Seven Days in London and Two Half-books plus the Memory of Another

View from Blue Orchid Suites, Tower HillDespite being fortunate to live in a beautiful city, H and I felt in need of a change of scene and were lucky enough to snap up a cheap deal in an aparthotel in spitting distance of the Tower of London.

Our first outing was a walk from St Katherine Docks along the canal to Shadwell Basin which took us through a surprisingly green housing development with nesting coots, moorhens, swans and Canada geese. The price of the apartments Recently hatched on the Ornamental Canaloverlooking this loveliness will be of heart attack inducing proportions, I’m sure. We scuttled back to our room in time to avoid the thunderstorm which had been threatening to soak us, setting a pattern for the week.

Eltham Palace groundsWe’d decided to visit sights we’d not have time for on our usual short trips so took ourselves off to Eltham Palace on Tuesday morning. Set in lovely grounds, it was originally an old manor house, parts of which date back to 1300. The Courtauld family bought it on a long lease in the ’30s, adding a fabulous Art Deco entrance hall which manages to be both grand and intimate. It’s a style I love and there’s lots of it on display, beautifully executed, including the family’s very own phone booth for which they Eltham Palace entrance hallapparently charged their many guests to make calls. Perhaps that’s how they became so wealthy. They also had a lemur with whom they were besotted, allowing it free range around the house. Pity the poor cleaners…

Both H and I had long wanted to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery so off we went on Friday braving the force nine gale that propelled us across Tower Bridge to the train station. Dulwich calls itself a village and is certainly pretty enough to deserve that description. The gallery is home to a permanent collection which includes a few Flemish painting (Dulwhich Picture Gallery)pleasing Dutch paintings but it was the reopening exhibition which really impressed. ‘Unearthed: Photography’s Roots’ included some stunning pieces of black and white photography, so crisp and modern it was hard to believe they were taken in the early part of the last century. My favourites were by Imogen Cunningham, a name new to me, but I’ll certainly be seeking out more of her work. Too blustery to linger in Dulwich for long but we’d both like to explore it further, preferably on a warm sunny day.

Saturday’s outing was to Islington’s Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, a bit further along the Northern Line than I’d usually venture. It’s a small private collection taking up three floors of a Georgian house featuring several leading Futurist artistsSculpture (Estorick Gallery of Modern Italian Art) although my favourite bit was the ‘Italian Threads’ exhibition showing designs from MITA, a textile design group founded in Genoa, spanning the 1920s to the ‘70s but still fresh and modern. Like Eltham Palace, I’m not sure I’d have known about this small unsung gem were it not for my Art Fund membership.

Given how familiar we both are with London, H and I soon shed our nervousness, helped along by how safe we felt in our aparthotel and most of the places we visited. We never forgot Covid, of course, but if we had, the half mile walk stretching from Lambeth Bridge to Westminster Bridge past the memorial wall covered in pink hearts for those who’ve died from it would have Covid Memorial Wallreminded us. Sobering, after enjoying a delicious lunch in the Garden Museum‘s café. It covers the wall beneath St Thomas’ hospital bang opposite Parliament which seems entirely appropriate.

And the books? I’d read almost half of Regina Porter’s The Travelers before we arrived, an ambitious novel told in interlinked episodes which explores race through two intersecting extended families, one black and one Cover for The Great Beleivers by Rebecca Makkaiwhite, over six decades. Reading it in bite-sized chunks between explorations wasn’t conducive to keeping track of the large cast of characters. I should have finished it at home which is what I’ll be doing with Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, a dual narrative with the lengthier Cover image for The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williamssections set in mid-1980s Chicago which sees a group of gay friends struck down by AIDS. Both enjoyable novels but neither a match for Eley Williams’ The Liar’s Dictionary whose striking scene in St James’ Park came to mind as we walked by the pelicans’ favourite lakeside spot. Once read never forgotten.

Unsurprisingly, given I’ve not set foot outside my home town for six months, a week in London has left me a tad worn out but despite that I feel as if I’ve woken up refreshed. Back to books soon…

35 thoughts on “Seven Days in London and Two Half-books plus the Memory of Another”

  1. What a great trip! I have fond memories of visiting the Dulwich Art Gallery. I didn’t go very often when living in London because it is (or used to be) such a pain to get to. But this made each trip extra special when I did go. And I know exactly what you mean about being worn out after going out. We have not been doing that much yet, but have quickly discovered how much stamina we have lost over the last year. I guess it will be fun building it back up again with lots of lovely outings!

    1. Not somewhere we’d manage on a day trip or even a weekend, but it’s lovely isn’t it. That’s a very positive way to look at it, Liz. Despite feeling exhausted we’re both glad we went.

  2. Lovely post, thank you! I’m keen to get back to London to see my best friend, but fear the train at the moment still. But each post I read or experience I hear makes it easier to approach the idea!

    1. Thank you. I’m glad to hear that posts like these help. We both felt happy on public transport. Very few people travelling unmasked and everyone keeping their distance. I’d suggest seeing your friend in the week if you can. Definitely busier at the weekend although we still felt fine.

