Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Kensington and Piccadilly

Royal Albert Hall

That Victoria! She did love her Albert.  One of the many many tributes to him is the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences in South Kensington.  We didn't see the interior but the exterior is impressive with a wonderful mosaic frieze depicting the arts and sciences.  The entire area is rife with red brick, upscale shops, hospitals, universities, gardens and many European embassies.  We were in Kensington to check out the Saatchi Gallery and to eat at a Rick Steves recommendation, The Anglesea Arms.  The Albert Hall was just a nice addition.  Unfortunately the Saatchi was closed to hang a new show.  And, the Anglesea was good but not worth a trip.  

Eros at Piccadilly Circus

As we had not been to Piccadilly Circus on this trip, we walked there just to say we walked there.  Then on to our apartment to prepare for our departure tomorrow for Paris. We have thorough enjoyed London.  While our apartment was serviceable, it was not charming.  The area was very convenient to public transportation: bus, underground and ferry.  However, we walked to most main attractions gaining the benefit of both exercise and local discoveries.  The weather was most cooperative.  The people polite and diverse.  "Adieu, adieu my London."  Additional Pictures at Flickr

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hampstead Village and Covent Gardens

Hampstead Train Station

Our Westminster guide, Rosie, had suggested Hampstead Village for a visit, and we took her advice.  Hampstead is an area of London about 4 miles north of Charing Cross. It is known for Hampstead Heath, artistic and literary associations, and as the residence of more millionaires than any other area of the United Kingdom.  So, you know right away we were going to find a good bakery.  

The Hampstead tube station is the deepest station on the underground network.  We had to take an elevator to exit.  The architecture is mostly Georgian, with notable homes and former residents among them Agatha Christie, John Constable, Henry Moore and Sigmund Freud.  We had a delightful lunch at The Horseshoe and walked a bit on the Heath.
Covent Garden Market

Curious about Covent Garden Market, we stopped there on our way home.  Surrounded by upscale designer shops the Market is more of a flea market.  The area was once a fruit and vegetable market and home to prostitutes one of whom was our new friend, Lady Emma Hamilton.  
St Dunstan's

One of the nice aspects of walking to places is little discoveries like St Dunstan's. On our walk home from Covent Garden, we spotted the remains of St Dunstan's hidden among giant skyscrapers.  It has been a site used for Christian worship for one thousand years.  The church was severely damaged in the Blitz of 1941.  Only Wren's tower and steeple survive.  London has turned the ruins into a public garden.  

Christopher Wren's Tower and Steeple, St DunstanS
Pictures of our day at Flickr.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Greenwich and the Prime Meridian

The Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory

Another world shaking event occurred for the LaGues today.  It was not just 2 weeks ago while in Iceland we were able to span the ever growing gap between the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates.  Now, today we have stood at ground zero on the Prime Meridian line and straddle the east and west hemispheres.  To accomplish this feat we took a fast ferry to Greenwich on our first rainy day.

The Royal Observatory sits high on a hill and overlooks the Thames and the London skyline.  Here in the Observatory's courtyard the Meridian is marked with a brass line incised with world locations and their degrees.  Inside the Observatory and aligned with the brass is a green laser light line.  The building is filled with the machinations invented over the centuries to aid in navigation.  Christopher Wren who loved science and mathematics designed the building.
The National Maritime Museum

In addition to visiting the Royal Observatory, we came upon a nice little exhibit at the National Maritime Museum about Emma Hamilton.  I knew nothing of her.  But she is a most interesting woman of history.  Born poor, she went to London at age 12 to work.  She died the wife of a British envoy to Naples and the lover of Lord Nelson.  In between she was one of the most painted women of her era. Check her out.  Lord Nelson and her husband died before her, leaving her eventually penniless.

