September 15, 2006

A Sunny Day in Londontown…

It’s 10pm as I begin writing this, and what a wonderful 12 hours we have had! Our visit in London has gone beyond our expectations and left us completely satisfied (though very tired!). Let me start at the beginning and take you on a virtual tour:

Getting up this morning wasn’t easy, as jet lag officially set in. I managed to pry myself out of bed around 8:15 am British time (which is 2:15 am home time!). Patrick slept all night like an angel, but Tucker was up and down a few times. Seems they have gotten onto opposite sleep/wake schedules, but we’ll see if that evens out! We took our time getting ready and missed the hotel breakfast, but we weren’t quite ravenously hungry as yet. We popped the babies into their stroller and headed down Queensberry Place in the general direction of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Here I am with Melissa and the babies as we started out (and, no, we didn’t plan for both of us to wear red toile skirts–just happened that way!):

On the way, we found a little street cafe that served breakfast. Here we are, sitting in the beautiful morning sunshine. (The weather, by the way, has been completely fabulous. Temps in the low 70s; sunny; breezy; perfect. This is definitely the time of year to visit England!)

London is a very busy place in the morning, and it was a little overwhelming to watch the traffic speed by. We saw lots of parked bicycles and laughed at the thought of anyone actually riding on one in the insane traffic! But it is done, we hear. Brave souls. Sitting and just watching the crowds go by was a great way to break ourselves into London, because we became accustomed to the pace as the minutes went by. Matt and I split a delicious breakfast sandwich of eggs and bacon on a baguette. I’ve heard that British bacon is limp and flabby, but I’m here to tell you it is crisped to perfection and delicious! Except for burning my tongue on the hot chocolate, breakfast was a wonderful experience all around.

After our breakfast, we continued on our way to the V&A. Most of the streets in South Kensington contain rows of beautiful white houses with black iron railing out front. Here’s a typical scene:

The V&A was only a few blocks away, and we immediately made our way to the costume collection, where we spent about 45 minutes drooling over wonderful things! There is no way to share them all (Melissa and I took 174 pictures between the two of us today!), but here are some of the highlights:


ca. 1820 ballgown with gold thread embroidery. Yummy!


Here’s a closeup!


This is a ca. 1818 gown with white pintucks and amazing sleeves


A beautiful Romantic Era dress with lots of fine details at the shoulders and neckline


This Romantic Era wedding gown is made of English muslin, which is something you simply cannot get in the States (our muslin is what the British call calico). However, Suzi Clarke has given me the source here for real English muslin (plain and spotted), so we’re going to stop in at the store tomorrow to see if we can pick some up.


I love this beautiful 1914 day dress of blue linen. The collar is wonderful, and the pockets are like shallow versions of my Edwardian Apron pattern’s pockets.


These pink stays are from the late 1600s and were actually in the Europe gallery rather than in the costume gallery. Such a lovely color!


For my boys at home: A half suit of armor! This one was meant for sport, which is why it’s not a full suit. Bright and shiny!


Another photo for my boys. When you first enter the V&A, they have several full-sized models of “flying machines” suspended from the ceiling. I thought you’d enjoy this man with his early hang glider!


And for my fellow tea afficianados: This is an 18th-century tea service on its own table, which has indented spots for each person’s cup and saucer!

Well, there was lots more to see in the V&A, and we loved wandering through the various exhibits, but we did eventually hop on the tube to head to St. James’s Park, where we were scheduled to have a picnic lunch with my pen-friend, Sarah, and her husband. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a picnic, and we had this terrific view of Buckingham Palace (the queen was out for the day!):

Sarah had packed an amazing lunch for us of ham sandwiches, cheese quiche, fresh English apples (a rarity, we hear), tomatoes, Elderflower water (VERY delicious!), and a chocolate cake to top it off. Here we are, thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the shade:


THANK YOU, Sarah and Alun!

Sarah had also brought us some lovely gifts of tea and a tea cozy, plus English soap for Melissa and a beautiful ABC book for my children. Perfect! After this delightful visit with our friends, we decided to take a scenic walk to Westminster to see the Abbey and other sights along the way. By now, we weren’t afraid of the crosswalks–even when the buses went tearing around the corner! We passed Trafalgar Square, where we saw the famous statue of Lord Nelson on his high column:


Notice the empty sleeve pinned to the jacket’s front. He lost his arm in a naval battle.

