Category Archives: London

London, Day Three, and home

Chasing Vermeer brought us to Kenwood House, to which we traveled by tube, bus and shank’s mare.  This was on the list because the collection includes a Vermeer for Alison the Vermeer completist.

The house, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, was designed in the 18th century by architect Robert Adam and filled with art collected by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, who bequeathed it to the nation in 1927.

Okay, enough of the Wikipedia facts – what is it like?  Well, it’s an imposing building

gray before gray became a thing.  Inside, the architectural highlight is this library.  Airy, light, delicate and a joy to behold.  I admired the design of the rug in the center

and the library ladder in one corner.

In contrast to this colorful room, the rest of the house has plain wooden floors and a somewhat utilitarian look.  But the paintings!  Here is the Vermeer,

not a favorite but still fascinating.

And here is the sleeper of the collection (at least to me).  Rembrandt did many self-portraits over the years, but this is the most arresting of the ones I’ve seen.  I could have stayed and looked at it for hours.

Apart from one very chatty room guide who barely let us escape from his informative talk, we enjoyed Kenwood and wished (at least one of us did) that we could come back in the spring to stroll through the gardens and on to the heath.

We had carefully planned our lunch (as when have we not?) at the Spaniards Inn, a short walk away.  (By Philip Halling, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Known to Dickens, Byron, Bram Stoker and Keats, it was built in the 16th century and is still going strong with an open fire, lots of little low-ceilinged rooms and a full house for the traditional Sunday roast.  We were pleased that not only tourists were there, it seemed most patrons were actual English people.

Here’s the roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding and two veg.  Plus a glass of red wine, since we are on holiday.

We followed this extravaganza with, of course, sticky toffee pudding.  Scrumptious!

We walked, bussed and tubed back home and made our way to Stanfords, a travel bookshop that Ann and I had visited years ago on our Cornwall trip.  

(Thanks to this blogger for the pic)

We bought several maps and books of walks for our England trip next year, and I noted a couple books that might be fun to track down once we’re home.  This one might be the story of our fall trip to Spain:

This is just out of interest since I grew up with “My Family and Other Animals.”

Dinner tonight was at a pub on Charing Cross Road, because we were, unbelievably, just a little hungry again.  Back to the tidy little hotel room for our last night

The next morning we got an early cab to Heathrow, and home.  A great trip!


London, Day Two

The second day of our weekend was refreshingly dry with bright intervals, so after a hotel breakfast we set off on a short walk to the British Museum and the Scythians.  In 2000 I was enchanted by a Scythian exhibit that I saw in San Antonio, prompted by Paul Richard’s stellar review that began, “The Scythians on horseback, especially in sunlight, must have been a sight.”  That exhibit led me on a long journey that included the exploits of Alexander the Great and generally led to a fascination with the ancient world.  I couldn’t wait to see this new exhibit that included many newly discovered objects and information.

Before we met the Scythians, we visited the Enlightenment Rooms.  Here are galleries set up as in the old days, with lots of cases filled with lots of things.  Here is Alison taking a gander.  

And here is a closeup of one of the wonderful collections.

It was a lovely wander as we waited for our timed ticket entry.  Because they did not allow photos in the exhibit, and because I am a dutiful citizen, I have no pictures of my own.  But here are a few gleaned from the web.

The Scythians are known primarily from their elaborate burial mounds, as well as from the sometimes misleading information about them from Herodotus.  Nomadic horseman with a taste for gold, they buried gorgeous items like this, half of a symmetrical belt buckle.

The Hermitage lent this lovely deer figurine in a typical Scythian style.

Amazingly, some wooden objects have survived, including this elaborate headgear with a drawing that helps you to see how it would have been worn.  

They were fierce warriors, terrific horseman, and fond of drinking and inhaling hemp smoke.  Here’s a lovely picture of what a Scythian horseman might have looked like.  


Notice the lack of stirrups, which didn’t hold them back.