The village of Greenwich is the typical charming English place with pubs, Georgian buildings, monuments, church spires and cars on the wrong side of the street.  We ended our day there with a little dinner and a ferry ride home.  All other pictures are on flickr.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Westminster and the Houses of Parliament

We got an early start today with a scheduled tour of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.  Our guide, Rosie, met us at the Westminster book shop where we began our tour of the Abbey.  No photographs are allowed inside.  Therefore, you all must go and see for yourselves.  The nave is the highest in England and in the style of English perpendicular Gothic architecture. It's vaulted ceiling is breathtaking with white stone and golden bosses. There were only 10 of us (with the usual couple who were late for every meet-up), and it was a slow, winter's day.  Thus, we had good views of everything with very little crowd shuffling.  Rosie noted for us, the coronation chair, the tombs of Elizabeth I and sister Mary, Edward the Confessor who built a Norman style church here, and the poet's corner where one can find the tombs of Chaucer, Thomas, Browning, and Dickens among many others.  

Westminster Hall entrance to St Stephen's Hall

Entering the Houses of Parliament through very tight security, one first passes through Westminster Hall, the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate.  The most impressive part of the structure other than its size, is the hammer beam roof installed by Richard II which is the largest clear span medieval roof in England.  Functionally, the Hall played and still plays a central role in British history.  The trails of Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Charles I were held here, royalty lie in state here. Today statesmen of note speak here, notably President Obama, Aung San Suu, Nelson Mandela.  The houses of Common and Lords are two wings that emit from a central octagonal lobby where members of both houses can meet. It was interesting to be in the House of Commons where we occasionally see the members all making points with the PM.  The members far out number the seats available.  

We wanted to return to the Borough Market and shop for dinner. On the way we were pelted with hail.  There we found what we wanted in cheese, bread, sausages and chocolates.  Pictures at flickr.  

Dinner a la Borough Market

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hyde Park, Herrods and Portobello

We alighted the tube at Marble Arch station where we came upon The Marble Arch itself.  This arch once sat at the courtyard of Buckingham palace.  When Buckingham was enlarged (for Queen Victoria ha) the Arch was moved to the current site which is very near the former site of the Tyburn Gallows.  Today the Arch is often the place of demonstrations.

We walked through the beautiful Hyde Park to Harrods where we had a lovely lunch while serenaded by piano.  The vastness of Harrods is discombobulating.  All I wanted was a stocking cap.  All I could find was designer boutiques with the rare fur hat.  I was also swamped by over made, over dressed, over self involved women.  Time to hit the streets for Notting Hill where the everyday people shop.

Notting Hill is home to the Portobello Market.  This market is truly a plein aire market with numbered stalls on the street.  We arrived late in the day; most vendors were packing up.  There was a festival area with music.  But, we were tired, picked up some cheese and sausage in a local market and headed home.

More pics at flickr.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Bridge, The Borough, The Bard and Bach

We began our day with a stroll across Tower Bridge, which is not far at all from our apartment.  Once over the Thames we walked the embankment where we discovered the most fabulous Borough Market.  Large and comprehensive it is sheltered by train and street overpasses.  The vendors here are only tempting one with delights for the palette.  Wonderful stalls of cheeses, breads, chocolates, meats, fish...my mouth is still watering.  We thought we would keep walking on toward Shakespeare's Globe Theater and return to purchase items later for a picnic style dinner.
Borough Market
Along the route down the Thames, we saw a charming little church and couldn't resist going inside.  Here we found a memorial to Shakespeare (the man is everywhere), and discovered this was his parish church.  We spent so much time exploring the Southwark area that the market was closed when we returned.  Dinner plans were changed, and we were lucky enough to find a great meal at Cote, a brassier along the route home. 

Following dinner, we walked to St Martins in the Field for an evening concert.  Our path took us across the Millenium Foot Bridge.  It was dark by then.  The rails of the bridge were lit a rich ultramarine blue forming perspective lines that vanished in the distance at St Paul's Cathedral. Our concert was by Trafalgar Sonifonia who performed some Bach, Vivaldi, and Handle to cap off our day.
St Martin's in the Field
More pics at flickr

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cleopatra, Shakespeare and Shepard

