Ger's London Trip Report

Old May 5th, 2005, 11:34 AM
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Ger's London Trip Report

Hello all:

A trip report about my weekend in London.

Although I travel to the UK almost every month, when I have the opportunity for a weekend away I usually travel to France, Italy or Spain. It has been a few years since I spent a weekend in London. After reading yk’s trip report, and particularly her review of the Turner-Whistler-Monet exhibition at the Tate, I decided to stay in London this time and enjoy a weekend of galleries and museums.

I flew from Victoria, via Vancouver on Wednesday evening (upgrade confirmed, thank the Gods), actually slept on the flight and arrived in London on Thursday noon. I had received excellent advice here on hotels, but unfortunately left it so late to make my decision that all my first choice hotels were either sold out or too expensive. All that was left in my price range (150 GBP) was the Montcalm at Marble Arch.

The Montcalm: It a good hotel, Japanese owned, good value at 150 GBP and I would recommend the hotel. It’s a well-run establishment and the service is excellent. However, I hate the location. Yes, it IS central and convenient, but I have never liked Oxford Street.

After showering and changing, I set out toward the National Gallery where I hoped to see the Caravaggio exhibition, a once in a life-tome experience, for a second time. I was lucky to have experienced the exhibiltion the Naples Capidemonte museum in January and found it stunning. I was delighted to discover from yk that it would be in London until May 21st. I tried to book on-line before I left home, but there were no tickets available. I sent a note via the website and was assured that tickets would be available at the gallery.

I know many of you love strolling down Oxford Street, but I have always found it a nightmare. I took a dislike to the street on my first visit (12 years old) and found it scruffy, noisy, polluted. It is still the same. Fast-food restaurants, street hawkers, teenage boutiques, nothing has changed except there is definitely less pollution. It is, however, the most perfect place to bring teenage girls for a day of shopping. I was so happy to finally find Regent street and head south to Trafalgar Square.

I was starving, as all I had had to eat for breakfast was a yogurt and fruit but there was not one restaurant on Oxford street that remotely took my fancy. I peered down the side streets off Regent Street, looking for some interesting restaurants and found nothing and was losing hope of finding anywhere to have a late lunch. I did discover a “Slug & Lettuce” restaurant, which I read about on this site, and could not imagine eating in a restaurant with that title. Finally, I saw a sign for “Patara: Fine Thai Dining”, which hit the mark.

Patara is not cheap, but the food is good, the ambiance enjoyable and the service impeccable. I started with a selection of cold fishy bits and veggies wrapped in noodles and followed with a stir-fry with duck, hot peppers and crispy basil with rice. It was delicious. The food was fresh and well cooked. Meal with large bottle of water, glass of wine was 32 GBP – quite high for lunch, but it was my main meal for the day. Given its location, I assume it is an “expense account” restaurant. I gave up years ago translating GBP into CAD$. I pay what I have to pay to enjoy good food in London. If I had time to do my homework, which many of you do, than I am sure I could have found the equivalent food for a third of the price.

Feeling refreshed, and breathless with anticipation, I walk on to the National Gallery. I proceeded to the ticket desk and was delight to learn that I could buy tickets for 4 pm. This gave me 90 minutes to explore the permanent collection (free admission, contribution requested).

I decided to attack the gallery from the top, so I stared with the earliest paintings and worked my way through the centuries. The galleries are organized by periods and sometimes by “schools” or countries or major artists within a period. I highly recommend taking the audio guide (free, but contribution requested (2-4 GBP)). I was transported to another realm of beauty and of terror, of the greatness and baseness of mankind, of our creativeness and spirituality, of our fears and our never-ending hopefulness and hopelessness. Never look for an answer in art, because all you find are more questions, a never-ending exploration of the depths of the soul. I was so enthralled with the richness of the collection that I promised myself to return again to complete the exploration.

I spent about two hours in the galleries and would have loved to stay, but I had a date with Mr. Caravaggio.

I have been looking at art books since before I could read, because my sister was an artist. I new OF Caravaggio long before I was capable of understanding him. Three years ago, on a trip to Rome, I saw his work for first time. I was fascinated by the men with dirty feet, and faces contorted with terror and pain and others lined with weariness of just surviving the drudgery and cruelty of daily life.

If you find yourself in London between now and May 21st, please see this exhibition and discover a genius. The exhibition focuses on his last works, not necessarily his best works, but perhaps his most honest works. During the period, Caravaggio was on the run for murder and the themes of death, purgatory and redemption weave through these works. He had proven himself to be the greatest artist of his time, and should have been celebrated as such in Rome, but he was an outcast, a leper, a soul beyond forgiveness.

