Serendipity, Stupidity, and Serenity


Friday morning we decided to go to Guildhall and Saint Bartholomew the Greater Church, at somewhat opposite ends of The City. For those unfamiliar with London, The City refers to what is now the financial center, formerly the oldest part of London. Four-Fifths of which burned in the 1666 Great Fire, was rebuilt, and then largely destroyed again in WWII bombing, then rebuilt after the War. While at first glance its all soulless skyscrapers, there are bits and pieces of the past hidden here and there–remains of the wall built by the Romans, a medieval church,  half-timbered Tudor buildings, Georgian and Victorian buildings next to flashy new glass.

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You can easily find tours of the area through London Walks, the City web pages and other resources; we’ve also found this map very helpful. Map of London Listed Buildings

Traffic was even worse than usual, so we got off the bus after only a few stops and walked the rest of the way. I had seen that there was to be a guided tour of Guildhall’s art gallery and the underneath Roman forum at 12:30, so we decided to walk to St.Bartholomew and then double back. Along the way, we passed several lovely old buildings and many historical plaques reminding of buildings or persons who had been born or lived on the site. Around the corner past the Museum of the City of London (well worth a visit) and Barbican (pure modern awfulness), and a segment of the Roman wall.


I’d wanted to visit Saint Bartholomew the Greater (not to be confused with Saint Bartholomew the Lesser, smaller and largely rebuilt 😉 ) after briefly stepping inside while on a walking tour several years ago. It is the oldest continuously used church in London, first built in the 11th century; the oldest bits remaining are from the late medieval period. You enter through a lovely Tudor gatehouse, and then can admire the old stone exterior, built of the same small stone material as Southwark Cathedral. Pay a small admittance fee, and then are free to wander the dark, evocative interior.





As luck would have it, a chamber group was practicing for a lunchtime concert, so we got to wander around listening to gorgeous music echoing off the walls. Lots to look at–the beamed ceiling, Norman stone arches in the nave, huge early 18th century organ, floor gravestones, a banner from the Worshipful Company of the Art or Mistery of Butchers (Smithfield Market, traditionally London’s meat market is next door.)


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We went through the gaily painted Victorian arches of the market, which closes for the day by 9 am. There are some interesting signs detailing its past, Larry was amused that in medieval times disgruntled husbands supposedly could also unload their wives here.


We backtracked to Guildhall, and found out that it was closed for the day for a special event. Ah well, now we know to call in the morning next time. Even seen from the outside, the 15th century building and surrounding structures are impressive.


We were hungry by now, so wandered on. I spied a Bea’s tea room, and thought we’d have an early tea as lunch. Very disappointing, with dry “sandwiches” (actually thin fillings on top of mini brioche, OK cupcakes, brownies and meringues instead of the nicer pastries and finger sandwiches you get in a hotel tea.(and that we saw on the display counter) At least the scones and clotted cream were good. And tea bags, feh.


We took the Tube over to the Victoria and Albert, one of my very favorite museums. It showcases design and craftsmanship from around the world, and is chock full of fascinating things. There were some special exhibits, Larry and I split up  with him going to one on Ove Orup’s engineering and design; and me goggling at Medieval embroideries. The level of workmanship in the embroideries, mostly for church and royal use was astonishing. Almost as amazing was how beautifully preserved some of the examples were, with the gold threads and silken details almost without wear; and others where you had to look very closely to discern the fine details that use and time have almost erased. No photos allowed, these are from the V&A’s site.

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And yes, we did the Underwear special exhibit. I gave thanks to be born after the age of corsetry.


I also spent time in the Jewelry rooms, which have fascinating displays arranged by theme, era, and material. And just wandering down the long sculpture hall yields new finds, like this gorgeous art deco fireplace in back of some Rodins.


By now it was quite late (the V&A, like many museums, stays open late Fridays) and we had reservations at Nopi. Love this place, with simple interior, well spaced tables, fun Ottolenghi empire food and well trained staff. We decided to go with a bunch of small plates to share. Started out with oozing buratta with cardamon and clementines; and zucchini and haloumi fritters. Both delicious, nice contrast of creamy and crispy.


Then on to  perfectly grilled octopus and a neat little salad of zataar-spiced lamb with vegetables and yogurt; with some crisp polenta. Also lovely. We were pretty stuffed, but managed to split grilled pineapple with coconut gelato and hazelnuts, and were very glad we did.


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