Wayne and the Bard

We've become very familiar with the Thames Path since it leads from our East End area to central London to where we've found ourselves bound almost daily.  The Path is 184 miles long beginning at the source in the Cotswolds and ending in Greenwich.  In London it is a wide stone path built along the embankment of the Thames.  On this walk we wanted to see the Cleopatra's Needle, one of three such obelisks erected in London, Paris and NYC.  The NYC obelisk in Central Park is the pair to London's.  It is flanked by two sphinx that beg sitting under.  Today was the first foggy day.  But, as we walked along the Thames, there were beautiful views of the bridges cast in gray silhouettes which reminded me of both Monet's and Whistler's paintings.  And, paintings were what we sought after at the National Portrait Gallery,  Among their collection is the Chandos Painting, which is long held to be the portrait of William Shakespeare from which the engraving for the first folio was taken.  It is the first work in the Portrait Gallery's collection. You can imagine Wayne's delight.  

We had dinner at Lotus, an Indian restaurant, near the National Portrait Gallery and Trafalgar Studio where we were attending a Sam Shepard play, The Buried Child.  London is famous for its wonderful Indian Food.  Lotus did not disappoint serving up a wonderful complexity of flavors, spices, breads and a memorial presentation.  Service was grand.  I recommend it highly.  The Buried Child, starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan was too minimalist for us. The director seemed to be as interested in the atmospheric conditions of a mid-western dysfunctional family as he was in Shepard's dialogue.  There were long periods of the actors contemplating each other, themselves, dripping water.  Interestingly, though, during intermission some Brits in back of us began discussing the state of world affairs, which inevitable led to Donald Trump.  One woman just kept repeating over and over, "Oh, the poor, poor Americans."  as the others signed in agreement.  It set the same tone as the play.  
Ed Harris in The Buried Child
More pics at flickr.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral
It seems that everywhere we've walked while here, Christopher Wren's St. Paul's has nodded it's dome at us through narrow streets, over pub roofs and beyond wide avenues.  Each time I would think, how fortunate that it was not bombed during the WWII blitz.  Today I discovered that to be untrue.  We had an informative tour with Yvonne who explained that a bomb came through the high alter area, damaging only a small portion of the ceiling and none of the Italian ceiling mosaics.  Wren's vision was one of a wide open, white, bright and clean interior.  Yvonne asked us to imagine that since today's Cathedral has been altered with Victorian mosaics, altar spaces filled with sculpture and painting, and the nave full of chairs.  Yvonne seemed to sneer each time she mentioned Victorian influences.  We climbed the 259 winding steps to the whispering galleries, which runs around the dome 100 feet above the crossing at the trancept.  Here we got a beautiful view of the only original art work, Thornhill's dome paintings.  The crypt holds the bodies of Wren, Nelson, Wellington and a memorial to Churchill.  If one is a member of the BOE, one may marry here.  

We returned after a very late lunch to hear vespers with song by the Westminster Abbey Choir.  Photographs and recordings are not allowed anytime.  But drawing is always allowed.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

Along our walk to Trafalgar Square
There are such beautiful little vignettes that open up along our walks revealing segments of history and life in London.  Today was the first foggy day, but still no rain.

National Gallery across Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, once the King's mews, marks the division between the wealthier west end of London and the poorer east end.  The government felt that by placing the National Gallery here, it would be accessible to all Londoners.  The current building is the 3rd home for the collection.

Interesting about the National Gallery is that, unlike other European national museums, it was not formed by nationalizing an existing royal or princely art collection. The British royal collection remains in the hands of the royal family.  The collection began when the British government bought 38 paintings from John Angerstein and opened it to the public in his townhouse.  While the collection is not as expansive in holdings, it is as comprehensive as any other major museum.  The works are magnificent.  We spent our time in the Sainsbury wing which holds 13th-15th century paintings.  

The Wilton Diptych

Of particular interest was the Wilton Diptych, an extremely rare survival of early English medieval painting. Most religious pieces from this period were destroyed by the Puritan iconoclasm.  On the left panel Richard II kneels as he is presented to the Virgin Mary and the Christ child on the right panel.  We have been watching the Richard II episode of The Hollow Crown which traces Richard's reign and fall.  In the play, John of Gaunt speaks of the Precious Stone set in a Silver Sea (England). The timely finding of this diptych brought history to life and reality to drama.

