We recently enjoyed a great stopover in London to catch up with our close friend Jenny. She is an expatriate Kiwi who has lived in London for many years. New Zealand still has a place in her heart but London is home.
We had flown directly from Auckland so by the time we landed at Heathrow, after twenty-five hours of travelling, we were feeling somewhat jaded and very happy for the warm welcome, a home cooked dinner and comfortable bed.
The big news of the week was the announcement of the Duke of Edinburgh’s retirement from all public engagements. At ninety he had done his dash and felt he had had good innings. Maybe we had retired too soon?!
Having found that the best way to deal with jet lag is to ignore it, we went off to the V&A the next morning. From its name, John had imagined that it was a collection of Victoriana but of course it’s nothing like that. It’s a fine large museum which was founded in 1857 and has the greatest collection of decorative arts in the world spanning 5000 years including sculpture, ceramics, furniture, jewellery, fashion and textiles.
You couldn’t possibly see all of its 3.2 million objects in one day. So we just walked slowly through the galleries absorbing the atmosphere and getting a general overview. Much of its collection is also visible on-line, so I have enjoyed looking at it after returning home,
Two pieces that especially caught my eye were the stunning plaster cast of Michael Angelo’s David given to Queen Victoria by the Duke of Tuscany and, on another floor, a cutesy original 1959 Barbie Doll. Beside the copy of Michael Angelo’s David lay a fig leaf. It was a memento of Victorian times when nudity was seen as offensive and it had been hung over David’s private parts
While we were there the V&A was taking part in a special week to celebrate British crafts so we had the pleasure of seeing a demonstration by a talented young Silversmith.
Jenny had suggested we lunch at the V&A Cafe, the oldest museum café in the world. We were so glad we did as the surroundings, designed by William Morris and friends in the 1870’s are just stunning and lavishly ornate. The salads we chose were unremarkable but the carrot cake iced with a lemon and pistachio icing was moist and spicy and the prices were reasonable.
That evening we walked down to Jenny’s local gastropub the “The Wells” in Hampstead which is set in a gracious Georgian house. Downstairs the cosy bar with a fireplace and comfy sofas was buzzing with customers. We dined upstairs where it was quieter. The food was excellent (and much of it sourced locally). The head chef Greg Smith, a New Zealander, had put a Pavlova with passionfruit and mango and lime sauce on the dessert menu. It was a taste of home and the perfect finish to an excellent meal.
On our second day in London, we went to the ‘must see’ David Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain. We’d booked to go a couple of months before we left Auckland so we didn’t have to queue. Close to a half-million visitors had already been to view a large number of his vibrant artworks on display.
Hockney, now 79 years old, is Britain’s most famous living artist and his exhibition covered 6 decades of his life. He has always loved to experiment with new technologies and his recent works were created with the brush app on his iPad. But I especially liked his earlier Californian paintings in which the colours are bright and the atmosphere is sensual and carefree. And his Yorkshire landscapes (the area he was born in and returned to) in which he had heightened the colours in a dramatic way.
From the Tate Britain, we took the tube to Westminster Abbey. The weather was slightly chilly but fine so it was a great walking day. In the grounds of Westminster Abbey, we were treated to a lively performance by Morris Dancers in full costume. The only obvious police presence was a friendly neighbourhood Bobby and a few armed soldiers on the grounds of the House of Parliament. Although there had been a recent terrorist attack at Westminster Bridge the city felt relaxed and normal.
We then took the tube to the London Bridge station to have lunch at the Borough Market. The market was crowded and lively. The many local and European cheeses, salami, vegetables, chocolates and other delectable deli items looked very tempting. We’d worked up an appetite so we decided to queue up for takeaways.
John went back to his roots and ordered a British pie with mashed spuds and gravy but turned down the offer of having mushy peas as well. It was my chance to indulge my love of Indian food with a generous helping of chicken tikka masala celebrating the fact that outside of India the Brits make the best curries. And Chicken Masala is now more popular there than fish and chips.
We left the next morning to catch the Euro train to Paris from St Pancras International station. Here a pianist was playing on one of the Yamaha pianos which live there permanently. Anyone can have a play. One of them was donated by Elton John who came to the station to christen it, gave an impromptu concert, and left a note on it which said
“Enjoy this piano. It’s a gift. Love. Elton John.”
The pianos are very popular with both professional musicians and enthusiastic amateurs who keep the station full of spontaneous live music every day. It was such a lovely last memory of our time in London before heading to the platform and boarding the Euro train to Paris
Before leaving New Zealand the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge had already happened. While we were travelling around Europe there was a further terrorist attack at the Manchester Concert. Then shortly after we returned there was another at London Bridge and the Borough market, the very place we had recently been. It did make me stop and think. We are mindful of our safety when travelling and don’t want to put ourselves in harm’s way.
But a terrorist attack by its very nature is totally unpredictable. It could happen in any place in the world at any time. Being caught up in one is a very remote possibility. So we don’t want to put our lives on hold fearing that we may be caught up in one. Life is for living, and we plan to keep travelling while we can!
I’d go back to London in a heartbeat to visit our good friend again who has bravely been fighting cancer for the last few years, and to enjoy more of this vibrant city.
By Lyn Potter
Lyn is an Avid Traveller (both local and international), always with a camera at the ready.