It was all about Chelsea today–an upscale part of London that I have adored ever since I got to know it intimately over twenty years ago as we had stayed there for three consecutive summers when Llew’s brother and his late wife lived there. Not much has changed but for the fact that the designer shops get swankier and the Sloan Rangers, as they are known–the city’s most beautiful people–get ever so chic-er.
So I was up again at 6.00 am and spent most of the morning corresponding with folks to get a reasonably-priced B&B for the night I will spend next month in Glasgow. So far no luck. Everything seems chocobloc! I’m also trying to find accommodation for my travels in Eastern Europe with Chriselle–but that is several weeks away. Glasgow is far more urgent…
I had toast with Nutella and peanut butter today with a cup of coffee–it made a nice change. Then, a quick shower, a review of the items I would cover and I was off. I love planning each day on a little yellow post-It. It keeps me on track and enables me to see on paper how my day is likely to shape up.
I took the District Line Tube to Sloan Square–a whole hour earlier than I was expected to get there to meet a friend for lunch.
Vintage Jewelry Shopping on The King’s Road:
Regular readers of this blog know that one of the great joys of my time in London is browsing through the thrift stores or what the Brits call “charity shops” in the posh neighborhoods of Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Greenwich. I have found the most adorable vintage jewelry and antique scarves for which I have basically paid a song. So on every trip to London, since I am not given to shopping on the High Street and since it is the one-of-a-kind item that has always taken my fancy, these are the shops that give me the greatest pleasure.
And so before my luncheon appointment, I browsed in the Oxfam shop (where I found a lovely vintage bracelet by the designer company Les Nerieds) and at the Trinity Hospice shop at the very end of the King’s Road where I had a true knock-out discovery. There is the window was the most stunning necklace and bracelet set you ever did see. I popped in, inquired after it and was informed that it had been placed in the window exactly five minutes previously! I did not need to think about it too long–the price wasn’t going down and knowing vintage shopping, as I do, I knew the demand for it would only go up. I tried the necklace on and loved it, tried the bracelet on for size and since it fit perfectly–that was it. It was wrapped and bagged and the set happily went home with me. A set that dated from the 1950s was in my happy possession. I have no idea when exactly I will wear it–but someday soon, I will.
Lunch at The Bluebird—Not!
I had made plans to meet Mr. Bande Hasan, former banking colleague of Llew’s and a long-time family friend, for lunch and a walk. Having recently retired as CEO of a bank in London, he has more time on his hands now than he ever did. When he suggested that he accompany me on my walks around London, I jumped at the idea–as I would be grateful for his company and because there is so much I learn in our conversational exchanges.
But first, to fortify ourselves for the stroll ahead, it made sense to settle down to lunch and since Mr. Hasan asked me to select a place, I thought of The Bluebird, Terence Conran’s restaurant. Accordingly, we made the appointment. But when we arrived there, after a happy reunion, we discovered that the restaurant is under renovation. Hence, only open-air terrace seating was available. What’s worse, it so happened that the gas supply in the eatery had failed. All we could get was salads or poached eggs! Well, no dice. We weren’t going to one of London’s most famous places to eat a mere salad.
Excusing ourselves, we bid the hapless waitress goodbye and left. We were sure to find something suitable as we walked towards Sloan Square, we supposed.
Unforgettable Lunch at The Ivy, Chelsea Gardens:
Well, guess where we ended up? At none other than The Ivy–one of the city’s most reputed eateries. The flagship restaurant is at the West End, but the one in Chelsea has an almost identical menu. We were thrilled to be seated despite lacking a reservation and although we were told we’d have to vacate our table by 2. 30 pm, we had ample time to dally over lunch before we hit the streets.
