Sunday, April 8, 2012

City Views, Country Dreams

Hello from New York on Easter afternoon.

I did not go to the big Fifth Avenue Parade today, as I preferred to stay away from the crowds, and the tree pollen that's making my eyes sting.  Also, this was a good day to sort out some of the photos I took on my recent holiday visit to ... the UK.

It had been six years since my last stay in London, and I was so curious to see how airports, air travel and London had changed since that trip.

The airport security process was much easier than I had expected, and aside from just a bit of overnight turbulence, my journey was pleasant.  The plane was not full, and so even in a coach seat I had some space around me, which helped with a little dozing.

The next photo shows some Kensington rooftops visible from my comfortable hotel room.  Please do notice that blue sky.  The weather was remarkable during my stay with temperatures veering between springlike to almost summertime highs.

Within a day I was well over my touch of jet lag and began making my way around the city using an Oyster card.  Since Easter was near, there was a fund-raising contest underway involving trying to spot many of the over-sized, decorated, Easter eggs in various locations.  I must have seen about six during my travels.

I always find my way to the Trafalgar Square area, to see the square itself, St Martin's, and visit some of the nearby museums.  I spent a little time in the National Gallery, as always marveling at its glories.

The National Portrait Gallery was featuring a good Lucian Freud retrospective that I could not resist.  The NPG has small rooms, and some of the Freud paintings were quite large, so it was very good that timed tickets were required for entry.  Even so, crowding was a bit of a problem.  Still, I loved the show, particularly the opportunity to see some of the early works that I had not previously seen.

Speaking of crowds, it seemed to me that the London Underground trains were never quite as crowded as our New York City subway trains.  I also prefer the lighting of the Underground stations and carriages.  

The following photo shows part of the rather glamorous cafe at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a cafe and museum in which I spent quite a bit of time during my holiday.  It was also the location of a wonderful morning coffee get together with a Karen, of Pas Grand Chose, a blog I always enjoy reading.  Meeting Karen was delightful!

My hotel was just across (or "over") the road from the V&A.  I saw several special exhibits there, and loved sitting outdoors in its interior courtyard garden area, watching toddlers splashing around in the large shallow pool, while other folks sipped cappuccinos and chatted away.

I was able to meet several other bloggers, including Celia, whose Purple Podded Peas blog had already shown me what a fine artist she is.  Meeting her for a delicious lunch at a restaurant near the British Museum showed me what a friendly, funny and wise lady she is.

It was a pleasure to visit Persephone Books, also in Bloomsbury, have a catch-up chat over tea with a Persephone founder, and to deliberate over which of the Persephone books I was going to bring home.  I finally decided on Kitchen Essays, by Agnes Jekyll.  (I don't think I would every find that book anywhere else and its witty way of taking on kitchen and entertaining challenges is very wise.)

Prior to this London visit I had never explored any of the East End, having only gotten as far as the Tower of London back in 1975.  This time around, I was well prepared to see more of the area easily reached from the Liverpool Street Station Underground Station.  I immediately liked the contrasts of the skyline, but instantly preferred the older buildings.

For some years, I have been a regular reader of a blog, Spitalsfield Life, written anonymously, with great verve, dedication and style by The Gentle Author.  I have learned quite a bit about beautiful churches, like Christ Church, pictured below, and many other aspects of historic and contemporary life in Spitalfields and other East End neighborhoods.

Many of these blogs have now been compiled and published as a book, also entitled Spitalfields Life.  I was so fortunate to discover that there would be a launch party for the book during my London stay.  It was a great pleasure to attend this gathering, meet TGA and many of the people described in the blogs.  I was made to feel totally at home.

I had a grand time wandering around, seeing how new meshes with old, getting a sense of the atmosphere of this changing part of the city.

Having once lived in New York City's SoHo neighborhood during a time when that neighborhood was undergoing a big transformation from a scruffy, not too desirable area which housed some artists along side of various light industry businesses gave me some insights into what is now going on in Spitalfields.

I hope that the current mixture can be retained for a good while yet wondered about that when I saw the presence of a big Urban Outfitters shop.

The area has many walls that talented artists have used as their canvases, usually I believe with permission.  Sometimes, however, the invited artwork has been blanketed by another style of urban art.

I chose to paint the Pro Pro Pro side of this street instead of the equally strong, colorful type face opposite it that read Anti Anti Anti.

