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….
Category Archives: London
Flat out gorgeous weather today, for the first time during this trip. And we put it to good use. Francine and I hopped on bikes and rode a few miles to Richmond Park, which was full of Sunday strollers and riders and deer with antlers moving in great packs. Blue sky, sunshine, light breeze, gravelly dirt paths. We rode the circular path all around the park about 7 miles. It was largely flat except for one big hill. Just beyond some of the entrance gates I could vaguely see posh brick homes in “The London Borough of Rich People on Thames” (a phrase coined by my friends here…)
This afternoon, Francine’s relatives came for a late lunch and we had a great meal including Pavlova prepared by someone who knows her pavs…Francine’s step mum who lives in Sydney and grew up in New Zealand. (Lesson learned: pile on a lot more fruit than I have done in the past to offset the sweet merengue. Try kiwi as well as berries.)
It has been such a treat to ride bikes in London. When I lived here in my early 20s, I rode my bike all over the city but not along the Thames Path, that I can remember. Today, we rode toward Hammersmith from Mortlake (I think we were riding east on the south side of the river but the river is so curvy it’s hard to tell.) I never noticed how beautiful the Hammersmith Bridge was until I walked a bike across it. On the north side of the river, we lucked out with an outside table overlooking the river at The Dove, a great old pub with excellent food (fish and chips, chicken liver “parfait” — pate with sprinkles of pork skin crackle and a dab of homemade applesauce). We chatted with an interesting English couple who just moved back to London after 10 years in D.C
After lunch, we discovered that we’d parked our bikes in front of the William Morris Society — my second encounter with WM and the place offered some interesting sounding classes or lectures. The bike/walking path was a little harder to follow on the north side but we rode past pretty old houses and boat or athletic clubs and a golf course before crossing Chiswick bridge and riding the path to the Brentford Gate of Kew Gardens to meet Francine and Russ. We had a scary time trying to cross several lanes of traffic on the bridge so we could get back on the Thames Path (next time, we need to ride across the bridge’s east side.)
Kew was lovely. We had Pimms (a tad overpriced but location, location, location) on patio at The Orangery, overlooking gardens and huge gorgeous trees, visited the crazy clever “hive” – a sculptural depiction of a giant bee hive with lights and soft music somehow aligned with real bee activity in real hives nearby, and took in the veg gardens. Also enjoyed Sackler Bridge – a pedestrian bridge across a narrow lake. Our only complaint was the signage, especially to out of the way spots like Queen Charlotte’s cottage. I love London.
We met a fellow Iowan, Val, who co-owns the popular Pickle & Rye “American sandwich shop” near Mortlake station. Great to see the business she runs with her husband Alex (from Philly) doing so well. Since my last visit four years ago, they have moved to a bigger space and it was full of people eating Saturday morning breakfast (English and American varieties). Val had just returned from a visit home to Grinnell and Des Moines. She kindly gave us a complementary order of light, fluffy pancakes, which were new to our English pals who eat at the restaurant regularly.
Then on to neighboring Barnes for the annual fair, which we last went to about 13 years ago. It seems to have mushroomed in size. Francine and Una were busy at the “I love Mortlake” tent (a community action group keeping an eye on a new controversial local land development) so D and I happily sat in the garden at the busy pub, The Sun Inn, drinking beer and Pimms and soaking in the sun. We shopped at the Barnes farmers market and later at Waitrose for dinner that I made for the gang.
Beautiful weather (sunny but not as hot as yesterday) so once we got on bikes in Mortlake along the Thames Path, we didn’t want to get off. On a Friday, the trail along the river was largely empty until we got to major tourist areas like Richmond and towns like Kingston and it felt like we were very far from big city London. At times, we could have been in a small country village, with weeping willows draped over the quiet narrow winding river, dirt and stone trails under shady trees, little lanes leading to town. We passed houseboats, kids learning to kayak in a river inlet, small tour boats heading to Hampton Court, riverside pubs and restaurants, tourists hanging out in Richmond.