Mars and Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Recently, I've been seeing a lot of art that reminds me of the current administration in DC.  Mars and Venus again roused such feelings.  In the painting Venus watches Mars sleep. The meaning of the picture is that love conquers war, or love conquers all.  Such was the message of the Women's marches this week: love beats hate.  
More pics at flickr.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

From Spitalhouse to Somerset House

The Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market is nestled in the heart of the city, in the shadow of Christ Church.  This site once housed an old covered market that has been transformed in to a mixture of market stalls with modern shops and restaurants.  Sunday is the busiest day with over 150 stalls operating.  We were under the impression that we could find a great farmers' market within the greater market area.  Alas, no.  But we did enjoy wandering through the market and the surrounding public space where we discovered an old Roman burial ground exposed with a glass view point.  We also found a good Cuban restaurant where our palate got some relief from English blandness.

Wayne in the Somerset House Courtyard

We've decided to walk most places for exercise.  This has also afforded us the pleasure of discovering beautiful hidden gems of architecture, gardens, and neighborhood small businesses.  The walk from Spitalfields to Somerset House took us along the Thames where we met up with joggers, dog walkers and great views of the Westminster area of the city.  Somerset House (don't let the word house fool you) is a large Neoclassical building that was originally the palatial residence of Edward Seymour.  You may remember him as the brother of Jane Seymour, 3rd wife of Henry VIII.  Edward didn't fare too well after Henry VIII died.  He was attainted by Parliament and executed on Tower Hill.  The house then came into the possession of the Crown.  Elizabeth I lived here during the reign of her 1/2 sister, Mary I.  There proceeded a rich history of royal use, murder, civil war use, and continued expansion.  At one point prior to the Thames embankment, water lapped the front where arches allowed boats and barges to land within the building.  Leap forward to today and the building has been reinvigorated as a center for the visual arts.  One of these institutions, the Courtauld Gallery was what brought us here.  The Gallery houses the art collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art and has an important collection of old master and impressionist paintings.  My goal was to see The Bar at Folies-Berger.  In the same room with the Manet was a version of his Luncheon on the Grass, and Card Player.  A small concert of 2 classical guitarists was taking place in the gallery.  Heavenly.  For those so interested in the collection, works can be seen here.  My pictures can be seen at flickr.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Women's March on London

See those smiling faces?  We were proud and excited to be part of an estimated 100,000 people marching in protest of Donald Trump's inauguration, or coronation as a friend described it.  It felt good to publically demonstrate our opposition to the tyranny that is gathering in Washington.  The march began at Grovesnor Square beneath the US Embassy where speeches lasted 1 1/2 hours.  We were shoulder to shoulder and heel to heel.  There were newborn babies, people of color, men, gays, old and young.  The only head gear visible to me were pink pussy hats and stocking caps.  People were enthusiastic and polite.  Despite the cramped conditions and the inability to even move at times, no one pushed or screamed "Make America Great Again". There was singing, chanting and cars honking.  It was a day of vigilance.  From Grovesnor Square we marched over 2 miles through Mayfair to Trafalgar Square.  Wayne was amazed by the enthusiasm and singing of the fellow marchers.  NOW we must see what goes forward.  
More march pictures of the march at flickr.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tate Britain and Happy Days

Pre-Raphaelite Room

We indeed had a happy day at the Tate Britain.  But later that evening we also had a wonderful fish dinner at a restaurant, Happy Days, near our apartment. Once again, we took the tube (we are so cosmopolitan!) and alighted at the Westminster Stop.  As you can guess, upon reaching terra firma, Big Ben was staring us down.  Heading in the wrong direction we crossed the Thames, crowded and boisterous with a bag piper delighting us all, we were goggle eyed at the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and the diversity of all the people.  Correcting our direction, we crossed back over the Thames again, and walked the perimeter of the Houses of Parliament, through the Victoria Gardens and to Tate Britain.  The holdings here date from the 1500's to the present, the most comprehensive in the world.  Only Yale Center for British Art is comparable. The best known works are those of Turner, who bequeathed all his own collection to the nation.  We spent a good deal of time in the room that holds the Pre-Rephaelite works, favorites of us both. Among them are Millais' Ophelia, and Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott.  They also have 2 of Whistler's Nocturne paintings.  We're sorry to miss the David Hockney exhibit coming in February.
Entrance to the Tate Britain