Our meal was superb–which is what you expect from a place with The Ivy’s reputation. For starters, we shared a salad with watermelon, feta cheese, heirloom tomatoes and olives in a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a great start to the meal. As coincidence would have it, since we were seated in a most traditional English restaurant, we both opted for the Fish and Chips–great minds, after all, think alike! And our cod was lovely. The batter was crispy and light, the fish flaking to the touch. Served with tartar sauce and very thick chips, as well as malt vinegar, it made a very filling meal indeed. Dessert, we thought, was best shared–except that my companion did not even take a taste of the Lemon Meringue Baked Alaska which I will not forget in a hurry. It was indeed as nice a meal as I would imagine–and it make a welcome change from the sandwiches I have been lunching on practically every day!
Off to Discover Chelsea:
Replete with our meal, we strolled to Sloan Square for the start of our walk in Chelsea. By the way, Chelsea Clinton got her name from this area. I once heard an interview with Bill Clinton in which he said that soon after he and Hilary were married, they found themselves in London. Strolling early one morning in Chelsea, they so fell in love with the area that they decided if they ever had a daughter, they would name her Chelsea. And that’s a true story, folks!
The Royal Court Theater that has been active since the 1930s and that debuted most of the plays of George Bernard Shaw is a centerpiece of Sloan Square. I once watched a wonderful play here and then had a light dinner with some California academic friends. From there, we walked through a gorgeous street lined on both sides with identical terraced houses designed by Hans Sloan and from there we entered the vast area known as Ranelagh Gardens–venue, each year, of the famous Chelsea Flower Show. Visiting this exhibition, the last time in lived in London, was one of the highlights of my year then.
Knocking Around the Chelsea Royal Hospital:
A few meters ahead found us in the grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital. Not to be confused with a place where the sick are treated, the word ‘hospital’ in this case derives from the word ‘hospitality’. It was built in 1672 by King Charles II who was inspired by his contemporary across the Channel, King Louis XIV, who had created Les Invalides in Paris–a vast army barracks, if you like, for retired or wounded soldiers. Charles set the greatest architect of his time, Sir Christopher Wren, to the task–and the result is the superbly landscaped and planned series of buildings on the banks of the River Thames at Chelsea.
The buildings look down upon the three sides of a quadrangle that is graced by a gilded statue of Charles II as a gladiator. On one side of the structure, under a lovely clock, visitors can go inside to find the door to a chapel (also built to Wren’s design) on one side and a vast dining room on the other. I had once attended Mass in this chapel with my friend Jane–and who do you think was inside, also attending Mass then? Why, none other than Baroness Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain!
Although we were able to enter the Chapel, we found the dining room locked. Still, in strolling around the property, we chanced to enter a Museum where we were able to speak to some of the pensioners who are clad, on some occasions, in long scarlet coats with tri-cornered black hats (like soldiers from the eighteenth century). Their many medals, emblems of honor, earned on the battle field, tinkle as they pass by–although one of them jocularly told me, “I get them on E-bay!”
By the time we arrived at the little pub on the premises known as The Chelsea Pensioner and finished watching a game of bowls on the lawn, it was time to leave and explore the spacious lawns of the Duke of York’s property which led us straight back to the King’s Road.
Tea and Mass with my Chelsea Friends:
At 4.30 pm, we called a halt to our walk and took the same bus together. I had plans to meet my friends Cynthia and Michael for tea at their place on Sloan Street and ten minutes later, I was enjoying a cuppa and a flapjack. Then, half an hour later, I left with Cynthia for Mass at the Church of St. Paul in Kensington–a Mass said by Bishop Michael (who had left earlier) and attended by a grand congregation of exactly four! Still, it was superb to see my friends again and to spend a very relaxed evening with them. I enjoyed our walk to the church and back as we went past the Jumeira Hotel with its Bentleys and other such luxury cars leading to it. It was a day tailor-made for walking and I feel very blessed indeed about these soul-lifting days.
Back Home for Dinner:
It was about 7.45 pm when I walked in my door. After my big lunch, I decided on a very light dinner of soup and salad with ice-cream for dessert. I made a couple of calls to my friends Susan and Rahul, caught up with my email, Facetimed with Llew, wrote this blog and got ready for bed.
After about twelve days of practically my own company and none else, I was beyond excited to have spent almost all of it in the company of caring and very sincere friends.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…