London Diary – Boat Race on Thames and Pub Crawl

Mar 19, 2016

Rowing is a popular sport in UK and I, will get to have a proper experience on this very day.

Thames is the setting for multiple boat races during the year, taking place today is Head of the River Race. Is it the precursor, or warm up, for the legendary Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race that is to take place exactly a week from today? In any case, HRR starts at University Boat Race Stone at Mortlake and finishes at Putney Bridge. Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will run the same course, but in reverse order.

We easily found a spot on Putney Bridge. Thames, wide and broad at this stretch, is picturesque. Near the north end of the bridge, there are All Saint’s Church, Fulham Park, Fulham Palace and Bishop Park; south end of the bridge, there are St Mary’s Church and Putney High Street.

Along with a small crowd, we watched excitedly from the bridge as the first group raced to the finish line. First team came in with a lead, then second, and third… It was thin at first and then it became a steady stream that continued on with no sign of stopping. The river became a busy hub of coming and going. One boat after another raced to the finish line and those that had crossed the finish line would turn around and row on along the south bank, at ease this time. Interestingly, most of the steerer were women and all crew members seemed as young as late teens or early twenties.

We walked off the bridge to stroll along the south bank where we met the rest of the onlookers, a much bigger crowd. Some brought their picnic; some watched from the balconies of various rowing clubs. Some crews stopped and off-loaded at the docks located right there, others rowed past.

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While River Walk on the south of the river continued on, we stopped at Hammersmith Bridge. Back on the Fullham/Hammersmith side of the river, it was time for the pub crawl. Set amidst the residential area between Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick Pier, there are some interesting riverfront pubs. Near the bridge, you’ll find Blue Anchor and Rutland Arm right next to each other; further down the road westwards, Black Lion, The Dove and Old Ship. Here is a website with further details, http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/where-to-watch-the-boat-race. It is expected these pubs and the river front will be packed for Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

London Diary – An Evening Soiree at the Soane

 

Mar 18, 2016

I am a fan of Jane Eyre, which is a gripping book in every aspect. I admire CB’s literary and artistic talent but most mesmerizing is the indomitable spirit and tenacious moral intensity that she portrays in her heroine Jane Eyre.

I join Charlotte Bronte Society in the nick of time and it has opened doors to opportunities. 2016 is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday and there will be a range of celebratory events taking place. First and foremost, I’ve been reading her biography by Clare Harman. It is a fascinating book, telling the storied lives of Charlotte and her family. I’ve gained not only understanding but also tremendous respect for the genius trio that is the Bronte Sisters. I am so happy to be living in London at the right time and thus able to participate in the celebration.

This evening I attended a special evening exhibit at Sir John Soane’s Museum, “Charlotte Bronte At The Soane – Marking The Bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s Birth”, hence commencing the activity of celebration for me. The candle lit evening soiree was atmospheric, delightful in the company of kindred spirit, and champagne, wine and gin, to boot. One of the items on display is one of Charlotte’s dresses which measures to a person who is no more than 5 feet tall, of 23 inch waistline and 29 inch bosom. Minute she might be in person, in spirit, talent and the legacy she’s left behind, she is larger than life.

I am also a Jane Austen fan and I paid my pilgrimage to her in 2014 by visiting multiple destinations related to her life. At this moment, I find myself pondering over the juxtaposition of these two icons of the literary world. While I equally admire Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, I do get different experience reading their books. Jane Austen inspires in a subtle, witty, humorous and delightful fashion, Charlotte Bronte, stirring one to the core and yet intensely uplifting at the same time.

Highlight of CB related events this year would be a visit to Haworth in Yorkshire, my pilgrimage to Charlotte Bronte cum Jane Eyre. I can’t wait.

London Diary – London Celebrates St Patrick’s Day!

Mar 13, 2016

Once again, Trafalgar Square became the center stage as London celebrates St Patrick’s Day. It couldn’t have been a better day, sunny, bright and warmest it had been for a while.

The parade started at noon, following a route from Piccadilly to Whitehall; concert and other activities staged at Trafalgar Square kicked off as well in the same time. The area was bubbling with seas of people and lots of green. The square was fenced up and there were check-points for incoming crowds; it was jelled to almost a standstill at certain spots, like the bars and the society booths. Interestingly, the food area set on the outskirt of the premise was not difficult to get through at all.

