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Days #2-7: London

We arrived in London on Sunday very well rested thanks to the late night departure from Tampa and the flat beds in Virgin’s Upper Class. Passport control, luggage collection, train into Paddington — all very easy. Our hotel room wasn’t ready. So, we grabbed a snack and drinks at Vagabond.

After that we headed off to the National Galley (renovations ongoing — so a limited collection seemed to be on display) to look at some art for a while before grabbing a dim sum dinner at a family favorite in Soho, Duck and Rice (where we haven’t been together in years).

Monday started with breakfast at Ole & Steen (cinnamon social — yes, please!) and was followed by a trip to the Wallace Collection for a dog art show and tour around their permanent collection. Libby and I hadn’t been to the Wallace in years, and I forgot just how fine of a museum it really is. Very much worth the visit. We spent the afternoon wandering about the West End — some shopping, sightseeing, and beers / lunch split between a Canadian pub (poutine time) and Indian street food at the Seven Dials food hall. In the evening, we went to see Once On This Island at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre — where both the show and venue were enjoyable and certainly worth the discounted ticket price.

Tuesday saw us taking a train out to Hampton Court Palace, which Emerson really wanted to visit last November. We’ve been here more times than I can count, and I can’t say much has changed since our last visit (maybe the addition of the Chocolate Room?), but it was a pleasant visit on a beautiful day. Indeed, the weather all week was cool-ish for Floridians but often sunny and without rain — just great for us! The other daily highlight (especially for Libby) was seeing Aspects of Love starring Michael Ball. The show clearly has issues given modern sensibilities and seems—as many reviewers put it—kind of “daft,” but the music itself was enjoyable and Michael Ball (along with most of the cast) gave a great performance.

On Wednesday, we started the day with a group walking tour of the West End theaters, which turned out to be just us and the guide, Charlie, on this particular day. Admittedly, we know this area of London pretty well and also have been to many of theaters over the years. However, the tour provided more color and richness (origin of phrases. theatre names — insights into early theatre history and personalities) — even for a theatre buff like Libby. After the tour we grabbed a quick, small lunch of some dim sum at Red Farm followed by book shopping at the Waterstone’s in Piccadilly and a visit to the Royal Academy for a small but excellent show of African-American outsider art. For dinner, we went to Hoppers in SoHo — a recent find for me after a visit to the outpost in King’s Cross with excellent Sri Lankan food (best thought of as a spicy variant of Indian cuisine).

Thursday was our final day in London. We started the day without firm plans other than seeing Rose, a one woman play that’s received excellent reviews, in the afternoon. Ultimately, we opted for breakfast at Ole & Steen (cinnamon social, again… yum!), followed by a visit to Daunt Books in Marylebone (somehow a first for us — awesome curation and organization by country for travelers like us), and a visit to the Tate Modern where we saw a two person show featuring Mondrian (fav of mine) and af Klint (admittedly someone I was unfamiliar with). Mondrian was enjoyable but not revelatory — his work and story is so familiar at this point to me. Like a recent show I saw at the Guggenheim during a business trip to New York that featured Gego, af Klint was thrilling as a discovery of yet another wildly talented female artist finally enjoying wider recognition and place of prominence in the “Art World.” Admittedly, af Klint’s story was complicated by her instructions to not publicly show her most significant work until 20 years after her death. However, once given the opportunity, some museums passed on acquiring her works (even as a donation) — I’m sure they’re regretting that decision now.

As previously mentioned, we saw Rose, which can only be described as an amazing performance and theatrical triumph. The story is of a Ukrainian jewish woman, Rose, and her life surviving her upbringing, life in World War II Poland, loss of family, unsuccessful exodus to Israel, and a rebuilt life American. The entire production consists of her relating this story and all of the associated emotions—for almost two and a half hours—from a bench while sitting shiva. Simply amazing.

Dinner on Thursday was early-ish at Pizzeria Mozza, a London outpost of Nancy Silverton’s Californian institution. As expected from the founder of La Brea Bakery, the food was of extremely high quality with an exceptional crust. That said, I probably wouldn’t rush back just because Californian-style pizza isn’t my favorite take on pizza—I’m a snob for NY-style, classic pepperoni thin crust not inventive, circular flatbreads—and there are just too many great options in London to eat pizza when I’m in town.

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