London, Is Calling
Transported from the pages of the books I was reading & shows I was watching....to the middle of London!!
This spring I had an opportunity to cross the pond to London.....A Netflix and PBS junkie, I had spent the last year watching shows like "The Crown", "Downton Abbey", "Victoria", and "Upstairs Downstairs". The history of London had begun to fascinate me. So many traditions, protocols, and formality. Having grown up in the Midwest and now living in Southern California, where the traditions are fewer, and the formality is considered old fashioned to say the least.
In addition to my daily viewing dose, I had just begun reading a book by Diney Costeloe, "A Girl With No Name". As I delved deeper into the book and started planning my trip I became acutely aware of how little I knew about London's History. The book being a Historical Fiction about WWII talked about many Historical buildings, streets , and monuments that were painstakingly protected from the air raids during the war. My excitement grew the more I read, and as I learned about these stunning landmarks; my list of where I wanted to explore grew.
Never having been to London before I booked myself a walking tour with Viator "The Royal London Tour with Changing of the Guard". We met at the South Kensington Station where I had time to explore the Flower Stands, amidst the rush of mothers getting their well behaved youth off to School.
I so wanted to take a photo of the children in their adorably tailored uniforms....but I restrained myself and allowed them to have their private moments. You will just have to visit to see for yourself!
The well versed tour guide led us to Kensington Park,
As we walked passed Kensington Palace; closed to prepare for it's new residents soon to be wed, (A perfect reason to plan a return visit) we entered the garden where Meghan and Harry's engagement photos were taken. I enjoyed the symmetry of the garden and wish it had been just a bit later in the season so I could have seen all the rose bushes in bloom....the Vine Arbor was my favorite....I can only imagine how lovely it would be in bloom.
The tour guide had a wealth of information about the Royal Family and how the people of England adored them, and how the monarchy worked. Her stories drew me in....excited to learn more. Our tour consisted of walking by many of the monuments I had been reading about, as well as several others that warranted further exploration. Listening to her recall the romance of Victoria and Albert and how beloved the two were to the people of London was fascinating. I recalled much from the series "Victoria", but being there in person removed the Hollywood glamour and brought a personal touch to their relationship and how they truly reigned together. Queen Victoria, who lost her beloved Prince Albert at a very young forty two-never quite recovered. Before my trip I would consider myself a passive bystander when news of the Royal family broke....I am now a more active participant and enjoy digging a bit deeper. Another example of how continuing to learn about the world around us keeps us more engaged with the world!
As we finished with Kensington Park and headed to the "Tube"...I had to admit I was not a big fan of going underground.
We entered the elevator and it dropped for more seconds than I would have liked, then entered a walkway to the train. Happy to have some professional guidance for my first experience with this travel in London, I carried on.
We arrived in downtown London and passed several interesting landmarks,.....as we began to walk past the window displaying an Orange Velvet Tuxedo Jacket, I stood still as I tried to get the question out she laughed and explained that this was indeed the shop depicted in the movie.... "Kingsman The Golden Circle"......If the opportunity presented itself I would happily have "Tea" or any other sort of drink with Mr. Colin Firth ; )
Next stop Buckingham Palace....now I had ventured on my own to the Palace the afternoon before and it was a bit overwhelming. I had walked through sort of randomly without purpose and got caught up in the gardens....because that is my thing🌿.
Now having some of the history of the Royal Family and the guide explaining the significance of the sculptures it became clear how grand it all was.
Having only seen the Palace on Television, I was now standing in the middle of the Palace grounds feeling the grandeur, emotion, and History of the Monarchy. I stood mesmerized by the glint of the gold accents against the black iron gates ...it was so elegant and very Royal!
As we watched "The changing of the guard" I was glad I had ignored an online review of this event, saying it just wasn't worth it.....so wrong....it was amazing how this group of dedicated men demonstrated the importance of tradition and discipline. A truly memorable moment.
We strolled past the crowds of people lining the Palace Gates, and moved on to the bridge where I fell in love with St. James Park, one of the many Royal Parks in London. Just steps from the Palace gates we entered the most lovely gardens.....anchored by a manmade pond occupied by beautiful birds, many of them gifts from foreign leaders to Queen Elizabeth over the years.
The large trees ready to explode in bloom, the bridge over the pond which proved the perfect spot to catch one of the Black Swans in all of its glory, and the quaint little Duck Island cottage at the East end....coined as the "Keepers Cottage".
On to Westminster Hall.....after circling upwards more than 60 steps to the top of the Spiral Staircase we were rewarded with the most spectacular view. (I cannot believe I forgot to take a snapshot of the staircase?!)
We could see the entire city from the top...the Palace, the London Bridge, The London Tower, The London Eye, Westminster, Parliament........absolutely breathtaking!
I revisited the Palace several times on my trip and I have to say my favorite time was early morning before all the chaos begins. I was able to get right up to the fence and see the balcony where the Royal Family addressed the people.
I could imagine myself being part of the crowd laying flowers down for the Queen with a spectacular hat atop my head!
I love taking the walking tours on my first day somewhere, it helps me see what I want to further explore and gives a bit of local history to the place I might not have otherwise discovered. Not to mention having the help of an expert to help me get my bearings and ask advice on things I needed further details on to decide if they were worth the visit.
