Category Archives: London

Bonnard show at Tate Modern, Zizzi Italian, Oliveira Brazilian vegan food, Cote for brunch — London

I met another friend of 39 years, Jemima, who came all the way from her home in the northern town of Ludlow to meet up, for the first time in about four years. What a treat! She suggested an exhibit of work by Pierre Bonnard at the Tate Modern, one of my favorite London “it” spots. The exhibit itself turned out to be stunning (Go! Go!)

South Bank was packed with people, many speaking languages other than English, strolling along the Thames on a sunny day with a brisk wind. Such a buzzy place. London seems so vibrant, healthier than ever and yet Brexit looms, creating an odd sense of doom.

We had a good lunch at Zizzi, a chain Italian restaurant with surprisingly good food that, even more surprisingly, arrived at our table very quickly and still tasted good. (We shared pizza and a salad.) We also had a really nice view of the Thames and all the hubbub along the South Bank.

on Saturday night, Francine, Russ and I had highly unusual vegan and veggie Brazilian food at Oliveira in East Sheen. We are now back on Shalstone road where Russ is engrossed in a chess channel on YouTube that he swears by (Power Play Chess, should you be so inclined.)

On my last day in London, Francine, Russ and I had a nice brunch (English breakfast for Francine and I) at Cote restaurant in the pretty Richmond village of Barnes and then were blown by an intense wind along the Thames path, back to Mortlake.

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Return to old London stomping grounds — Parliament, Covent Garden, south Bank, embankment

Francine and I met 39 years ago when we were both working for Labour MPs in The House of Commons. Today we returned for a program marking International Women’s Day, featuring 25 people – most black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women speaking in an elegant Commons meeting room on topics ranging from youth violence to sexual slavery to  increasing minotity women participation in science, business and artificial intelligence. It didn’t escape my notice that all this these attractive, smart and successful South Asian women were sitting in a room decorated with huge old oil paintings of white men. The times are a changing and, as one speaker noted, the art needs to also.

We drank tea and ate finger sandwiches, scones and macaroons afterwards at a reception in the House of Lords, overlooking the balcony and Thames on a rainy afternoon. Francine managed to get us back over to the House of Commons, through back hallways and we sweet-talked the nice guards into letting us join some other tourists inside the H of Commons chamber, which looked even smaller and more compact than I remembered. We walked through the glorious 12th century Westminster Hall, bits of it under repair. (Big Ben is completely shrouded in scaffolding.)

Continuing on our sentimental journey, we walked up Whitehall, past Downing Street and other imposing government buildings to Trafalgar Square and then Covent Garden, where I bought a rain hat (like my friend Una’s, which I borrowed in Dover) from Barbour (quintessential British) and tried on some shoes at one of three Allbirds stores in the world. Then we walked in the dark and drizzle through the crowds and past the shops in Covent Garden to embankment (Gordon’s wine bar, an old favorite, had an overflow crowd) and over the bridge to South Bank and the train from Waterloo back to Mortlake where we had Indian takeaway with Russ. Ahhh London….

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Petersham Nurseries, Thames Path, The Cricketers Pub — Richmond/Kew in London

0D50E19A-CFB1-4EE3-8FCB-EDDA56003AF0.jpegWe learned the hard way that you can’t pay cash to ride a bus, nor if you are American are you likely to be able to pay with your credit or debit card. (It’s missing some sort of chip that British cards have…and I don’t mean “the chip” of “chip and pin” which American credit cards now have.) We also learned that I can’t simply use my Oyster card twice on a bus to get a ride for myself and a friend (unlike in, say, NYC, where you can swipe your metro transit card twice or however many times needed to get your entire party through the turnstiles.)

So how did Merida get on the bus, especially given the unusually unpleasant nature of the bus driver? Another passenger, one of several older women trying to help us, used her bank card to pay Merida’s fare. Then there was a lively debate by no less than five kind older passengers on what Merida needed do in order to buy a return fare. (They suggested she get off the bus, before our destination, at the Richmond train station so she could pick up some variety of fare card.)

6519469C-7513-45C6-A4F1-6B84B70B3A33.jpegWe did finally make it to the sweet rustic cafe at Petersham Nurseries, where we learned (the hard way) that it doesn’t serve a proper English breakfast, as hoped, but we did have a nice flat white coffee and another scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam, surrounded by glorious flowers (hydrangea, camellia, daffodils) in bloom.

Onto the toe path along the Thames, since the sun was unexpectedly shining fiercely (although the strong wind should have been a warning of worse weather to come). We walked past Richmond pubs on the river and lovely Richmond Green, with stately red brick homes and blossoms on the trees. Unfortunately we learned the hard way (do you detect a theme?) that Google maps is not always accurate (especially when an entrance to a little country passage or lane is unexpectedly closed) and the walk back to Kew was longer than expected. The sun shrank, the sky darkened and the wind kicked up but fortunately it didn’t start raining (yet) and Marion, at age almost 82, was a trooper! We walked 17,070 steps/6.4 miles and climbed 18 floors, according to Marion’s know-it-all phone. We deserved our Prosecco and Eton Mess, see below!

Emerging from the Thames Path onto Kew Green, we stumbled into the nearest pub, The Cricketers, which turned out to be a winner. We had big glasses of hard cider, my pate and bread sufficed and we all enjoyed an “Eton Mess,” whipped cream with strawberries, bits of meringue and shortbread.

We are now happily gathered around a fire in the living room of our Kew Airbnb, Prosecco in hand, enjoying each other’s company on our last night together…this trip.

