last photos of London plus East London’s Whitechapel Gallery

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Hello readers.  This is my 6th and final London post.  You’re probably tired of reading about London….but you shouldn’t be!  Because as the 18th century English writer, Samuel Johnson, wrote -

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.  When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

And it’s true.  Personally, I find London infinitely more stimulating, dynamic, service-oriented and rich in variety and cultural interest than Paris.  But it’s huge.  And expensive. And so, for someone who does not earn a big salary nor own a London flat, Paris is cheaper and easier to live in on a day to day basis.  Thanks to the Eurostar, however, I can pop back and forth whenever I please. The journey (under the English Channel) takes just over 2 hours.  When you arrive in London at the magnificent St Pancras international train station (after 6 years of renovation at a cost of £800 million), you’ll need a travel pass for getting around on the bus and tube (subway) network. Transportation is expensive. The best deal I found was to purchase an Oyster travel card for one week which gave me unlimited bus and tube travel.  You pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card and when you leave, you return the card and the £5 is refunded.  Including the deposit, I paid £31.40 for 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2 of Central London. The further out of Central London you wish to travel, the more you pay. 7 days’ unlimited travel in Zones 1 to 4, for example, costs £45.

I’d like to dispel a myth about food being bland or dull in England.  Not true! Those days are long gone. I have eaten far better in London than I have in Paris or elsewhere in France.  There was a culinary revolution throughout Britain in the 1990s and today London boasts an unparalleled excellence in gastronomic heritage and diversity. Thanks to multiculturalism and what I call an inventive-inclusive mindset (which I do not find in Paris), the staggering array of food options – not only in choice of restaurant, but in mainstream supermarkets, street food and outdoor markets – is jaw-dropping. London is undoubtedly one of the most ethnically-diverse cities in the world.  It is a very exciting place to be.

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I would love to have a peek inside these apartments above.  A lane of cute mews houses in Chelsea below.

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The best way to see London is from the top of a double-decker bus. But hang on real tight to the railings as you’re climbing up the stairs (while the bus is in motion).  I nearly fell backwards and tumbled down the stairs when the bus lurched.  Oh, another potential danger – don’t forget to look in the opposite direction when crossing the road!

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The East End. I didn’t have much time to visit London’s East End, but will do so on my next trip.  I did, however, want to see a renowned public art gallery called the Whitechapel Gallery, so I jumped on the underground and got off at Aldgate East tube stop.

Founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, it has a long track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area’s deprived populations. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community. In 1938 the Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica to protest the Spanish Civil War.  

For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger.

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It’s a beautiful building.  Admission is free and I highly recommend that you visit.  Aside from the exhibitions, there’s a pleasant cake and coffee shop where you can sit and rest your weary feet (my feet really were weary after walking 6 hours a day). Leaving the building, I turned right onto Whitechapel High Street in this somewhat rough and tumble neighbourhood with the intention of finding Old Spitalfields Market.  But I got lost.  The East End of London is not easy to navigate, and I suggest you go in with a good map. Group walking tours are also popular. Here’s a brief history of the area -

Successive waves of foreign immigration began with Huguenot refugees creating a new suburb in Spitalfields in the 17th century. They were followed by Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and, in the 20th century, Bangladeshis. Many of these immigrants worked in the clothing industry. The abundance of semi- and unskilled labour led to low wages and poor conditions throughout the East End. This brought the attentions of social reformers during the mid-18th century and led to the formation of unions and workers associations at the end of the century.

LONDON August 2014 330Here are some of the (renovated) Huguenot houses that I stumbled upon on Princelet Street, just off Commercial Street.

The Second World War devastated much of the East End, with its docks, railways and industry leading to dispersal of the population to new suburbs and new housing being built in the 1950s.  The closure of the last of the East End docks in the Port of London in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration and the formation of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The Canary Wharf development, improved infrastructure, and the Olympic Park mean that the East End is undergoing further change, but some parts continue to contain some of the worst poverty in Britain.