One thing we love about London is the abundance of flowers wherever you look. This is a shot from Trafalgar Square, where baskets of flowers hang on the posts:

There are, of course, pubs on nearly every corner, and they are beautifully designed with flower boxes in front. Here is one of the prettiest ones we saw today:


We passed Scotland Yard, then rounded a corner to see Big Ben looming above us. As we walked by, the quarter hour began to chime, which was a treat to hear!

Finally, we made it to Westminster Abbey. They do not allow photography inside, unfortunately, or we would surely have gone crazy with the camera! It is a magnificent cathedral with so many historical figures buried inside it makes your head spin. We saw the tombs of Elizabeth I, Henry V, Mary Queen of Scots, and so many others. Poets Corner was a treat, as we stood over the graves of Robert Browning, George Eliot, and other names that make an English major’s heart warm within her! Even Jane Austen had an honorary plaque on one wall, though she is buried elsew
here. As we walked through one of the numerous side rooms, a voice came over the loudspeaker asking everyone to stop and remain still and silent for a moment as he prayed. Then came a wonderful call for us to contemplate the stained glass windows, created to the glory of God, and remember that they were there to remind us of Christ’s glory and majesty. It was a beautiful moment, and we were amazed to see the reverent attention by all visitors there. I rather doubt anyone would bother to stand still and quiet if this was done in America….


Westminster Abbey

A visiting curate took time to stop and ask us about our babies and assist us with the carriage. He helped us go “behind the scenes” a bit so that we wouldn’t have to push through a crowd on our way out. And I have to stop here and just comment on the incredible civility and kindness of Londoners in general. Everywhere we went today, someone stopped and offered to help us carry the stroller up or down stairs. So many times a polite bystander said, “May I assist?” and promptly reached out a hand to help. This has been the case all over the city. Again, we have to wonder if this would happen in America. Even in our famously hospitable South, I’ve never met with such overwhelming kindness and care. Truly, London is a friendly city!

At last we started for Knightsbridge, where the famous Harrods store is located. We were slated to meet costumier Suzi Clarke there at 3:45 for tea in the Georgian Restaurant. That’s when our major mishap of the day occurred! Matt lifted the stroller into the railcar, and I followed behind a few steps. Just as I stepped in, the door shut firmly behind me, leaving Melissa stranded at Westminster Underground! There is no way to open the door once it shuts, so Matt mouthed, “Kensington” as the train began to pull away. There was nothing to do but go on to our stop and see if Melissa followed. We got off and waited on the platform as three trains disembarked, one after the other. No Melissa! I asked Matt to call Harrods to tell Suzi we’d be late, and we watched another trainful of people empty onto the platform. That’s when Matt decided he should go back to the station, figuring Melissa must have decided to stay put (wise move!). I took Tucker and went ahead to Knightsbridge so Suzi wouldn’t worry. When I got there, I found that Suzi had only just arrived shortly before and was worried she would be late! We chatted for a while, then went ahead and ordered tea, since we weren’t sure how long it would take the others to arrive. About twenty minutes later, they both came in. (Insert heavy sigh of relief on my part!) Melissa had, indeed, stayed put and waited for us to come back for her. Smart girl!

The Georgian Restaurant is delightful, and we enjoyed a traditional English tea with finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes. Delicious! We visited for two solid hours. Suzi is a TREAT, let me tell you! She and I swapped costuming stories and baby stories and just generally had a great time. When we finally parted ways, she left me with gift books–one for me and one for the children! I am tickled pink that we were able to meet in person after knowing one another online for a few years. Suzi studied costuming from Jean Hunniset and other well-known historical costumers and has a wealth of knowledge. I could talk to her for days! Here we are, enjoying our tea:

After leaving Harrods, we walked back to our hotel, which was a few blocks away. We left the stroller and walked to a nearby Italian restaurant for supper. Delicious! Then we found a pastry shop for dessert and coffee and got to talk to the children, who called in while we were there. So good to hear their voices! Finally, we walked back to the hotel. Here is the Museum of Natural Science, all lit up at night:

Our feet are tired, but our faces are happy. It has been an incredible day in London. What a wonderful way to start our trip! And here are my men, done in from all the day’s excitement:

Hope to see you here tomorrow! Until then, good night!