Traveler's USA Notebook

Your guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasuresYour guide to travel news,  discoveries and  pleasures






Days and Nights in London

ome might like to see London, itself, as a museum, but it isn’t. However many fine museums deserve your curiosity, attention, time, interest and wonder.
The Tate Modern
That’s not any old energy you’re feeling. Created in the year 2000, this new cathedral of modernism (art since 1900) occupies a former power station. Sprinkled throughout are assorted Great Names In Art: Picasso, Monet, Warhol Mondrian, Lichtenstein, Bacon, Braque and Pollock to name a few. Onstage now at the Tate Modern is what the Tate describes as “the first major UK exhibition to explore the extraordinary art of Martin Kippenberger (1953–97).” The exhibition includes  Kippenberger installation “The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika’” (1994) This is a collection of tables and chairs set up on a green basketball court, and is “a commentary on Kafka's description of the series of interviews faced by immigrants on arrival in the USA.” Tate Modern is located on the south bank of the River Thames at Bankside, near Blackfriars Bridge, opposite St Paul's Cathedral and next to the Globe Theatre. More information
The Victoria and Albert  Museum
 Take a ride on the V&A. Currently on exhibit is “Anna Piaggi: Fashion-ology.” Ms. Piaggi, according to the museum is “is a fashion reporter, editor, divinor of trends, designers’ muse and self-styled icon.” The show is about how Piaggi thinks about and explains fashion. It is divided into 13 “statements.” These range from a page of text to a room filled with objects.  More information  
The British Museum
Designed in the Greek Revival mode, The British Museum gives the reassuring sense of permanence that culture so desperately craves. Somehow the curvature of the Great Court’s Norman Foster-designed roof, made of steel and glass, furthers this little illusion of eternity. The Great Court is indeed a courtyard but in its center is the original Round Reading Room, where as everyone loves to note, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, clearly a labor of love and vice versa. Other Reading Room regulars have included Oscar Wilde, Mohandas Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Carlyle, G.B. Shaw and H. G. Wells.
Not everyone has gone to the British Museum to soak themselves in scholarship and write major cultural landmarks. It is a museum and people do like to see the pretty pictures, artifacts and what have you. For example there are the Greek and Roman antiquities, including  the Elgin Marbles.
This year the museum is in a mighty Michelangelo state of mind. From 12 January – 25 June 2006, the museum offers “Michelangelo: Money And Medals.” The rare Renaissance Italy coins and medals on display tell the story of the great artist’s real world accumulation of wealth and fame. This intimate exhibit is joined by the official blockbuster  “Michelangelo Drawings: Closer To The Master" running 3 March – 25 June 2006). It focuses on Michelangelo’s amazing draftsmanship over he course of 60 years and gives insights into paintings with  which some of the drawings are associated. More information
The National Gallery
Get a load of storytelling the renaissance medieval and renaissance way and more. The National Gallery’s permanent collection includes Western European works created between about 1250 through 1900. A few of  the artists represented include Monet, Botticelli, Constable, da Vinci, Cézanne, Raphael, Titian, Canaletto, Caravaggio, Rubens and Stubbs. The building itself, located on Trafalgar Square, is an architectural  gem. A recent exhibit was “Tom Hunter: Living in Hell and Other Stories” which showcased the British photographer whose award-winning work captures today’s world, while being  compositionally based on classic paintings.  There are two New offerings (as of 22 February). One is “Americans in Paris 1860 – 1900” which features the work of such Paris-trained Yanks as James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt,Cecilia Beaux, Elizabeth Nourse and Theodore Robinson. A companion exhibit is “Mary Cassatt: Prints.” This features 19 of her prints. For more information about the National Gallery, click here.
Somerset House
Venerable Somerset house is hardly a secret but still there is something thrilling about walking along the busy Strand, entering a building and finding a courtyard and cultural hub. The Somerset House  offers performances, family events, talks and art exhibits. In the winter ( late November to the end of January) the courtyard becomes an ice rink where people skate under ghostly blue lights. Indoors, there is a museum with some  fascinating shows. Currently it is offering “All Spirit and Fire,” 35 drawings and paintings by Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) The show runs until 29 May 2006
 Open House 
Although not strictly speaking a cultural institution, there is something museumish about the annual Open House. This year on 17-18 September, London becomes a  “living architectural exhibition” as government, business and private buildings open their doors. Admission is free but it helps to buy a building guide £3.75. Do it online.
Now that you've soaked up all that culture, get a sense of the different Londons. Amble through or past some amazing places.
Located in the Westminster section of the city, Palace of Westminster, a massive gothic revival structure exudes majesty and permanence. More information. Westminster houses Parliament and a symbol for the ages.