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Bye for now.  I’ll be back.  (I love London)  Below are some links to alternative walking tours and other places of cultural interest in the East End as well as a highly recommended and inexpensive hotel.

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http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk/

http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/

http://www.ravenrow.org/about/

http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/Library

The Dennis Severs’ House is a “still-life drama” of an “historical imagination” of what life would have been like inside for a family of Huguenot silk weavers.

http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk/

http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/collections/featuredCollections/womensLibraryLSE.aspx

This non-conventional hotel situated in the East End was recommended to me by a work colleague who says she loves it and has been going for 6 years.  She says it’s impeccably clean, welcoming and centrally located.  I have not been, but will try it on my next trip. Actually, I don’t find the prices that low.

http://www.rfsk.org.uk/

Here’s my old standby, The Penn Club, in Bloomsbury where the prices really are low considering the gorgeous neighbourhood you’re in.  There are no lifts (elevators).

http://www.pennclub.co.uk/

 

My London – Bloomsbury

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This woman could be a modern-day Virginia Woolf.  Hangin’ out, barefoot, in a coffee shop while working on a novel and consulting her iPhone.  Because, historically, Bloomsbury is associated with artists, writers and intellectuals who lived an avant-garde, bohemian lifestyle during the first half of the 20th century.

The Bloomsbury Group was an influential group of English writers, philosophers and artists, the best known included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London.  Although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts. (Wikipedia)

“Bohemia is not a place – it’s a state of mind.  A commitment to live with your own sense of values, your own freedom and independence.  To emancipate yourself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.”

I think I’m a bohemian or, if not, I aspire to becoming one.

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There are many advantages to staying in or visiting this charming neighbourhood. Firstly, when you arrive, as I do, at St. Pancras train station from Paris on the Eurostar, it’s a mere 20-minute walk from St. Pancras to Bloomsbury. And walk I do. To my favourite small hotel, The Penn Club. The Penn Club operates in accordance with Quaker ideals and provides quiet, comfortable and secure surroundings for members and guests.

I stayed only one night at The Penn Club before moving across town to another place in South Kensington.

The stairs are a bit creaky and the place may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I like its location and its coziness.  And did I mention their amazing breakfasts (included in the price of the room??)  There’s a quiet reading room called The Cadbury Room (because the founder of Cadbury chocolates was a Quaker), a communal TV room and a breakfast room where you can sit on your own or at a communal table. On my first morning in London, I sat across from the nicest Englishman who introduced himself, told me he was heading up to Scotland on holiday and that he was a teacher (and a widower.) Over our respective porridges followed by a plate of bacon, sausage and scrambled egg, whole-wheat hot buttered toast and delicious coffee, we talked for well over an hour about numerous topics.

“Gosh, Englishmen are nice,” I said to myself after he had left.  “I should get myself one.”

From the hotel, the British Museum is a mere 5-minute walk.  Free to all visitors and open every day, it houses a vast collection of world art and artefacts.  To not visit this important museum would be a shame.  Russell Square station is the closest tube station. 

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Bloomsbury contains some of London’s finest parks and buildings, and is particularly known for its formal squares which include Russell Square, Bedford Square and Gordon Square.  This is where Virginia Woolf lived briefly, at number 46 (she moved around a lot.)  I love wandering around gazing at the architecture, sitting in the lovely parks and visiting my favourite shops on Marchmont Street.  Bloomsbury has a nice vibe; very nice.

LONDON August 2014 065LONDON August 2014 032LONDON August 2014 060There’s an excellent health store and organic café called Alara at 58-60 Marchmont Street where I ate a delicious vegetarian cheesy lasagna for lunch, a big leafy salad and a blood-red, freshly-made juice called Fatigue Fighter, made from apple, celery, beetroot and ginger root.LONDON August 2014 022Up the road at number 82, this used book store is worth visiting.  Directly across is Fork where I took the above photo of the woman sitting on the window seat.LONDON August 2014 011LONDON August 2014 014