We've been fortunate to have nothing but sunny days and tolerable temperatures.  But, this is England and the food choices are, well, English.  But we did manage to find a good fish restaurant tonight.  It was near enough to walk and good enough to report on.  Happy Days.  More pics at flickr.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tate Modern and Mahler

Barbican Center, London Symphony Orchestra

We had a day filled with art and music.  We started at the Tate Modern which reminded me of the Boston ICA in the manner that they both offer wide glassed in spaces that overlook major bodies of water.  The Tate sits alongside the Thames and has a cafe on the 10th floor that offers a grand view of the river and the city's skyline.  To get there, we disembarked at the Blackfriars bus stop, which is the area Shakespeare's company performed indoor plays when not at the Globe. Our walk to the Tate was along the Thames in bright sunshine.

The Tate Modern was confusing to us.  It is divided into two houses, the purpose of which we still don't understand.  The space is massive and very industrial but with choppy small galleries.  What we did enjoy were some Picasso pieces, especially the Three Dancers and a gallery focused on the studio work of the artist.  This room had many portrait and self portrait pieces which were in a realistic style yet not photo realism.  Here is one example.

This evening we went to the Barbican Center to hear the London Symphony Orchestra.  The Barbican  Center is the largest multi-functional performing arts venue of its kind in Europe.  It hosts classical and contemporary music, theater (including the Royal Shakespeare Co.) film screenings and art exhibitions. Simon Rattle was in from Berlin conducting Mahler's 6th Symphony.  I think Mahler attempted to use every item that could make a sound in this piece.  It was very dramatic, bold, colorful and symphonic to the nth degree.

We purchased an Oyster card to use on busses and trains.  It is the London version of Boston's Charlie card.  When we entered the tube station and found our oyster card empty, we couldn't understand how we had used 20 pounds apiece worth of travel in 2 days.  We discovered that we were charged the maximum amount each trip because we were not using the card to exit.  Live and learn.
The day's pictures are at flickrUIKeyInputUpArrow and .

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

London 39* and Sunny

The Tower of London viewed as we exited the tube.

Monday we managed to take the bus to the Reykjavik airport, fly to London and then take the tube to Tower Hill where we then walked the few blocks to our VRBO.  We did all this by only asking 8 people for help and not being robbed.  I mention this because we have been robbed while enjoying European public transportation.  It can put a damper on the fun.  At any rate, the VRBO is nice enough.  The first morning I did manage to dislodge the hot water faucet from the tub.  It's hard enough to reattach a faucet knob without tools, but add to that hot water is spraying hard and fast and you've got one trying ordeal.  All is well now thanks to Wayne.

We are in a lovely area, near London Tower.  It's active with residents and shops, most importantly, based on the drip coffee I prepared first morning, Starbucks.  It is called the Minories area.  The name is derived from the former Abbey of the Minoresses of St Mary founded in 1294.  It was in the ancient parish of St Botolph and said named Church is at the top of the street.  A major bus terminal is just a few blocks away.  We have taken advantage of this very efficient and easy to use system. We think it much better than the underground as we can see all the areas of London as we travel along.

Yesterday we traveled uptown to a mall where we shopped for food and acquired a SIM card for my phone.  The population of the area was very diverse.  We smiled at all the varied peoples living side by side, bustling around shopping, working, going home.

Today we took the bus in the opposite direction to the British Museum.  The collection is a massive collection.  Of course, this collection results from decades of foreign rule by the British Empire.  The empire upon which the sun never set was able to collect and bring to London some 8 million works.  Most impressive of what we saw today were the Elgin Marbles and the Parthenon sculptures, the Rosetta Stone, the Lewis Chessmen,  the Sutton Hoo burial artifacts, and multitudes of Roman, Greek, Egyptian vases, coins and sculptures.

