We were once again greeted by the sun as we rose to meet the day. Truly, the weather this trip was nothing short of spectacular. The temperature was neither too warm nor too chilly, and we had a lovely breeze all day. After a yummy breakfast at our hotel, we headed to the Gloucester Road underground station for our journey to St. Paul’s and walk to the Museum of London. Just as the tube was pulling into Holborne station where we’d change lines for St. Paul’s, the loudspeaker announced that Holborne had just been closed! So I did some rapid rethinking and decided we’d switch to another line at the next stop to disembark at Barbican. It would be an equal distance to the museum from that point, but we’d be a tad bit later due to the longer tube ride. Ah, the joys of the London Underground! We did manage to arrive just a few minutes past ten a.m. to find Suzi awaiting us in the museum’s main hall with curator Hilary Davidson on her way upstairs. Dividing our group in half, we sent a bunch downstairs with Hilary while the rest of us toured the new ground-floor exhibit hall. It is absolutely incredible–better, I think, than the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History (the MoL’s displays are far more child-friendly and so nicely laid out). Here’s my photo tour:
Off the gallery’s opening display is a room dedicated to fashion. It is a recreation of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a famous place where social climbers and royally connected people once mingled and showed off their taste. The historical clothing is behind glass and rather difficult to photograph due to the low lighting designed to protect the garments. The lighting does cycle up to brighter several times a day, but, unfortunately, we were shoo’ed out to make way for a school group before we got the good lighting. You’ll just have to put up with my attempt at low-light photography here! Later in the morning I saw some photographs in the costume workroom that showed how this exhibit was designed. Live people were put into costume (reproduction–not the real thing) and “blocked” just as though they were in a stage play. After trying out several arrangements of people, the final display model was photographed from several angles so those setting up the final exhibit would know where to place mannequins. It was really fascinating to see how this was done.
After leaving this exhibit, we went back to the rest of the displays to finish out the hour before our meeting with Hilary. The MoL is extremely child-friendly with hands-on things to do around every corner. My girls had a wonderful time opening secret doors, pressing buttons to turn on lights, trying on hats, and playing with train sets. Well done, MoL!
We made it through the new gallery in time to enjoy a short refreshment break in the cafe’. Then we traded places with the other half of our group, heading into the treasure room that is the MoL costume storehouse with Hilary. As before, I am not allowed to share any photographs of what we saw, but I can tell you everything was drool-worthy. We enjoyed seeing an unusual 1730s corset, a pair of Queen Victoria’s ball slippers, three 1820s bonnets, a lovely 19-teens evening gown, an 1890s evening gown bodice, and an absolutely breathtaking 1880s evening gown that looked brand new, it was so well-preserved. There were lots of “oohs” and “ahhhs!” as Hilary removed the protective coverings and held things up for our admiration.
After finishing our visit at the MoL, we walked a short distance to the nearby El Vino Alban Gate restaurant for lunch. Joining us was Cathy Hay of Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, who had brought several vintage pieces for hands-on study. We passed opera cloaks and an 1850s dress around the table while waiting for our meals. El Vino did a fantastic job with our food, which was oh-so-delicious and provided in a timely manner (no small feat for a group this large!). Hilary joined us, so we all got in a delightful visit, sharing costume stories and swapping history. It was wonderful fun. Cathy didn’t bring anything for dress-up this time, as we didn’t have room enough for trying anything on. Maybe next time…!
After lunch, our group divided up once again, some ladies going with Suzi to the Museum of Childhood to meet with Noreen, the curator of the costume collection there. The rest of us had tickets for the special Grace Kelly exhibit at the V&A, so we said good-bye to Suzi and dashed back to the tube at St. Paul’s, glad to find that Holborne station was open once again so we could take a shorter trip to the museum. The Grace Kelly exhibit contained several of her film costumes but focused mainly on her life as Princess of Monaco. I was disappointed that the Philadelphia Museum of Art had not loaned Grace Kelly’s wedding gown to the exhibit, as I’ve always wanted to see it. I also wished there had been a wider representation of her film costumes, but it was still delightful to see what was on display:
Low lighting made it very difficult to photograph much in this exhibit–especially the hats and accessories. It was also crowded to the gills with visitors, so I didn’t get a whole lot of good pictures. Oh, well! After finishing up at the V&A, I took my daughters back to the hotel to await the rest of the group. They began to trickle in around 5:30, most of them ready for an evening’s performance of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at Shakespeare’s Globe. Because my mother had never seen the Globe or attended a performance, I got a ticket for her this year. I was sorry to miss out on the performance, which is a yearly highlight, but I am tickled pink Mom got to go. Christopher Benjamin (who played Sir William Lucas in the A&E “Pride & Prejudice”) performed as Falstaff to great critical acclaim. With everyone off to the Globe or out to eat, I took my girls on a little jaunt to Fortnum & Mason, where I knew they’d be astonished at the beauty of the displays (chandeliers in a grocery store?!). We’d hoped to grab supper at the delightful Parlour, but they’d closed up early that night. Instead, we walked down Piccadilly, looking for an interesting place to stop. My middle daughter stopped me suddenly with a “Mommy, look!” so I turned to see what she was pointing at. Next to us was an adorable restaurant called “Cilantro,” just begging us to come in and take a seat:
As we walked through the door, we were immediately greeted by someone at the counter. I asked if they were closing up (it was already 7:30), but he said they didn’t close until 8pm and invited us to come and take a seat. A huge selection of sandwiches and drinks awaited us behind the counter, but the waiter urged us to get comfortable so he could show us menus and take care of us. We were waited upon with such friendly service that we felt right at home and knew this was going to be a real treat. My girls ordered spaghetti bolognese, while I got a chicken and tomato panini.
The whole atmosphere of Cilantro is cheerful and restful with lots of books around that customers are free to browse while they wait. We dove into our food, which was delicious and inexpensive (another plus!). After finishing up, an obliging waiter told us about the dessert selections, leaving our mouths watering in anticipation.
It is always a delight to find a new favorite place in London. I thanked my daughter for pointing this one out. If you’re anywhere near 193 Piccadilly, be sure to stop by. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The food is fantastic, the prices are right, and the staff is incomparable. We left satisfied and happy with our special evening out. After returning to our hotel, I put the girls to bed and waited up for the group from the Globe. They came back bubbling over with excitement at the evening’s performance, leaving me quite envious. It is something not to be missed if you ever have the chance.
And so the 2010 England Tour officially ended. We couldn’t believe how quickly our week had gone by. I said good-byes to several ladies Monday night, as they had early flights. We departed friends, and I know we’ll all stay in touch. I’ll finish up later with one last post to tie everything together. So many good memories!