  3. I’ve not even heard of any of your destinations — you’re expert London tourists! It must have been so nice for you to get away. I hope you had some good meals, too. The weather has not been the greatest, but it sounds like you made the best of it.

    I made a false start on The Great Believers when it first came out but have kept my proof copy to try again. I’ve loved her other novels, so if I can just find the right time I hope I’ll love this one, too.

    1. Thank you! We were so pleased to break out of our shell and feel much more confident now. My trusty Art Fund membership has led me to quite a few less visited galleries and museums.

      I’d recommend giving The Great Believers another try. I’m not entirely convinced by the second narrative strand but the Chicago characters more than make up for that.

  4. I always enjoy your travel posts Susan and it makes me want to visit London again (I’ve only been a couple of times). I love travel too but have resigned myself to exploring Scotland and the north of England this year which isn’t exactly a hardship. But a city break even in the UK would be up there on my wish list when things settle down a bit. Yes, the pelican scene is a very memorable one!

    1. Thanks, Helen. We still have a Eurostar ticket in our back pocket as the lockdown meant we had to cancel but may well leave it until next year. Currently planning to head to Edinburgh in September.

  5. How lovely! I think we all need a change sometimes, regardless of how nice the place we live is. Not sure how I feel about being on a train at the moment, but I would love to visit London again sooner rather than later!

    1. It was so refreshing! We felt fine on both the train and Tube. LRT are particularly good about communication, being sure to highlight less busy times although I think those who can are still working from home. Not much evidence of a rush hour. I hope you manage a trip soon!

  6. What a great time you had. Despite being from South London, I’ve never made it to Dulwich Picture Gallery, nor Eltham Palace! I do love The Garden Museum though, did you go in? I’m keen to get using my Art Fund card again too.

    1. Isn’t the Art Fund wonderful! We did go in and enjoyed it very much. I’d thoroughly recommend Eltham Palace. Had the weather been better we’d have spent much longer in its extensive grounds.

  7. jenniferbeworr

    Really enjoyable to read and I’m sure to explore! I had no idea about the palace at Eltham. My husband grew up in that neck of the woods and how I’d like to explore more of it. Thank you for sharing these photos and experiences.

    1. Glad you liked it! We were quite taken with Eltham. A very pleasant leafy suburb where we did a double take when looking in an estate agent’s window at the sight of houses no more expensive than here in Bath. The palace is a treat. I hope you’ll be able to visit it.

  8. Wonderful post–it’s so good to travel again, even vicariously! I love explore lesser known art museums and attractions; it always makes me feel like I’ve found a treasure. Dulwich has been on my list to see ever since I started noticing that several interesting paintings were in its collection. Your other attractions are unknown to me. If I’m lucky enough to visit London again, I’ll definitely check out the Art Fund card.
    Your reading sounds just as interesting. I’ve been tempted by both The Liar’s Dictionary and Makkai’s The Great Believers (more so by the first than the second). Can’t wait to see the reviews!

    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. I hope the weather’s better for you if you ever make it to Dulwich. The Art Fund’s a great source of out-of-the-way recommendations and the membership fees are put towards funding the purchase of artworks, another reason I’m so fond of them. The Liar’s Dictionary is an absolute treat!

  9. I don’t know the Garden Museum, but Dulwich is one of my favourite places to visit. It’s good to hear that you felt safe, I haven’t dared London yet!

    1. We did jump in at the deep end but actually felt fine although we were fairly cautious. It reminded me of the days just after the congestion charge came in: hardly any traffic and all the better for that. Definitely want to go back to Dulwich on a sunny day!

  10. I’m a member of English Heritage, so a visit to Eltham Palace is on the cards one day. I had my second jab today, so I’m looking forward to visiting my local museums and art galleries as they start to open up. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go further afield, as I’ve become a carer over the last year. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting places I can visit in a morning or an afternoon.

    1. Eltham Palace would definitely be an interesting place for you to visit, April, given its blend of medieval and modern. I know from your blog that you have lots of places to visit locally. Glad to hear you’re now double-jabbed. It does make you feel more confident.

  11. This sounds like such a lovely trip. I think we’re all craving that change of scene. Lovely photos too, glad you felt so safe, each little step gives us more confidence.

  12. buriedinprint

    I like the variety of your photos…and even a couple of book covers for those who want to return to that kind of familiar territory! I’m feeling as though even my own city will be strange enough to travel through, when that’s even possible. You’re all much more opened up over there seemingly. Our “leadership” in this highly populated province has been out of step with federal advisories and so many have paid a tragic price.

    1. Thank you – credit due to H for the photos. The day we arrived in London marked a big step in opening up. We had a terrible winter, thanks to our incompetent government’s reluctance to lockdown, but the vaccination programme has been managed well. The Indian variant is causing concern now, though. I hope you’ll have some freedom to safely enjoy the summer.

  13. How lovely that you were able to do this and feel like the batteries have been re-charged – all of us have been operating at half full for so long.
    Am making a note of Eltham Palace for when I get to the city – probably a long time from now

    1. Thanks, Karen. Definitely a refresher for me.

      Eltham is wonderful although a bit too much of a trek for a day out in London. I’d love to go back and admire that Art Deco craftmenship.

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