It is a wonderful and varied exhibition, and unique opportunity to see the collection in one place. Rent the audio guide; the commentary is superb and, before going into the gallery, see the 20 minute film as an introduction.

I left the gallery and walked back to the hotel via Piccadilly, stopping off at Fortnum’s and Masons to buy some tea. It was an early night and meetings all day Friday.
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Old May 5th, 2005, 11:59 AM
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Hi Ger-

I'm flattered to be mentioned! quot;> Makes me feel like I'm a real Fodorite now.

I actually will be in London again on May 20-21. I'm tempted to go to the Caravaggio exhibit again (esp I skipped the audioguide last time), but my schedule is so tight that I'm afraid I won't be able to squeeze it in. Plus, I'm not sure if there are still tickets left at this time - unless 111op is willing to sell me his ticket (he's going on May 21st).
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Old May 5th, 2005, 12:04 PM
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Dear Ger,
perfect reading for a rainy afternoon. Thank you and please continue, I want to hear more about London and the galleries!
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Old May 5th, 2005, 12:29 PM
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Ger, so glad you are in London! yeah, Oxford Street definitely doesn't represent London at its finest.

I've got my Vancouver/V. Island plans settled so hope to see you in about 2 months!
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Old May 5th, 2005, 12:33 PM
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Ger, I'm glad to hear that the Maddox Street branch of Patara (which I would guess, from your description of the route you took to the National Gallery, is where you had lunch) is as good as the one on Beauchamp Place. I've eaten at Patara's Knightsbridge location several times -- it's so good, I make a point of going there on every trip to London. Your description of it was right on target: a bit pricey, but very good food and great service. Now all I can think about is their curried red snapper in a banana leaf!
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Old May 5th, 2005, 02:09 PM
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Re Caravaggio show: NG has extended the close to midnight on 5/21.

By the way, the exhibition closes on 5/22. An extra day could make the difference for some.

As I mentioned in a separate thread, web and phone availability are different (when I booked, the web showed no availability but calling did).

If you really want to go, yk, I think that you can still try for tickets.

As a last resort, go and queue. I did this on the last day of TWM in Paris and I got in.

Anyway, I'm enjoying your report, Ger. And I'm looking forward to seeing Caravaggio.
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Old May 5th, 2005, 02:15 PM
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Saturday:

Jet lag caught up with me on Saturday morning and it was 10am before I awoke! I took the underground to the Tate and arrived around noon. I immediately stood in line and within 15 minutes had purchased a ticket for the Turner-Whistler-Monet exhibition at 1500. That left me 2.5 hours to explore the gallery and get lunch. I passed on the fine dining experience, as I had made reservations for that evening at the Cinnamon Club. I grabbed a quick meal at the café (baked potato with vegetarian chilli and water: 8GBP) and started my tour, again from the top.

http://www.tate.org.uk/

Once again, I rented audio guide (free). The Tate houses British works from 1500 to the present day. It is a wildly diverse collection and the organization is impressive (works are organized by period and also in some cases by a “theme”). It is more than just a collection of paintings, it is a pictorial history of the British Isles from just before its emergence as a world power. There are some absolutely wonderful paintings by the “greats” that will be familiar to you all. I was delighted to see a few Constables I remember from childhood; when I got my first oil paints I tried to copy his trees.

I finished off the tour with a visit to the Turner Galleries, which has wonderful examples of this works from all periods. This as excellent preparation for the special exhibition. I realized that I was more familiar with Turner’s later works. Most of these works were not exhibited until well after his death as they were judged to be either unfinished or the work of an unbalanced mind.

The Turner-Whistler-Monet special exhibition resembled the Harrod’s January sales: It was unbelievably crowded; uncomfortably so. I rented the audio-guide for about 4GBP; excellent commentary about the paintings and the context. The exhibition draws parallels between the three masters works and shows much both Whistler and Monet were influenced by Turner’s ground-breaking later works. The theme running through the works is water (the Thames, the canals of Venice, the lakes and streams around Giverney). I have always loved Turner and Monet but never had much time for Whistler, a judgement based solely on his most famous painting (his old Mother). This exhibition has given me a new appreciation of the artist.

It is positively shocking how many galleries around the world contributed works to this exhibition! It struck me that, but for this special exhibition, one could not possibly afford the time or airfare to see ALL these paintings! If you are in London up until May 15th, then make time to see this exhibition.

Also worth noting, there is a Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Tate Modern from June to October and a special Reynold’s exhibition at the Tate Britain from may to September.
I left the gallery and walked toward Westminster. Unfortunately, Westminster Abbey was closed by the time I got there, so I decided to take the underground back to the hotel for a relaxing bath before my dinner.

