Typical English Gastro Pub, passed on my walks
Me and Cezanne having an intimate momentWell I made it through the flight, thanks to "Animal Kingdom" (4 stars) "The Hereafter" (3 stars), "Black Swan" (3.5 stars, but probably reduced due to the fact that I was seeing it on a small, reflective screen on a plane) and "Social Network" (also 3.5 stars). A passenger with anger management issues who happened to be placed, conveniently, behind my seat, made for a rather stressful second leg (the stewards told me that one more incident and they would have her arrested at the airport!!!) and fears of stalking since she seemed to catch every train afterwards that I did. I took the rather circuitous "scenic" route to my lodgings and was glad to drop the 20kg + bag and 8kg hand luggage that I had managed to squeeze art materials and enough clothes into for the threee seasons and 9 weeks travelling (just under 10 if you count the days on and off flights and ask my husband).
But London - Wow! What a city. Managed the first expedition to Picadilly circus and emerged from the Underground to my first sight of a tourist spot, and all plans flew from my head. I wandered Picadilly St, entranced by the old bookshops and the window display at Fortnum and Masons, then realised I was walking in the wrong direction to pick up some pre-booked tickets (a mistake to buy the London Pass, I think now). Backtracked and was blown over by a cake display in a shop opposite, got the ticket sorted, and intended to get a ticket to the "Original Hop on Hop off" tour, but realised there was something interesting down the hill at Regent St which I thought was Trafalgar square (it wasn't). Anyway, landed on some steps with a magnificent statue of a general of the army (there are many in London - never seen a place with so much war history and lionising of its officers - a bit disconcerting, really).
Then I lost myself - wide, beautiful boulevards, every street offering classical architecture on a grand scale. Found my way to the Household Cavalry Museum, at the end of a wonderful piazza, walked through magnificent arches, to stumble on a "cavalier"(??) staring manfully at a bunch of tourists with cameras - so I joined them and took a picture of myself. Then proceeded to the next inviting vista of another wide boulevarde with yet more General/Admiral/Field Marshal Statues to find another Cavalier on horse (and I took another photo).
The river drew me, and I walked towards it, passing Banqueting House without realising it and spying "The Eye" for the first time. What a fantastic walk is the boulevards beside the Thames (Victoria Walk), The Houses of Parliament drawing you inexorably as Big Ben Chimes and the typical London Haze makes the light bounce off the water brightly but stay very low, so the eyes are soothed rather than assaulted. Walked the bridges (which were they?) holding off the excitement of seeing Westminster at close range, until I did - and a few photos later, I wandered the bridge (Waterloo? - I need a good map, but I'm traveling light and fast, so only have my iPhone - need glasses!- and a dud one from London Pass to refer to - I'll fix the details at home), just so I could approach the Parliament from another angle. Serenaded by a Bag Piper, I then took the road behind the Houses and returned via a small, flowered park behind the main boulevarde.
Suffice to say, I think I saw the Jewel Tower, passed the Churchill War Rooms, numerous churched including Westminster Abbey - closed for Sunday services-took a few left turns, arrived at Covent Garden in time for the Markets, saw and listened to a wonderful busker and returned via the Jubilee Markets and finally found Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. Decided I would save these for proper visits, and returned to Somerset House to enter the Courtauld Gallery (cafe first for lunch).
I then spent the next three hours looking at the private collection of a wealthy industrialist (Courtauld) containing iconic paintings by the German Expressionists, the Blue Rider group, the Fauves, later English Painters such as Francis Bacon, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash, Ivor Hutchins and many others whom I knew and who impressed me, but whose names escape me when writing at this time of night. The paintings of Matisse and Van Dongen, and Oscar Kokoshka that I refer to when teaching my students about the expressive use of colour, brush strokes etc, I was seeing for the first time in the flesh. A beautiful Matisse Sculpture and a set of Cezanne paintings (including the Still Life with Plaster Bust"), and Van Gogh's Self Portrait" with the Bandage were there. And there was hardly a soul in the gallery, so I got to get up close a very personal, taking silly photos of myself in the presence of great art and cropping areas of the paintings with my lens so I could remember how loosely painted and abstract sections of the work was.
And that doesn't even cover the major Impressionist paintings - "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère" and "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe", both by Manet, Renoir's La Loge,, landscapes by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, a ballet scene by Edgar Degas, Gauguin's Nevermore and Te Rerioa; important works by Seurat,Henri "Douanier" Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec and Modigliani.
And then there were the Renaissance and Medieval paintings - Cranach's Adam and Eve, a sketch in oils by Peter Paul Rubens for what is arguably his masterpiece, theDeposition altarpiece in Antwerp Cathedral, as well as paintings by Bruegel, Quentin Matsys, Van Dyck and Tiepolo. Too Much and yet delicious!
I returned via the Thames to have a "sol" on the boat moored there next to the Hispaniola, whilst I drew my first sketch of London Impressions. I then headed back to Covent Garden for dinner, got lost, walked the Chancery and saw St Pauls, found My way and had a wonderful Spanish Merlot listening to yet another great busker. I managed to get to Charring Cross Station in the dark for a safe but interesting return trip. Did you know they had a toilet on the trains in Britain, and One suited man could enter them, and another street weary man could exit the single cubicle about 15 minutes later? Amazing magician's trick....
Now for the Tate Britain