Monday, October 28, 2013

London! Part Two

It seemed fitting that the weather was gray and chilly on the afternoon we went to see The Mousetrap. After all, we were about to sit down and watch a murder mystery unfold on the stage. One that took place in the 1950's and was set in a rambling old country house called Monkswell Manor, inherited by the main character Mollie Ralston. She and her husband Giles had decided to turn it into a hotel. As the guests arrive, the wind is howling, the snow is falling, and soon the telephone lines will be cut. A murder will occur and we are deep into Agatha Christie territory here, where everyone seems to have a motive and the action unfolds within a tightly enclosed world. I loved every moment of it! 

It is hard not to be affected by the history of The Mousetrap. The longest continuing running play in history, it has many colorful stories tied to its past. Originally written for the late Queen Mary, who when asked by the BBC what she would like to celebrate her eightieth birthday, said she would like "an Agatha Christie play." Agatha Christie promptly wrote a thirty-minute radio production which later became The Mousetrap. On its 50th anniversary Gala performance, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were in attendance. And on November 25, 2012, The Mousetrap celebrated its 60th birthday. The same year that the queen celebrated sixty years on the throne.

Sitting in St. Martin's Theatre and watching The Mousetrap felt like entering a time warp, though a very cozy one at that. We were watching something old-fashioned, enjoyable, and comforting, just like reading an Agatha Christie mystery. When the curtain calls were finished and a member of the cast stepped forward and asked us not to reveal the ending, I teared up. The fact that this had been happening every night in the theatre for sixty years seemed wonderful to me.  

The next day the weather changed and it was absolutely beautiful. We set out for Kensington Palace to see the gardens. It didn't hurt that the sky was so blue that day. We toured the palace which is fascinating and has seen much history. For example, Queen Victoria was born there and lived in the palace until becoming queen. And, more recently, this is where Princess Diana lived and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live now. 

Walking though the rooms we saw fascinating costumes, such as this one worn by Queen Victoria

And this by Prince Albert

I loved these accessories worn by Victoria

But the best part was the ornamental sunken garden which looked very beautiful that day.

Nothing like a gorgeous London sky with billowy clouds

The weather was autumn at its best

Our good luck with the weather continued when we went to Sussex the next day to visit Monk's House, Virginia Woolf's country home.  I was moved by the beautiful garden created by Leonard Woolf and how lovely it looked on this autumn day. More to come on Monk's House...

Back in London, there was another book store I had to visit.

Heywood Hill is located on Curzon Street in Mayfair and it is steeped in history. An old-fashioned kind of place with knowledgeable staff and courteous service, it reminds you of 84 Charing Cross Road. The staff will find anything you need, and the store specializes in new and antiquarian books. They will help build your library. Heywood Hill has been selling books since 1936 and is the bookstore where Nancy Mitford worked. I was thrilled to finally be able to visit and entered the store not knowing what to expect.  

Inside was a little jewel box. There is a fireplace in one corner and moldings with bronze medallions and columns throughout. I especially loved the idea of a chandelier in a bookstore. Very Mitford-like. Within minutes of entering the store, I was asked if I needed any help. When I asked about Nancy Mitford, the charming gentleman in the corner showed me the table where she used to work. It is where he and a young woman are working in the photo above. He was delighted to talk about Mitford and the store.

While we talked, I couldn't keep my eyes from the red lacquered book shelves in the far room. Since there was a private event going on I didn't want to intrude, but I admired them from afar. I was beginning to realize that red lacquered walls were a bit of a theme on this trip. Remember the red doors from my last post?

I noticed them at the gorgeous bar at the Goring Hotel

The red walls makes this chic and intimate space glow

In fact, one of the best things about London is its fabulous style

You see it everywhere. Browns Hotel has a gorgeous bar, tailored and elegant. Notice the red.

It is a stylish place to have tea

Even the cappuccinos in London had a certain flair

We discovered some new restaurants on this trip. Dinner was at Colbert Restaurant one night,
a very pretty French bistro on Sloane Square.

One of the places I always visit in London is the National Portrait Gallery

I can't resist going there and seeing the faces of so many people I have read about. I visit old friends, such as this portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant

And this one of E.M. Forster by Carrington

And new ones. I discovered that even Maggie Smith is there.

There was a fabulous exhibition of portraits by Laura Knight. She was painting at the same time as the Bloomsbury Group, but her art was of a different school. Much more realistic and traditional, she is greatly respected as an important chronicler of the times. She was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy of the Arts. We were not allowed to take photos of the exhibition, but this is the catalogue I purchased. Go here to learn more.