The Cinnamon Club
http://www.cinnamonclub.com/index1.html

I booked a table at the Cinnamon Club, on-line from the website. I adore Indian food and “fusion” Indian even more. We are very lucky to have a local Punjabi chef, trained in both India and Canada, who creates superb Indian “fusion”. Two acquaintances, who dined at the Cinnamon Club when in London on business, highly recommended it for the cuisine, wine list and atmosphere.

I took a taxi from the hotel and arrived early. The table was ready. Interestingly, the entire restaurant is SMOKING, but there was not much smoking going on that night. On that Saturday night, the diners appeared to be mostly couples on first dates and a few families with well-brought up children who eat what they are given and don’t complain!

Regardless of the standard of food, when dining out, I expect good linen, fine china and plate and professional service. The Cinnamon Club offers all of this. The service was superb: friendly, accommodating, without ever getting too familiar.

I usually like to have a glass of Champers while browsing the menu, but I declined, because I thought 9-12 GBP a glass to be excessive. I asked for advice on the menu. I was certain I wanted the “Lamb” as a main course, but was torn between the starters. The waiter made an excellent choice for me. I started with Anjou Squab (pigeon) (9 GBP) and had the Smocked Rack of Lamb with Rajastani (?) corn sauce and pilau rice as a main course (22 GBP). Total bill, with two glasses of wine and bottle of water was 53 GBP.

Obviously, this is more expensive than one would normally pay for an Indian meal, but this is a totally different dining experience than an average Indian restaurant. This is not your soggy rice and Vindeloo curry take-out after a night of lager. This is a very unique experience and I considered it to be great value for money and not in the least excessive for that class of food and ambience.

Once back at the hotel, I packed for the next day and had a glass of wine while I planned the next day’s itinerary.

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Old May 6th, 2005, 01:50 PM
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Sunday.


Some photos:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/BrowsePh...y=-ly6y0b&Ux=0

I checked out of the hotel by 8 am and was off like a race-horse. It was a glorious day – cool, but sunny. It was also the day of the London Marathon! Although I did not participate, I am quite sure that I covered at least 26 miles over the whole weekend.

I decided to take the tourist bus for the day as I really did not want to waste such a lovely day on the underground. There are two to choose from:

The Original London Bus Tour: http://www.theoriginaltour.com/

The Big Bus Tour: http://www.bigbus.co.uk/uk/html/uk_home.html

I chose the latter (16.50 GBP and 8GBP for children). I was warned there would be disruptions and re-routing because of the marathon. Off we set toward Tower Bridge. As I was the only one on the bus until we reached Trafalgar Square, the guide sat beside me and prattled on. One fascinating piece of history he imparted was that the traffic island just opposite Marble Arch is the site of Tyburn where brigands, highwaymen, traitors and religious “heretics” met their end! I really enjoyed the drive and early on Sunday morning was a perfect time to do it, as there was almost no traffic at all.

I hopped off at St. Paul’s cathedral, which I have not visited in years. Unfortunately, there are no tours on Sunday, you cannot get into the top part of the church, which is reserved for worshipers. Also, the dome of the ceiling is covered with scaffolding and netting, which was a real disappointment. I wandered around for a while, admiring the proportions, fascinated by the monuments. In France, Spain and Italy, the churches are full of saints. Occasionally, you find monuments to the greats of art, literature and architecture. Here in St. Paul’s, I found a shrine to Britain’s military and imperialist past: Gordon of Khartoum, Wellington, Nelson, a soldier who fell at Balaclava. I found this interesting and incongruous.

I had hoped to visit The Museum of London (http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/) and was very disappointed to find it closed until noon. I spent some time wandering around the area and was delighted at the contrast between the ancient Roman walls and the thoroughly modern buildings that surround it. The oldest part of London must now surely be the newest.

I hopped back on the bus and we drove across the river and toward Tower Bridge. I hopped off just before, as the bus was rerouted due to the race. I picked my way through the crowds on the bridge, cheering on the runners. There was an excellent, celebratory atmosphere in London throughout the day. Arriving at the other side, I decided to visit the Tower of London, something I had not done since I was 12.

Entrance fee is 14GBP (OUCH!). The Beefeaters conducted tours and focused on the more gory details of the Tower’s violent history. I did not join a tour myself, but from what I could hear, they are quite entertaining. The White Tower is the most striking aspect of the visit: An imposing piece of defensive architecture started by William the Conqueror in 1078 and used as a blue-print for similar structures throughout the British Isles. The Tower houses the armoury, the highlights being the suits of armour on the 2nd floor. The Crown Jewels are housed in the Waterloo Barracks. Before entering the jewel rooms itself, there are audio-visual displays featuring the coronation and the history of the main pieces. A moving walkway whisks you past the jewels at an alarmingly fast pace (you will probably have to pass several times to appreciate the pieces).