How can a clock be timeless? Big Ben not only declares the time. The 13.5 ton  Palace of Westminster clock tower bell evokes the very soul of London. Poor William Shakespeare did not have the good fortune to hear Big Ben (The bell's first public chime sounded n 31 May, 1859), the music of Shakespeare certainly is in Big Ben's tones -- along with Newton's clarity,  Churchill's will, Princess Diana's compassion and the dreams, thoughts, passions wishes and essence of millions of Londoners, present and past. Have a listen.
Hyde Park is worth finding. It’s known around the world for its Sunday Speaker’s Corner, a sort of open mike (without the mike) for soapbox orators, preachers, assorted zealots and the detractors who razz them. Mostly it’s a lovely park with a lake, flower gardens, fountains, greenery, rowboats,  statues.
More information 
The Marble Arch sits on what once was called Tuburn, England’s number one execution spot. It is now marked by a stone in a traffic island in the junction where Bayswater  Road meets Edgware Rd.  In the 60s Ms. Traveler sat there with her friends and guitar.
In the newly energized south London neighborhood Southwark near London Bridge, the Borough market a long standing fixture has recently been gaining more buzz. It’s amazing what a bunch or fresh cheeses and Brussels sprouts can do for an area’s reputation. There you’ll find vendors spreading their food and wine wares in an assortment of stalls.  a lofty glass ceiling such as you might find in an old fashioned railway station provides a canopy for the outdoor market. Stroll through and it’s a feast for the eyes especially if you have eyes for a feast.
Shoulder to shoulder with each other are purveyors of olives, cheeses, fresh vegetables, fruits, Spanish specialties, olive oils, coffee beans, teas, exotic apple ciders, quiches, soups, steamed puddings, herb, spices. Pies, Mexican chocolate. Stop and sample a cube of cheese or dip a piece of bread into an artisan olive oil. Inhale the aromas of a dozen different foods being fried, steamed, slowly cooked.  Pause at one vendor to contemplate the purchase of “organice spices from hell” or “organic herbs from heaven.” It makes you want to move to London so that you can take a huge sack of fresh, organic foodstuffs home with you and cook up a storm. More information
 With the solid presence of major book publishers and cultural institutions   (e.g. London University and the British Museum), Bloomsbury entered the 20th century with a pronounced reputation as a center for literary sorts. Add a Georgian mews here and there, the musings of the “Bloomsbury Group” (a legendary circle of writers including Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey) and some, book shops, pubs and cafes.
Queensway is a street where you can get things done. Yes! We dare to tell you things other sites wouldn’t dream. Like where to find a launderette in London. Who wants to traipse around with dirty knickers all the time.  Perhaps Traveler is strange; but little satisfies Traveler more than doing washing up a load while on the road. It hits the independence buttons. And maybe there’s a soupçon of  rampant thrift. Why pay hotel prices to uphold the virtue of clean clothes?
Central Wash, 184 Queensway Street, declares it is London’s first coin-op. It’s open seven days a week (8am 10 pm).. It’s near the corner of Westbourne Grove and Queensway, and the nearest tubes are Queensway and Bayswater. Ask for Jack. He is a gem and his customers adore him.
There are several Internet cafes along Queensway. They cost 50 pence per hour. (Hotel business center hookups cost about £4 per 15 minutes.) You can sip a cappuccino while you marvel at how you can receive your spam even in London.  There also are international calling centers. An attendant assigns a phone and you pay when you are through. A UK to US  call is 15 pence a minute.
There is the theatre of the streets and there is the living theatre, West End Theatre, London theatre.  You even can see the god-awful Andrew Lloyd Weber works before they come to the U.S. shores. Fortunately there are other choices.
Donmar Warehouse
Named after Donald Albery and Margot Fontyn. The two used it as  rehearsal space for the London Festival Ballet Company. Previous uses  of the space, dating back to the late 19th century include a storage of hops for a local brewery, a film studio and a warehouse for ripening bananas. Its current life began in 1990 with the hiring of Sam Mendes as artistic director of the  theater. The current artistic director is Michael Grandage.
This season's productions are the world premiere of The Cut by Mark Ravenhill— directed by Michael Grandage, with Jimmy Akingbola, Emma Beattie, Tom Burke, Deborah Findlay and Ian McKellen. (It  ran 23 February - 1 April 2006); Phaedra by Frank McGuinness (after Racine) — directed by Tom Cairns, with Linda Bassett, Sean Campion, Michael Feast, Clare Higgins, Lucy-Anne Holmes, Paul Nicholls, Marcella Plunkett. (6 April - 3 June 2006); A Voyage Round My Father By John Mortimer —directed by Thea Sharrock, with Joanna David and Derek Jacobi  (8 June - 5 August 2006) and the world premiere of Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan, based on the David Frost interviews of Richard Nixon — directed by Michael Grandage, with Michael Sheen (10 August - 7 October 2006). For more information, click here 
And if you'd like  to take in a West End show. you can get cut-price theatre tickets for a great range of productions on the day of performance at the tkts booth, located at Leicester Square Piazza. The booth sponsored by the Society of London Theatre, is open Monday-Saturday 10 am-7pm and Sunday 12-3:30.
