Friday, February 20, 2015

THE THREE AMI

Left to right, Kay and Tom Law and me!

Introducing the Laws: Friends, Family and Travel Buddies

The day after I got back to London, my BFF’s, Kay and Tom Law, arrived to join me. More than friends, Kay and Tom are family. Kay and I met in college and have been friends ever since. And after Tom and Kay married, he became the brother I never had. One day many years from now, you can bet that you'll find the three of us in matching rockers at the old folks home!



Kay and Tom brought their granddaughter, Sutherland, along as a special treat for her upcoming 18th birthday. They wanted to take her to some of the landmarks I’d already seen, so while they spent the day at the Tower of London, I set out to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Harrods, and Selfridges. It’s a good thing I brought my boxcar sized running shoes because I ended up hoofing at least 5 miles over London's terrain. 


The lovely maiden, Sutherland.


I walked off my steak and ale pie that day!

The Natural History and the Victoria and Albert Museums are on the posh side of Hyde park. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the palatial homes on my way to the museums.

The Museum of Natural History 

I'm fascinated by dinosaurs so, of course, I headed straight for that wing.  Being the most popular of all the exhibits in the museum it was crowded, but fortunately it's arranged to handle a high volume of people. Taking up an entire wing, the dinosaur exhibit is constructed on two levels. First, a catwalk runs above the length of the massive wing allowing the visitor to look down on giant T Rexes as well as up into the rafters where skeletons of Pterodactyls soar effortlessly on 20’ wings. Then, on the main level, is an intricate maze of exhibits featuring fascinating examples of the prolific dinosaur age, the Mesozoic era. Both levels are designed to encourage people to enter at one end and exit the other. I recommend that you don't try to reverse course either. Take it from me,  it's like a salmon attempting to swim downstream in spawning season! Popularity aside though, it is a first rate exhibit and well worth seeing!

(Tip: Don't go on the weekends or holidays and go early! It also works if you visit these very popular sites late in the day. Practically everyone has gone home by then.)

 Natural History Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

By contrast, the Victoria and Albert Museum had a moderate amount of visitors, allowing plenty of room to wander. I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of blissful hours going in and out of rooms filled with priceless paintings, sculptures and artifacts. It almost felt like my own private museum. Heaven!
 
Here are some of the sculptures I liked the best: (1) The statue on the left is of the "quack" doctor, Joshua Ward (1760). He commissioned it to stand in Westminster Abbey, but it was refused. It tickled me that he actually liked this accurate depiction of his vanity and hubris. (2) The stunningly beautiful sculpture of the child kept me mesmerized for several minutes. Created by Alfred Drury in 1897, it has been reproduced many times. (3) I loved the humanity of this bronze of Albert Einstein. I felt it really captured the essence of the man. These are just a small sampling of sculptures that represent some of the best art work anywhere.

This immense reproduction of Trajan's Column certainly grabbed my attention. The plaster cast, made in 1864, looked so authentic I thought it was the real deal. The original, erected in 113 AD, still stands in Rome. It depicts Trajan's triumphs in the Dacian War and set the standard for future triumphal columns.

Harrods!

After leaving the Victoria and Albert, a short walk brought me to Harrods, the iconic department store. Told that I haven't lived until I've seen it, I dropped in for a quick peek. Awestruck, I wandered from one elegant room to another. Veneered with polished marble and artfully staged with eye-popping luxury items, each room is softly lit by glittering chandeliers. Finally, I made my way to Harrods famous food section where, throwing caution to the wind, I bought a very spendy tin of coffee. But, what the heck. I can now truthfully say, “I've been to Harrods!”

Harrods and my awesome keepsake coffee tin.
Selfridges!

Tired, but determined, I walked a mile or so back across Hyde Park to see another iconic department store, Selfridges. The only way I knew about this store is from the PBS series of the same name.  I’m hooked on the show and, of course, wanted to check it out. Founded by Henry Gordon Selfridge in 1909, it is the second largest department store after Harrods,. An American, he set the standard for the modern department store, creating the bargain basement and initiating sales and promotions. It revolutionized shopping in British society.


