This is only a test…
We did some last minute shopping at Mark and Spencer’s, Selfridge’s and Liberty of London. M&S has the most reasonable prices, but not exactly eye-popping or exciting; Selfridge’s has big designer labels and fabulous food hall, but Liberty of London tops them all. While Harrod’s is all business and formality, Liberty of London has a certain warmth and class that even with the up market prices, one doesn’t get the feeling of highway robbery.
Liberty of London
Joanna led us to a hidden gem of a museum on Manchester Square, a few blocks from the shopping district. It’s the Wallace Collection at the Hertford House which contains an extensive collection of Dutch lifescapes, Sevrés porcelain pieces, French rococo, and medieval relics. One of the most beloved paintings is the Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hans.
We snagged a table at an old established English pub called The White Lion. They specialize in meat pies and ale, fish and chips and more ale, as well as sausages (bangers) and more ale and stout. We needed a “pub experience” And so we did.
Finally, we went back to Fumo’s for our arrividerci cicchetti – we had spiedino di pollo wrapped in prosciutto and rosemary, ossobuco con risotto, spiedino of monkfish and Sicilian prawns, calamari, shredded green beans with lemon butter, sea bass with garlic and butter, and wide tubular pasta (exotic name escapes me, wider than tagliatelle) with meat sauce. Susan had tiramisu and a shot of Marsala, I had pear in red wine and ice cream, Joanna had the “curly crisps” with powdered sugar. My two companions also enjoyed a bottle of white Italian wine and complimentary limoncello. I had my usual tiny sip – it was my job to find our way back to the apartment.🚷🚸🔙
What a great trip with wonderful friends- until next time-
Have a lovely day!
We took the rail from Paddington Station to Slough, then a quick transfer to Windsor. The village was built around the castle so everything seems to revolve around this enormous property. While the Kensington Palace is all about Victoria, Windsor Castle is all about, well, the Windsors- mostly Elizabeth, Her Majesty the Queen. There’s a tour of the state apartments as one would expect, and the ramparts and the queen’s wardrobe, etc. But St. George’s Chapel was definitely a must-see. It is one of the finest Gothic churches I’ve seen in Europe and Prince Charles chose well to have his wedding with Camilla in that sacred sanctum. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed to be taken inside.
After our visit, we had what was called the castle afternoon tea across the street – I’m practically British, with all these teas!
The following day was a very full day – we made our way to the National Gallery that has a great collection of old masters from 15th century triptych and religious art to Renaissance, Baroque, Impressionist and Dutch paintings.
Next stop : Westminster Abbey – this church is ancient, we’re talking the year 1065. The coronation of English monarchs were held in the high altar, as well as royal weddings and funerals officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward, George, Henry, Richard with Roman numerals and their consorts were buried here. The Chapel of Henry VII (the Lady’s Chapel) is a precious sight to behold. Climb the extra steps, it’s definitely worth it. Again, photos are not allowed, but there are outdoor pictures of the Abbey from my previous post.
From old masters and ancient Abbey, we descended to Churchill’s War Room near St. James Park. It was the actual bunker used by Churchill’s cabinet during the bombing of London. There’s also the Churchill Museum in the same underground space. Joanna and Susan were seriously interested in it. (My dear friend Steve and Joan, you know how I feel about war memorials). From here, we marched back to the apartment through the crowds of Trafalgar Square.
We had dinner at Rules which claims to be the oldest restaurant in London (1798). It’s properly British in the Edwardian style, with a number of game- hare, boar and guinea fowl – in the menu. I was looking forward to having pheasant, but it was not available this evening. C’est la vie. The restaurant is said to be frequented by the likes of Dickens, Thackeray, Graham Greene, Le Carré, and Clark Gable, among the notables, back in the day.
The gentleman serving our table called us “my ladies” – (not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing). At Fumo’s, Angelo calls us “my lovelies” and we like that.
Tomorrow is shopping day.
I meant to include our trip to Greenwich in my previous post, but the wacky photos I tried to insert drove me batty (battier).
We cruised the Thames to Greenwich on Friday and saw a view of the city from a very interesting perspective.
We passed under all the bridges of London while crossing the river and saw century-old wharf houses which were turned into opulent and luxurious dwellings for the one-percenters who are predominantly non-British. As a matter of fact, the city is mostly populated by people of foreign origins from all walks of life. The Italians are serving your calamari, Bulgarians driving your black taxicab, Frenchmen squeezing your clementine soda, and Indian entrepreneurs occupying a penthouse at the Dorchester. Joanna asks, “Where are all the British?”