I met many fine folks while wandering around Spitalfields and had a very delicious lunch in the warmly hospitable E. Pellicci restaurant on Bethnal Green Road.  I highly recommend this restaurant to you.

With the splendid weather, I could not resist a ride out to magnificent Kew Gardens on Palm Sunday.  

I have been to this lovely place many times, but never quite at this particular point of spring.  It was blissful to stroll at my own pace from path to path, seeing birds, flowers, bees, other garden appreciators.

The Temperate House in the following photo is being restored bit by bit.  When this process is complete it will surely rival the more familiar pictured above.

I could not resist taking a close up photo of this monkey puzzle tree.  I remember first seeing these trees mentioned in stories by Barbara Pym, and wondering what on earth they looked like.  When I first saw one in the garden of a neighbor of a British friend I found its prehistoric looks remarkable.

Before returning to Kensington from Kew, I could not resist having a traditional Sunday lunch at the very traditional Maids of Honour restaurant.  Everything was absolutely perfect about that experience.  I hope to have lunch there again in the future.

Before leaving New York, I had obtained a ticket to the very large, very well-attended David Hockney exhibit at the Royal Academy.  By the time I got to London, the RA was staying open until midnight to accommodate the crowds hoping that queue-ing would yield them a sort of standing room only ticket.

I enjoyed the exhibit very much.  It's theme is DH's return to his childhood Yorkshire and his immersion in the Yorkshire landscape, resulting in many sketchbooks, many watercolor studies, many charcoal drawings, some acrylic paintings, many oil paintings, and finally many, many very large oil paintings.

I had previously seen some of the large paintings at the Pace Galleries here in New York, and they represented only a bit of what was on the RA walls.  One of my favorite rooms in this exhibit featured many sketchbooks of all sizes, pages of drawings in pencil, charcoal, ink, colored pencil and some watercolor washes, too.  I found them very fine, and was glad that David Hockey had decided to share those books with the public.

When I left the Royal Academy building to make my way through the courtyard to Piccadilly I saw the almost full moon very bright in the sky.  Hundreds of folks were still waiting in the queue.

On the next morning, I took a train from Paddington to see some gorgeous English landscape for myself.  I was incredibly fortunate and honored to be the guest of Gretel Parker, the creator of the Middle of Nowhere blog.  I hope that all of you have visited Gretel's blog.  If not, you are missing a treat.

I had a marvelous time seeing so much Cotswalds beauty.  Walking in the woods, investigating the quiet, ancient atmosphere of old, very old, churches.  I saw young lambs and mama ewes, young calves with with their moms, hundreds of slow moving pheasants and my very first hare.  Gretel and Andy were so very kind to me, sharing their lovely part of the world with this visitor from far away.

Gretel had baked a fantastic chocolate cherry cake and I am determined that she will give me the recipe.  We had all sorts of refreshments, although afternoon showers did change some picnic plans.  The delicious assortment of delicacies and restorative mugs of tea were served back indoors at the cottage.

I will never forget how much fun I had that day.  It truly did seem as if we'd known each other for a very long time, and we had the opportunity to trade lots of tales and laughter and get to know each other even better.  It was grand!

The following day I checked out of my London hotel and my Oyster card granted me a reluctant return trip to Heathrow's futuristic terminal five for my flight home.  I received a wonderful surprise when I learned that my ticket status had been greatly upgraded!  I traveled in a style that was previously completely unknown to me.  I think this upgrade might have been related to my having completed a questionnaire on the flight to the UK.  I have assured British Air that I am very willing to continue to complete any questionnaires that they might wish to send me.

And now I am home.  I have done my laundry, purchased groceries, cooked my own meals and washed my own dishes.  I have returned to work.  My mind is still full of vivid memories of the exceptionally fine days I spent across the Atlantic.  I saw other City Views, and I felt as if some of my Country Dreams came true.

Perhaps you can just make out in the above photo my recently-purchased addition to my egg cup collection.  I could not resist a little something to commemorate the Jubilee.

And now, let me wish you a very Happy Easter!


  1. What a remarkable adventure you have had, Frances.

    Thank you for taking the time to describe it so beautiful, in words and pictures.