The celebration was from noon to 6pm. After a lunch of pull pork sandwich and beef stew to go down with Guinness, we left the busy scene to take a stroll along Thames until we reached MI6.

 

 

London Diary – Magic Lantern and Orchid Festival!

Feb 27 and 28, 2016

Another weekend full of wonderful experience!

Chiswick House

Lantern Festival has come to London the first time this winter, and it has led to the discovery of Chiswick House and Garden. The garden is impressively expansive. There had been multiple buildings on the estate during its interesting history, the one still standing is a Palladian 18th century villa built by Lord Burlington. The interior is a number of rich, elegant, gilded rooms, and door surrounds and pilasters reminiscent of temples, and a collection of stunning paintings, including a set of beautiful paintings of the house and garden, which clearly reflects its glorious past.

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Magic Lantern Festival

Magic Lantern Festival is held at Chiswick House in the evenings. It was sold out on Saturday and we had to try again on Sunday but we booked online in advance on the second attempt. A large number of lanterns are arranged through out the immense garden and along a certain path that visitors follow. The lanterns come in all sizes, shapes and variety, to name a few, pandas, giraffes, mighty dragon, Chinese Zodiac, Temple of Heaven, and a Cinderella scene. They are colorful, and so bright, the garden was ablaze in the dark. It was a spectacular!

Kew Garden

Feb. has been the chilliest this winter, in the meantime, there has been more sunshine. But somehow it’s fallen into this pattern, while mostly sunny during the week, it would become disappointingly cloudy on the weekend, and more likely to rain/drizzle, to boot. As a result I had put off my plan to visit Kew Garden since I learnt of the Orchid Festival, for at least 4 weekends. Finally, this past Sunday, I made it to Kew Garden.

The garden is immense and although still winter, it has enough evergreen to maintain a fresh look, in the meantime, daffodils and a few other flowers have begun to bloom, it was looking very lovely. We had a delightful time strolling through roughly half of it in 4 hours’ time.

Kew Garden is one of the Royal Parks, Queen Charlotte had a cottage in the garden. I couldn’t help but imagine the days when the park was reserved for the use of only one family, the royal family. Some highlights in the park are a beautiful Japanese garden and its stunning pagoda, a lily pond, a lake, ancient giant red woods and a palm house. Most amazing is Prince Wales Conservatory where the Orchid Festival is housed. In addition to a tremendous amount of orchids, there is a large variety of cactuses and other exotic flowers, it was marvelously beautiful.

London Diary – Regent Canal

 

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Feb 22, 2016

Somehow London’s fascinating canals had escaped my radar until only this past weekend. But I was immediately intrigued and set to learn and explore. This extensive network of waterways has been around for a long time in the heart of the city and although these canals had not been employed the way they were intended due to the emergence of railways, they deservingly have been preserved and became permanently charming part of London’s landscape.

The two major canal systems north of River Thames are Grand Union Canal and Regent Canal. There are boat tours available but we opted for walking Regent Canal, which is about 8.5 miles between Paddington on the west and Limehouse basin on its east end.

In about 3.5 hours we traveled about 4 miles, roughly half of the Regent Canal, starting from Paddington Station, and stopped at King’s Cross Station. Except a few disappointing trash strewn spots, it was overall a fabulous jaunt and many highlights along the way.

Paddington Station; pretty Little Venice; fascinatingly colorful House boats that you’d see at certain parts of the canal near Little Venice and more down the road and yes people do live on these boats; many Locks and bridges; gorgeous mega mansions just before reaching Regent Park, each of which touts a price tag of 80 million pounds and up, and, the park itself; Feng Shang Princess, which is a Chinese restaurant in the shape of a boat on the canal; Camden Town, which is vibrant scene with its crowded market right on the canal, where we stopped for a light replenishment, and its long stretching high street lined with quirky store fronts; St Pancras Station is a railway station housed in a magnificent Gothic Revival Grade I listed building, and its expansion into a modern wing; right next to St Pancras is King’s Cross Station, of both rails and underground, which is tremendous with a modern interior and grand exterior, and it is where Harry Porter’s famous Platform ¾ is located. There was a crowd of people waiting for a photo op at the spot and yet no one disappeared into the thin air, Hogwarts must have been closed that day.

