Sunday with Family; Monday in Town

Early Sunday morning we took the train from nearby Euston Station up to Liverpool. When Larry’s father and his four siblings escaped Germany on the Kindertransport, they all lived in England for a time. Four eventually made their way to the US, the fifth stayed in England (eventually also living in Israel and the US). Aunt Kaye’s story can be read here, on a website that tells of the Jews of Bad Neustadt. Kaye’s Story


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We had a lovely lunch at Larry’s cousin’s home, punctuated with the charm of the youngest Klein descendant and the good-natured jests of various football fans. Real football, not this ponsy American game.

Oh, and cousin Tamar made fantastic scones. Yes, she shared the recipe!


Monday we fulfilled one of Larry’s requests, a London Walks that focused on the Brunel Tunnel under the Thames. The tunnel was completed in 1843, and at the time was considered “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Our guide led us along the river on the south bank, telling interesting stories about the shipping history of the Thames,its former neighborhoods, the poverty in the area, and the Blitz.  The powerful East India Company  had its stronghold in Rotherhithe, now a quiet, upscale community of restored warehouses and new flats.



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At the end of the tour we went down into the viewing platform that led to the tunnel, where there’s not much to see and the “Museum” is a room with a video playing (now the tube goes through the tunnel). Still, engineer Larry was pleased, and I thought the guiding quite interesting.


We dithered a bit about lunch before again attempting to get into Guildhall, eventually landing at an OK Vietnamese cafe in the City. And yes, Guildhall was open. It’s a gorgeous 15th century building surrounded by modern construction, you’d need to be looking for it to find the entrance through the bureaucratic hallways. It was constructed as a civic building, many trials and public meetings have been held in the Great Hall over the centuries, it is still used for events.. Several memorial statues were added in the 18th and 19th centuries,and it’s an interesting room to wander in.



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Across the plaza is the Guildhall Art Gallery, which at this time had an exhibit of Victorian art, all rosy cheeked maidens and allegories. But downstairs is something fun, the remains of the Roman amphitheater, the largest in Brittania, with the wooden gutters still underneath. Rather cheese overly dramatic lighting and human forms to give context, but still cool.



Made our way back home, had some Indian takeaway for dinner.


Markets and Medicine


On Saturday, we first walked around, exploring the neighborhood a bit to our north. Upper Street stretches with many restaurants. from fast food chains to locally owned ethnic, with upscale french bistros and Ottolenghi’s first outpost punctuating the offering. We turned off the main streets to check out addresses of some other apartments I’d bookmarked in the area, and then turned into Camden Market.

Just a few streets of stalls of antiques, collectibles, and just plain junk–about a tenth of the size of the Portabello Market, but completely without the crowds.  There are also shops selling cheeses, fancy bakeries, a butcher, fishmonger, and arty clothing. Hidden in a passage was a shop focusing on Liberty-style antiques, anyone want to buy me a gorgeous pair of candlesticks?



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We next hopped onto a bus that took us deeper into East London, through the neighborhoods of Hoxton and Hackney. It was fun on the bus, with a mixture of people, from older folks who sounded and looked as if they’d been east Londoners for 10 generations, to sari or chador-clothed women; hipsters with artfully torn leggings, cellphones and piercings; everyone chatting and  helping each other with their bulky wheeled shopping carts as they got on or off at the stop for the Hoxton Market. Careening down streets packed with ugly post-war apartment blocks, we finally arrived at Broadway Market in Lincoln Fields. Food market nirvana, more down to earth than Borough Market.






Many stalls, selling just about anything delicious you could imagine. We shared several items for lunch as we wandered around–a leek and mushroom pie, a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, crispy Indian samosa turnover, two gorgeous eclairs. We also bought some fresh pasta for dinner from a man speaking Italian, a container of Sicilian pesto, some cheeses, fruit and vegetables.

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On the bus home, I was intrigued by all the houseboats docked on a canal, and the very London mixture of old and new.