  2. Wht a very busy time you've had, you seem to have taken in so much. I'm glad it all went well.

  3. Hello Frances, I am so pleased to read about your trip to England and what a fabulous time you have had. In true Frances style you have used your time so wisely and seen so much. Now you are home it must seem like a dream.
    Happy Easter and of course you have a Cadbury creme egg, hope it came all the way from London. Millyx

  4. Hallo Frances. My, but you seem to have had a great time! I'd love to discuss that Hockney Exhibition with you - I included some brief remarks on my own blog a couple of entries back. What is really interesting though is seeing London through your eyes: you see a lot that I would never bother to notice for myself. So glad you had a fulfilling trip and thanks for all the wonderful descriptions.

  5. Wow, Frances - what an amazing tour you've given us in this post! I loved seeing London through your eyes, including parts like Spitalfields that I don't know well at all. And the art exhibitions, and the Cotswolds, and and and ...! This was fun to read and I've already re-read several times, enjoying your views and perspectives.
    And how lucky you were to be in England in just that window of good weather we had!
    I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to meet you in person in that lovely setting (and your photos clearly turned out much better than mine, which were disappointing). I hope your travels bring you back to London soon!
    Karen xo

  6. Hi Francis. I've just discovered your blog and so enjoyed seeing London through your eyes .. ctually I haven't seen London much through my eyes...only when we used to go up for the big farming show at Smithfields and I would take the children to see the Christmas lights atSelfridges before we spent must of the time in the museums! I look forward to hearing more of your life in the city!Joan

  7. What a splendid travelogue Frances.

    I enjoyed your view of London, especially Spitalfields where I've never set foot.

    I wish I'd known you were coming because we would have loved to have seen you here in Wales. Another time perhaps?

  8. So thrilling to see your photos.
    Your commentary was fascinating --you seem to have packed in lots and lots in a short trip --and met lots of people I long to hear more about.
    So we will meet and I'll hear everything very soon!

  9. Thank you all for your kind comments. Here's a bit of information about some future travel possibilities.

    Later on this year, I will reach a major anniversary with my employer. This milestone will grant me a marvelous Travel Bonus, which will allow me funding and enough time off to have a longish holiday anywhere I might choose. Country Dreams are going to have more opportunities to flourish! Let's have fun in the coming months thinking about where might be great places to visit. I'm considering establishing a base somewhere near a train station so that I could have the possibility of time to draw, paint and relax, while also being able to gallivant around the countryside. (Perhaps in more than one Country!)


  10. It was so lovely to meet and chat over lunch, while you were in London. I'm amazed how much you managed to see and do in a few days!

    I think I'll have to go for a wander around Spitalfields - you've whetted my appetite about a corner of London I'm unfamiliar with.

    As the other comments say, it's fascinating to glimpse London through your eyes.


  11. How nice that you were able to meet with other bloggers and that you had some good weather.

    Have fun making your plans for your next journey.

  12. It was an absolute pleasure to entertain you Frances, you are a very rewarding guest - anytime you are over you are welcome to visit, if you are able. Our fruit & veg sign is still in place, it looks as if it was made to be here. :)

  13. Frances! I read and discover that you have been so close and I did not know! What a fantastic time you have had and how lucky with the weather. And even the Cotswolds, yeah! I was not far at all then - had a fantastic weekend in the South, how funny ;-). But the best is that you will come over again and then you plan other countries - Belgium must be on your list. Hope you come up with your next plans soon. Congratulation for that travel bonus, well deserved. I so much enjoyed your blog and am so happy for you to have had such a great time. I know the feeling :-).

  14. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.I am glad you enjoyed the Hockney exhibition.I thought it was amazing and loved the sketch books.I am also a fan of Persephone books and have quite a collection.

  15. Well, my dear, I am very happy that you had such a special time in the UK, but I wish you had found time to let me know that you were coming. I would have loved to spend a day in London with you.

    I understand that you were very busy, but . . . .

  16. What a lovely post to read! A little bird told me that you were to visit London which is always full of great and wondrous things but I am so pleased that you saw some of the countryside too.

    How lovely also that you met some of our blogging friends, if you come again you must venture to the north and spend some time with us.

    Flying home in style would have been the icing on the cake!

  17. My goodness, Frances, what a lot you packed in to your flying visit. I'm glad the weather was kind to you, too. Somehow I think travelling's easier when you're not battling the elements. Fennie is quite right about what you have shown us by helping us to see London, in particular, with fresh eyes. Your reference to the Maid of Honours restaurant made me smile; it's a very long time since I've been there but I remember it well.