Back to Greenwich- we disembarked at the pier and hiked up the hill through the Old Royal Naval College. This palatial compound is now the campus of the University of Greenwich –
Greenwich is a maritime village with a museum, markets and shops predominantly devoted to sea-faring and navigation. The Royal Observatory features the evolution of the clocks and navigation tools which marks the Prime Meridian. One can straddle the PM to establish oneself on the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time.
Our day started with a walk to the Courtauld Gallery along the Embankment – quite a nice stroll along the Thames and Victoria Gardens. The gallery is in the Somerset House which is a cultural center that also provides classrooms for the Institute of Art of the University of London. The Courtauld has a permanent collection of Impressionist Art and a special exhibition of Rodin’s Essence of Movement.
The Somerset House
After a short break, we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, which is not even a real circus, but has an undeniable circus atmosphere- a mass scrimmage to the exit ( labeled way out) and wall-to-wall people on the sidewalk. We made our way to Fortnam and Mason for a look-see, then meandered over to the Ritz for afternoon tea. Way over the top doesn’t even begin to describe it. We were at our best form – anything less could amount to banishment. Therefore, no sudden fit of giggles, which made Joanna proud.
After this delightful experience we walked toward Mayfair, a high-market area of foreign embassies and stately apartment buildings and shops. Joanna then took us to an old Jesuit church with exquisite stained-glass windows and magnificent altar. I had a great feeling of gratitude and humility ( The Ritz and heaven, too?)
Next blog: Cruising the Thames to Greenwich
We marched into the temple of conspicuous consumption in fashionable Knightsbridge. Harrod’s, as everybody knows, is a shopping Mecca and it is hard to conceive how so much resource can be systematically contained and spent in a single place.
The best part of the day was visiting Joanna’s childhood home behind Harrod’s. As a child, she remembered knowing Harrod’s commissioner who opened the doors and talked to her. It was quite nostalgic. We also visited her old parish church, the Brompton Oratory. In my opinion, it was grander than St. Paul’s and more magnificent. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to get a picture because one has to cross a very busy street to get a clear view. It would be tantamount to inviting the angels to take you up to heaven, pronto!
We took a very slow bus back to the apartment (traffic was ghastly), but it gave us time to rest our weary feet. We walk an average of 5-6 miles each day.
On a side note, London is home to many pubs and taverns – quite jolly and loud. Some scenes in the neighborhood at long happy hours-
Dinner tonight was back at Fumo’s (where everybody knows us by now)
We spent a good deal of time in the Tower of London- Joanna gave us a great history lesson (better than the fake Beefeater guide) on our tour of the famous tower. The events from 1066 were both enlightening and tragically brutal.
No pictures were allowed in the Crown Jewels Room -just believe me when I say those diamonds, sapphires, rubies, etc. are “yyyuuugggee!
One of the more interesting dishes in our forays was called crispy sprats- they’re little fishes, deep-fried to a pleasant crisp and served with aioli. I had them for starters, but could make a meal out of them.
The following day was a sick day for Susan- we told her to stay in bed so she can go out for our theater night at the Lyceum. Joanna and I went out to the London Transport Museum which happened to be crawling with kids and their cousins. It’s a modern interactive museum that showed the beginnings of the under- and above-ground evolution of the transit system. The most interesting part was provided by Joanna’s personal experiences riding them when she was a child.
A few yards away is Marc and Spencer where we drooled over the food display in the Food Hall.
After determining that Miz Susan was well enough to stay vertical, we all got dressed to see the Lion King. It was a good production, the sets and costumes were genius and the cast was well-suited. A big letdown was the atmosphere in the theater itself. We were in the Royal section, which we assumed to be proper and civilized. What we found were people carrying buckets of popcorn and beer to their seats and vendors selling ice cream along the aisle at intermission. Did they think they were going to a baseball game? And for management to allow such foolishness, my word!
My traveling companions in London are two lady friends from Southport with distinguished English pedigree – Joanna D’ARCY Vaught and Susan BIGELOW Mauney. It is truly a homecoming for Joanna and a revisit of sweet memories for Susan. And I’m here to visit the queen. If not the real one, the cardboard cutout will have to suffice.
This is the Exchange Court Apartment building where we will rest our heads for the next two weeks. It’s a restored 17th century edifice tucked away between the Strand and Covent Garden Piazza. We brought our good walking shoes for the anticipated forays into museums, squares, gardens, restaurants, cathedrals and palaces. And whatever else that may come our way.