In the afternoon, we went over to the Wellcome Collection, a small museum near Euston Station focused on health. It’s a rather different place, as the website says, it “it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future.” This weekend was an event called “Speaking with Your Body”, I never did figure out exactly what that was all about, but there were people making clay sculptures of their hands; and having intense conversations in the exhibit on Bedlam, mental hospitals in London, and artistic therapies. Lots of visual and auditory art in response to mental illness, some moving, some just unsettling.

There’s permanent galleries with a large exhibit from the collections of William Wellcome, which we really enjoyed. Each area focused on a different aspect of medicine–ailments, therapies, medical training, death, birth, sexuality, faith. Fascinating artifacts, creepily engaging.

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Historic attempts to control Nasty Women–a 14th century  chastity belt, and a 16th century “scold’s” Mask. Keep trying, boys.

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Oh, and those fun-loving Ancients.



Pasta for dinner, very good pumpkin tortelloni I dressed in butter and sage; and a nice salad.


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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Art and Sky



Thursday morning we all trooped over to the National Gallery for the special exhibition on Caravaggio and how he influenced other artists. It was interesting to see how other artists utilized his ideas of lighting , but also in using dramatic groupings; and informal as well as narrative poses. Well worth a visit. We also strolled some of the other rooms, it’s always great fun to see art with others and bounce observations back and forth.


For lunch, we all were intrigued by an Indonesian place in Chinatown Susan had pointed out the previous night. P. and J. handled the ordering, being more knowledgeable than us. Really good tablefull of food, each dish having a range of flavors and spicing. We’ll have to seek out an Indonesian place in New York, I don’t think there’s one on Boston.



After we said our goodbyes, Larry and I headed into the national Portrait Gallery for some special shows, the William  Eggleston photographs and one on Black life in 19th century Britain. We also revisited the early portrait galleries to round out the morning.



We had been trying to get some of the free tickets for the Skygarden, the new viewing floor at the top of “the electric razor” on Fenchurch Street. Two tickets popped up for 5 pm, perfect. We took the bus over, but got off after halfway because traffic was so slow the bus wasn’t moving.

What glorious views. It’s a large two-level glass atrium, with a thickly planted area in the middle,  bars on each level, and plenty of seating. We took lots of photos, had some drinks, and staked out a section of platform to sit on at the edge where there was a great view to the west. And sunset was the perfect time to be there, watching the light fade from the sky and turn on in the buildings.













The Empire’s Shopping


On Monday, Evan wanted to return to the British Museum, which we were very happy to do as well. We started off by splitting up, with Evan and myself going to a gallery talk in the Japapese galleries; and Larry to one on the Romans in Britain.



We then spent some time in the Assyrian galleries, enjoying the enormous carvings. We then did a really fascinating talk in the Enlightenment Galleries on the ground floor, learning about the British age of discovery and the Enlightenment. The collection spans the interconnections of the time–scientific tools used in long voyages, natural items such as fossils and human remains which expanded the idea of how long life has existed on Earth; contemporary and ancient artifacts from different cultures around the world, Greek, Roman and Egyptian remains, attempts to classify the natural world through collecting and investigating plants and animals. Britain went on a huge worldwide shopping spree, attempting to make sense of the universe and bringing it home. Power equaled ownership at the time.




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Oh, for all your Rosetta Stone needs, the Museum has a few suggestions. WTH?


For a late lunch, we ate a satisfying meal at Savoir Faire around the corner, where you can get a nice 2-course French-accented lunch for 14 pounds. Do try the pate.  Evan wanted to go to a tea shop (he’s a big tea drinker, orders all sorts of mysterious teas from Taiwan) so we walked the short distance into Soho. White tea and oolong for him, spiced chai and “superior” Early Grey for me. We also visited Neal’s Yard for cheese, and a chocolate shop where we were enticed inside with free cups of chili-spiced hot chocolate.

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Popped into the Waitrose for a salad items, dinner at home.