And I’m saving the best for last!  You wouldn’t know it (now you do, thanks to this blog post), but behind this unassuming store front with the rather dreary name (photo below), hides a tea and cake shop that serves seriously delicious cakes, the best I have ever tasted. Two years ago I ate a generous slice of orange marmalade cake.  I still think about it.  It was served with a delicately-perfumed China rose petal leaf tea.  They also do a dark chocolate and sea-salt cake with kumquat jam as well as other delights.  They do lunch too.  There’s a snag, however. The place is small and when I went I couldn’t get in, it was jam-packed (pardon the pun). Try going during the week or before or after the busy lunch hour.  The address is 14 Bury Place, steps away from the British Museum.

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My London – around Covent Garden

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I tend to avoid Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square because this West End district is kind of tacky and jammed with cars and people.  If you can get to Covent Garden without passing through these areas, the better off you’ll be.  Covent Garden is fun, albeit touristy too.  Once you’re done there, I suggest a more interesting area which is only a few blocks north-west and includes Monmouth, Earlham and Shelton Streets.

LONDON August 2014 199LONDON August 2014 191Here’s a favourite clothing store of mine – the cult Swedish designer, Gudrun Sjödén, located at 65-67 Monmouth Street.  Her eco-conscious, fanciful designs have been called Pippi Longstocking meets Issey Miyake.  She also has a boutique in Soho, NYC at 50 Greene Street.LONDON August 2014 198Further along at 31 Monmouth is the fabulous Orla Kiely shop, the Irish fashion and textile designer based in London.  Pop in to see her handbags, kitchenware and other wares.  She also has a shop in NYC at 5 Mercer Street.LONDON August 2014 162

Here’s Neal’s Yard, a fun hodge-podge of shops and eating places accessed via a lane from Monmouth Street.  You must visit Neal’s Yard Remedies, Britain’s favourite natural health and beauty products store.  Their products come in iconic blue glass bottles which, once finished, can be returned to the store for recycling.  They do a fantastic moisturizing cream enhanced with frankincense and myrrh, as well as wild rose beauty balm, gorgeous bath oils, foot and hand care, massage oils, etc.

LONDON August 2014 168Three English blokes passing by the Monmouth Coffee Company.  Great filtered coffee.LONDON August 2014 192ALL SAINTS is geared for the younger crowd, but I like their clothes.  FOPP has a massive stock of DVDs, all genres, at cheap prices.  I buy a lot of DVDs there that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.  Both of these stores are on Earlham Street.LONDON August 2014 157LONDON August 2014 155Love these old brick walls. You don’t see brick in Paris.LONDON August 2014 174LONDON August 2014 183LONDON August 2014 161LONDON August 2014 175LONDON August 2014 159And last but not least – FOYLES famous independent bookstore. Visit their beautiful new flagship store at 107 Charing Cross Road, it’s huge and beautiful.  A great place to wander and have a coffee or tea on the top floor.  London is a booklover’s paradise.LONDON August 2014 154

Coming up: Bloomsbury.

My London – Marylebone

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Before we head north to Marylebone, I just wanted to mention a really good Indian restaurant where my friend Rosemary, who’s a Londoner, and I had a delicious meal. It’s called The Star of India and it’s at 154 Old Brompton Road.  

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Marylebone is an affluent shopping and residential district north of Oxford Street. A posh and quiet enclave, it’s a small neighbourhood, really. (Madonna had one of her townhouses here.)  I purposefully avoid the hordes of harried shoppers on Oxford Street and come here instead.  So much more civilized, darling!

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You must visit this gorgeous bookshop at number 84 Marylebone High Street, all wood and polished interiors.  To the left of Daunt Books is a Scandinavian design, furniture and gift shop called Skandium.  I always pop in to gaze at the functional yet stylish lines.

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Natural Kitchen seems to be the main hub of activity on Marylebone High Street, just down from Daunt Books.  It’s all there, from organic porridge in the morning to snacks, lunch, coffee and cakes throughout the day.  There’s also a butcher and a baker but no candlestick maker.