More information.
Theatre gives news insights; but you'll find a really fresh look at the world near the Marriott County Hall. Fishies from all over the world come  to the London Aquarium to look at people standing on the other side of the plate glass. . Perhaps the plural of the London Eye is the London wheeee. The 443-ft. high ride carries its status as the world’s largest Ferris wheel with   due authority and humility.
All this gadding about makes Traveler hungry. Here are several remedies. 
The India Club
Certain restaurants distinguish themselves with timeless qualities. Up two flights of creaky stairs, you’ll feel you’re going back into a very dear, almost lost part of London. Those stairs have been trudged for years and years (since 1950) by people who knew that they would get a good Indian meal at a good price in a friendly atmosphere. Every time we come here we see people we’d love to know – writers and other verbal types, local business people, dear friends meeting for lunch, world travelers and the dedicated staff of nearby India House, the awesome building  Londoners go to get their visas for India.
At a time when London restaurants are flexing their muscles and busting your wallets, it is a pleasure to know you can order a huge meal for two vegetarian people for  £13. (If you want booze, bring your own.) The current owner of the 50-year-old establishment has been there for eight  years. It is a cozy room, but you do not feel crowded, the waiters all smile at you and bring you a pitcher of water. Your meal may be delivered to your table via some pretty historic grey metal trays, Do get a look at them.  Razzle dazzle  and glitz have their place, but sometimes we also like to go humble, and real, and go where we can order good solid curry with integrity, and it tastes good too. The dishes are prepared slowly and taste like it. Just like Rama used to make. The lemony walls are adorned as they have been for years with pictures of Gandhi and Nehru and Rabindrath Tagore  143 Strand, WC2.
(020) 7836 0650 7The Strand It’s open 7 days a week from noon to 2:30 and 6-10 plus.
  Govinda’s pure  vegetarian restaurant and takeaway 10 Soho StreetW1D 3DL  020 7437 5875 Okay they’re hari krishnas, but you don’t have to shave your head to enjoy healthful, tasty , portions of a decent curry, lasagna or other veggie treats.  more information
The Place Below
 The Place Below  is in the crypt of St. Mary Below Church, street called Cheapside EC2. tube stop is St. Paul or Bank. Open Monday to Friday only 7:30 to 2:30.  It’s actually quite cheery as crypts go. The place Below is one of those marvelous wonders, one hopes to find. The very workaday, humdrum, normal surroundings and buzz, crypt notwithstanding is the home of a great variety of freshly prepared, tasty, strictly vegetarian, inexpensive meals. There’s just enough virtue in the air to let you know you’re doing a good thing for yourself; but not too much virtue to pale the thrill of scarfing lunch down.
Make no mistake. When you dine in Pearl, you are indeed having a gem of an experience. Who ever thought you could transform butternut squash into gold, beets into rubies and parsnips  into platinum. The restaurant is located in the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, on the site of the Pearl assurance company’s erstwhile banking floor.
Head chef Jun Tanaka has gathered not so much of a staff as a cult. Eager to please the master. Eager to educate and serve the diner/knowledgeable attentive staff.
Pearl strands of Pearls wafting up to the ceiling in columns.. To heighten the magic, a circle of light glows on each table top. The light actually radiates from  below
We were so shocked at how delicious the first bite was we burst out laughing. Rocket, cauliflower, pearl onion, baby carrots and mushrooms all marinated lightly, yet still maintaining each vegetable’s own distinct flavour.
There was the passionate beetroot tart. Different dishes had tiny little daubs of purée.
Tanaka plays with the shape of the dishes. Even the angle at which the dish is presented to you indicates he has a love of geometry and when the honey roasted parsnips came standing in forest of cones, it was  the blessed marriage of  food and quantum physics.
An adorable small soup bowl looked like a Saturn cut in half, smooth and white, or perhaps an inverted flying saucer. The chef chose all the crockery carefully. Another example: A long ovoid plate which the waiter took care to place in front of Traveler at an 150° angle. The main course was some kind of roasted vegetable and butternut squash enrobed in glazed pastry case, so delicate and delicious it sends shivers down the spine. To this day we do not know what was in it but it was incredible. And for dessert, there was cranberry  granita atop vanilla yogurt.
For he hath taken the most humble and placed it on a seat next  to him in heaven. For these are the most humble of all the vegetables and  he has made them the most  heavenly. Perhaps it is true that the meek shall inherit.
Pearl Restaurant and bar
 252 High Holborn ST. London WC1V 7EN
Back to part 1: Guide to London Hotels