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TR: solo again in London and Wales - more art, history, & literature

TR: solo again in London and Wales - more art, history, & literature

Old Jul 13th, 2013, 05:55 AM
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Scotlib, I paid $1294 for five nights roughly $258 a day for a “club single” with FULL breakfast. The STRAND PALACE is a three star with no AC in your room which was not a problem for me during my stay this time or two years ago.

My main concern is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION and being so near to Trafalgar Square with so many attractions within a mile’s walk is crucial. I am old-fashioned and booked my flight, tour, and hotel through my trusty local travel agent. I am not confident with Priceline etc.
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Old Jul 13th, 2013, 09:27 AM
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Hi Gertie3751, sounds like you had a grand time in London. Obviously, you had a great deal of time – wonderful. Sorry I missed the Lowry exhibit at the Tate Modern.

What is “UCL”? I am sure that your suggestions and experiences will be appreciated by many others on this forum. Merci…
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Old Jul 13th, 2013, 09:37 AM
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University College London
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Old Jul 13th, 2013, 10:11 AM
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latedaytraveler, no travel plans at the moment--though it's about time we returned to London and/or Paris. We should go somewhere new too! Tough decisions, but I'm not complaining.
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Old Jul 13th, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Cathinjoetown, thanks, I should have known.


CW, planning is sometimes the best part. The only problem is that I never get to everything that I plan...
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Old Jul 13th, 2013, 04:25 PM
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************************************************** *

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26: This morning I had rather a slow start and spent some time reading the LONDON TIMES which I had delivered to my door daily. What a difference between the number and depth of British newspapers compared to the US! Also enjoy watching the BBC (with no commercials) and Sky News.

The pollen count, according the weather reports, was especially high during that last week of June. My summer allergies were kicking in and I was going through tons of tissues. Before breakfast I crossed the road to a Boots Pharmacy for some over-the-counter relief. After eating (I could still take nourishment), I took a bus along the Strand heading for THE CITY. Sometimes referred to as the SQUARE MILE, the CITY (an area that used to be within the old Roman walls) is financial heart of London. This entity holds city status in its own right, and is also “a separate ceremonial county.”

MANSION HOUSE, a palatial Palladian edifice in the City center, is the official home of the LORD MAYOR OF LONDON, who is elected by its corporation each year. The power of the Lord Mayor is such that even the Queen must ask permission to enter the City. Mansion House is only open to the public for tours on Tuesdays at 2 PM, admission £7. I had planned to join this tour the previous day and was quite disappointed to read on their webpage that the June 25 tour had been cancelled – presumably the facility was being used for some official function.

I hopped off the bus at Cannon Street, meandering through streets with quaint names like “Poultry,” “Cheapside,” “Old Jewry” and such before reaching the BANK OF ENGLAND which sits in a triangular public space facing the ROYAL EXCHANGE (similar to the Wall Street Stock Exchange in the US), and nearby MANSION HOUSE. I sat for a bit on a bench in the small park which unites these three grand dames of public finance – each adorned with solid Grecian pillars. Dominating the scene was an equestrian figure of the Duke of Wellington, erected in 1840 some 25 years after Waterloo, and an impressive statue of James Henry Greathead (1844- 1896) in working mode unveiled in 1994 who engineered an important part of London’s underground rail system.

I then entered the BANK OF ENGLAND MUSEUM which I will say up front was one of my best experiences in London on this trip. Admission is free with attractions for the whole family. Opened by the Queen in 1988, the museum “traces the history of the Bank from it foundation by Royal Charter in 1694 to its role today as the nation’s central bank.” A few highlights include:

• The reconstruction of a late 18th century banking hall replicating the office of Sir John Soane, a leading architect of the period whose eclectic collection remains in his own museum today.

• Examples of original bank notes and every form of paper currency and coinage to the present day.

• Colorful reproductions of late 1700s animated cartoons by James Gillray depicting the trials and tribulations of the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” (aka the Bank of England).

• Poignant correspondence between the bank and those representing the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic – sad.

• The opportunity to place my hand into a heavily guarded glass dome and “lift” a 28 pound solid gold brick – I know that my grandchildren would really enjoy this.


