Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Green and Pleasant Land, Part 1: London

London is an amazing city. Of course the history aspect is amazing...but it’s also a remarkably livable city, at least for me who gets antsy when there aren’t trees nearby. There’s little of the canyon-like effect you get in Manhattan...and the parks are truly lovely. And did I mention the history? ☺

So the five of us arrived at our hotel in Westminster in what is probably an ideal place for sightseeing: we were at the St. James Courtyard hotel, a five-minute walk from Buckingham Palace (and on the same street as the Bluecoat School, about which Regina blogged). The hotel itself dates to the Edwardian era, and is built around a courtyard with all sorts of delightful architectural bits. London abounds in delightful architectural bits, by the way—no walk is ever dull there.

I’m happy to report that the statue of Queen Victoria at her memorial in front of the Palace still looks like a lifeguard (which I’d noticed on my first visit to London about thirty years ago)—for some reason Her Majesty’s nose is lighter than the rest of her, as if smeared with zinc oxide. And Canada Gate at the entrance to Green Park off Constitution Hill is as shiny as ever:

However, I was very sad to see that cows are no longer kept in Green Park as they were during the Regency, despite this reminder of their presence:

I found it a little surprising to see how small St. James’s Palace was, and how “right there” as well—the streets run right alongside it—considering it’s actually the official home of the sovereign (ambassadors are still accredited to the Court of St. James.) It was built by Henry VIII and added onto over the centuries, but still has that sixteenth century feel:

And then we were in St. James’s Street, Masculinity Central of Regency London, home of such places as Brooks’s and White’s Club (and yes, there’s the famous Bow Window at White’s)

What I found interesting (beside all the famous historical landmarks and stores) was the topography. St. James’s Street trends uphill, which I did not know—it’s one of those things that somehow doesn’t get mentioned very often, and which I’m glad I now know. But even more exciting to me was catching sight of King Street off St. James’s. The King Street, home of Almack’s Assembly Rooms? You bet—only, Almack’s is long gone, replaced by (sob!) an office building. But at least I can now say I was there as I scribble away at my Almack’s stories. That's me with Child #1. Yes, he's pretty tall.

What else? We dined at Wilton’s on Jermyn Street, established 1742, and had a wonderful dinner...and a delightful tea at Duke’s Hotel. We carried out a quick raid on Harrod’s and came away with tea and chocolates (alas, the presence of a husband and son necessitated the visit being brief). And we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (glorious sensory overload—it’s the world’s largest museum of art and design) and Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s house at Hyde Park Corner, which was amazing.

No interior photographs permitted, alas, as my little history-geek heart was a-galloping at the eleven-foot tall statue of Napoleon at the base of the Principal Staircase on which it is rumored Wellington used to hang his hat as he went up the stairs (and the painting of Wellington in old age presenting a gift to his godson, Queen Victoria’s son Arthur)...at the astonishing Waterloo Shield, which really has to be seen to be appreciated (Google it!) Wellington came away from the wars with a ton of goodies from grateful European heads of state. And most of all at the Waterloo Gallery, the room where Wellington held his annual dinners to commemorate the battle and which held his collection of Spanish masters. Curiously, among the amazing art collection amassed here are multiple portraits of Napoleon and members of his family. After Waterloo, Wellington would be linked for the rest of his life to the former French emperor—without Napoleon, Wellington would not have been Wellington. That must have been a strange thing to have to live with for the rest of his life—so closely linked to someone he actually never met face-to-face—and he lived nearly forty more years after the battle.

And right around the corner from Apsley House in Hyde Park? Rotten Row, of course!

Next time: visiting Oxford and Windsor


Leandra Wallace said...

The bow window!! I have read about that in regencies. And Rotten Row, and oh, poor Almacks. =( Thanks for sharing the pictures!

Marissa Doyle said...

You're welcome, Leandra!

QNPoohBear said...

It sounds like you had an amazing vacation so far! I'm not very fond of London, but this is an area I haven't explored. I meant to and stayed near Paddington Station on purpose but I overslept and had to rush to the train station to the airport. (Only to make excellent time to New York and sit at JFK for 3 hours until my connecting flight thinking of all that I could have seen in London in that amount of time).