Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The pleasures of traveling

You can read all the guidebooks and make painstaking plans, but for me, the best moments usually happen slightly unexpectedly and off the beaten path. Like last night. After a slightly draggy day and a nice but perfectly ordinary dinner, I realized that my friend and I were very close to a cute pub I'd noticed a few days earlier, called the Queen's Larder, from the 1700s. We bellied up to the bar and promptly met two Germans and a Dutch businessman, the latter of whom promptly bought us several rounds of drinks. We talked Obama (most Europeans love him), the economy, sports and literature, then closed the place down (not hard to do when last call is at 11:30), and went on for more drinks at our hotel. Reminded me of what I love about traveling, as if I needed reminding, but it's the window into other people's way of life and bumping up against people you'd never talk with at home. Here are a few pics of our merry little crew, along with some snaps of the pub. (Do they say "British Pub" or what?)

Alexander (the Dutchman), Sandra and Bernt (pronounced Burnt!), our new buds

Millie and me, after a lager, a scotch, some port and brandy (not necessarily in that order)

Cozying up to Alexander

On the left, a dead ringer for Winston Churchill
Today, I continued to get my fill of art, while (mostly) avoiding London's mega museums (The British Museum/The Victoria and Albert/The National Gallery). Other than the Tate, where I reacquainted myself with this much loved Matisse entitled The Snail (I had a poster of it in my college dorm),

I decided to stick with mostly smaller museums on this trip, so I didn't end up spending my entire time traipsing through big rooms looking at art. Not that I don't love that, but I've found that if that activity dominates my trip, I don't end up getting as much of a sense of the country. So this morning, after a breakfast of toast and porridge (When in London...) I did a teeny bit of shopping in some bookstores and shops on an incredibly quaint street near Bloomsbury (there's something about London that makes me want to buy actual paper books. Maybe it's because they still have wonderful independent book shops everywhere. I went into a shop called Persephone Books, and they had something by a writer named Amy Levy, who they called the Jewish Jane Austen--she lived at the same time as Jane, committed suicide at 27, and wrote about family and town--but from a Jewish/British perspective. Apparently, she is coming into vogue now. Bought her novel and a book of poetry by Judith Viorst about marriage, called It's Hard to Be Hip After 30. Don't I know it. Then I struck up a nice conversation with an art gallery owner, chatted with an adorable shop clerk while picking out a little present for my hubby, then went on to the ultra-quirky Sir John Soane museum, a townhouse crammed full of paintings and Greek and Roman sculpture collected by the eponymous architect, who designed the Bank of England and the House of Lords, among other things (aka he was extremely rich). Next, I wandered over to the Strand to the Courtauld Gallery, possibly my favorite small museum ever, with an especially extensive collection from the late 19th, early 20th century (Matisse, Malevitch) in a beautiful old English mansion.

Last excursion of the day was a pilgrammage to see my old stomping grounds circa 1983, 16 Westbourne St., where I lived during my junior year abroad in London.

My old dorm has become a guest house, but looks much the same--only spiffier.

Then I stopped at the pub around the corner where I spent many nights soaking up the culture (literally). Thirty years later, it is now a Michelin starred French restaurant. No more lagers for 50p!

Tonight, we're seeing the West End musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl children's book. (Gotta see theater in London!) The plan for tomorrow: An outdoor market, more art, more wandering and getting my head around returning to a half submerged New York. So odd (and lucky!) to have missed Hurricane Sandy, and so thankful that all the family and friends I've spoken and emailed with seem dry and intact, and many are even back at work today. As for me, more adventures await.

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