From the Bank, I sauntered to the nearby Art Gallery attached to GUILDHALL (never put “the” before this word), the ornate center of government for the CITY OF LONDON which survived the Great Fire 1666 and the Blitz of WWII. Its great hall (which was not open at the time to the public) is “festooned with shields of the livery companies and features memorials to prominent figures from Nelson to Churchill.” The art gallery was added in 1987 to showcase some treasures including the massive John Singleton Copley’s monumental seascape oil painting “Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar” which spans two floors. The painting has the distinctive American flair of “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” The rest of the collection was basically Victorian and sentimental – not my favorite.

Although I had planned to visit the SAMUEL JOHNSON HOUSE off Fleet Street, I decided to return via bus to Trafalgar Square. My allergies were really bothering me again. Of course, I stopped for a soft-serve ice cream at Adalaide’s, a free standing ice cream stand on the Strand which backs up to the courtyard of St. Martin’s in the Fields. I rested briefly on a solid black bench nearby (looks something like a casket) with a masqued bust of OSCAR WILDE and the inscription “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” – food for thought.

The Strand Palace lobby was pretty quiet so I accessed one of their three computers and dashed off a few emails home, even checked the Drudge Report. In my Paris TR last year I kept complaining I NEED AN IPHONE. Well, I now have one but I found that using it abroad quite vexing. I just couldn’t get all those settings right. Don’t ask! But I kept it charged and was able to take a few pics, dash notes of my meanderings on the “notes” app, and access a doc with info about the places I intended to visit. Sometimes if I were eating alone, I would take it out and write a few notes – as if I were texting like everybody else.


Later, I freshened up and walked to the Hoborn Tube station (about a ½ mile) to meet the LONDONWALKS LITERARY PUB TOUR of BLOOMSBURY. It was a lovely evening with folks spilling out of pubs and eateries along the way. Around 20- 25 people showed up – price £9 and £7 for “super adults” – moi. Brian, our guide, pretty much followed the program mentioning those notaries described in the brochure – Virginia Woolf, Thackeray, Orwell among others. I was surprised that he did not include Sylvia Plath who lived in the area when she married Ted Hughes – another sad story. Also his description of Virginia Woolf’s marriage to her husband Leonard was totally at odds with a recent bio I had read about her.

Somehow Brian’s presentation was a bit tired – maybe he had been doing this gig too long. And I could not avoid comparing his presentation to that of the guide I had last year in Paris on the Hemingway tour. But so be it. We stopped half way for a quick one at the QUEEN’S LARDER, a creaky, authentic pub so named because Queen Charlotte, wife of “Mad King” George III, “rented a small cellar in the pub where she kept special foods for him.”

We ended at FABER & FABER, the legendary publishing house where T. S. ELIOT worked for many years. I thought that Brian did a good job on Eliot, particularly in describing his unfortunate marriage to Vivian. The tour broke up back at the BRITISH MUSEUM where Karl Marx had labored for years on his Manifesto. Brian directed us to the pub across the street which had been frequented by Marx. Most deferred including myself. After giving Brian a few £s for his labors (I noticed that no one else did), I grabbed a cab back to Trafalgar Square.

Hey, I am getting pretty good at getting around London…
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 01:49 AM
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PS, I meant to mention that the Literary Pub Tour was from 7-9.
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 08:00 AM
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Thanks for the detailed description of the Bank of England Museum. I will keep it on my list. Trouble is too many things on the list and always not enough time to do them all!
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 08:38 PM
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I have just read a few of the exchanges in this thread and I'm liking it already. I will surely make it a must to attend a lecture when I go back to London, though I'm not yest sure when that will be. But for now, I'll continue reading. Thanks!
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 08:55 PM
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Sorry your literary walk was not on par with the Hemingway walk in Paris. It must have been disappointing that the guide's information contradicted what you've just read in a recent bio. I would have been very disappointed that Sylvia Plath had been left out. (as a side note, I saw her grave in Northern England on a literary tour. Even her grave marker was sad.)
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Old Jul 14th, 2013, 08:59 PM
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It is quite disappointing about the tour. I took a Londonwalks tour of the Bloomsbury group and it was very good.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 04:41 AM
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Europeannovice, agreed: “Trouble is too many things on the list and always not enough time to do them all!”

