Saturday, August 6, 2015
All of London seemed one with me--project-wise--today. The city is simply HEAVING with visitors--everywhere I go, I am being jostled; every sound I hear is on a foreign tongue. The collapse of the pound sterling, post-Brexit, doubtless has something to do with the crowds. Still, I am not complaining. Being alone, most times I still get my front seat on the top deck of red buses!
Travel Planning and Brekkie:
I am now awaking about 6. 30 am--getting back to routine and defeating jetlag, clearly. It was the perfect time to plan and book my travel to Scotland in September. My invitation to speak at a conference at the University of Edinburgh being confirmed and accommodation being arranged for me in the capital of Scotland, all that was left was booking my transportation there and back.
National Express coach lines have good deals but the one I snagged with much glee was on Megabus. My first time ever traveling with the cheerful fat boy I see plastered on double decker coaches all over the place means that I will be on the red eye from Victoria to Waverly Coach station in Edinburgh for just 3. 50 pounds! How's that for a steal? I shall be carrying my down pillow and popping in a pill for a whole night's sleep en route.
From Edinburgh, since it is only 90 minutes away, I shall be riding a National Express coach to Glasgow--for just 48 hours. My only aim is to see the Burrell (Art) Collection at Pollock Park as Llew and I had missed it the last time we were in Glasgow when a Council strike has kept all museums and art galleries closed. Oh, and eating scones at the Willow Tea Room on Sauchihall Street (which remain the best scones I have ever eaten--soft as a cloud, they melt like snow on your tongue).
My journey back to London will be on National Express again--the red eye from Glasgow will see me back into the city. With booking done, all I need to do now is find accommodation for one night in Glasgow. The only annoyance was that Mastercard refused to put my charges through although I had informed them that I'd be traveling for 6 months--I had to call them to confirm intended payments before I was quite done. Would have been well and truly irritating if it were not for the fact that I feel secure about the red flags flying in the faces of some monitors somewhere that keep my account safe. Thanks Mastercard!
It was time for breakfast and I ate a lovely almond croissant and a cup of coffee knowing that I'd soon be eating again--for right after showering, I dressed and left for Borough Market--Saturdays are one of the rare days each week that artisinal food purveyors arrive there with their trucks and their produce to sell their foods through the offering of what the British all 'samplers'. So I took the 25 Bus to Bank, admired Sir John Soane's grand Bank of England Building on Threadneedle Street right opposite the London Stock Exchange Building, before I crossed Southwark Bridge on foot and arrived on the South Bank. The Thames looked a ghastly murky brown as it swirled along exposed sand banks. You can have a day at the sea-side on its banks.
Tasting My Way Through Borough Market:
Borough Market on the South Bank has grown enormously since I first went there about 30 years ago. At that time, there were a few stalls and some desultory salesmen and most buyers were from the trade, sourcing fine foods for their hostelries.
Not any more. The secret is obviously out. Everyone who is anyone gets to Borough Market on a Saturday morning and at 11. 30 am, the place was simply jumping. Elbowing my way through the mobs, I passed by stalls selling food--the more exotic, the better. I saw vast trays of curries from Ethiopia and Malaysia before I got to the salesmen with the small farm-produced foods. By the time a half hour had passed, I had tasted fruit butters, jams, marmalades, blasamic vinegars with fig and olive oils with truffle flavors, candied cashew nuts and candied peanuts, Greek bakhlava, pistachio Turkish delight, home-made granola (mine is infinitely better--even if I say so myself!), a multitude of cheeses, lots of charcuterie, brownies and cookies and even a salted caramel pie. It was like having lunch on my feet. Feeling fairly stuffed, I walked towards Southward Cathedral (the church with the stained glass window dedicated to the characters of the Bard's plays since he often worshiped there), paid a visit in there and left via London Bridge. I hopped on to a 17 bus that sailed along (top deck, front and center, of course) and hopped off at Holborn Circus.
Off to Portobello Road for some Antiquing:
My aim was to get on the Central Line Tube to Notting Hill to browse for antiques and kitsch at the Saturday Antiques Market. The Tube took me there in 12 minutes, I followed the crowds down Pembroke Gardens that lead to Portobello Road, browsed in my favorite vintage jewelry shop there before I found the street vendors.
