To travel again. My long awaited return to Europe.

How I psyched myself against travelling in these times.  Doubted, fretted, convinced that I would be caught up, caught out and banished before boarding.  Less than three weeks ago, I ventured towards the check in counter as if ready to go to court, ready to defend with enough documents and test results tucked under my arm, yet the nerves were more prickly than they usually are on a flying day.

Despite the extra expense of PCR tests, my trip to France went smoothly, flying out late with KLM to Schipol airport and onto Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  In terms of documentation, South African Border Control asked for my Health Questionnaire and if I had done the PCR. Schipol Border Control wanted to know why I was going to Paris and to check I had a Vaccine app, and Paris said ‘Bonjour!’ – no security, no border control, and no suitcase.

This arrived two days later.

At no point in France was I grilled about being there.  The bateaux were thrilled with sightseers, parks filled with picnic baskets and students, camera clicking tourists all the way.  Hearing all the different accents, the smooth, romance of the french dialect.  Masks, as is the new fashion, gets hoiked up your arm above the elbow and only used to enter shops, places to eat and public galleries and museums. Walking around Versailles gardens for five hours, a reasonable distance from others, I thought it fine not to wear it and all those around seemed to agree. The rule seems to be keep your distance, be comfortable and use your common sense.  In no way did any of these rules detract from the experience of being there – heavenly, at one with the kings and queens, statues and turning leaves in the Tuilleries.

The difficult part lies squarely at the foot of the UK Border Control.  For months, the British government have employed rules and regulations befitting a psychedelic rave.  Draconian rules of which countries are Red, Amber and Green, which can change as quickly as the sucked colours of Smarties.  This leaves business and family travel (I hesitate to say leisure for fear of the ‘stay at home mate, this is a pandemic’ participants crawling onto the platform).  Family travel and business travel then – members of families who have been separated for too long, business travel that makes the world go around. More noteworthy, and I am flummoxed on this score – it seems as if there is more afoot that the sudden raising or lowering of country colours than meets the eye. Pressure maybe, politics sir, or just a little bit of profit involved methinks?

Your vaccine and my vaccine are the same vaccines but no, doesn’t count here.  Isolation required and again, some pretty serious money for all the tests, but this was something I knew and did willingly to return to my children.

Though I resent some of the rules, exempting the wealthy, sports events and such, I am delighted to be travelling again.  Invigorated by change, different destinations and cultures, different tastes – to stand before great art and light candles in a vast cathedral is deeply satisfying. Loved my quirky, yet charming hotel on the left bank, great dinner with friends and family and crossing France, and under the sea on the Eurostar was brilliant.  Wafting through the gardens of Giverny, the vast landscape of Versailles, deeply moving.

The nerves, the longing, the waiting is over.  The last of summer greets me in the morning, the red buses, cheery old friends.  Taking George for a walk in the park, chats face to face rather than zooming  and planning more.  Sadly any return to France would mean another session of isolation if returning to the UK, but I can wait … have been waiting for months now, and a few more will only make the journey more delicious again.

Monet’s Garden at Giverny.

Thiébault-Sisson
From a meadow naked, without a tree, but watered by a babbling and winding arm of the river Epte, he created a true fairy garden, digging a large pond in the middle, planting at the edge of the pond exotic trees and willows whose branches felt in long tears along the bank, drawing all around the valley whose the arches of greenery, intertwining, gave the illusion of a big park, sowing galore, on the pond, thousands and thousands of water lilies whose rare and chosen species were coloured all the tints of the prism, from purple, red and orange until pink, lilac and mauve, planting finally on the Epte at its output of the pond, one of his little rustic, humped bridge, as we see in the gouaches of the eighteenth century and on toiles de Jouy.

An American accented guide, expert on the gardens of Giverny and life of Claude Monet, tried a little too hard it seemed, to convince his clients of his passion, not even five steps into the first scene. Only two, and a little more as I surreptitiously hovered close behind to fall into his dialogue.  A guide myself, I am attracted to other storytellers, we share a craving for knowledge and history, if only one were more attentive.

‘Darn. I should have brought my other camera.’ splitting words from the guide. Her eyes never left the screen of her phone, hand waving about like a conductor, only click, click … pausing to view the shots, never looking at the actual garden.

This was spoiling my experience and I drew away quietly, back to the beginning of the dream. The entrance.

The way to Giverny from Paris is a simple route. Regular trains from Gare Saint Lazare will stop at Vernon where a bus, for ten euros return, will deposit you at the road leading to Giverny.  The day had started well, a brisk walk through the Tuilleries, up past Maxim’s and the Madeleine Cathedral, fresh September morning. Serendipity would pop two lovely ladies on the train seats beside me.  Ronni and Barbara were from Israel, the former having lived in Paris for some time. Short questions turned to lovely conversations and we kept ‘hello again’ into each other in the garden.  We talk still. A perfect start to my dream walk, no matter how long it would take, but every petal would be important.

