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!


  1. I love the architecture and the green spaces. Steeped in history....and that tea looks delicious!
    You have shown some beautiful places and I hope the memories of your trip will stay vibrant for many years to follow.

  2. I love being taken on this trip with you through your beautiful photos and commentary. Now I have the Europe travel bug itching again (already). Very much look forward , of course, to hear about your Italian experiences too!

  3. Your trip sounds wonderful, and Sunday, your photographs are truly fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to see Italy!

  4. G Heywood Hill is on my list to visit next time so thank you for the peek inside, Sunday! That view of Big Ben from the National Gallery has always been one that makes me stop and drink it all in. And don't get me started on your scrumptious-looking for a bit of a whimper now *sigh*.

  5. Sunday, I am enjoying your English visit so much. It has been many years since I visited; now I am longing to return...sigh. I look forward to your post on Monk's House. I hope you are having a lovely week. Bonnie

  6. That was a fabulous tour of London. I didn't even know you could tour Kensington Palace. I think I need to go with you next time.

  7. LOVE seeing some of my favorite places.....thank you!....smiles

  8. Sunday....I feel like I have had a vacation in London and had the most wonderful time! Thank you for such a treat.

  9. London always looks beautiful, even on a rainy gloomy day. The bookstores look delightful. I cannot wait until my next trip there to check out the new and improved Dickens Museum.

    Enjoy your trip!

  10. What a great visual, and verbal diary of your trip. Making some notes of some new places to visit, as we may take a fast trip there over the holidays. It looks like your weather was perfect as well.

  11. Beautiful photos... Love the Laura Knight portrait... Going to check out more...

  12. Very much enjoyed catching up with your London words and pictures. You have a real eye for colour - love those red lacquer doors.

  13. Lovely! You visited some of the same places I would like to visit if I ever go to London.