Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine, and Planet Organic

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On another beautiful day I set out across Kensington Gardens in search of the Serpentine Gallery. For someone who’s normally stuck in an office all day, I revelled in my freedom and in the great outdoors with the grass, trees and big sky surrounding me. And such magnificent trees! Oak, plane, chestnut and maple, some very old and very large. It is the height of summer, a hot wind blows across the lawns, and in the Royal Parks of London the air shimmers in the sunlight.

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And then I came across this interesting structure which turned out to be a temporary pavilion in the middle of the park. The designer is Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.  Inside was a swank espresso bar.

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From Kensington Gardens I walked north to Bayswater Road then up Queensway to Westbourne Grove and to my favorite organic restaurant, supermarket, juice bar called PLANET ORGANIC. There are seven locations in London. I had a Fatigue Fighter juice because I love the color (beetroot, green apple, carrot, ginger and celery) and a salad combo.

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Back through the park to the Royal Albert concert hall (beloved by Londoners) when I saw an extraordinary sight. People were lined up for miles on this ordinary Monday evening, some sitting on the sidewalk reading, chatting in groups and even eating an early supper, picnic-style on the pavement. I approached a group. “Excuse me,” I said, “Why are people queuing around the block?” I felt like an anthropologist conducting research on the behavior of Londoners. 

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They explained something about lottery tickets to the summer season of concerts called the BBC Promenade Concerts, otherwise known as “The Proms”. I admit that I walked away slightly baffled.

Right beside the Royal Albert Hall is this imposing Victorian Gothic-looking edifice called Queen Alexandra’s House. Built in 1884, it’s a residence for female students attending the Royal College of Music, Royal College of Art and Royal College of Science. When I was 19 or 20, I stayed here for a week during the summer when all the students were away on vacation. It was a spooky place, creaky and empty. I swear I was the only guest there; it was just me and a strict Housemistress who rattled her keys as she strode the empty halls. I remember watching a late-night movie on the black and white TV set, alone in the common room, before creeping back to my room at midnight. The next morning a thin, gruel-like porridge was served to me in the basement refectory. Weak tea and cold toast followed. I swear, the scene could have been straight out of Oliver Twist or Rebecca with the strict Housemistress playing Mrs. Danvers.

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more to come!

London 2016 … part one

Just back from ten fabulous days in London. I feel energized, invigorated, inspired and just plain glad to be living a short train ride away from such a grand city. London is more than a world-class capital, London is the world. Utterly cosmopolitan, it continues to amaze and bedazzle the traveler with its constant transforming, trending, creating and modernizing.

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The food in London is outstanding. The quality, variety and availability of first-class international food far surpasses that in Paris (as a food-centric Parisian, that’s my honest opinion). Not to mention the service. Smiling, helpful, professional. What a joy to just walk around before popping into a café or cake shop for afternoon tea or coffee. Below are pastries from Carluccio’s, a chain of Italian restaurants offering superb food at reasonable prices in a casual family-friendly environment. That chocolate cake is to die for.

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One day I visited the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, East London, just minutes from the City of London. It showcases the history of British homes and gardens. The grounds are beautiful.

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Another day, a stunningly beautiful day, I went to the Tate Modern art gallery to see the retrospective of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Tube to Mansion House then a 5-minute walk to the Millenium Bridge, officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge. It’s a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians stretching across the River Thames. Crossing it, with the sun blazing down, a cool breeze blowing in, and the river traffic coursing underneath, was a truly exhilarating experience.

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My favorite is this one, entitled The Barns, Lake George (1926).

LOTS MORE TO COME!

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 and 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 a few nights at The Penn Club before moving across town to another place in South Kensington.

The stairs are a bit creaky (there’s no elevator) 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.  He 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.

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On Marchmont Street at numbers 58-60, there’s an excellent health store and organic café called Alara. I had 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. I also buy lovely organic soaps, hair products and cosmetics here.


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Up 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.

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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’ve ever tasted. Two years ago I ate a slice of orange marmalade cake that I’m still thinking about. It was served with 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, however there’s a snag. The place is small and when I went I couldn’t get in, it was jam-packed. 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 – 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.   

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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.