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Hampton Court/Kew — London

Marion, Merida and I are bunking in a lovely Airbnb on Sandycombe Road in Kew, a pretty village in the London Borough of Richmond. Our friend Pam, who lives nearby, picked us up in her sweet little Fiat 500 and drove us around Richmond, where we stopped for coffee at the pleasant Richmond Hill Bakery, up the street from a glorious view from on high of Richmond Park (and near Mick Jagger’s house, we were told.)

We Ubered over to Hampton Court, which hasn’t changed much since I last visited with my kids about 14 years ago, except for the experience itself, which combined high-tech (a handy audio tour headset) and low-tech (a staged play in William III’s living quarters featuring the same characters portrayed in the movie “The Favourite,” part of which was filmed there.)4E49B1BC-94B7-4527-9A41-2F2C16416BB6.jpegWe got lost a time or two but it was a treat to be able to wander around on our own. We also had a good quick lunch in a cafe in an old room (baked potato with cheese, greens) and toured some nice gift shops, beyond the spectacularly ornate royal rooms and the great old kitchen rooms. 533C9AE4-E685-448B-A2E8-C5557DC67427.jpegMerida and I also wore borrowed long velvet capes, a nice option (that kept us warm) on a rainy day and made me feel a bit like a Hogwarts student. Undeterred by rain, we wandered around the formal gardens past bizarrely trimmed trees that looked  like hedges on stilts.

6DFB0B30-7913-4A01-B393-E0EE48E7F380.jpegMore memories of London visits with my kids when they were little cropped up when M, M and I  had cream tea at the famous old Kew tea house, Maids of Honour. Fourteen years ago, D and I ended up here with the kids after an attempted walk to Kew Gardens from Francine and Russ’s house in Mortlake ended abruptly, due to a downpour. Thank God for the Maids of Honour, which 14 years ago we stumbled into soaking wet. This time we were also wet but not as wet. The scones were as light and the clotted cream as rich as I remembered.

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Great Diary Project, Betjeman Pub at St. Pancreas Station and Granary Square – Hello (again) London

A very full day in London, first visiting the remarkable Great Diary Project at the Bishopsgate Institute, a quiet refuge in the bustling City of London that is home to a remarkable collection of diaries and scrapbooks donated by generations of ordinary scribblers dating back centuries. I spent some time talking to the director in whispered voice as she sat at a desk surrounded by presumably new dairy intakes in an austere old reading room and then looked through a few old diaries, one kept by a woman from 1957 through the 1990’s that began with the memorable words “Mother died today.” That grabbed me and kept me reading.

Onto the gorgeously revived St. Pancreas and Kings Cross stations, in a once grotty but now rapidly gentrifying North London chunk of Camden. Francine and I had a pricey shared Ploughmans at Betjeman Pub in St. Pancreas, named after the famous writer John B. who helped save St. Pancreas from demolition. I walked around nearby Granary Square, bordered by massive old dark brick industrial buildings that have been spiffed up and converted into an art college (with hipsters playing ping pong in an entry way with stories-high ceilings), fancy shops, an amazing looking Waitrose, of course, clever site specific sculpture and on the day I visited, a craft and food market. It seems like every time I visit London, I find another new dynamic neighborhood– and this at a time when Britons are heavy-hearted and deeply worried as the deadline for Brexit fast approaches.

Granary Square

I am now in a charming late 18th/early 19th century “terrace house” overlooking the sea on Beach Road in the charming small Kent town of Deal. Our friend Una kindly rented the place from friends but arrives tomorrow. Francine, Russ and I took the train from St. Pancreas, an easy, albeit pricey, 1.5 hour train ride. (Cheaper for Francine and Russ who now get incredible discounts on public transport because they are both 60.)

I should add that my day flight on American from Chicago to Heathrow was surprisingly pleasant. Only thing bad was the food. The flight was pretty empty. I wasn’t the only one who had a three seat row to myself. We arrived 1/2 hour early at Heathrow and at 10: 15 pm there was a very short line at passport control. I carried on my suitcase so I got out even earlier into the awaiting arms of my dear pals Francine and Russ who whisked me off to their lovely house in Mortlake. Ahhh England.

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When next in NYC, LA, SF or London – April Bloomfield’s picks

This from a NYTimes Q and A with chef April Bloomfield, whose restaurants we’ve recently gone to (Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall; the Spotted Pig in NYC).

London recommendations:  in Hackney, Violet (cute tea shop/bakery); in Shoreditch, Lyle’s (“clean simple food”)

In LA: Hearth& Hound (her new place in Hollywood for “wood-fired food.”)

In San Francisco: her place, Tosca Cafe or Marin Brewing Company (in Marin)

In NYC: her places – Breslin Bar & Dining or the John Dory in Flatiron district; White Gold Butchers, Salvation Taco.; recommendations – Kunjip in Koreatown.

 

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Latest London suspected terrorist bombing hits close to home: Parsons Green

On Hammersmith Bridge near Fulham, July 2017

Parsons Green was my tube station when I lived in London’s Fulham neighborhood in the 1980’s and remains a place I regularly visit old friends as I did again during my trip to London in July. The news of what appears to be a terrorist attack there jolted me this morning. Parsons Green is near a little park in a quiet southwest London neighborhood that has gentrified into a posh place since I lived there. It feels almost suburban although it’s not far from bustling urban areas. I’m trying to think of an equivalent neighborhood subway stop in Chicago or New York.  Maybe Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood or Chicago’s Lincoln Park? Yet again, I’ve emailed my London pal Francine to make sure everyone’s okay and she responded: Yes. But what a world we live in….

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