On Saturday, July 23, Linda and I flew to London. It was fitting we were bound for Europe, for it was the eve of the 40th anniversary of my first trip there. Four decades and nearly 150 visits later, I still relish a visit to the Old World. Before takeoff (we were sitting in some nice seats), we toasted Bette Holmes. She was long-ago-friend Tim Holmes’ mother (you may recall Tim from this update in February 2010, and earlier posts), and her 1963 slideshow to our sixth-grade class of her and husband Mark’s trip by air to Europe was one of the many catalysts for my enduring interest in overseas travel. Tim had e-mailed me a few days earlier, responding to a news item I sent, that included news of Bette’s death. I promised Tim we’d toast Bette and her positive influence, and it was a pleasure to do so.
We landed at Heathrow about 10:30, hopped the train into central London, then a taxi across town to the City (financial district and historic core). Checked into our hotel, the former Great Eastern Railway Hotel adjacent to Liverpool Street Station, now recycled as the Andaz, Hyatt’s hipster brand.
The polychrome-brick late Victorian (designed by the same architect as the Houses of Parliament) was thoroughly contemporary inside, and we were barely hip enough to stay there (certainly we were the oldest guests!). Showered and bathed, and while Linda napped I headed out for a walk. It was a spectacular day, blue sky, 70º – which made it 30 degrees cooler than Texas. Nice!
It was one of those “amazing what you can learn in 90 minutes” strolls. London is a fascinating place for all kinds of reasons, not least the historical interpretation you find on plaques everywhere.
Next stop, 21 Lime Street, an archaeological site that straddled the second Roman forum, built 100-130 A.D. to house offices and courts. It was the largest building north of the Alps, which reminded me that the Romans put high value on this far-flung part of their empire. Down to St. Magnus the Martyr church, bells pealing loudly. The sign mentioned that the current ones were new, a dozen cast in 2008-09 (heaviest one, 1400 kg., key of middle D), and that you were welcome to contact Dickon Love, the tower keeper, if you’d like the bells rung to mark a special occasion. I was now at the Thames, ambling west to a place known from the 13th to the 19th centuries as the Steelyard, Der Stalhof, a German self-governing enclave of 400 Hanseatic merchants. Amazing. Heading back, I zipped in to hear a bit of an organ recital at St. Mary Abchurch, completed 1686, after the Great Fire, designed and rebuilt – like so many other parish churches – by the great Sir Christopher Wren. A great walk.
After a quick nap and a bit of relaxing, Linda and I ambled north on Bishopsgate for a pint at a pub, then dinner at Canteen, one of my favorite London eateries, with wonderful English food. Ambled back and clocked out.
Was up at 6:30 Monday morning, out the door for solo breakfast (Linda was dozing) from the Tesco supermarket across the street, consumed in the St. Botolph without Bishopsgate churchyard. At eight, I met Fabio Scappaticci and Akanksha Hazari, two Cambridge MBA students with whom I had corresponded in the months since my January lectures there. We caught up on their career progress and some other stuff. Such fun to stay in touch with “my” students. At ten, Linda and I hopped the Tube west to Green Park, and ambled south to Buckingham Palace. The Queen spends two summer months in Scotland, and in that period the palace is open to visitors (we were there on the second day of the season). The queues were long, but by 12:15 we were in the State Rooms, with a superb audio tour coming through headphones.
It was spectacular. Ornate, of course, and filled with superb furnishings, sculpture, and paintings – Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto, and the like – but my eye went immediately to a couple of works by the Dutch master Jan Steen, whose interpretations of 17th century Dutch domestic life I began to admire on my 1971 first visit to Europe. Steen’s eye was especially tuned to a bit of household chaos (the Dutch have a phrase to the effect that “your house looks like Jan Steen’s) and to carousing. The painting “A Village Revel” thus caught my eye; it depicted exactly that – people tippling and carrying on. Wonderful.
For many, the focus of the tour was Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, on view in the ballroom. Not a lot of fellows interested, but I was, and it was really something to be able to see it up close. We spent a bit more than an hour marveling, then walked outside for a simple lunch. We agreed that one of the most remarkable things was the fact that the place was open to visitors, even for just 60+ days. What a great thing. After sandwiches and a cake, we walked along the garden, out the door, and back to the hotel. Dinner that night was at the old-school J. Sheekey, a fish restaurant near Covent Garden, pricey but delicious. Clocked out early again.
Tuesday morning, up at six, and finally able to do something on the list for more than a year: Barclay’s Bank and Transport for London (the public authority charged with mobility) have teamed up to offer literally hundreds of street “stations” where, with a credit card (or a subscription) you can rent a bicycle – and, if you like, return it to another location. It’s free for up to 30 minutes, but I needed more exercise, so I kept it for 55 minutes, which still cost only a pound. It was heavy, but had three gears and good brakes. I found a less-busy street that was a bike route, and headed north through the Borough of Hackney, past public housing and rapidly gentrifying districts to Stoke Newington, then back, a total of about 10 miles. The journey continues in a subsequent post . . .