Friday, July 10, 2015

Day 25 - London start

As I sit here in a very frustrated state at an Airbnb that is not going so well, I'll reminisce about my first real day in London on this trip and how much better it was.

Our friends' house was a far cry better than the one I wrote this post from!

I started out at Lori and Gideon's house, taking in a visit with their son Noah, who is a 15 year old I relate to. He's very direct, with a funny sense of humor, and I feel like I would have connected with him at school had I met him then. I took off that morning for the center of town, taking in a bit of their charming neighborhood, called Haggerston or De Beauvoir, which is park like and suburban. The first night there they put me up in a luxurious guest room with down comforter and a lovely garden view, but then a cousin came to town and I was put into a closet (seriously) on an inflatable mattress! And loved it! For one thing, the closet has windows on two sides and was big enough to put a queen size mattress in it, and then just being able to hang out with them was a treat. Plus it was an easy base of operations once I got the trains sussed, which didn't take long. London's public transport is phenomenal, even if it is a bit pricey. It can take you just about anywhere in the city, and it's generally comfortable. I never waited more than 5 minutes for trains during the whole trip. 

Some of the recent London building additions have some pretty questionable design!

One of the first things that struck me was the number of construction cranes visible from anywhere in London. Seems like the building boom is going strong here. Wish I could say I loved all the additions to the city, but it is good to see the economy is alive and kicking. 
Soane Museum, on Lincoln's Inn Fields.

I had a big list of things to see in London from all my online research, and I wasted no time to get in to the Soane museum, built around John Soane's house on Lincoln's Inn Fields in the middle of town. Soane was a classical architect who designed his own house, those for clients, and some major works such as the Bank of England headquarters. He also collected all kinds of Roman, Greek, and other bits of architectural and ornamental items for his teaching practice, much of which is on display as it was left in the house in the early 1800s. The house is a crazy rabbit den of passages filled with shelves and pedestals, innovative and unusual rooms with things like tinted skylights and a central heating system that rises up from the basement, and a very cool picture gallery with swinging doors that increase the hanging area by fourfold. Only bummer was a ban on photography, so I was sneaky Sam with my phone cam, which puts a damper on the experience. Nevertheless, it's a great spot I highly recommend, and it's FREE!

Sneaky Pete photo of the interior of Soane Museum showing his packrat tendencies.

After that I walked over to the nearby British Museum, also FREE, and spent several hours wandering the immense halls and snapping freely. The collections here leave the Met's collections far behind, with hall after hall of just the Greek things, including of course the hotly contested Elgin Marbles, taken off the Parthenon in the early 19th century and shipped to London for "safekeeping".  

"What did you bring home as a souvenir, my dear?"
 "Not much, a few statues and a temple or two."
Wandered around a bit longer in the center of town, trying to see something I might recognize from 35 years ago, but things are so much more commercial today (just like in NYC) that I really couldn't get anything that felt at all familiar. Took the train back and enjoyed a bite with friends.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Day whatever- it's all over!!

What an epic trip this has been! I've been on the road for over 7 weeks, and now am sitting on the plane back home, trying to make some sense of it all before we get home and the details of trying to catch up with everything overwhelm me. I never believed Marianne when she first said I should stay out until July 8th, and yet here it is and here I am, still alive and writing too. 

Marianne and our friend's daughter Xanthe on the first day of the trip in Rome.

Beginning in Italy to stay with our friends in Rome, then down to Lecce for the Salon Conference of Decorative Painters, staying a week or so afterwards while Marianne went home to finish up the school year (she's the school nurse at our local junior high), meeting back up with her in London, going out to Bath area for a reunion of old friends, splitting up again while she and her friend Heather went off to explore ancient stone circles and wells while I had a good dose of London and a good dose of friends I stayed with, traveling up to Leeds to see a couple grand houses, then flying to Ireland to meet M. once again, staying in Dublin with her family connection, driving around the southwestern end of the country up to Galway area, then finally flying back to London for a wrap up week of museums, houses, and another great friend reunion. 

Old friends in Froome.

So many new experiences and places; I hadn't been to London in 35 years, and Ireland in 42 years! Southern Italy was unexpectedly different, Caserta was jaw dropping, London was unrecognizable, same for Dublin, Leeds was unexpectedly pleasant (other than driving!) and rural Ireland was a whole new cup of fresh tea (ditto for driving there-- Yikes!!) 
Stacks of peat drying in Western Ireland

I could definitely keep going like this for a while if I had the budget, but responsibilities call, and of course I look forward to seeing the family, and dogs, and cats, and bike, and surfboard, and getting back into the studio to try to assemble and react to all the amazing input I've had over the past 52 days! 
Superfast one day mural done with a couple of scenic painters in London. Each panel is 10'x10'!