Well, I was glad I visited, but I won’t repeat it: It has been “Disneyfied” too much for my tastes and, IMO, is more entertainment than history. You have to see it once, however, and the kids will just love it! Lots to keep the family amused for a few hours.

One added benefit of the bus tour is the boat tour from the Tower of London to Westminster. I boarded the boat at the dock and it departed within 10 minutes.

More later …..
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Old May 6th, 2005, 02:22 PM
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yk
 
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Cool pictures! I particularly liked the one with Tower of London in front, and the glass suppository building (the Gerkin) in the back.

It's funny how sometimes the more often we visit a place, the less likely we go visit the "tourist" sites.

BTW, I also had to agree with you regarding Oxford street. I find it a complete nightmare!

Don't forget you have to give us a clue in the crossword thread!
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Old May 6th, 2005, 02:28 PM
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Thanks for a great report Ger -- that's my kind of visit.

About the paintings being from everywhere -- I had a related experience in Canberra, Australia. My friend took me to the National Art Gallery there during an enormous Matisse exhibit. What was funny is that I recognized most of the major paintings as old friends from museums I had visited in the US and Europe. In this case it was fortunate that I had seen them before as my well-meaning friend walked me through the museum at a good clip, with nary a pause in any of the galleries
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Old May 7th, 2005, 08:48 AM
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Hello there:

Yk: I hope you have the opportunity to see Caravaggio again. I wonder where its going next? Does anyone know of a site that lists traveling exhibitions? I have seen that Tutankhamen is on the move again and would love to see it.

Hi Scarlett: I have one more gallery in my report!

Flygirl: Looking forward to seeing you in Victoria.

Bree: I would definitely include Patara in my plans in the future. I have been to two other Thai restaurants in London which were also pretty good. One was a branch of “Blue Elephant” and the other a very chic place in the “City” for a very long, boozy lunch with clients!

111op: If you like the Arts & Crafts movement, you should check out the exhibition in the V&A. I am hoping to get there later this year.

sfowler: One of the benefits of traveling alone is that I can take as long as I like visiting galleries and museums! It certainly not to everyone’s taste

regards Ger
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Old May 7th, 2005, 10:06 AM
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What a lovely weekend! We enjoyed our little 2days and a night stay over on our way to Africa last year. When you go back to someplace you've been to before (and recently) it is so easy to fit in some of what you have missed. We did Sir John Soames house (because it was near our hotel) and really loved it.
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Old May 7th, 2005, 10:14 AM
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Sunday Afternoon

It was a gorgeous day to enjoy a boat trip down the Thames. The driver provided an impromptu and amusing commentary during the 20 minute trip. It’s a perfect perspective to appreciate the sites along the river, including the new Globe theatre, the London Eye and the magnificent Houses of Parliament. I disembarked at Westminster, hoping to visit the Abbey. The Abbey is closed to visitors on Sunday, but open to worshippers.

I decided to lunch somewhere around Trafalgar Square as I wanted to visit the National Gallery again and complete my tour. Because of the marathon, I couldn’t walk there, so I took the underground to Embankment and walked up to Leicester Square. I fancied some Chinese food, so wandered to Lisle Street in Chinatown.

Fung Shing, on Lisle Street, is an authentic Chinese restaurant and comes highly recommended (http://www.londonrestaurantsguide.co...Advert_640.asp). I ordered their special dish, “Crispy aromatic duck pancakes”, Baby Bok Choy in Garlic (my favourite Chinese dish) and Singapore noodles. With a glass of wine and bottle of water, the bill was a reasonable 30GBP as there was more than enough food for two people; my eyes were bigger than my stomach!

After lunch, I headed to the National Gallery and spent another happy 2 hours to completing my tour. It is such a treasure trove of masterpieces and also a very pleasant environment. It was quite full, as one would expect on a Sunday afternoon.

By now it was after 4 pm and I had to choose between the British Museum and the V&A. There was definitely not enough time to get to the BM and enjoy even one section, so I decided on taking the “Big Bus” around Knightsbridge & Kensington, stopping off a the V&A. I walked from Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly and picked up the bus. Traffic was slow, as the throngs left London after the Marathon. We progressed slowly and, as the sky clouded over, ti became rather chilly on the top of the open-air bus.