The following are websites with wealth of information on the canals:

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk

http://lndn.blogspot.co.uk/2005_05_01_lndn_archive.html

 

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London Diary – Portobello Market

Portobello Market in Noting Hill was fun, fun, fun. I first learnt of it from the movie Noting Hill, but it has been around for a long time. Part of the market including the food market is open Monday through Sat, Saturday is the day however it’s got the most shops participating and draws the most crowd.

The shops span across Portobello Street, which is a long road, between Pembridge and Westway, and also Tavistock Road. There is an interesting variety, period and contemporary clothing, music, knick-knacks, vintage and antique jewelries, silverwares, more antiques of all sort, etc. We had a couple of hours and browsed through only a small portion of the market. Here are a few interesting ones. Alice’s, founded 1887, is so filled in every inch of its space with unusual items, you have to navigate your way through the skinny path carefully to avoid bumping on things. Judy Fox Antique is full of beautiful antique pieces, including many elaborate, exuberant French items.

Silver Fox Gallery has multiple shops under the same roof and has interesting items but what I like the most about it is the cafe in the basement. I was skeptical when I went down and realized the tiny little place that it is, a husband and wife team working behind and counter plus a few small tables tucked in its corner. But it completely won me over. Its bacon, egg, pesto and leafy salad sandwich was delicious, the hot lemon ginger drink was something special, warmly and aromatically delightful, and, they serve Pasteis de Belem, which is the tasty Portuguese pastry we had learnt of from the recent trip to Lisbon and had been very sorry to leave behind, and a pleasant chat with some customers who live in the neighborhood, to boot. One of them was a talkative lady who had many good words for the soups and engaged us in a bit of political exchange about US election and UK’s referendum on leaving or staying with EU.

Now that is a fun market for everyone.

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London Diary – Chinese New Year of Monkey and Valentine!

Feb 14, 2016

Happy Valentine!

Happy Chinese New Year of Monkey! Although Chinese New Year of Monkey started on the 8th, London’s annual celebration of Chinese New Year was today. What a celebration! I had heard it was the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside China and still it exceed my expectation. The all day celebration was spread out between Chinatown and Trafalgar Square; parade, ceremony, lion dance, dragon dance, music, dance performances, games for kids and more.

The whole area was festively decked up and very busy. I don’t remember the last time I had seen so many people or so many red lanterns. Trafalgar Square was full and Chinatown was packed. Gerrard Street was the vortex of the activities in Chinatown and when lion dance was performed periodically, it was brought to a standstill.

We were very late in getting to Trafalgar Square but between heads, decorating flags and lanterns, we managed to see the Flying Lion dance and Dragon dance, which were some amazing performances.

Our celebration ended with a yummy dinner back in Chinatown.





London Diary – A weekend in Lisbon

Feb 11, 2016

We took our first trip to Europe from London! It was a last minute decision; I booked on Thursday a flight and hotel package from lastminute.com, and we were gone the next day to Lisbon for a long weekend. Why Lisbon? Because we had never been there, and Lisbon was the city out of the list of interest that had warmer temperature and sunshine on the forecast.

Lisbon is immensely impressive. Situated north of mighty Tagus River, it is very pretty with its colorful, handsome buildings, which were built mostly after the 1755 earthquake that wreaked havoc to the city. Lisbon is also home to a number of imposing landmarks, including some UNESCO sites.

Our hotel being at Marque de Pombal, the city gave off a grand first impression. Marque de Pombal is a vast roundabout surrounded by many midrise buildings and dominated in the center by a spacious square and a tremendous, imposing monument to first Marquis of Pombal, who was to Portuguese people a great leader that led the country through the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in 1755. Continuing southward from the roundabout is the impressive, broad boulevard Avenue Liberade. It has tree lined, statue adorned, and decorated cobble sidewalk on both sides that are as wide as the motorway.

Throughout the weekend, I noticed most of the pedestrian walkways are decorated cobbles. It seems a rather labor intensive way of making and maintaining the streets so I asked our guide, Lidia, about that later. To her, it couldn’t be more natural; that is just the way it is done there. The area is rich in limestone and basalt. Slates are laid down and tools are used to “chop, chop, chop” them down into cobbles, using limestone as the pavement and basalt for embellishment.

Top Lisbon attractions are conveniently located in Alfama and Belem areas of the city.