    With so many people hoping to see you during your next visit, I think you're going to need months rather than weeks here, nevertheless Tom and I will add our names to the Welsh contingent hoping to catch up with you at some point! Cx

  18. PS, I'm delighted to read you were upgraded for your return flight!

  19. Frances,

    Very glad you had such a nice time in my hometown. All those Wren and Hawksmoor churches are favourites of Chris and I when we wander round that part of London. Our trips over there usually involve a visit to an art materials supplier off the Mile End Road followed by a visit to the best bagel shop in the world (honestly!) in Brick Lane. Everyone now says 'bagel' after the American fashion, but in the East End it's still spelt 'beigel'. We were reminded of that style of architecture when we visited St Paul's Chapel on Broadway when we were in NY. How it survived the Twin Towers attack is still a mystery to me. Enjoyed your picture of the monkey puzzle tree. I think its called Araucaria (which is also the nom de plume of my favourite crossword setter in The Guardian). Your Cotswold trip put me in mind of Robert Frost's poems - he spent quite some time there.
    As Chris has said, we'd love to catch up with you when you make it back later in the year, but we know how precious your time is. Otherwise we'll just have to come back to NYC!


  20. So much fun to come along with you on your big adventure. So funny to see 'my' tube station, South Kensington, from your quite different angle.
    You should travel more often!
    merci carolg

  21. How lovely to read your impressions of my home town! You certainly used your time well. I'm so glad you caught the fantastic weather. It is all a bit more typical of April now with sharp showers, much needed.

  22. It sounds like you had a lovely trip to London and the UK Frances. Good to read all about it.

  23. what a wonderful trip! And how lovely to meet other bloggers face to face. 'O to be in England, now that April's here..'

  24. How wonderful that you visited the UK - so glad you had a great time.


  25. What a long and interesting post - well done for taking the time to include your entire trip in one message. Perhaps I should take a note out of your book. Sometimes I intend to blog about events in more than one post - and what usually happens is that I start with one - time moves on and I never seem to get back to blogging the 'follow-up editions - which can be a shame.

    How lovely that you managed to meet up with fellow bloggers - and new friends - in foreign parts. One of the reasons I love blogging is that it can be so...... - friendly!

    For your next travels - you might wish to make Scotland one of your destination countries. You can fly direct to Glasgow from NY. Glasgow has two main railway stations. Glasgow Queen Street station for trains travelling north and Glasgow Central for trains travelling south - and other places. You can even travel to some of our beautiful islands by train and boat from Glasgow.

    Glasgow Central Station has a hotel inside the station and Queen Street Station has a hotel one minute's walk from the station - plus there are many in walking distance around the city centre. (There is also a bus that will transport you between both stations.)

    I know many visitors to Scotland favour Edinburgh as their preferred (and sometimes only) city visit - and generally give Glasgow a miss - but in my personal opinion I think they are missing out on so much. Granted, we don't have an iconic castle - and many of our jewels are outside the city centre - but they still exist and are easily accessible.

    If you ever make it to Glasgow I would happily meet up with you for a cup of tea (or coffee)!

    If Scotland is not part of your plans - happy travels wherever you decide to roam.

    Sorry about lengthy comment!

  26. What a wonderful trip you had! I'm so glad that for the most part the weather cooperated. Too bad it rained and spoiled your Cotswold picnic though. The museum exhibits and art shows you saw sound fascinating. Things to dream about until you can return to London for another visit. Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us!

  27. What a terrific time your had in old England. Spring is one of the best times and to have good weather on top of that – wonderful. The Kew Gardens, the Cotswold, meeting with bloggers and more – that does sound like a trip to remember. I am pleased that you shared it with us.

  28. Dear Frances,

    Wow.! you have had an amazing vacation, so happy to know you had a wonderful time in England. I see you packed a lot in and visited so many lovely places. Did you go to Regents Park just off Baker St, I wonder Frances?

    Thank you for sharing such lovely photo's, some of them bring back lots of memories when I lived there years ago.

    Apologies for not being able to meet up with you Frances, fingers crossed this will happen in the near future. A Travel Bonus..... wonderful Frances.! Would be interesting to hear what Station you will be based at on your next trip to London.

    Best Wishes dear friend.