Henry’s House


On Monday we took the train from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court, to see the Tudor palace best known for being the home of the court of Henry the VIII and his unfortunate wives. It was greatly expanded during William and Mary’s reign, and so highlights both the Tudor and Baroque styles. It’s a very short walk from the train station, and you approach with the view of the Thames and the palace.




The Tudor entrance is enchanting, giving way to the first huge courtyard. We picked up our tickets and audio guide with no issues, the place was very quiet on a drizzly October morning before the school groups arrived. I do love seeing the kids in their different colored school jackets or sweaters.

The Great Hall with its elaborate roof beams and soaring spaces still impresses, and I loved the little corner carving where someone missed recarving out  Anne’s initials linked to Henry’s. Gorgeous tapestries, elegantly arched architectural elements give some idea of the luxury that must have been surrounding the Court. Throughout the buildings are informative cards, videos, historical paintings, and well informed staff to help you put things into context.


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The art collection is very interesting, with some nice Canaletto, Holbein, and Rembrandt works. Look at this jewelbox  Wolsey “closet”.


Just as wonderful are the enormous series of kitchens, with vast fireplaces and cooking pots, charcoal stoves, storerooms, and workspaces. Hundreds of people to feed every day, makes my Thanksgiving preparation pale in comparison. And fans of Great British Bakeoff and the preoccupation with savory pies–apparently back in the day, the flour and water pastry was just meant to be the cooking vessel, saving on the materials needed for cooking.







The Royal Chapel is extraordinary, glowing from the highly polished carved wood, soft light filtering through tall windows, and sumptuous ceiling decoration. Unfortunately no photography, so here’s a photo I found online.


The William and Mary Baroque additions are a long series of large, lavishly furnished rooms, giving a rather gloomy effect. We were struck by the information on the supremely dysfunctional families of the various Georges, not a happy bunch. But I can’t imagine that the stresses of power, political intrigue, scheming relatives, and a fishbowl existence would make for a calm existence.





We ate an ok lunch, strolled the gardens a bit, and took the train back into London. From Waterloo we took the bus home, lucking into the front seats on the upper deck for a cheap version of a hop on tourist bus. Royal Courts of Justice, Staple Inn, the  Victorian gothic Prudential Assurance Building.  Just then, a local friend asked if I’d made it to the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court. Larry and Evan were very grateful I only heard about it as we were on the way home. Now I need to go back.



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We walked down to check out the nearby Exmouth Market, lined with restaurants and food stalls. Several interesting options for future investigation. Neighborhood takeaway Indian for dinner from Delhi Grill, not bad at all.








Spires and Fragments


Monday was raining quite heavily in the morning, so we dithered a bit about doing a walking tour.In the end we decided that we wouldn’t melt,and so headed to Westminster . We met up with a London Walks guide for the basic “This Is London” walk, covering the history of the Westminster area. Although the London Walks tours aren’t in the same league as with a good private guide or Context, they’re entertaining, cheap, and a good choice for first timers like Evan.

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From Parliament and Westminster Abbey, ducked down some side streets with elegant Georgian buildings, then we continued down the Birdcage Walk skirting St James Park to see if the Changing of the Guards would take place in spite of the faint drizzle. As we walked, the sun came out and we could hear the band warming up. Playing the theme from Star Wars, of all things. Our guide dryly  commented that Dancing Queen is also in their repertoire.



Tons of people were waiting, crammed along the fence in front of the barracks and against the barricades in front of Buckingham Palace. And how wonderful, in the midst of this tradition, to see some women among the band and guards.

We continued our walk, listening to the guide talk about Buckingham Palace as we walked down The Mall, through Admiralty Arch and into Tralfagar Square, frantic with traffic and pedestrians after the quiet of the Park. We identified the buildings as we passed , the various Admiralty buildings (I was reminded of books set during the Napoleonic Wars, where people were always running into Admiralty House), horse Guards, where people we posing in front of taciturn horses and guards, and Banqueting House, which is still on my to do list. We ended at Downing Street.