The bus stops just past the V&A. I didn’t have much time, so I decided to just visit the fashion section, one of my favourite exhibits. I am delighted to discover that there was a special exhibition (I had read about it in “Hello”) of Queen Maud of Norway’s wardrobe (1896-1936) (http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/micros...eandsplendour/). Excellent exhibition. Had I had more time, I would have visited the International Arts & Crafts exhibition (http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/micros...artsandcrafts/) , which is on until July 24th (10GBP admission). I hope to see it in the future.

I was chased out of the gallery at 1745 and took the Bug Bus back to Marble Arch and the hotel in time to meet my driver.

It was a marvellous weekend filled with spectacular art and great food. Yet there was so much that I had missed. I had neglected London for the past few years and promised myself that, in future, I would take every opportunity when in England to continue my discovery of its great treasures.

Regards Ger
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Old May 7th, 2005, 12:42 PM
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Hello Ger, as usual I am always enthralled with your trip reports. You truly make one feel as though they were travelling with you. Thank you for always sharing your journeys. Best wishes.
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Old May 7th, 2005, 01:08 PM
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Ger, I happened to click on Fodor's this afternoon for any updates on your other post I had topped when I discovered we had a NEW Ger Trip Report, which was at the top of the list!

Your sister was a painter? Does she still paint? It's amazing sometimes, isn't it, the people who influence us in great ways for many, many years. One of my best friends in college got her master's in art history (Manchester, UK) and she has heavily influenced me in my enjoyment of art and also in my interest in travel, particularly to Paris.

I love Whistler's Nocturnes.
http://www.wmich.edu/~emrl/vt/paint25d_big.htm
Glad you enjoy a new appreciation of his works! Now I'm wanting to visit that exhibition but I know I won't be in London (or overseas) anytime soon.

I always love reading about your splurge experiences, Ger, and I'm glad you have them and that you share them with us!

It was the Big Bus Tour, I believe, that I took the first (and last) time I was in London. Truly a great way to explore the city although after doing the loop/trip twice I still wasn't oriented to the city - LOL! I loved it! We were whizzing around in the drizzle on the top deck of the bus and I took tons o' black & white photos that turned out great. Sometimes we'd be winging around a corner & I'd just stick my hand out with the camera to snap a photo. Even those turned out great. I guess I need to give London another try, especially now that I've read your great new report. I love the amount of sites, smells & sounds you incorporate into a weekend visit.

I think I need to read yk's report now!

Cheerio & Happy Mother's Day tomorrow, everyone.
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Old May 7th, 2005, 01:12 PM
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Another great O'Reilly report!! You made London seem fresh to me!!

Thanks for the important details.
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Old May 8th, 2005, 07:15 PM
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yk
 
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Hi Ger-
Thoroughly enjoyed your report! That was a lot of food you ordered at the Chinese restaurant!

Maybe I'll try calling the National Gallery and see if they have any tickets left for Saturday afternoon.

Beatchick-
My trip report was rather long and mundane. Only read it if you have nothing else better to do...
Link to my trip report:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34579780
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Old May 8th, 2005, 07:49 PM
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Thanks Ger, about that assistant job.....
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Old May 8th, 2005, 08:20 PM
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Hello:
Can you please name your first choice hotels in London? Are any of these "budget" priced? Why don't you like Oxford Street?
Thanks.

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Old May 8th, 2005, 09:40 PM
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Hi Beatchick:
My sister became a fashion designer and then married. She still is a genius at design and cutting. She had SUCH a huge influence on me from an early age (she is 14 years older) and is responsible for my passion for art and fashion and my excessive expenditure on SHOES. I was thumbing through her art books and Vogue (English, American and Italian versions) form the age of three 8-)

Yes, Whistler’s Nocturnes are an important part of the exhibition. His paintings of London at night from the river are stunning. I must study him in greater depth.

Hi Mel: When do you plan to return to London? I am a little embarrassed that I have not made more of an effort to see more of the city during my many visits to the UK over the past three years.

Yk: I should never have order the noodles (did not go with the duck and bok choy). Chinese food is not meant to be eaten alone. My BIL is Chinese, so we usually dine out with a group of 10-15; he orders from the Chinese menu and the waiters keep bringing the food and wine until we stop talking or drop from exhaustion! Hope you have a lovely trip to London. Please post the details. If you get a chance, do see the Arts & Crafts exhibit at the V&A.

Mimi darling: You would be FIRST on my list
Mt2Hill: Sorry, none of the properties were budget; all were four-star. There are lots of great suggestions on this site for budget accommodations, including B&Bs. Regarding Oxford Street: It’s a personal evaluation. The street is not dangerous, it is not a bad area, I just have always disliked it. As Flygirl says: “Oxford Street definitely doesn't represent London at its finest”

Regards Ger.
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