And once again I was struck by the differences--then and now. Thirty years ago, there was a very good chance you would get treasures on this street for most of the dealers were genuine: when they were not selling to the trade at Bermondsey Antiques Market at dawn, they set up their stalls at Portobello Road. I will never forget the delight with which I spied my Japanese umbrella stand--a fabulous Imari find--and the manner in which I carried it across the Atlantic where it still graces my front vestibule.
Not any more. Today's stalls carry all manner of reproductions: silver plated tea sets, mismatched silverware, bone china mugs and plates, kitschy London souvenirs (magnets, pub signs). Plus there are flea market wares: leather bags from Florence, tweeds from Scotland, jewelery from Tibet--that sort of thing. I reached out for a small toast rack and she wanted 12 pounds for it. I had bought one from a tag sale in Connecticut for 25 cents! It is simply amazing how things have changed. As for the crowds, they were here too--by the thousand. Clearly not really interested in antiquing at all--just doing what their guide books tell them to do on a sunny Saturday in London.
Finding the Book Shop from the film Notting Hill:
Before leaving Portobello Road this time, I decided to make a concerted effort to find the book shop that was an integral part of the film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant (whose character owned the book shop) and Julia Roberts. Rumor had it that the shop was closed, that it was a private residence, etc. etc. I asked around and a vendor knew exactly where to send me: Blenheim Crescent (towards the end of the Portobello Antiques stalls). Make a left and in the middle of that block on the left is the book shop. It is still a book shop, not a private residence; but it is not a travel book shop any more: it is a general book shop simply called The Notting Hill Book Shop--ah, banking on tourist traffic from the film no doubt. Inside I found one small indication of its film connections: it shows a card with the film's poster in black and white on it. I took pictures intending to tweet them to the film's director Richard Curtis and his wife Emma Freud--who recently became friends of mine. As soon as I have a free minute, I will...
Sorely disappointed about the general lack of sophistication about today's 'antiquers', I entered a bus going towards Oxford Circus with the idea of taking the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross to the National Gallery so that I could finish up seeing the items in the 19th century Wing that are on the audio guide. The bus offered a tour of Paddington--so I took in the sights: the 19th century railway station, the 19th century St. Mary's Hospital from where Alexander Fleming gave the world penicillin. Finally, we got to Trafalgar Square bathed in sunshine and crawling, simply crawling, with crowds. There is simply no escaping them in London right now.
Back at the National Gallery:
I escaped gratefully into the National Gallery, procured my audio guide and stool and was off in the main galleries (also mobbed) to see some of its main highlights--the Gainsboroughs and Canalettos, Turners and Constables, the Van Goghs and Cezannes. I have to admit, somewhat guiltily, that I sat down on a sofa to contemplate George Stubb's Whistlejacket--the magnificent portrait of a horse--when I actually dozed off and had a ten minute nap! Clearly, erratic sleep patterns are getting the better of me...but then if one has to snooze off, I cannot think of anything better than a brown leather Chesterfield sofa in a great museum on which to catch a few zzzs!
When I was done at almost 6 pm, I treated myself to a slice of Coffee Walnut Cake in the cafe and was off on the Tube back home. Mission Accomplished. If and when I get back to the National again, it will be to look at paintings of my own choosing. The audio guide, by the way, is wonderful and it is a treat to be educated by some of the museum's best curators.
Dinner Chez Moi:
Back home, I caught up with email, put my feet up for a bit and then readied myself for dinner. My landlords N and C are expected tonight between 8 and 9 pm and when I suggested we have supper together--they gladly agreed. Which meant that I had to cook it, of course! I had planned to make Mary Berry's Malay Chicken Rice--very simple and very delicious it sounded too. So off I went, improvising with her basic recipe when I discovered that the rice I had in the house was arborio (and not Jasmine or Basmati). Oh well...what happened, therefore, was that the Rice became a risotto. The dish was tasty--a fine Italian-Indian fusion (as my chicken had been marinated in yogurt and spices) and it was far more edible than you would imagine. With a salad of lettuce, pears, blue cheese, onion, cranberries and nuts with a balsamic dressing, it turned out to be a good meal. Toast crostini with mushroom pate had been my starter and Sainsbury's marvelous tiramisu was my dessert. What a fine meal indeed! And who says I cannot whip up a meal in a jiffy with ingredients on hand in a pantry or frig???
We had a very nice evening and then it was time to say Goodnight as we called it a day. I watched a bit of a Swedish detective show on BBC I-player called Beck, but fell asleep watching it--so what's new? At about midnight, I switched off the light...
Until tomorrow, cheerio...