I did not get to do several of the things I hoped to this time which I may list at the end. Regarding the BANK OF ENGLAND MUSUEM, I gave my grandchildren a few goodies from their gift shop including a coin bank shaped like the gold brick in the display. They really got a kick out of it.


Emilittle, thank you for your kind words. I did enjoy the lecture and was sorry that I did not get back to the BRITISH LIBRARY to see their main exhibit. Most of the museums have regularly scheduled tours and lectures which are listed on line. One of my favorites was the tour I took at the WALLACE COLLECTION when I was in London two years ago.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 01:20 PM
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Hi Susan001 & Kelsey22, thanks for your concerns. Looking back maybe I expected too much from this literary tour of Bloomsbury but I am glad that I went.

Thanks for following my journey with me….
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 05:56 PM
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I forgot to ask how much time you spent at the Bank of England museum. Was it about an hour?

Glad you enjoyed your trip. Love your descriptions.
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 06:27 PM
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THURSDAY, JUNE 27: The day was bright and beautiful when I got off the Tube at South Kensington to visit the VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSUEM (V & A), in the heart of “Albertopolis,” a section of London which also includes the NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, SCIENCE MUSEUM, and ROYAL ALBERT HALL. All were offshoots of the GREAT EXEBITION OF 1851 under the direction of Queen Victoria’s beloved consort Prince Albert. Because the V & A is billed as “the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing over 4.5 million objects,” I thought it wise to take the introductory tour first which began promptly at 10:30.

A charming British docent gave a brief overview on the Museum and then led us through an eclectic assortment of Asian, Indian, and African artifacts. Really can’t remember that much except for a life-size china tiger devouring a tiny British soldier from the days of Raj- a favorite of an Indian maharaja later slain by the Brits. Not my cup of tea. We also looked down into a vast space where a collection of old clay molds were being restored for a new display. They included Michelangelo’s “David” and the front portico of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Our tour ended as we looked down at the main foyer dominated by the “ice blue/spring green” elaborate 9 foot chandelier by controversial American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly installed in 2000. Reviews were mixed but I thought it effective in that space.

What next? The V & A (free) is so vast (I like smaller venues more and more), that I chose a special exhibit TREASURES OF THE ROYAL COURT (£5) revealing “the majesty of the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to Ivan the Terrible and the early Romanovs… with royal portraits, jewelry, processional armor” with all the regal accoutrements of the age. Most striking was a full suit of armor made for the rotund Henry VIII – now there was a big boy! Royal silver on loan from the Kremlin Museums was also impressive. The exhibit was not crowded while hundreds waited for the DAVID BOWIE extravaganza in an adjoining gallery which runs at the V & A until August 11.

Back on the Tube to St. James Park and on my way to the QUEEN’S GALLERY neighboring BUCKINGHAM PALACE. The trek was hot and longer than I had expected. Suddenly I noticed two gals dressed to kill as if they were going to a wedding – each wearing one of those fabulous big hats or “fascinators.” One was a bit hefty and looked as if her high heels were killing her. (I could feel the pain.)Then I noticed many other women similarly attired with gentlemen in suits or formal dress. Many were having a grand time in the local pubs. I asked one woman what was happening. She was carrying her hat in plastic bag.

She replied, “Oh, I am so excited. I am meeting my gentleman friend and we are going to the QUEEN'S GARDEN PARTY in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Grenadier Guards Association. I am looking for a place with a mirror to put my hat on properly.” Then she added that 5,000 had been invited to the event which was to start at 2:30. I read once that each guest at these affairs is given a ticket for ONE glass of bubbly – so obviously many of the guests had been celebrating in local emporiums beforehand.

Leaving the revelers behind, I made my way to the QUEEN’S GALLERY, adjacent to the PALACE, a public museum displaying exhibits of art from the ROYAL COLLECTION, those works held by the Queen “in trust for the nation.” (£9.75) The facility opened in 1962. Currently THE ART OF TUDOR AND STUART FASHION is on display highlighting the place that expensive, finely made clothing held in court life “conveying important messages about wealth, gender, age, social status, marital status and religion.” Most arresting to me was the painting of Charles I (1600-1649), a “triple portrait” showing his upper body from three angles. In each, he wears a different luxurious outfit. The work was done by the court artist Anthony van Dyke (1599-1641) to be sent to the Italian sculptor Bernini (1598-1680) in Rome who was commissioned to execute (oh, that is not an appropriate word here) a bust of the King. Said bust was displayed nearby in all of its Baroque splendor. We know the fate of Charles I at the end of his turbulent reign – beheaded at Whitehall Palace, but succeeded in 1660 by his son Charles II who sought appropriate vengeance for his father’s death.

