Wednesday 25 March 2015

A walk down memory lane, London

Way back when... Image from HERE
The last time I was in London a feisty redhead married her prince charming.  Back then I joined the crowds lining Pall Mall and caught a glimpse of the bride's veiled tiara as she was transported by carriage to Westminster Abbey to begin her fairytale.
That same year, in that same city, a certain young Australian copywriter was dashing about on Hampstead Heath.  Did we bump into each other?  Unfortunately, no.  We were just two of the many thousands of antipodeans who flocked to London in the mid 1980s.
Neither of us had been back to London since those heady days of the late 1980s and early 90s, but with the lure of cheap flights from Venice, we finally returned.

As the plane wheels touched the tarmac at Gatwick airport, Stefano admitted to feeling slightly ambivalent about visiting the city that had been his home for nine years.  I, on the other-hand, felt totally excited.  I couldn't wait to see what London looked like at ground level, rather than from the depths of the tube tunnels which was all I seemed to remember from my brief time there working as a teacher in the East End.
On our first morning, under familiar grey skies, we set out to visit the new Tate Modern gallery. Emerging from Embankment station, Stefano mentioned with relief that London still looked familiar and more surprisingly, the grey skies were in retreat. 
Reassuringly those red double-decker buses, fleets of black taxis and massive sandstone churches were all still there.  
Then we walked across the Millennium Footbridge to the Southbank and suddenly London's familiarity disappeared as we glimpsed a new, strikingly modern skyline.  
Our week in London was filled with many similar instances.  The familiarity of old haunts mixed with the excitement of new discoveries.
Here are a few highlights from our stroll down memory lane:
Old haunts. 
Much of my life in the mid 1980s revolved around the South Kensington tube station.  In those days, many Australian friends lived nearby, so after teaching in the East End I would catch the Tube to South Ken station, spending many nights sipping a cider or two in the local pubs full of young Kiwis and Aussies.  When we returned to South Kensington this time I immediately noticed that while the tube station had hardly changed, the surrounding area is now filled with trendy cafes, restaurants and bars patronised by Europeans with not an accent from 'down-under' to be heard.
Back in Hampstead, Stefano quickly recognised his old 'gaffe' - the top floor of this smart looking Victorian terrace.  
The Heath was as open and expansive as ever.  However, Stefano commented that although it had always been a 'nice neighbourhood', the streets and houses looked even more picture perfect.
Hampstead, like most of inner London, is booming as young people from all over the world flock to work in this city that seems to be enjoying yet another economic resurgence.

A bit of British culture.
There are so many fabulous galleries and museums in London, so rather than become overwhelmed we followed a plan to savour, rather than overdose on paintings, sculptures and exhibits.  Our strategy was to limit ourselves to the choice of one museum each and to take an introductory tour.  Stefano's choice was the Tate Modern Gallery and mine, the Victoria and Albert museum.
View of the Thames from the sandwich bar on the top floor of the Tate Modern.
Arriving at the Tate Modern Gallery we felt as though we'd been blown into an airport hanger.  The ground floor is a chilly, cavernous space so we were very glad to escape to Level 4 where we joined a free tour,  Structure and Clarity, introducing a section of the abstract art collection.  We thoroughly enjoyed the tour as our volunteer guide was passionately interested in abstract art, and what's more, we understood every word he said, a pleasure we've been missing for the past 20 months.
 Untitled by Donald Judd
Although I'd become familiar with South Kensington in 1986, I have no memories of visiting the Victoria and Albert museum.  It was time to rectify that dreadful oversight, so the V&A was my museum choice.  Sticking to our visit plan, which was possibly even more crucial given the huge size of this museum, we began our visit with a free tour of the British Galleries.  Once again our volunteer guide was delightful: a spritely English woman who ushered us through a maze of rooms, stopping here and there to tell us about some fascinating objects and their connection to historical events.
The most memorable was the famous Great Bed of Ware which was originally built as a tourist attraction in the 16th century, by a group of clever hoteliers from the town of Ware.  Its fame spread throughout the country as apparently four or more couples could sleep together in the giant bed, and it was even mentioned in the literature of the time.  But folk were warned that the bed may have had magical powers, as many reported strange itching and scratching sensations, preventing a good night's sleep!
The V&A Cafe set in the famous Morris, Gamble and Poynter rooms.
Discovering Fulham and Parsons Green 
Although we spent most days exploring the sights of London, it was always a pleasure to return each night to a wonderful apartment in a part of London that wasn't familiar to either of us.  Basement apartments in large terrace houses often seem dark, damp and depressing and I'm sure many of them are, but this beautiful apartment, that we called home for six nights, changed my opinion of below-ground quarters.  
This photo doesn't do it justice.  So cosy and comfortable.
Staying here was an unexpected highlight of our London visit.  We spent a relaxing day enjoying the neighbourhoods of Fulham, Parsons Bridge and Putney.   Fulham Palace was at the end of our street, so after stopping for lunch in the lovely cafe, we enjoyed wandering though the gardens along this stretch of the Thames. 
English gardens
The English do gardens so well.  Although the weather was still quite cool, and sometimes overcast, we couldn't help admiring the lush, immaculate lawns and beautiful gardens just starting to bloom.

If only other cities would follow the example of the English.  
Yes Venice and Milan, I'm thinking of you.  

A real highlight of our trip was catching up with friends who have made London their home.  
Roger, Sally and Johnny treated us to a wonderful home cooked 'Anglo-Indian' banquet,  
and Esther took us on the best tour of our week in London, a walk through the Borough markets and along the new Southbank.  It was fabulous to catch up with these friends who we'd not seen in many years, and yet the years disappeared as shared adventures were reminisced.  
We didn't travel to Buckingham Palace by carriage, but after all those years of nonchalantly driving past it Stefano finally succumbed to the magic of this castle.  A fitting end to our six day fairytale in London.

Arrivederci Londra, e domani un giro in le colline.

Where we stayed:
This apartment has set the accommodation bar very high.  I don't think we will find better on our trip home.  Found it on Homeaway CLICK HERE
Where we ate:
COTE Brasserie
As the apartment was so gorgeous we mostly enjoyed eating at home, but we did venture out a couple of times.  We had a delicious three course meal at Cote Brasserie, 45 Parsons Green Lane for the bargain price of 11.90 pounds, the only catch, you had to be seated by 7.00pm.  So when in London...


  1. What a lovely way to revisit your past and spend time in London reminiscing. I loved London when we were there in 2007. I think it is the history of the place that I find fascinating. You have introduced me to some new places which I will have to put on my bucket list for next time I travel to the UK.

    1. Kathy, I was completely surprised by how much we enjoyed returning to London. I think April would be the absolutely perfect time to see this incredible city. Next time...

  2. Move over Lonely Planet.
    Your blog has given London an upgrade in the list of places on my list to visit.

    1. Gerard and Annie, we were lucky with the weather. It was a fantastic six days. Really worth adding to your long list.

  3. Dear Jen. You make winter in London seem lovely. Well done!