Leaving Selfridges, I headed back to our apartments along Bayswater Road. There, I met up with Kay, Tom and Sutherland for a marvelous Greek dinner. We ran across the restaurant (Kalmaras) by chance, and a lucky chance at that! The food is delicious, and as we found out, a favorite of celebrities. We may have dined in the very same booth as the Beatles, who knows??


Tom and Sutherland in front of Kalmaras. Yum!

Next time: Canal boats and the Cotswolds !


Thursday, February 5, 2015

A STROLL IN THE PARK, HYDE PARK THAT IS!




After a week of touring the blissful landscapes of Devon and Cornwall, I arrived back in London with time on my hands. My best friends and frequent travel buddies, Kay, Tom and their granddaughter Sutherland, already in flight somewhere over the Atlantic, planned to meet up with me the next day. Our weeks of plotting and planning consisted of staying in London for a few days, then renting a car to  tour the Cotswolds for almost two weeks.. Finally! I’d vowed to come back to England to spend more time in the Cotswolds and now, here I was only two years later, about to fulfill my dream!

Thanks to Kay, Tom and their timeshare program, our accommodations included a week on a rented canal boat. Starting in Worcester, we’d putt-putt down the Severn River to the Avon River and then continue on right into the heart of the Cotswolds. Tom would captain the boat with Kay, Sutherland and I as his “swabbies” and, more importantly, operators of the ancient locks.

But until then, I planned to spend an entire day exploring the very beautiful Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

 Map of the blended parks of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

Kensington Palace's Front Yard

We’d rented a couple of apartments in walking distance to the park so it took just a matter of minutes to arrive at Kensington Palace. The Palace anchors the park and is still a royal residence with Prince William and Kate calling it home. It’s also been the former residence of Charles and Diana, and Queen Victoria.

As I stood looking at its no nonsense exterior, I tried to imagine Queen Victoria as a child growing up within its walls. Raised by an ambitious, overbearing mother, I wondered if it had been a home or a gilded cage. Beside me, planted solidly away from the Palace, is a statue of the young queen in her coronation robes. I looked up into her marble face and followed her gaze outward to a sun dappled pond dotted with swans and beyond that, the vast park. I’d like to think that the positioning of the stature is symbolic; that it’s in the park where the future queen enjoyed her childhood. 

 Kensington Palace and a statue of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes.
 It was sculpted by one of her daughters, Princess Louise.

 The Round Pond and the Park beyond as seen from the garden arbor.

The Palace Gardens

In 1704, Queen Anne had the Orangery built to protect her citrus trees from the harsh
winters. It also served as an elegant entertaining space.





The Palace gardens are surrounded
by a leafy arbor, allowing the
royals (and me!) to stroll in shade and comfort.

One side of the Palace. Will and Kate's residence is on the left.

I spent most of my time outside in the lovely gardens, taking time to relax and savor a cup of coffee and a scone in the courtyard. Then, hoping I could catch a glimpse of Will, Kate and baby George, I started to explore the grounds.  Leaving the front entry to the palace (which is now a permanent museum), I wandered to the modest backside to see where the young royals may live. I found it guarded by security. I loitered for awhile, but alas, they must have been napping and I eventually wandered off to see more of the park.
 
One of the largest parks in London, the royal park covers 350 acres. It actually consists of two parts, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which are seamlessly joined. Even the large lake that snakes through the middle of the parks is divided by name. The half in Kensington Gardens is called the The Long Water, and the lower half is called The Serpentine. To the outsider, it is all just one big beautiful park filled with strolling paths, gardens brimming with flowers, fountains and squirrels so tame you can pet them.

 Swan family on The Long Water


Italian Garden

Designed by Prince Albert for his devoted wife, Queen Victoria, the garden is about as romantic as it can get. One of the few royal couples who were truly in love, this gorgeous setting is an inspiration for all lovers.

 
The fountains at the head of The Long Water




Albert Memorial

After Prince Albert’s untimely death, Queen Victoria mourned his loss the rest of her life.  This grand memorial is a measure of the immensity of her grief and love. 

 Albert Memorial

I finally called it a day, but I would be back! There are a ton of things I wanted to see that are located all within walking distance to the park and our apartments. But that's for the next blog!

Next time: A visit to the department stores of Harrods and Selfridges, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Good read: "Victoria Victorious" by Jean Plaidy. An historical novel about the life and times of Queen Victoria.