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This amaaaazing shop called Ortigia is located further down at number 23. As you walk in, the intermingled fragrance of the hand-made Sicilian soaps and bath products is divine, as are the exquisite boxes that the soaps come in. I purchased several gifts here.

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If you go around the corner to 27 New Cavendish Street, you’ll find this clothing shop that I really liked and hadn’t heard of before.  OSKA is a German label and the quality of the design and fabrics is outstanding.  Happily, I learned there are two OSKA shops in Paris. Directly opposite is a French fabric and furniture store called Caravane.

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And that’s about it for this district. Next up is Covent Garden.  Marylebone is a delightful district in which to wander.  Stay on the back streets and you’ll be rewarded with small boutiques, picturesque pubs and restaurants.  If you continue walking south on Marylebone High Street (just south of New Cavendish Street) and then turn right onto George Street, you’ll find a unique museum on Manchester Square called The Wallace Collection containing world-sourced antiques, sculpture and artworks set within an historic townhouse.  It also houses a lovely restaurant that serves lunch and afternoon tea.  

Splash some cash at Durrant’s Hotel, 26-32 George Street, in their restaurant or cozy bar. A privately-owned 92-bedroom Georgian townhouse hotel, Durrants is a quiet and stylish retreat; everything a hotel should be – small, cosy and utterly charming (and expensive!)  My mother and I stayed there in the late 1980s.

Continuing south from Manchester Square you’ll come onto Wigmore Street which runs parallel and just north of Oxford Street.  See the schedule at Wigmore Hall, a lovely concert hall located at number 36.  Early music, chamber music and classical song is showcased here.

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My London – South Kensington and Fulham

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Impossibly Posh.  Unless you have one million pounds at your disposal, don’t even think of buying real estate in South Kensington. This is the west London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, home to the most expensive residential district in Europe. The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, The Victoria and Albert Museum, is in South Ken.  You cannot leave London without visiting the much-loved V and A.   

LONDON August 2014 244LONDON August 2014 237LONDON August 2014 235There are, however, some (surprisingly) affordable places to stay in this area. I stayed in modest accommodation on this beautiful street. A perfect location.LONDON August 2014 230LONDON August 2014 234LONDON August 2014 229LONDON August 2014 094LONDON August 2014 088

I like staying here because it’s central and near several of my old hunting grounds. I lived and worked in London on two different occasions, the last being in 2005 when I lived for a year in a friend’s house in Fulham.  From my hotel, I jump on the number 14 bus which takes me all the way down the Fulham Road. There’s a friendly café where I like to sit in the sun and have breakfast, the kind of breakfast you can’t even find in France: one morning I had eggs benedict, the next morning a bacon sarny with HP sauce.  So delicious.

LONDON August 2014 121LONDON August 2014 324LONDON August 2014 326LONDON August 2014 120Directly across the road is my favourite bookshop complete with espresso bar, not to mention great books and the daily newspapers to read.  This was my hangout in 2005.  I’m glad to see that the place is still thriving.LONDON August 2014 125LONDON August 2014 126LONDON August 2014 129

NEXT UP: Marylebone High Street.

My London – Borough Market

LONDON.  An undeniably world-class city of 7 million inhabitants.  Pulsating with energy. Dynamic and thrillingly diverse.  Inclusive of all cultures and nationalities.  Constantly redefining itself while holding firm to its history and heritage.  After 6 days there, I’m feeling energized and refreshed (and a bit sad to have left, to be honest).   In comparison, Paris seems so….small.

Where to begin?  I took over 300 photographs and walked 6 hours a day.  So much to see and do! I guess I’ll start with one of my favourite places: Borough Market located under the London Bridge.  As I strode across the bridge in the brisk morning air, sunshine and wind in my face and the river traffic coursing by, I felt utterly exhilarated.  London does that to you. Take the District & Circle tube line to Monument.  Walk across bridge.  The market is beside Southwark Cathedral.

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Old.  Atmospheric.  A setting and cast of characters straight out of a Dickens’ novel. Borough Market is one of London’s oldest fruit and vegetable markets and sprawls under the brick railway viaducts. It’s a fabulous place.