I find it best not to have too rigid of a plan, because you never know what you might discover along the way.
Now that I was on my own I found a cafe for a bite and made note of what I wanted to revisit over the next few days and how to finish out my first full day.
On recommendation from the "Black Cab" Driver that morning, later that afternoon I made my way to an extraordinary street that had the most exquisite Interior design shops....Ebury Street. I found the Robert Kime shop which was beyond glorious, the perfect combination of classic and modern.
I also stepped into a very small which used menswear wool suiting fabrics on their sofas & chairs.....the curved lines of the pieces made for a seating collection that begged to be caressed. Some people have a thing for Tall Dark & Handsome ....give me a sexy settee and my heart is all a flutter LOL.
I left Ebury street and headed on foot to the Tate Britain, a collection of British art from 1500's to today. The museum is free and I knew I would find more inspiration for my new appreciation of English decor. I always find that there is much to be discovered about a cultures history in the canvases that adorn the walls of a local museum.
After my stroll through the Tate, I had to admit my legs were tired so I found a Black Cab and headed back to the hotel. It was after 4 in the afternoon and with the jet lag creeping into my brain I wasn't feeling brave enough to attempt the "Tube" during what I could only assume would be the beginning of rush hour.
Time for a meal and a rest to prepare for...
NOTTING HILL was on the top of my list!
I confess I have watched the movie "Notting Hill" more times than I am willing to admit, and I have always wanted to wander through the market and find that blue door just a few yards from the "Travel Book Shop". The "Portobello Market" is quite interesting. Each day has a special mix of offerings with Saturday being the main event...I went on a Friday when there was everything offered except the Arcades...as we wandered the Antiques, Bric a Brac, Clothing, and Food Vendors I got lost amongst the endless stalls.
Not being a huge fan of Flea Market type vendors I was able to speed past many but there were indeed a few that caught my attention.
The mix of colors the English put together amazes me.....having an affinity for a more subdued decorating palette, I was intrigued by the use of pattern and colors in such a bold way. Having recently been to the French markets of Provence this was quite different, more lively and filled with a different type of energy.....a bit more chaotic but fun just the same.
The brick & mortar shops along the market street had the most delectable assortments...........
If you have ever watched "The Great British Baking Show" you would truly enjoy the variety of fanciful desserts!
Amongst the stalls and shops along the street I found several items that just had to come home with me.... my favorites were this exquisite fabric store called "The Cloth Shop" at the end of the market, the Pop up Italian Cashmere boutique,
and the gift I found for my son in law...
an Antique Soccer Ball (replica of course) the Vendor even personalized it for me....all in all a lovely day
Walking through the colorful flats of Notting Hill....... there was a blue door...doubtful it is Hugh Grants but a blue door just the same!
Heading south on Portobello toward the Kensington neighborhood, the buildings became a bit more elegant, and uniform, with some of the most delightful Topiaries I have ever seen. Oddly I didn't get a decent photo of any of them...too busy looking around. Well I guess that just gives me something to explore on my next visit!
I even found a spot to peek through at the Private gardens ..."whoops a daisy"....yes they are worth it Flopsy!!
Ok so you got me, "Notting Hill" is one of my fav's so many "Classic" phrases and moments, I just can't help myself!!
As we headed down Kensington Park Rd, past the Notting Hill Gate Station, there was the most delightful street full of Antique stores.....Kensington Church Street. I popped my head in here and there to see their collections oohing and aahing in my head at all the pieces I admired but could not take home LOL.
Towards the end of this treasure filled walk was the "Churchill Arms" pub. A typical English pub with all of the dark wood, small tables with even smaller stools, and ale or whiskey to wet your whistle (no fancy cocktails here LOL) . Once inside we miraculously scored a table and took in the place. It was an odd assortment of patrons, some local some from abroad. The walls were adorned with Churchill memorabilia and I had to literally LOL when I opened the door to the lieu and discovered a bouquet of aromatic flowers atop the tank.....I thought to myself "only in London"
As I we stepped outside to continue our journey back to downtown London, I was struck by the iconic flower shop across the street where the most adorable child twirled in the entrance...... as her classic wool coat caught the air around her.
As the sun was hanging low in the sky we took a walk down by the London Bridge and watched as the lights around the River Thames began to glow.....such a beautiful sight to see. I found it odd to see towers of glass nearly reducing the regal historic buildings to cower in the shadows.
Houses of Parliament
As the city filled with lights and we headed back toward Buckingham Palace....it surprised me how at home I felt walking these streets. There was so much to see and an ever feeling presence of History like I have never quite felt before.
Buckingham Palace All Lit Up!
The stillness at the gate was eerily calming...compared to the throngs of tourists during the day.
If you are a fan of the PBS series "Victoria" you will love this sculpture. Standing amongst the memorials to the Monarchy adds a sense of reality and admiration of what it all means. As Americans we change our leader so frequently and are often at odds with who the majority has chosen...there is something a bit magical about having a family looking out for the people....and feeling their adoration.
Until next time.......there is still more to explore!