We stopped at the Petersham Nurseries for lunch at the tearoom. Pricy but good food (sandwiches, salads including a chicken salad with lentils I must try to replicate) and we ate in the garden, watching staff in the neighboring greenhouse cutting flowers to make beautiful bouquets. We didn’t quite make it to Hampton Court (next time, we need to cross the Kingston bridge and ride inland on the other side of the river) but we stumbled upon the bustling square at Kingston which was very lively, with a big outdoor farmers market, a cool old town hall with a gold statue, a pretty old church and yard. S0uth of Kingston was not as nice. The bike trail and terrain became urban/suburban. NO thanks so we turned back and st teddimgton Lock, road to the Ham Gate of Richmond Park. With the exception of one challenging uphill, we had a flat and pretty park ride. We did stop at a cafe because we were desperate for water and got gouged — 7 pounds for a water, small ice tea and flapjack. Next time we go on what turned out to be a 25 mike ride in London we need to remember our water bottle and day pack.
At night, we trekked to Richmond Park for an evening opening of the London Zoo, where we found better people watching than animal watching although there were cool monkeys and penguins.The zoo was packed with young people in particular. Dinner was Indian/Bangladeshi and excellent at Namaaste Kitchen (64 Parkway) in Camden, which was full of kids going to pubs and clubs. I fell asleep on the #24 bus ride back to Hammersmith station where we got a cab to Mortlake, arriving “home” at 1 a.m.
I knew it would happen but it caught me by surprise when it did. The first caustic comment about Trump from a Brit. My friend Francine and I were walking on a little path in Mortlake having one of our many heart to hearts when a man passing by suddenly finished my sentence. “One thing you might need to worry about…” I was saying to Francine when the man passed by and said “Trump.” We exchanged a smile and I said “I’ve been worried about that for a long time.” Francine said the guy is her neighbor and a police officer.
We walked further to the posh village of Barnes where we shopped at the little farmers market, ate pub grub at the Sun Inn, outside at a picnic table with a lovely view of the Barnes pond, lined with willow trees, swans gliding by. After a visit to Fulham to see Francine’s mum, we walked along the tow path from Barnes to Mortlake past the old brewery that is now the site of a controversial redevelopment that Francine is monitoring as part of a citizens action group. Lovely Dinner tonight at our friend Una’s in nearby east sheen. Must sleep.
Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Lauristen Road: London’s happening Hackney Borough/East London
It occurred to me as I was taking an “overground” train this morning across London, from the southwest (where I am bunking in lovely Mortlake in the London Borough of Richmond) to the northeast in several neighborhoods in the borough of Hackney that I had no idea what I was riding. Was it light rail? New? How does it connect with or supplement the London Underground that I used in the 1980s and British Rail which I use from Mortlake? Turns out that this whole new system of rail (possibly light) has evolved in the last 10 or so years to connect the ever expanding and gentrifying neighborhoods of this city of 8.8 million residents.
The minute I stepped out of Shoreditch High Street station, I could see and almost feel the energy on the streets – bustling ethnic food stands and trucks, young people in all kinds of getups and many ethnicities sharing streets sometimes adorned with graffiti or lovely renovated brick apartment complexes, Middle Eastern and African Muslims and the occasional Orthodox Jew, pop-up shops selling handmade shoes, clothing, highly -curated home goods or kids stuff, cafes with gorgeous breads, salads, arancini (at Franze & Evans on Redchurch Street) cakes and small batch ice cream. So many entrepreneurs and independent shopkeepers trying to make a go of it. Lots of Allen and Carole Rubiners, my parents who dared to start an art gallery in a then-unfashionable suburb of Detroit in the 1960s. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to these neighborhoods on the brink of change, to these people pursuing their passions often against the odds? (Story of my life actually…) Anyway, I walked myself silly, exploring quiet residential back streets and colonized commercial hip pockets in and around streets including Redchurch (near shoreditch station) and Columbia Road and Lauriston road near Victoria park. Along the way there were little surprises including an urban farm in Hackney and colorful houseboats along an industrial looking canal. I ended up all the way at Mile End Station and somehow got back to Mortlake via bus, underground, bus and aching swollen feet, to have Brazilian food at The Tapestry Restaurant near the house in Mortlake. Shoreditch/Hackney sure beats Covent Garden (today’s version….not the less discovered 1980s version) and glad to see London continuing to grow in interesting corners and ways.