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I’ve wanted to get to the Denis Severs house in Spitalfields for a while, so we took the Tube to Liverpool Street. Another stop off was for Evan to see the statue of the Kindertransport children in front of the station, commemorating the safe arrival of the Jewish children who were sent out of Nazi Germany by their families. Larry’s 13 year old father, along with his four siblings aged 3 to 15, were among them. The children were sent to orphanages or to work,and never saw their parents again. Those five children had over 30 descendants.


Larry and I had walked through Spitalfields ten years ago, when the covered market was first being developed, and the crumbling neighborhood was in the beginnings of gentrification. We were struck by how scrubbed and lively it is now, with tons of people eating in restaurants, shopping for trendy clothes, and walking the narrow streets of what was a slum not too long ago. In the 18th century many silk workers had their workshops and homes here, and the area went into a decline in the following century. On the outer fringe are blocks of new construction of luxury apartment buildings, with the gleam of the City just beyond.


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We got a table at a crowded Vietnamese restaurant, and had a good lunch of pho for me and Evan, chicken curry for Larry.

Denis Severs bought a derelict house on Folgate Street in the 70s, and gradually turned it into sort of a visual novel to tell the story of a fictional family of Huguenot silk weavers who lived in the house for five generations. No photography is allowed to encourage you to more fully experience your visit. You enter a few at a time, and silently explore the ten rooms by candlelight,each meticulously arranged with items that give a sense of moment in time. In the basement kitchen you seem to have interrupted a meal in progress, complete with the scents of food, candle wax, and fire. The next generation appears to have acquired more wealth, with books, an excess of knickknacks, gentlemen’s wigs forgotten on a chair, cups of tea and glasses of wine half full. Beds look like the sleepers have just left, dressing tables are covered in personal items, family photographs and newspaper clippings clutter surfaces. In a parlor, you hear recorded murmurings of conversation, embroidery work has been cast aside and elaborate mens coats hang from chairs.  When you climb the steep, rickety stairs to the top level, you feel the cold as you pass through tattered laundry strung up to dry among the peeling walls. This top floor, with recorded sounds of the cannons being fired to declare then death of the old king and ascension of the young Victoria, is particularly evocative of the diminished fortunes of the family, now living in poverty.

We took a bus back home, enjoying the street scenery from the top level. As I was knitting in the living room I glanced out the window to see two rainbows stretching across the sky. I snapped a photo and then ran downstairs to see how far they went. By the time I got outside, they had vanished.

We continued Evans education with the last scone from Gail’s bakery in Exmour Market to go with our afternoon tea; and Sunday Roast for dinner. I’d read good things about The Pig and Butcher, and it lived up to its promise. Huge plates of pork, lamb or beef; with vegetables, leek gratin,  roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Loved the condiments, two kinds of mustard, horseradish, mint and shallot jam. I’m not too much of a meat eater, but this was fantastic.

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Settling In


We flew the new Norwegian Air service from Boston. For $420 you get a seat, but no checked luggage, food or selected seating. It was fine, with a new Dreamliner plane with huge storage bins. Larry got some sleep, Evan and I did not. I did fall asleep for the 1/2 hour train ride into London.

Our apartment in Islington is spacious, quiet, and comfortable. Only big downside is the very high tub/shower, where I have to gingerly transition myself in and out in order to not land in a heap on the floor. At least there’s nice hot water.



Happily, the cleaners had finished when we arrived, so we collapsed for two hours and then took the Tube over to Borough market, where we introduced Evan to the world’s best grilled cheese sandwich, the cheese toastie from Kappacasein. We also had the first conversation about The Donald; the charming young South African-born counterman essentially asked “WTF, America?” We all shook our heads.

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We wandered around the market, picking up some cheeses, bread, tea (Evan our tea connoisseur was having a field day) and salami. Lots of free samples of cheeses, teas, pates, oils and vinegars, this and that. On a Friday afternoon it was lively, but not too crowded to enjoy.



We strolled along the Thames for a while, and then backtracked to the Angel tube station near the apartment. We picked up a few groceries at Waitrose (ah, I love Waitrose) and then popped into a neighborhood Turkish restaurant for dinner. Very good, inexpensive, and enough leftover to take home for the following day. We all slept well, until the neighborhood cats woke us at 5:30 with a very loud discussion.