I must say that the Ladies’ Room in the Queen’s Gallery was the most elegant one that I saw on my entire trip. Marble, of course. But what else would you expect? Many gals preparing to attend the garden party were primping in there. I told them that they all looked great which they did. As I walked around to the Palace entrance, many cabs were pulling up disgorging new arrivals. The ceremonial MALL (over ½ mile) that connects the Palace to Trafalgar Square looked long and hot. So I hailed a departing cab. The driver immediately picked up my Boston accent, told me that he had been to our fair city, and enjoyed the autumnal foliage in New England. Brits are among our biggest customers for that annual show. He also told me that he was disappointed with the Shangri –la Restaurant at the Shard. I hopped out at ADMIRALTY ARCH built in 1912, the impressive triple entry entrance to THE MALL, flanked by two elegant office buildings. Another factoid from the British papers: last year the Arch was sold to Spanish investors who plan to make it into a 5 star hotel. Some digs.

In the early evening I returned to Trafalgar Square to the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY (free)which is open on Thursday and Friday nights until 9. All the portraits are in rooms chronologically arranged from the early Tudor period to the present day. I drifted through the early eras paying homage to a beautifully restored painting of ANNE BOLEYN (her neck, soon to be severed, glistened with lustrous pearls); past John Taylor’s portrait of SHAKESPEARE, the only one of the Bard taken from life and the first portrait acquired by the Gallery in 1856; then through rooms of Victorian and Edwardian historians and politicians. The Gallery contains dozens of paintings and photos of my favorite poet T. S.ELIOT including a cubistic oil-on-canvas done in 1949 by Patrick Heron.

Moving on I was delighted to come upon a 2011 painting of MAGGIE SMITH by James Lloyd which I read about recently. The subject is informally dressed in a trench coat, black slacks, and flat shoes as if she had just returned from grocery shopping, not in the persona of the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Lastly, I checked out the controversial 2012 portrait of KATE MIDDLETON which was widely panned in the press. But honestly, folks, in person the work is much more flattering.

Then I moved on for a “locally sourced” dinner across the way at the Crypt and tried to decide what to do on my last full day in London. So many choices…
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Old Jul 15th, 2013, 07:15 PM
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Thanks once again Latedaytraveler, for sharing your adventures. I found this latest instalment, filled with art, artifacts, anecdotes, portraits, personalities, and party primpers particularly amusing ! The NPG was on the short list last October but alas, time and logistics threw a spanner in the works. It's on the top of the list for the next visit.
Very much enjoying your report.

M
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Old Jul 16th, 2013, 05:08 AM
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Europeannovice, I would say a little over an hour would be sufficient for viewing the BANK OF ENGLAND MUSEUM. If you go on a Tuesday, you might join a 2 PM tour of MANSION HOUSE, ornate home of the City of London’s Lord Mayor. But check the web first, the tour on the Tuesday when I visited London was cancelled… boo hoo.

Thanks for following along…
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Old Jul 16th, 2013, 05:59 AM
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Still reading with much pleasure! Thanks!
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Old Jul 16th, 2013, 09:24 AM
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Mathieu, thank you for your kind words and following along. Sometimes I think I give too much detail – but I have to be specific! A carry- over from teaching English all my life I guess.

I am sure that you will make it to the NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY on your next visit to London. It’s free and open on Thursday and Friday evenings until 9. If you are in a posh mood, you could eat at their elegant restaurant of the top floor which provides a spectacular view down Whitehall to Big Ben and beyond.

You might enjoy browsing the NPG website where you can look up any historical figure/artist/celebrity whose portrait (s) is included with pertinent facts about the piece.




European novice, meant to say that the MANSION HOUSE is directly across from the BANK OF ENGLAND MUSEUM...
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Old Jul 16th, 2013, 12:58 PM
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No such thing as too many details in a trip report .. granted that IMO

Thank you for the info about the hotel, latedaytraveler, and I am enjoying both the whole of the report and any/all nitty gritty details you include!
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