I can see from this how celebrities must need to take lots of photos and keep diaries- it does tend to blur and the distances of time seem immense- the Salon experience seems like a year ago already. Definitely had our trials on this trip, as probably always happens and will happen, especially when one is traveling on the cheap, But it makes for such a great time, and some of the most random moments end up being the most memorable. I will continue to post the chronological diary entries of the trip as I go back through the photos and remember the days, but I wanted to try to catch the moment while it is still fresh. 

Bubbles in Trafalgar Square

Hello "real life"!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Day 24 - To London, to London, to buy a fat pig!

[from two weeks ago- still playing catchup]

Finally got in touch with our friends Lori and Gideon, who had been down at the reunion in Frome, and they reiterated their invite to come stay with them in London, which I happily accepted. I uneventfully got myself to the Brighton station and took the train to London, which was mercifully less expensive than the cross country adventure I had taken a few days earlier. I arrived at the Victoria station and couldn't contact Lori for a while, so I went straight away to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham, which I knew I wanted to see, and was only a short walk from the station. As a bonus, they had a coat check that could take my travel bags (a lot of them don't, as I learned later) The funny part was that they had to do a security check like you'd get at the airport, seeing as how close to the Palace they are, and the girl there was quite thorough in her inspection of my dirty socks etc, to the only slightly stifled annoyance of a couple of blue hairs waiting in the queue. Mostly I had come to see the architecture and the statues by Sandy Stoddart, who had been at the Classical Traditions Conference last year. I was not disappointed by those, though the collection was a bit thin, despite a nice Rembrandt biblical painting.

Queen's Gallery at Buckingham, architecture by John Simpson, sculptures by Alexander Stoddart.

After that I went down the street and saw the bear hat guards out in front of the Palace, sat by the fountain, then walked down to try to see Apsley House, which would not allow my bags (or photography- so forget them!) Went to the Hyde Park rose garden, which was hitting its stride and had a number of unusually beautiful flowers and combos, then heard from Lori and got on the tube to follow her directions to their house, on a lovely little park called de Beauvoir in NE London. 

Flowers in the rose garden at Hyde Park

Next day got up and went in to see the Soane Museum, where Sir John Soane had assembled a packrat's collection of ancient architectural fragments and molds, paintings by Hogarth, a Canaletto,  and amazing watercolor renderings of his projects by his compatriot Joseph Gandy. The house is a fun glimpse into the kind of accumulative mentality of the early 19th century, with items piled and hung one on top of the other in dusty profusion. The pictures gallery has giant swinging doors that allow pictures to be hung on both sides, thereby maximizing the amount of art that could be hung. Many of the rooms seem larger than they are by virtue of their designs, and the whole house has light channels that flood the interiors with amber light through tinted skylights all the way to the subterranean level. The library is of course very enviable, with notebooks of thousands of original Adam brothers drawings from their Grand Tour of Europe (what I'd give for a week or two to look through those!) I hear I just missed the reopening  of some of his personal rooms by a day or two, so if I make it back to London, it might be worth another visit. Especially since they also ban photos (boooo!!) so i could take another shot on sneaking a few more.

John Soane's museum, a packrat's delight!
After a quick lunch I walked over to the nearby British Museum, where I was pleased to learn that it's FREE, and they do NOT prohibit photos. Featuring a cornucopia of artistic gleanings from around the world, including the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon, the museum is an encyclopedic look at the world's physical cultures. Despite my four hours of intensive scrutiny there, I need to go back again, as I entirely missed the prints and drawings collection, and a bunch of other things I'm interested in. This is not a one day museum! It's all housed in a great building too, with polychrome neoclassical Greek ornaments, designed by Robert Smirke in the early 19th century. Hall after hall opens up, with bits you'll recognize and many you won't. And then there's the recently glassed over central court, by Norman Foster, which allows a nice amble in climate control, but appears to be aging rather badly after just 15 years.

Ceiling of the BM addition looks pretty cool- until you look closely at the pigeon debris!

After they dragged me out of there (kicking and screaming "no!!") I walked about for a bit in central London, trying to get any semblance of familiarity from the last time I was here, in 1978. I couldn't. It all seems so much more commercial than my memories of it, with so much street level activity everywhere. Restaurants, shops, adverts, kiosks, walkstreets, and general crowds seem so much thicker than I remember. I'm sure the same thing would be true of New York or even LA if I hadn't been there in the intervening years, but it's strange to be somewhere you know you've been before and not recognize a single thing.

Not quite sure what they were thinking with this modern addition to town. Total disharmony.