Since burial mounds are continuing to be discovered and investigated, our knowledge of the Scythians continues to grow.  But for now, this exhibit, drawing on collections from around the world, offers the best and most recent information.

After this scintillating start, we had a stroll through the bookshop, where I picked up this tantalizing but ultimately dull book.  I’ll give it one more try…

For lunch, we met Judy and her dear friend Beth at The Lamb, a pub that promised to be old and authentic.  The entrance was certainly promising.  

Inside, it’s famous for its etched glass that separates the upper from lower classes.  

How did I not get a picture of these two??  It was so much fun to talk with Beth, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and to hear about their adventures and plans.  We had a good lunch with a half pint of something local, and then wandered on to Persephone Books, where we browsed through the shelves of twentieth century women writers but didn’t buy anything.

We bade farewell to J and B and Alison and I walked back to the hotel, stopping at a used bookshop along the way with this perfectly English sign:

Better to spend the time making a sign rather than actually fixing the banister!  We stopped at both Quintos and Henry Pordes Books, at the latter of which Alison snapped up a signed paperback by John Steinbeck for Michael.

Tonight was our splurge at an Indian restaurant, Quilon, where we enjoyed a Qojito, oysters, lamb shank, duck breast, lemon rice, Malabar paratha and this lovely dessert.

We decided to walk back to the hotel and on the way paid a visit to the Queen – unfortunately, she was not at home, but Alison made her best attempt.

And so to bed.

“What is a week-end??”

Or, three days in London.  We wanted to see an exhibit (me) and a Vermeer (Alison), so we searched for hotel and flight packages on a whim.  It turned out that we found a great deal – around $930 – for three nights at the Thistle Hotel Trafalgar Square and a round trip flight on Virgin Atlantic from Dulles to Heathrow.  I guess, for some reason, no one much wants to visit London in January?  They are foolish!  So off we went for a long week-end.

The flight was uneventful, fortunately.  We both had carry-on bags that fit the teensy dimensions required by international flights (though VA seems a bit loose about this), so we were able to get off the plane and go right to a cab.  The trip was fine until it slowed way down due to traffic restrictions related to the changing of the Guard (per the cabbie), so it cost a bundle.  Oh, well, dropped our bags, picked up a quick sandwich lunch at Pret a Manger on the Square, and returned to the hotel for the necessary two-hour nap.

Above is the Square as it looks these days, with the (newish) London Eye in the background and a new sculpture in the foreground.  No worries, the pigeons, the fountains and the people making chalk drawings are still the same.

The hotel was perfectly situated for our itinerary, being literally around the corner from the (new) entrance to the National Gallery.  Alison, being a careful planner, had a list of art we wanted to see.  I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a few:

The Pentecost by Giotto is one in a series whose parts are scattered across the continent.  This one portrays the tongues of flame the apostles have as they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  I was particularly taken by the two observers who are admiring the words.

This is a detail from the Wilton Diptych, one of the great treasures of the National Gallery.  It was commissioned by Richard II for his private devotions, and he is the man kneeling.   There are many details whose religious or historical meanings are well described in The National Gallery Companion Guide, or here.  It is not very big but absolutely beautiful.

I loved the Late Gothic style of Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon.  It inspired poet UA Fanthorpe to write “Not My Best Side,” from the viewpoint of the dragon, the maiden and the saint. Notice her pointy shoes.

And here is a detail from Carlo Crivelli’s Annunciation.  The whole thing is quite bustling, commemorating the day when the city was granted limited self-government, so the city itself is featured in the model held by the local bishop.  The Angel Gabriel looks quite business-like, landing as he has in the middle of the street to bring the good news.  The pickle has puzzled many viewers and appears in many of Crivelli’s works.  Here’s a summary of some of the interpretations.

Although this  is not THE Vermeer Alison came to see, it’s always good to revisit old friends.  This is A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal.

An adequate dinner in the hotel restaurant, and an early bed.  Anticipating tomorrow’s visit to the BM and the Scythians!