LONDON August 2014 261LONDON August 2014 263LONDON August 2014 280LONDON August 2014 260LONDON August 2014 272Here’s a cheese shop (Neal’s Yard Dairy) that sells a stunning array of British and Irish cheeses.LONDON August 2014 297LONDON August 2014 299LONDON August 2014 302LONDON August 2014 300MONMOUTH COFFEE SHOP. I have only one word to describe this place: bliss.LONDON August 2014 288LONDON August 2014 292LONDON August 2014 282LONDON August 2014 287LONDON August 2014 303LONDON August 2014 265LONDON August 2014 296

Borough Market consists of up to 70 stalls and stands. Producers from all over the country bring a range of fresh produce to the market, including fish, meats, vegetables, ciders, cheeses, breads, coffees, cakes and patisseries. Other stalls specialize in produce imported from abroad. Open Wednesday to Saturday.  Pubs and restaurants too.

LOTS MORE TO COME…

The dead of August. London calling.

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I swear I’m the only person left in my apartment building.  And on the whole street.  The silence is deafening which is great for concentrating on my book project but, I have to admit, it’s kind of eerie.  I’m glad to be going to London where all will be busy and bustling. Friday August 15 is a public holiday and the entire city (it seems) has emptied of Parisians. Where, exactly, do people go?  I can answer that.  My god-children are having the time of their lives in a coastal campsite overlooking the English Channel in Normandy. My boss is in a Perpignan beach town with her husband and son.  My second boss is returning to Italy with his wife (to Tuscany) because they loved it so much last year. One friend is in Cabourg (Normandy) in a rental beach house. Another friend is travelling around Morocco. My neighbour is in Corsica. And I’m going to London (I initially wanted to go to Stockholm…maybe next year.)  Here’s what I wrote exactly one year ago -

You know it’s August when you find yourself walking down a deserted street on a Saturday afternoon in your normally bustling neighbourhood.  Shops, offices and apartments are shuttered tight.  You swear you’re the last person on earth and it makes you think of that Twilight Zone episode in which a man finds himself alone in a deserted town.  He walks into a diner, the jukebox is playing and hot coffee’s on the burner, but no-one’s around.  Na na na na, na na na na (that’s the theme song from The Twilight Zone for any readers of this blog younger than 40.)

You spy a lone pedestrian.  He’s carrying a baguette.  You lope towards him, so eager you are for contact.  And bread.

“Please, sir!” you exclaim.  He backs away.  He thinks you’re a bread snatcher. “Where did you get that baguette?” you demand,  “Is there a boulangerie open somewhere?”

OK, I’m exaggerating, but that’s almost what it was like last Saturday in my ‘hood.  It’s a ghost town here.Neuilly August closed signs 2013 011Every shop, restaurant, café, kiosk is closed.Neuilly August closed signs 2013 025Where does everyone go???Neuilly August closed signs 2013 028And I’m crazily busy at the office. The entire department has taken off to various vacation spots around Europe leaving me in charge. And all the branch offices from far-flung corners of the world are inundating me with requests – all urgent – that I have to handle on my own.  Yes!  People outside of Planet France actually work in August!Neuilly August closed signs 2013 016

I swear, the French live in a bubble.  But a nice bubble.  Sort of.  Thursday August 15 is a bank holiday here (all offices and banks are closed.)  Do you know why?  Because it’s The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  That’s right.  France, who claims to be a secular country, shuts down on Catholic holy days.  But who’s complaining?  If we complained, we’d be deprived of a holiday.

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I’m off to the Atlantic Coast, to a place I discovered in 2008 and have visited three times since.  I love it.  But I’m not going to tell you in this post where it is.  You’ll have to return later to find out. Crafty, huh?

BONNES VACANCES !!

Dear Reader.  I suggest that you click on August 2013 in the Archive list to see beautiful photos of a favourite summer vacation spot of mine on the Atlantic Coast.