We arrived on Saturday ((October 15) and nobody wanted to have their photos taken at the door entrance with jet-lagged looks and cobwebs in the brain. We walked around after a nap and had wonderful tapas at a neighborhood spot. Covent Garden is a very vibrant scene for younger folks in the weekend. But it was such a letdown for me to find out ’tis not even a garden nor a market at all. It’s been my dream to sing like Eliza Doolittle and sell flowers at Covent Garden. Today it is home to shops and restaurants from both ends of the price spectrum. One will find faux Burberry scarves and Union Jack umbrellas on one end and Dior boutique on the other. There are “original” fish and chips and Laduree in the mix.
After mass on Sunday (Corpus Christi Church) we walked to Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and popped into the National Portrait Gallery, and had tea at the crypt cafe underneath St. Martin-in-the-Fields. We also took a walk around St. James Park and the Horseguards Parade. (There was no parade- that’s just what it’s called). Don’t ask me. It was pouring buckets by the time we took a hike to Buckingham Palace and so I took a quick shot and retreated to dry grounds.
I have to write about these two cities together and hope to do justice in their descriptions. We’ve been home in Southport enjoying great weather, a low-calorie Thanksgiving meal and now Christmas is sneaking in, in a hurry.
Braga– We reluctantly left magical Viana do Castelo and drove straight to a parking space in front of the Sé, the grand cathedral built by Henry of Burgundy in the 12th century. It is the oldest cathedral in Portugal.
Braga was founded in the Roman times and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. It was the seat of the Mother Church where Archbishops ruled. In the center of town is the Archbishops’ Palace and I suppose the ruling monarchy had shared with them Divine Rights even before Divine Rights were cool.
Our entrance tickets to the cathedral included a very pleasant guide holding St. Peter-sized keys that opened majestic and venerable rooms. Among them are the tombs of Henry and wife Teresa as well as the openly displayed preserved body of Archbishop Lourenço Vicente (trés macabre!) I’m not sure how he merited such honor, but never mind. We also went up to the magnificent upper choir room with gilded organ case, exquisitely carved choir stalls, and enormous antifumeiros. Knowing about antifumeiros is relevant only in pretentious social exchanges, such as, ” By the way, we just adore those lovely antifumeiros in Portugal.” For the curious, antifumeiros are hulking pieces of antiquity used for the choir’s liturgical music, rotated by some factotum, so that the choir can do something else with their hands. Now, isn’t that useful information? Really, if you’re that curious, you can Google everything I’m writing about and get better pictures, but it wouldn’t be as much fun.
The cathedral also houses the Museu de Arte Sacra, also known as the Treasury. And oh, what treasures! It contains the lovely symbol of Braga, the Nossa Senhora do Leite (Lady of the Milk) and a stunning collection of ecclesiastical treasures of gold, silver and precious stones, statues, paintings, azulejos, as well as the archbishops’ crowns (!) and garments. I want to think that the poor in those days were well-provided for by the church/state, given their opulence. One can only hope.
Gilded triptych in the museum
Braga boasts of churches dating back ages and ages but we only have a few hours and couldn’t see them all. We managed to squeeze in the Archeological Museum, though small, had a very enthusiastic guide and a decent restroom.
Guimarães – a shorter drive down the highway and up the hill took us to the Pousada Mosteiro de Santa Marinha where we spent the night. This former cloister which overlooks the city is a magnificent structure with acres of garden and old ruins, believed to have the markings of Visigoth temple foundations. Hmm, a monastery built on the ruins of pagan rituals, interesting.
We were met by an extremely hospitable staff who took our luggage up the elevator, through cavernous medieval rooms and a football field-long hallway. Roy and I actually stayed here in the same hallway some 10 years ago, just a few doors down from our “monk’s cell”. Before our card game ritual, I decided to celebrate by ordering a glass of sherry which was met with veiled indignation by the (apoplectic) bartender. Ordering sherry turned out to be a terrible faux pas in Portugal. He handed me a very proper glass of tawny port. Mea culpa.
The Pousada da Santa Marinha
A view of the gardens from the balcony
We captured some photographs of a glorious sunset, a fitting prelude to a lovely dinner in the cellar.
Sadly unbeknownst to us, Paris was under siege while we were having dinner in Guimarães. The following day, we drove back to Porto and were happily welcomed back by the staff at the Freixa Palace. We were again upgraded to a superior room and sent off to the airport very early the next morning with breakfast in tastefully insulated bags. Our flight back was at 6:00 a.m. and felt like a marathon to the finish line. We were thankful that we left Europe when we did, because tension escalated in a hurry as development evolved in Paris, Brussels, and other places.
All said, it was a wonderful, wonderful, amazing experience and we’re already planning the next one!
Have a great Christmas, everyone- Roy and I will be heading to New York for the holidays!