It has been an incredible time in the United Kingdom. The Residency at Hospitalfield was inspirational, and my attitudes towards ceramics have been permanently altered in new and exciting ways. I made good friends, ate beautiful food, slept in a historic room in an ancient house, learned about tweed, devoured the best cod and chips in Arbroath, and saw amazing scenery. The time in London, a 180 degree turn around from the rural countryside of Scotland, has been just as enjoyable. So what did I learn that I could pass on to you?
First, in London, do your homework. Get a hotel or a Bed and Breakfast near to the sights that you want to see. There are many ways of travelling in this well laid out city. You can take the London Underground. An off-peak day ticket is around 134 GBP or $26 CDN$. This means you can ride the tube as much as you want and there are underground stations all over the place. You can take one of the red double-decker buses. Your tube ticket allows you to switch between them. Alternatively, you can catch a black taxi. They take credit cards so no need to worry about exchanging money or running short. The machine is in the back with you, not upfront with the driver. Very easy.
An excellent example of the cost is that it is about 25 GBP from London King’s Cross to Hyde Park in a cab whereas it is less than 6 GBP on a single tube ticket. When you arrive, the amount of luggage that you have will really impact the transport that you need to get to your hotel. One other word of warning, if you have a considerable suitcase like I do with all of its ceramic supplies and a plaster mould inside, you do not want to book yourself into a B & B and be staying on the top floor unless you have Hercules with you to carry that suitcase up those stairs! OK. Maybe you are 20something and reading this but seriously, try not to pack your entire house if you can. You will have many more options. Once you get settled in you can take the tube, take a taxi, rent an electric bicycle for 2 GBP a day, or you can walk.
Many of the sights are actually close together, and you can get some good exercise in. It is also good to ‘get lost’ and discover places you might not otherwise see. There is history in every corner of London!
I chose to stay right across from Hyde Park because I was going to meet a long time friend and co-author, Richard Barnes, at the Albert Memorial.
Richard and I agreed to meet at the ‘America’ corner which his relative had carved out of gorgeous marble, John Bell. Each corner was designed to represent the four corners of the globe with America being represented by the bison. Canada is on the left looking on as the United States is on the right. Some of Britain’s finest Victorian sculptors have their work on this grandiose memorial.
The Albert Memorial has Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria looking over to the Royal Albert Hall and the Science Museum. That is another attraction in the area which is really a ‘must see’. Of course, he is also looking towards the Victoria & Albert Museum (assuming his eyesight is better than mine!). You can easily spend an entire day at the Museum. Their blockbuster exhibition, Dior, has been extended and do not get distressed if you see the ‘sold out’ sign and don’t have a ticket. If you really want to see this comprehensive exhibition of one of the world’s great 20th century designers then go over and purchase yourself a membership to the museum. I promise you will get a ticket to the show! Inside there is the new Cast Court exhibition area. Richard told me that people went all over taking casts and bringing them back. The Museum has art from all over the world including an excellent Asian section.
And they also have ‘the’ Moon Jar.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a cafe where you can get salads, sandwiches, hot meals, cakes, tea, or other drinks. On a sunny day, you can sit outside, or you can relax in the William Morris room. It was a sad day for me. My old friend, Pauline Rohatgi and I, used to meet to have lunch in the William Morris room or sitting outside on a bench every time I was in London. Pauline was the Keeper of the Prints and Drawings for the India Office Library. That was how I met her. Over the years we worked on publications and exchanged information on British sculpture sent to India. Pauline has health issues and now lives permanently in India. I hope that we can have tea there soon! But she was very much missed.
But that wasn’t the only reason. Within walking distance, inside the park, you can tour Kensington Palace – the home of the Cambridges and the Sussexes. You can tour their gardens. You can visit Princess Diana’s children’s playground, go to the Serpentine Gallery, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, sit and eat ice cream by Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain, or have tea by the Albert Memorial. You can even feed the pigeons, crows, geese, and swans at the Round Pond.
One of the things I wanted to do was to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. I am a bit curious. When I was a teenager, everyone remembered where they were when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I wonder how many people remember where they were when the news came of Diana’s death?
The fountain was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 6th July 2004. Using contemporary technology, 545 pieces of Cornish granite were shaped and placed together using traditional masonry skills. All of the information says: “The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.” It is a very quiet, contemplative memorial that sits in the landscape in the same way that Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial does.
There are many reasons to visit London this time of year if you are from Canada. The first is an escape from the last remnants of a long, snowy, cold Canadian winter. The flowers are bursting forth. The temperature is about 11-14 degrees Celsius. You can get by with a lined windbreaker. Hotel prices are more reasonable, and you can get special deals on air tickets.
If you are flying in at either of the two main airports that serve London, London Heathrow or London Gatwick, there are reasonable ways of getting into the City and back out again. If its Heathrow, you can take the London underground directly into the City. Arriving at Gatwick presents several options. One is the Thameslink train that will take you into the City. Or you can take the National Express bus which will get you to London Victoria. There are various limo services and flat rate taxes that cost around 62 GBP. These could be helpful if you have too much luggage.
All of the museums in London are free except for their special exhibitions. You could keep yourself busy, as I said, right here near to Hyde Park. One other one I didn’t list is the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. If you want to have high tea, Harrod’s is in walking distance. They will continue to refill the pot and the plates until you leave. Down Exhibition Road into South Kensington, you can find some of the very smart places for meals all during the day. If you are looking for Middle Eastern food, including Persian, try Queensway Road.