Wayne with an Anglo Saxon helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial site.

Elgin Marbles

More pictures at flickr

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Little Night Music

Outside the Harpa Concert Hall

Reykjavik has no ice or snow on the roads and sidewalks. Imagine that!  No shoveling or plowing needed.   The thermal waters are used to heat the homes.  The run off water is then piped into plastic tubing inside the city's streets and sidewalks.  We walked those sidewalks today to The National Museum of Iceland which holds some 2000 objects dating from the Settlement period.  Around 870 Vikings began to arrive. Estimates of settlers ranged from 311 to 436.  To my surprise some women came on their own to settle. These Settlers, or farmers, were the chieftains that met in the Thingviller that we visited yesterday to form laws in a quasi Parliament.   There were no indigenous peoples here.  

The Harpa Concert Hall

The Harpa is relatively new having its first concert in 2011.  The multicolored glass facade is inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland.  We heard some very American music at the Harpa.  The Elektra Quintet performed a very jazzy first piece with a tenor.  The second half consisted of Gershwin and select pieces from Bernstein's West Side Story.  The tenor and a soprano provided voice.  

Tomorrow we fly to London.  To see all the pictures of our time in Iceland, link to flickr.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hot Golden Circle

Secret Lagoon, Reykjavik

Today we took an 8 hour tour of what is known as the Golden Circle.  Since we selected the tour with a swim in a lagoon, we got to add the word Hot to our adventure.  The circle loops out of Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back.  Our four stops were the Thingviller National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, the geothermal area that contains the geysers, and the lagoon. It was a snowy and windy day.  Visibility was limited and the light a sleepy blue.  We were on a 25 seat van driven by "Andy" who tried his best to be funny.  It felt a bit like being in Kansas in winter.  
Pass between the Continental Plates

Thingvellir National Park is where early Icelanders held Parliament once upon a time. Today it is where at times Game of Thrones films. It sits on the North American Tectonic plate.  Here we walked through a pass and onto the Eurasian Tectonic plate. 

The geothermal area was formed at the end of the last ice age.  The general descriptive term geyser comes from the large Icelandic Geysir.  Since Geysir has been dormant for some time now, we visited her little brother and got a show every 3-5 minutes. 

The Gullfloss is a magnificent waterfall system, not as large as Niagara Falls, but certainly as impressive.  The wind was bitingly cold as we climbed abut 50' to look down upon the system.  After this we were happy to find the warmth of the lagoon.  An hour of soaking left my core feeling toasty warm and my spirit lazily satisfied.  

Upon returning to Reykjavik we ate at the Old Icelandic Restaurant.  I was in search of a traditional lamb dish.  This I found.  It was succulent.  

Friday, January 13, 2017


Well,  here we are in the land of the Vikings, a place I never dreamed of or thought I would be.  It was a most convivial beginning as we rode the Grey Line from the airport to Reykjavik. The entire bus was entertained by a local tour guide passenger who was three sheets to the wind.  Wayne was directly across the aisle from him, and misguidedly encouraged him with polite responses.  We were lectured on what not to do.  "Don't go near the water at the black beach.  I beg of you.  I beg of you.  Please, please.  I will love you forever if you don't go near the water."  "Don't go into the ice cave.  I know you want to see where Russell Crowe was naked.  But don't go.  I will love you forever if you don't go."  Later when a group of us boarded the transit van to our hotel, we were all in stitches repeating his conversation.  Every Icelander since has been just as friendly, helpful, happy and polite but with a more sober approach.

Iceland:  much less snow than I anticipated.  Just as freezing as I anticipated.  Much less dark than I anticipated.  Just as interesting as I anticipated.  Today we walked the main streets which are filled with winter wear shops.  We found the Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church which seems to stand guard over Reykjavik.  At 244' it is among the tallest structures in Iceland. It is made of concrete in a most contemporary fashion that mimics the geography of Iceland.  The interior is totally white and austere but soaring high with gothic vaulting.  Tonight we enjoyed local music and fare at Cafe Rosenberg.  Kristian Kristianson of the KK Band entertained us with some jazzy blues.