I waited to leave La Gaffe until the working people had made their mad dash – often literally – to catch trains. The weather is still a bit nippy (for this native Floridian anyway) – in the 60’s, but the sun was shining and I had my trusty coat so I was good-to-go. I headed to Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square, via Tube, to see if there were any shows with half-price tickets that I may want to see this evening. There really weren’t. Like New York, shows are expensive in London but you can often get half-price tickets at Leister Square at the official booth on the day of the show. There are other discount venues, but all reliable sources advise to stay away – so I do.
Pygmalion has opened at the Garrick Theater starring Rupert Everett (The Importance of Being Earnest with Colin Firth…sigh & My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts) and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Higgins but they didn’t have a matinée today and the evening show wouldn’t get out until later than I wanted.
So I walked the short distance to Trafalgar Square and St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. St. Martin’s-in-the- Fields is a beautiful old church, so named because it was once, well, in-the-fields. Sometimes things really are that simple. There’s been a St. Martin’s here since 1222. The current church was built in 1726 and has wonderful acoustics. On certain days, they offer free lunchtime concerts – today was one of those days. I was a little early, so I went downstairs into the crypt for lunch. I know that sounds ghoulish, but the café is literally in the crypt. I had a cup of soup and coffee and read until it was time for the concert. Today the performance was given by the Ellipsis Quintet (flute, oboe, French horn, clarinet, & bassoon). Mallory and Savannah, my niece, would have enjoyed it – they both play clarinet. The composers featured were more contemporary than the old masters. I’m an easy audience – I just like live music.
About mid-way through the concert, a dapper man dressed in a tweed jacket (I swear I’m not making this up – it was a tweed jacket) passed me a note. It read, “Not exactly Mozart is it? But the last part by Ibert should be worth waiting for.” I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. Now I don’t know Ibert from Kermit-the-Frog, but what do you do? Afterward (actually Ibert didn’t sound any better or worse than the other composers to my ear) he wanted to chat a bit – I think I could have had a companion for the rest of the day. Though originally from England, he had lived in Scotland for many years, so in some ways was as much of a tourist as I am. He asked if I knew about the Burghers of Calais, which is a sculpture by Rodin (you know the sculptor of The Thinker and The Kiss?) – so we got out his map and I showed him how to find it. I was pretty proud of myself, considering I am usually lost most of the time – anywhere I go. Ask anyone who has ever traveled with me – part of my charm.
Just across from St. Martin-in-the Fields is the National Gallery. If I had more time I would have gone through it again. It is full of priceless art – Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh – just name the artist and something by them is in there. In front of the National Gallery is a statue of George Washington – an odd gift from Virginia.
Directly in front of the National Gallery is Trafalgar Square. It’s always full of people. My daughters put their feet in the fountain (along with many others) when we came in 1997. I was here in 2005 and arrived the day of the bombings. I went out looking for an internet café (which I later found over a strip-joint) because I knew the girls would be worried. Mallory had already tried to reach me without any luck. There was NO ONE in Trafalgar Square except me and a young man who was obviously following me. Where I went, he went. It was getting dark and he making me more angry than scared. Of all days to try and mug someone – when the city is shut down and everyone is reeling over this tragedy – really? So I turned around, glaring in my meanest way, looked him right in the face and walked straight at him as fast as I could. He freaked out and took off running. I am a really nice person – but that was just unacceptable behavior!
From Trafalgar Square, I walked along the Victoria Embankment – it’s a beautiful walk along the Thames toward Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. There is a painting by Monet with this perspective in the National Gallery. There’s a poster print by Monet in my living room.
Directly across the Thames on the south bank is the London Eye and the Aquarium – any easy walk over the Westminster Bridge. The London Eye goes very slowly and you can walk around each “pod” to see different views of London (on a clear day).
Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey are all within a block of each other. These folks camp out, literally, in front of the Houses of Parliament with various protests. You can see the themes – look familiar?
I wandered around Westminster for a while then had a couple of hours until things closed. My son-in-law, Ryan, is a Sherlock Holmes fan, so I took the Tube up to Baker Street and went through the Sherlock Holmes museum. It was cute – not much about Arthur Conan-Doyle. It was equipped more like Sherlock Holmes had actually lived there. You even got to meet Dr. Watson!
All of that mystery-solving made me hungry and by-jove, it was tea time! I usually splurge once during a trip to England and have “high tea”. I also try and choose a swanky place to do it. I’m a budget traveler so I don’t often stay in expensive hotels. I actually don’t even like expensive hotels. I stayed at the Waldorf in London once – and I can’t remember a thing about it. But for tea…these places are fun. I chose the Lanesborough near Hyde Park, but with Tube connections missed the last seating (5:00 p.m.). This turned out great because they seated me in the library. I ordered tea, which came with shortbread, and a chicken sandwich. This is a hotel where every guest gets a personal butler – no I am not kidding you. So, the setting was lovely, as you can imagine. Here’s the cool part – my afternoon “tea” cost just shy of 20£ (a lot, but remember this is a splurge). High tea in dining room would have been 49£. Never be afraid exploring hotels like this – I always walk in like I own the place. In London, it’s fun to look for unique places to have “high tea”.
After tea, I sat and read for a bit – partly because I didn’t have the check :-)Then I headed back to La Gaffe. I am writing this sitting in the wine bar. I’m not hungry -so just enjoying some wine. As usual, several locals have stopped by. Lorenzo is working late this evening and has welcomed some new guests, the Joy family from Washington, D.C… Mark (Dad) is a former professional musician. Pat, (Mom) is a former professional singer. They have two young-adult children, Caitlyn and Lucien, both of whom sing. Somehow, they figured out that Lorenzo had a guitar so we were treated to an impromptu sing-along– now try THAT at the Lanesborough! I didn’t hear Lucien sing, but Caitlyn has an unusually good voice. She’s not currently singing professionally, but should be. Watch for that name – Caitlyn Joy – you read it here first.
This relaxed atmosphere is what makes La Gaffe so special – the focus is on relationships. That has been the focus for 50 years, and in Lorenzo’s capable hands, the future looks promising. I do wish I had taken a picture of Lorenzo’s guitar case – the stories it could tell I am sure! He traveled for 7 ½ years visiting different parts of the world. He worked in different places to support himself, and then moved on to wherever he wanted to go next. How interesting. I didn’t get a picture of Giuseppe – he is a valuable member of the La Gaffe team, warm and welcoming.