On Saturday we joined up with a London Walks walking tour concentrating on Shakespeare and Bankside. Our guide crisscrossed through history as we walked through Shoredich and Bankside, and even though we know this area we learned a lot.I really like these tours, especially as you don’t need to book and they’re only 10 pounds. I’d never noticed the ferryman’s seat on Bear Street (named for the bearbaiting dens popular during the Elizabethan era and beyond) from the 16th century, found during the excavation around the Rose Theater..


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Afterward we walked over the Millennial Bridge and caught a bus to Whitechapel to go to an Indian restaurant we’ve liked before, Namaste. Luckily I looked at the webpage, and saw they’re closed for lunch Saturday. So instead we headed up near to the British Museum to another favorite Indian, Sagar. Excellent vegetarian food, lots of good flavors.


We popped into the British Museum, another old friend. We  first enjoyed the Clocks and Watches galleries, and caught one of the gallery talks, in the Middle Ages rooms. The docent showed us some highlights from the collection, giving wonderful details of the Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Byzantine, and later Medieval objects. The last piece we explored was a collection of 13th century tiles illustrating created stories of Jesus’s youth that don’t exist in the New Testament, what Evan hilariously called “Jesus Fan Fiction.”

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Tired. The British Museum is best done in small bites so as not to overwhelm and so you can truly focus on what you’re seeing, so we’ll return. Took a bus home, rested, reheated Turkish leftovers for dinner. A rainy night.



London, Take Four



Dr. Johnson had it right.

I adore London. For its deep history and sense of place, for its looking ahead and stretching boundaries of who is a Londoner, its architecture, neighborhoods, cultural institutions, urban infrastructure with all its ease and hilarious horrors, long twisting river, alleyways, parks, good Indian food and cream tea.

Oh, and I can (usually) understand what people are saying! I can even walk into a butcher shop without linguistic trauma, unlike in some other countries I could name. *cough*


We’ve been to London three times, and this trip will be our longest stay to date, two weeks. The apartment where we usually stay had sadly been sold, and so I booked a new place in a neighborhood new to us, Islington. It has a small second bedroom, serendipitous and as it turned out. With Evan home doing an internship until December, he was able to tag along for the first five days.

We’ve had good experiences using London Walks for their interesting and inexpensive themed walks, so we’ll be doing a few during that first week to introduce Evan to the city.Also planning some museums.  He’ll love the British Museum  and the British Library I suspect; and we’ll finally get to the Denis Severs House in Spitalfield’s. Some food experiences–that glorious grilled cheese and caramelized leeks sandwich at Kappacasein in Borough Market, Indian veg lunches,fish and chips, a proper afternoon tea. I also want to get out to Hampton Court.


After Evan heads back, Larry and I plan on more museums–there are some great shows happening– there’s a Georgia O’Keefe at the Tate Modern which ends soon; Beyond Caravaggio at the National; Picasso portraits at the NPG, also William Eggelston photos there; Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy; and I’ve forgotten what else. Oh, some interesting looking Dutch landscapes at some gallery in Dulwich (need to look at a map for that one!) and an exhibit of photographs of Soho at the Getty Gallery. As usual, we can spend hours at the V&A.  I’m also burning to get up to the William Morris Gallery in north London.

We’ll be seeing Larry’s Liverpool cousins; getting together with some friends; and seeing a play–Pinter’s No Man’s Land, with Ian McLellan and Patrick Stewart.  We’ll also be celebrating my birthday during the week with dinner reservations at Nopi , and a lunchtime tasting menu at the two-star Marcus.

Taking Norwegian Air, I was able to grab round-trip direct seats for $425, not bad at all. No assigned seats, checked luggage or food, but who cares, we pack light, bring along sandwiches, and have plenty to read.

Leaving Thursday night, whee! And if anyone wants a London travel companion anytime, I’m your gal.