Coming out of the Gallery, you immediately encounter this incredible view of Trafalgar Square. This scene knocked my socks off with its majestic sky and dramatic atmosphere. London looked magnificent.

Big Ben was in the distance

And St. Martin-in-the-Fields was nearby, with the National Gallery on the left

London is filled with so much history and treasures that one trip can never do it justice. Monuments, churches, palaces, museums, gardens, and Agatha Christie --  to name just a few of its many pleasures. And there is also great style, delicious food, exciting theatre, and incredible bookstores -- really something for everyone. The more I visit, the more I realize the city will always be revealing itself and there will always be something new to see. But now it was time to pack up and move on. Italy was next!

Monday, October 21, 2013

London! Part One

Tea at Browns Hotel

Arriving in London in the late afternoon makes for an easy transition. After unpacking, you can fortify yourself with a cup of tea. And then the best thing to do is take a walk, which feels really good after 11 hours on a plane!

Any walk around London includes a tour of some gorgeous doors. Don't you love the colors? And the elegant hardware?

I love a red front door

Everywhere you look are the blue plaques that indicate the homes of famous residents of London. They are a constant reminder that you are walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest figures in British history. For me they are symbols of the history that is everywhere in London.

After an invigorating walk, the only thing left to do was have dinner before retiring for the night. Fortunately our first dinner in London included Sticky Toffee Pudding, a very sweet ending to our first day!


The next day was our first full one and we began at the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street.  I was looking forward to seeing what they had done to this house since I was there last. The museum, which has been in operation since 1925, has had a face lift -- a three-year, $5 million restoration and refurbishment of the house. It reopened last year. The goal was to make it look more like a house than a museum. It is Dickens' only surviving London home. He resided there from 1837-1839 and it is the home where he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. He moved in when he was a young man with his new wife Catherine and their first child. It is the house he lived in when he became famous under his own name, after dropping the pseudonym "Boz." 

The rooms had been previously unfurnished and now are filled with the furniture and accessories of the time. They evoke the Victorian age and the spirit of Dickens.

The dining room, where he entertained his friends. It features the original sideboard and a portrait of the 25-year old author.

A set of bars from Marshalsea Prison

But for me the most poignant detail in this house are these bars from Marshalsea Prison where Dickens' father was imprisoned for debt. The whole family lived there for a period of time. Dickens was sent out to work as a child in a boot-blacking factory. This experience clouded the rest of his life and affected everything he wrote. The bars are located on the top floor of the house.

Piccadilly Street

Then it was off to St. James and Piccadilly, one of my favorite neighborhoods in London. The Royal Academy of Arts and the Burlington Arcade are located there, as well as two of my favorite stores.

Hatchards, the oldest bookstore in London

I could spend hours at Hatchards! I bought so many good books this time (which I will tell you about on another blog post!) and could barely tear myself away.

They do an amazing job curating these books. Look at this table. You had me at "An indulgence..."

A closer look...

And then there is the Agatha Christie table...

And the Churchill section...I could go on and on
This store is a veritable feast of everything I love

However, once I pulled myself away, there was another treasure trove next door.

Fortnum and Mason, the world-famous food purveyor

Talk about eye-candy, this store has everything for the cook and homebody

They are famous for their hampers

Their selection of teas


Holiday displays, here is the Halloween table

And china. I was searching for something very specific --  Burleigh pottery. This company has been making ceramic ware with traditional English designs since 1851 in Staffordshire. I wanted to buy a tea pot with matching cups and saucers. I chose the blue and white Celeste pattern and I cannot wait to use it at home!

St. Paul's Cathedral

Next we toured St. Paul's Cathedral where I hadn't been for a a very long time. It was thrilling to hear the story of its design by Christopher Wren, its significance to London throughout the years, and all the famous events that have happened there, including the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.


 The Hurlingham Club

The following day I had a very exciting date to have tea with a new friend. Sarah Berry is an interior designer working in London. She and I have been friends through our blogs and when she heard I was coming to London, she invited me to have tea with her at the Hurlingham Club. When I pulled up in my taxi, I could hardly believe how beautiful it was!

She gave me a tour of the grounds

And then we had tea. We had the most delightful time. Check out Sarah's website to see her work. She is a talented interior designer and has written many design articles for The Lady magazine. She also adores London and gave me some great tips on what to do and where to eat.  (Thank you, Sarah, for Colbert restaurant. And also for encouraging me to go to Kensington Palace) I am so happy to have a new friend in London! She has promised to visit me when she comes to Los Angeles. We talked for hours and could have gone on for longer, but I had a date with my husband to attend a 4:00 pm performance of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap...