Tag Archive | Trafalgar Square

Brekkie at The Wolseley, Shopping, Buried Child at the West End.

London Diary—Jan 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Accomplishing London To-Do List! And Packing (Yet Again!) Plus Ed Harris at the West End.

Terribly jetlagged, I awake in a 6-bedded dorm in the London youth hostel on Bolsover Street at 3. 30 am. I manage some more shut eye, then awake at 5. 30 am. It is eventually 7.00 am when I drag myself out of bed quietly so as not to awake my sleeping roomies. It is time for a wash, a shower and a tick of another item off my To-Do List—Brekkie at the Wolseley Hotel.

Posh Full English Brekkie in a London Institution:

I find my way to the bus stop on New Cavendish Street, realizing that I could not have chosen a better location for 2 nights’ accommodation in London. My office at NYU, where my cases are stacked, is only a hop, skip and jump away. The YHA is homely, clean, relatively quiet, safe and central—oh and very reasonably priced. In the dead of winter, it is still packed solid. Fifty percent of my roomies are women my age or over! I feel right at home. It is the perfect solution for the solo traveler. I contemplate the sagacity of my decision to stay here as I await my bus in the dead quiet of a Saturday morning while it is still semi-dark. There are a couple of other people waiting with me—I feel the sense of safety in numbers. In five minutes, a 453 trundles along and on the top deck, front and center, as is my wont, I am transported along the still gorgeously illuminated shopping strips of Regent and Oxford Streets, to be put down at Piccadilly Circus.

Walking along this iconic road, I am struck by the fact that I have it all to myself. I pass many familiar landmarks—Waterstones, the bookstore. Fortnum and Mason, purveyors of fine foods. Across the Road, Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy of Art. Fancy shops selling fancier goods—Maria Novella perfumes from Florence, fine cashmere from Scotland, Maille mustards in posh packaging. I get to the Wolseley Hotel, which every guidebook has extolled as the best value in the city for a full English breakfast or Afternoon Tea. The latter I have tried already—a few years ago with my friend Shahnaz and her daughter Azra. It is time to find out what the fuss is about re. Brekkie. But first, I peruse the menu pinned to glass cases outside. It is value for money at 18 pounds for the works: eggs any which way, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans. But just to be sure I am making the right choice, I pop into the Ritz next door. I would like to find out what they offer for brekkie and at what price. I walk through the ritzy pink and green lobby, past Reception and the utterly grand Palm Court (where Llew and I once were treated to Afternoon Tea by a family friend) and get to the back Dining Hall where I am handed a menu. Price for the Full English is an eye-popping 39 pounds. No contest. I will return to the Wolseley and pig out.

I am seated courteously by a lovely hostess. I do not have a reservation, but I am early enough in the day to snag a table for two which I might keep for an hour and a half. It is enough for me (as I have a full day ahead and much to accomplish). The waitress wants to know if I would like a newspaper. Yes please, I say. Which one? she asks. How about The Times? I respond. A copy is promptly placed before me and, had I already eaten, I’d have had instant indigestion. There is a full frontal photograph of La Famille Trummmmmphhh! I sit down, place my order and take in the full printed show. As a mark of protest (on a day when millions of women would be marching in protest against the new President’s declared policies), I decide not to read a word about his inauguration (just as I had refused to watch any of it on TV, the previous day, as I wished to hit him where it hurts—in the ratings!). I move towards the Op Ed columns and read what British journos have to say about the tamasha!

Soon enough, my brekkie arrives and I give myself wholly to the delights of the English table. My only disappointment is to find streaky (American-style) bacon on my plate where I adore the English back bacon which is made from Pork Tenderloin. Still, I have no choice—so gobble it all up, I do, with gusto. I have a decaff cappuccino to sip in-between mouthfuls and I am a happy camper, for I have fueled myself up well for a day in which I will probably eat very little else. The black pudding, by the way, is creamy and delicious. I was asked if I’d like toast and I had said yes—I got a slice of brown and a slice of white (I did not realize that I had to pay more for it—I thought it was part of my brekkie platter). No matter. I decided to pack it up and take it home for a very late lunch or early supper. In the Wolseley Hotel, I am surrounded by beautiful people. When a very ostentatiously dressed woman sits beside me, peroxided to the nines, wearing dangling sparkly jewelry at 8.00 am, I wonder if she is a cross-dresser. All eyes turn to her as she makes her dramatic entry and waiters pause in homage to kiss her on both cheeks and call her ‘Darling’. I am enthralled. It turns out she is not Ru Paul—just another ‘regular’ apparently at the hotel.

Off to Trafalgar Square for Theater Ticket:

It is about 9.40 when I pay my bill and leave. Piccadilly is slowly coming to life but F&M is still closed (so I have no opportunity to find out if there are any leftovers from their post-Xmas sale). I walk towards Haymarket and find my way to Trafalgar Square. London is so different when it is stripped off humanity. Only the architecture grabs your eye at this time of day—undisguised, as it were. Landseer’s Lions at the Nelson Column are slowly roaring to life as traffic joins them in a slow crescendo. I get to the Trafalgar Studios at 9.55 and chat with a couple of Americans from Minnesota who have come to see their compatriots (Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in Pulitzer-Prize winning Sam Shephard’s masterpiece). I have heard a lot of good things about this play (Buried Child) and decide to see if I can get a single ticket for the evening show. Five minutes later, I am the proud possessor of one such gem (for 35 pounds). I have a brilliant seat, three rows from the front. No doubt I shall see some spit fly!

I walk along Whitehall, past the Horse Guards, who have emerged to begin their duty for the day—those must be the most photographed horses in the world. My bus comes along and I take it to Tottenham Court Road and at exactly 10.45, I enter NYU and get straight to work.

Packing—Again–and Weighing Suitcases—Again! (And Hopefully for the Last Time!):

The premises are closed today except for workmen and decorators who are busy in the lobby. Dave, the Porter, who was expecting me, lets me in. I drag my cases from the Porter’s Room to the Ground Floor Student Lounge, pull out my weighing scale, and begin the process of getting everything out (the better to decide what to discard and what to take back home). I have given myself two hours to accomplish this daunting task. I throw away a pair of black patent leather shoes that have seen better days and that were replaced by a new pair I’d bought just before Christmas from Next on Oxford Street. I put aside items I can give away as gifts. I wade through masses of sheets of paper and discard about 60% of them. I give away two books. I have simply no weight allowance for them. After I rearrange my stuff, I weigh each case carefully. I can put a pound more in one of them and five pounds more in the other before I reach full permitted capacity. There will be room for some food goodies—favorite biscuits, cakes, and my stock of underwear for the year from M&S. I will have to forego bottles of marmalade and chocolates for American Airlines is stringent and I have no desire to pay excess baggage charges. Oh well! At least I had enjoyed them fully while I lived in the country.

Time to Go Shopping:

I find out that Dave will remain at his post till 4.00 pm. This leaves me about 3 hours to get to Oxford Street to the M&S to tackle my To-Buy List. I take the Tube from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch, walk to the department store, pluck the items off the shelve in the Food Hall (there is an offer on the bikkies—oh joy!—wish I could take 6 packets). In the Ladies Lingerie section, I find exactly what I need quite easily. Armed with my buys, I march to the cashier. Outside, on the street, I made a quick dash into Selfridges for samples of Byredo Pulp perfume—but they have run out. They direct me instead to Liberty’s which is a 15 minute walk away. I have the time—but only just! I hussle past determined shoppers, get to Oxford Circus and take the back street towards Carnaby Street and enter the lovely Tudor structure that is Liberty’s of London.  It is, thankfully, not a wild good chase. I am smilingly handed my samples. I want to see if I will like the fragrance enough after a few weeks before I splurge on a whole bottle myself. Silk scarves and classic perfume—they are my long-enduring weaknesses!

There is little time to linger. I have no intention of lugging my purchases with me to Oxford and Essex—I simply must pack them in my suitcases and then lock them safely away until I am ready to leave London this coming Friday for home. Off to the Tube station I race for one stop and a brisk walk back to campus. I have a few minutes of uncertainty as Dave does not immediately respond when I buzz—he is somewhere in the building locking up for the weekend. I call Reception but I get the machine. I am about to leave, having waited for a full ten minutes with growing dejection, when he appears and opens the door to me!!! I stash my buys, rearrange and lock my cases up and say goodbye to him. I will be back or the last time in a few days to retrieve them and leave.

Off for a Nap:

The good thing about staying so close to campus is that I can nip back into bed for a nap.  It is 4.00 pm which is 9.30 pm in Bombay and jetlag is making me sluggish. If I am to stay awake through the play, I need a nap. I walk back to my empty room, get into bed, place my alarm for 6. 15 pm and try to get a few zzzzs. But, annoyingly, sleep eludes me completely. After an hour, just before the alarms goes off, I get out of bed and make myself a sandwich with the Wolseley’s toast and some Waitrose onion jam that I love. Fifteen minutes later, I am on the bus and off to Trafalgar Studios where I reach in about 20 minutes, well in time for the play.

Buried Child at the West End:

            Ed Harris, one of America’s iconic actors, is sitting on stage smoking when I take my seat. He coughs occasionally as he gets into characters long before the curtain rises. For the next three hours, we learn about the misgivings of a dysfunctional family in middle America—the kind they say voted for Trump! It is a dark comedy with a seriously stark denouement that leave the audience staggering. Excellent performances, a brilliant script, perfect timing make it memorable. It is a brilliant night at the theater. It is worth every penny of my money.

Back home on the Bus:

It is about 10. 30pm when I stand at the bus stop at Trafalgar Square which is still buzzing with Saturday night revelers. In five minutes, I am in my bus and ten minutes later, I am walking through the streets to get to my dorm. I am sleepy and can barely keep my eyes open. It is with difficulty that I stay awake as I brush my teeth and then get straight into bed.

It has been a marvelous return to my favorite city—a homecoming in every sense of the term. I am happy that I am making the most of every second and still ticking items off that disappearing Bucket List.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Revisiting Trafalgar Square and The Wallace Collection

Friday, July 19, 2013
Today turned out to be a not-so-exciting one. I woke early, did substantial work at my computer before eating my muesli breakfast. But by the time I managed to get out of the house it was about 9. 45 am—perhaps already a tad too late to try to snag a 10 pound “Day Ticket”.
I took the Tube to Leicester Square and then walked to Shaftesbury Lane to the theater playing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. No such luck today! The clerk told me that all tickets were gone in ten minutes as the play is proving very popular (possibly a result of the popularity of the novel). He said people had queued up since 6. 45 am!!! If I want a Day Ticket, it seems I must get there by at least 8.00 am. Oh well! Perhaps I shall try on another day.  
Since I was in the West End area, I figured I would try to get Day Tickets for another play on my Must-See List: it turned out that One Man, Two Gov’nors was on at the Theater Royal Haymarket, not too far away. I walked there and got one ticket for 12 pounds—but it turned out to be high up in the Gallery. I took it anyway figuring that my field glasses would prove helpful. Then off I went to start my rambles in Soho and Trafalgar Square.
Traipsing around Trafalgar:
            There was not much I saw for the first time today, save for Chinatown. I have walked through Gerard Streetbefore (which is the heart of London’s Chinatown) but rarely have I observed the place minutely. This morning, I was right in the midst of the unloading going on at every supermarket and restaurant that lines Gerard Street—and it was both unpleasant and dangerous as there were mechanized dollies doing their thing—with me in the middle.
            I quickly scuttled off and entered Leicester Square (going past the interesting Exchange and Bullion Center building on the right that dates from the late 1800s). As always, Leicester Square was alive with tourists looking for discounted theater tickets. I realized that the TKTS booth that used to be the hub of the area is now almost forlorn—very few discounted seats were available and although they were half price, they were still expensive. It seems that people now prefer to queue up outside individual theaters for the Day Tickets which are a real bargain, if you can get them.
            The sculpture of Shakespeare is shrouded by scaffolding as it is under refurbishment and Charlie Chaplin in no longer there either. Looping around Orange Street, I arrived at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Theater and looping around the grand old fountains there, I took a few pictures before going up close and personal to peruse Edwin Landseer’s magnificent quartet of bronze lions. There was actually a queue of people waiting patiently to climb atop them to have their pictures taken.
            I lopped around and entered the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, so named because it once stood in the fields and pastures in which sheep grazed. The inside is known for its superb ornamental plaster ceiling although its altar is rather plain. Once upon a time, I had attended a brilliant fusion concert inside with my nephew Sudarshan. I will never forget the acoustics of that lovely venue. This morning, I was present for the rehearsal of another lunch time concert: clarinet and piano—and I cannot tell you how awful it sounded. The program centered around the kind of atonal music I detest—it was all sound and fury signifying nothing. I scuttled out again as quickly as I could and made my way down into the Cryptwhich has perhaps the nicest gift store in London. It carries the most unusual merchandise and I always wish I had a bigger baggage allowance when I am in a place like this. As it turned out, all I could do was some window shopping before I left and resurfaced at the top.
An Errand and a Viewing at the National Portrait Gallery:
            I crossed the street and entered the National Portrait Gallery where I had an errand associated with identifying an image that I intend to use as the cover of my book. Since the image does not belong to the Museum but is in a private collection, I need the help of an archivist and the staff of the Exhibitions Department to assist me. I did get the names, telephone numbers and email addresses of the persons to contact and then I went out to see the portrait that everyone was talking about a few months ago: the Portrait of Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge by Paul Emsley that critics either like or hate. No one seems to have loved it so far, so I was prepared not to be impressed. As it turned out, I thought it was an admirable likeness of the sitter (done with just two sittings granted to the artist whom Catherine chose personally) without any attempt made to glamorize her. Yes, the overall effect is grey, dull and somber but perhaps that was how the artist saw his subject. Nothing wrong with it, I thought. The eyes are magnetic—beautifully done in shades of hazel with a strange light shining out of them—so hard to achieve in a portrait.
            I spent a while looking at some of the other newer, more contemporary portraits that have been added since I was last there (actor Timothy Spall, actress Maggie Smith) and then I made my way out and walked towards Charing Cross Road. It hadn’t turned out to be much of a morning, so I decided to take the Tube to Oxford Street for a peep into the Wallace Collection, another wonderful private collection of art.
Lunch in Starbucks at Selfridges:
            Thanks to the current soap opera I have been watching in the States, Mr. Selfridge, I simply couldn’t resist the impulse to go to Selfridges and browse around. My first stop was the Jo Malone counter where, as a regular buyer, I was presented with a sample pot of Nectarine and Honey Body Cream. Then up I went to the café as I was hungry and wanted to eat my Stilton Cheese sandwich and to buy a drink to wash it down. It turned out that Starbucks has a location on the fourth floor which is the Food Hall. Unfortunately, it did not have wifi—standard in all Starbucks’ around the world—but I did buy a Strawberry and Cream Milkshake—and so good it was too on a morning that was muggy and sticky. Lunch break gave me a chance to regroup and decide what to do next and to rest my feet. I am walking an average of 6 miles a day and it is taking its toll on my feet though not apparently doing anything to bring down my weight! Well, it’s the milkshakes that have a lot to answer for, I guess!
Window Shopping on Marylebone High Street:
            Lunch done, I walked along St. James’ Street towards Marylebone High Street to get to the Wallace Collection which is sandwiched in Mansfield Square between Oxford Street and Marylebone High Street—while the former is known for its chain stores (M&S, Selfridges, Zara, Monsoon, H&M, etc), the latter has the boutique stores (The White Company, Daunt Books) and many charity shops—a particular fancy of mine. I was thrilled to find a loaf of Walnut Bread at Waitrose (I do not often find it and when I do, I always buy one) and then it was in the many charity shops that I browsed (Oxfam, St. Bernard’s, Cancer Care, etc.). Alas, I found nothing to grab my fancy so I walked towards the Wallace Collection.              
Saying Hullo to Masterpieces in the Wallace Collection:
            The Wallace Collection is based in an 18th century mansion that belonged to the Dukes of Hertford and is filled with their collection of art and objects d’art—mainly from the 18th century, although there are significant pieces from other eras as well. It is a grand space that is beautifully maintained and, best of all, free to the public. It is also still very much a residence and I think it wonderful that the public is allowed to glimpse these marvels without needing to pay handsomely for them.
            The reception desk provides a floor plan which allows folks to leave footprints around the spacious rooms in which royalty were once entertained. Notice the interior design and decoration as much as the art objects. Notice, for instance, the grand marble staircase with its exquisite metalwork railing. Notice the outdoor café space—under a great glass ceiling amid potted palms, one can sip a soothing cuppa.
            Then notice the masterpieces that, according to the bequest can be moved around the house but never out of it. So if you want to see Fragonard’s The Swing or Franz Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier or Nicolas Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time or Peter Paul Reuben’s Landscape with Rainbow or Velasquez’s Lady with a Fan—you can only see them here with no expectation whatsoever that they will come to a museum near you. For The Swing alone, it is worth making the pilgrimage to the Wallace. It is a darling painting—oil on wood—that tells a little story. The 18th century lady, complete with voluminous skirts and powdered wig, is being swung by her father—a white haired man in the background. But unbeknownst to him, her lover is concealed in the hedges waiting for a glimpse of his beloved. She, well knowing of his presence, flirts outrageously with him, even tossing her little pink sandal into the hedge for him to catch! It is twilight—there is little light except what shines on the lady’s face. I love this painting and I was thrilled to see it again.
I also adore another painting in this collection: Miss Bowles and her Dog by Joshua Reynolds. It is so evocative of innocence and of child-like beautiy that it always takes my breath away. Indeed in a collection that has masses of large-scale canvasses by Charles Oudry, Sargent, Reubens, it is the littlest ones that are most striking and I love them dearly.
            I also love the arrogant expression on the face of the Hals’ Laughing Cavalier. There are also any number of Francois Bouchers—with his fat cherubic angels and their skeins and garlands of fruits and flowers. There are loads, simply loads, of Sevres porcelain, so you would be wise to see them here for free (rather than at Buckingham Palace where you will have to pay a bundle to see the Queen’s collection—she is a passionate collector of Sevres).
            Yes, to read the label of every one of the paintings and to admire every item of Boule furniture, it would take all day—but if you want to see just the masterpieces, you can see the collection in a couple of hours—which is what I did.
            I then walked up to Portman Square and jumped into the 139 bus going to St. John’s Wood so that I could water the plants on the balcony of my friend Raquel’s flat. This took me no more than a half hour’s detour. I was back on the bus again and took the Tube from Oxford Circus to get back home for a shower and a nap. Alas, I did not have the time for a cup of tea today.
Off to the Theater to see One Man, Two Gov’nors:
            At 7.00 pm, I left the house to take the Tube to Piccadilly Circus from where I walked to the Theater Royal Haymarket to see  One Man, Two Gov’nors. My seat was awful—way way too high with the gold bar coming right in the center and distorting the view. I realized quickly enough that it would be torture to sit there and I also discovered that the play, while really hilarious, contained too much slapstick for my liking. I got the idea pretty quickly: a series of mix-ups would occur as one man juggled the orders of his two employers (‘governors’ in Cockney slang). By the intermission, I decided that I had had enough and I left—it has been ages since I have left the theater half way through the play, but it was clearly not up my alley.  
      On the bus I arrived at Aldwych, from where I took another bus along Kingsway to Holborn and then I was inside Sainsburys’ buying two Indian ready meals as I had a sudden desire to eat Indian food! I bought Chicken Tikka Masala and Jal Frezi with Pullao and a tub of Carte D’Or Chocolate Explosion ice-cream (as it is still terribly hot) and some profiteroles (which I love) and then I was on the Tube at Holborn getting home for a fairly early night.
            I heated up an Indian meal, ate a big dessert and then went off to sleep thinking that it hadn’t been much of a day after all.