleyheath, which had a particularly lovely English garden. Then through Greenwich, where we saw the Cutty Sark and the outside of the Royal Naval Academy, just at twilight. Then drove back to Bloomsbury and had a wonderful Indian dinner at my favorite Motijheel in Marchmont Street, open till midnight, very inexpensive, and just around the corner from my hotel. Now to bed!

Danson House

Passion flowers in the English Garden

Quick stop in Greenwich - the Cutty Sark and views on the Thames


British Museum in the morning, and then headed for the airport, where I calmed nerves with a sit-down at Fortnum and Mason, having tea with delicious cheeses and pear chutney. Nice smooth flight home, was actually able to watch a bad movie or two, and then was blissfully reunited with my family, Peter, Paul, Pindar, Martial and Catullus. Only down side was getting acclimatized to temps of 90 F instead of 60! 

Fortnum's at the airport. Lovely Lancashire cheese and pear chutney.

The jams and Fortnum creams I brought home!