Alfama is Lisbon’s historic old town. Hilly with narrow cobble streets, it is home to Cathedral Se and St George’s Castle among others. It is easy to walk up to the cathedral. For the castle, bus 737 is one option, the other is to take a Tuk Tuk, a golf cart like taxi that you find plenty of outside the cathedral. Although it gets very bumpy on the cobble streets, it is a good option for a tour of 30 minute (€35) or one hour (€40) that takes you to multiple points on the hill, including some of the many lovely lookouts (Miradouros). Conquistador near the entrance to the castle is a nice place to eat.

Our Tuk Tuk driver cum tour guide told us she was from Barcelona and had lived in Lisbon for ten years. Having seen Flemenco in Seville Spain, admired and enjoyed it very much, I asked about the difference between Flamenco and Portuguese Fado. She was quite animated in giving her answer, “Fado is very sad, Flamenco is happy”.

At the bottom of the hill is the stunning Rua Augusta Arch, Lisbon’s own Arch of Triumph, overlooking Commerce Square on the river’s bank, where you have an open view of Tagus river, Almada (the city south of Tagus), Christ the King (a statue on Almada that looks the same as the one in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil) and 25 de Abril Bridge that was built by the American Company that built Golden Gate and looks like Golden Gate. Between Commerce Square and Rossio Square near the end of Avenue Liberade is a nice and vibrant area with restaurants and shops.

Belem is a beautiful waterfront area further west, home to the stunning Jeronimos Monastery, Monument to Age of Discovery, Belem Tower, beautiful garden of parterres and water fountain, and museums. There are many option for getting to Belem, bus, tram, trolley, a few Tuk Tuk and taxis. While in the neighborhood, try a few pastries at Café Pasteis de Belem, which I luckily learnt of from the young woman sitting next to me on the flight. The café specializes in a variety of pastries and is especially famous for Pateis de Belem, a delicious sweet pastry with crunchy tart and crème brulee like filling. Pateis de Belem originates from Café Pasteis de Belem but it is so popular that it is available now at almost every bakery in the city.

The most memorable for me however was the visit to Sintra, a picturesque small town 18 miles west of Lisbon, and its stunningly beautiful coast on the Atlantic. We took a train from Rossio Train Station in Lisbon to get to Sintra. Once there, we booked at the station a private tour with Green Walk tourcompany. With our driver and guide Lidia, who was patient, friendly and a wealth of information, we saw some of beautiful sites.

The tour first headed out to the coast before returning to Sintra. We stopped at Apple Beach (Parai das Macas), Azenhas do Mar, which is a breathtakingly gorgeous village built on top of a cliff overlooking its little beach, Parai Grande (Big Beach), Cabo da Roca, which is a cape jutting into Atlantic ocean and the most westerly point of the continent, and Peninha, a Chapel atop a rocky hill with a stunning surrounding beyond Cascais & Sintra National Park. Driving through Cascais & Sintra National Park towards Sintra, the phenomenon of Boulder Field awaited, fields and fields of limestone boulders popping out left and right all the way through.

Sintra is a picturesque town spread across the hillside. Five minute from the train station is the town center and Sintra National Palace. Stroll through the narrow streets in town center, you might stumble across some view point, or a wine shop named after Lord Byron who visited the town, or Piriquita, a café and pastry shop.

Our guide recommended Piriquita to us. We waited in line, which moved fast, and tried the traditional pastry, which has sweet tasty creamy filling in a crepe like wrap but crunchy on top, and was absolutely delicious! A few minutes later, we ran into another one of the same shop, with a line spilled out to the street.

At the end of the day, Pena Palace is the crown jewel of Sintra. Perched on top of the highest locale in Sintra, overlooking the Moorish Fortress and stunning valleys around, and fantastically colorful, it is like nothing I had seen before. But wait, I had seen it before, in a fairytale! That was the perfect end to a day in Sintra.

A few post scripts. State run museums in Lisbon close on Mondays. Transportation is much less expensive than London, all metro rides are €1.25 each, regardless the distance. Train ride from Rossio Train Station to Sintra, a 20 mile and 40 minute ride, costs as little as €4, round trip. Lisbon’s transport card is paper and costs €0.50, London’s plastic Oyster card costs £5.

But I was happy to be back to London, London seems so much more vibrant. By the end of the weekend in Lisbon, I had noticed a sign of neglect throughout the city, especially the area outside of Alfama and Belem, trash, graffiti, rusty windows, faded paint, chipped and dirty walls. Whatever difficulty the city is experiencing, I hope it’ll rise to the challenge, come out bigger and better. After all, it had done it before. Best wishes to Lisbon and its kind people.

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London Diary – More of Thames and Van Gogh

Jan 30, 2016
The weekend is coming and my husband would ask what we are doing for the weekend. And I would have the answers. Really it’s been an easy job for me, there seems to be endless possibility here.
Having tried a small part of Thames Path between Richmond and Ham, we are to go back to Thames Path for Kingston today. Waking up to a dismal grey sky wasn’t the tonic for the day, I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready anyway. Unexpectedly, but oh so happily for me, things took a 180 degree turn, the over cast was completely wiped away and it became a brightly sunny day and it stayed that way until the sun set.
We started from Richmond Hill, which can be reached by District Line or Bus 65. At the bottom of the hill is Petersham Meadow, where the surrounding starts to look rural. A path across the meadow will take you to Petersham which is a neat historic village between Richmond and Ham. In about a mile southward along the river from Petersam Meadow is Ham House on Thames. It is a Grade I listed building and currently managed by National Trust. An elegant house with a refreshing style, I could not have guessed it a 17th century house. Almost right across the river, is Marble Hill House, a white 18th century Palladian villa.
We traveled by the eastern bank of the river. The river was still mostly quiet but here and there we would see seagulls and ducks bobbing and some groups rowing. While there are cottages and low rise buildings along the way on the western bank, the eastern side of the river is mostly woods and fields. In about 3 miles, we passed the town of Teddington and its river lock and dam. Once in Kingston another 1.5 mile later, the environment became that of an urban scene. Kingston is apparently a large town. We made it to Kingston Bridge just as the sun was setting. After beer and a snack at a pub near the bus stop, Grey Horse, we headed home.



Jan 31, 2015
It had been more than 4 weeks since I last visited National Gallery, finally I was going back to finish my viewing, Rococo, Impressionism and post Impressionism collection. Save the best for last indeed, that was my favorite part of the museum.
So many great works, the painting of a girl by Madame Le Brun, The Market Cart by Thomas Gainsborough, Venice by Canaletto, La Yole by Renoir, Water Lily by Monet, and the list goes on. At the end, it was Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings that mesmerized me.
Once I set eyes on them, they seemed to draw me in and in. I stood there, stared, pondered and marveled at them. In comparison, they are smaller in scale than most of the other paintings there, and they are relatively simple in subject matter and composition, two crabs, long grass with butterflies, still sun flowers, wheat field with cypress and a village scene, and yet, they speak to me with intensity. The colors are striking; each brush and line effortless yet alive and fluid with energy; a dream like quality is palpable in each of these paintings, and yet you are convinced it is real. The result is that unique finish that belongs to none but Van Gogh. Not all his paintings are as happy as these, but still, considering the struggle he had in life and with his illness, it is amazing that he was able to capture beauty as he did.
I joked with my husband that I get Van Gogh probably because I have some of that “craziness” myself. Alas, not nearly enough to be the genius that he was. LOL…

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London Diary – Winter Wander Weekend

 

Jan 26, 2016
Many here love walking/hiking. And when you’ve had a taste of the extensive web of beautiful “foot paths”, easily accessed throughout the country, you’d understand why. It is not simply escaping to the country of open space, fresh air and delightful scenery. It is also rich history and architecture you’d encounter along the way. The enticement is irresistible.

I’ve done some walks here and there in England, loved every single one and forever looking to do more. A few weeks ago, I found out about a great opportunity, a long list of free guided walks in and around London sponsored by London Transportation was offered for the weekend of 23rd and 24th. I could hardly contain my excitement. Many routes looked fantastic but I finally decided, Richmond to Busy Park (9 miles) for Sat and River Walk in Hammersmith (3.5miles) for Sun.

That was to be the first of this organized walk that happens at most 2/3 times a year. Alas, a bad cold hit before the weekend. Although still battling the cold, I couldn’t help but try. I went but had to stop before long. I got as far as Ham House (one mile down) and turned back. It was however enough to whet my appetite.

Richmond is a pretty London suburb on the river Thames and the route is part of the longer Thames Path that stays close to the riverside. The list is also a wealth of information. I hope to catch up with the group next time, if not, I’ve picked up many walks to do on my own.

Here is the listing of the walks, http://www.walklondon.org.uk/

National Trust has a great walking route for Richmond and Ham House. The views from Richmond Hill and Henry VIII’s Mound are lovely. See link for details, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden/trails/ham-house-from-richmond-walk