And it was so. Late September is the perfect time to visit any European garden, and in particular Giverny.  Any season will reveal the splendour of different colour and hue, vivid or gentle, but with the Spring and Summer, waves of tourists, bless them, descend and kill whatever poetry may lurk within this treasure.  It becomes single file, flashing photography, the want of quiet expelled, the pushing of photo opportunities on the bridge over the water lilies a travesty to anything sacred to the memory and artist within the green space. Not now.  Now there was a trickle of like minded souls, each stooped and pleasured by a crimson dahlia or the softest rose. Gardeners came to the garden.

Claude Monet was born in Normandy, where Giverny lies, in 1840. In 1858 he was  introduced to the idea of plain-air painting by Eugéne Boudin, whom he credits for his later success. Following a stint in the army, he joined a Paris studio at the age of twenty-two, run by Charles Gleyre, where he studied with August Renoir and Fredérc Bazille, the latter becoming one of his closest friends.

You can only imagine what times were like then, all these aspiring young artists, seeking a patron, approval, funds and sales. Success was being accepted into the Salon, yet these young artists were straining at the restrictive codes for entry and acceptance and over time (I am giving you a brief overview) artists like Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Rodin, Renoir and Degas joined together to exhibit their works independently from the Salon. This in the most liberal version of art history events, led to a new genre in art – Impressionism. Rather than the clarity of realism and the finite depiction of detail, these artists wanted to paint the idea, the impression of what they were seeing and experiencing in art.  Short, visible brush strokes, play with light and movement in nature, depicting natural, organic scenes in parks and small towns, common scenes, the everyman.

I only give you this soupçon of art history to place Monet and his desire for painting nature in the heart of Giverny, his garden, his paradise and place of colour and light. Monet was to live here for the last forty-three years of his life.  ‘My garden is my most beautiful work of art.’ – Monet

The planting for this time of year are the jewel colours, with the hint of Autumn in the air.  Crabapples and fruit trees begin the rusting of their leaves, roses left to form bright hips. The first ‘rooms’ have lawns with pods of purple and pink. As you meander, it is to the famous arches, now laced with nasturtiums that fall like curtains to the ground. Everyone wants this money shot, so synonymous with Giverny, and it is possible to linger and take it all in.

To the lily pond.  To understand the enormity of this scene is to visit the many galleries, mostly the Museé de l’Orangerie in Paris, where the larger than life paintings can only take your breath away.  Then you can begin to understand the singular passion Monet had for painting them. It is here that he planted, visited at all times of the day, to paint the light, the colour and the seasons of lilies, foliage, water and reflections and transfer them into art. I am in awe, I feel I understand the man here and why this garden became the centre point of his life and work.

Monet’s house completes the afternoon.  If only I could live in a house like this, big rooms, incredible views over the garden, bright and bold colours in every room.  The home of an artist, happy with his second wife, Alice and a brood of children.  A happy place to read, feast, sleep and be enveloped by the fragrance of his garden.  Monet would rise at five in the morning, take a walk through the garden, confer with his gardener about planting styles and seasonal choices, paint all day and in the evenings, read and rest, satisfied that his vocation has borne fruition of his greatest passions, painting and gardening.

Please refrain from only witnessing this garden through the lens of a camera – smell, touch and taste the passage.

I want to start the journey from the beginning, look for the American tour guide and hope that he managed to infuse and excite his clients about this magical story in Giverny.  Sadly it is time to leave, to have a glass of wine in a nearby cafe and plan my return journey. The romance of it all is intoxicating, the blessing of being able to immerse myself in this place, wonderful.  Simply wonderful.

August at Babylonstoren. Spring incoming …

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. —Rachel Carson

One year to the day, I  was on a  flight back to London.  Separated from my children for months due to the pandemic, it was a struggle, but also a joy to discover the warmth, and rain, of winters in the Cape.  Huddled when it rained, sometimes really cold but desperate to be outside when the earth warmed to the sun and nature, washed, preparing for Spring.

It’s the natural light. God’s honey rays.  This is the time when the word ‘gentle’ comes to mind.  A year since, I am here for a few more weeks until I return again.  And again, at Babylonstoren, nestled between mountains, tucked behind vines in Simondium, neighbour to Paarl, Franschoek and a little further, Stellenbosch.  This is true wine land splendour.

Why do I return so often? Babylonstoren is more than just a working wine farm. She tells her history and her place in the world with art in nature, nature in action and a true sense of peace for all to share.

There is a new ticket office at the entrance, my annual pass quickly loaded onto the Candida app – here I can download useful information, including audio tours and plant identification. Nifty to have.

Believe me, it’s not just the children delighted to chat to the donkeys (no hands close please) or greet the many feathered family members.  Sounds of farmyard life, screeches and cock a doodle do’s sweeps the last of the city’s noise away.  Smells of dust, lemons and leaves offer the true sensopathic experience, and in this season, the oils, smells and colour of citrus, a dance through the garden.

This is not a walk to take lightly, or quickly, a flick and flit through maze and veggie patch. Every step offers something new, verdant tufts of carrots, plumpness of cactus, swathes of clivia, olives and rosemary, interspersed with water channels, bubbling delft poetry, quite repose beneath the trees.

What I also love at this time of the year, is the appreciation for landscaping and structure.  When leaves are waiting to bud, the many fruit trees, espaliered in so many different ways, low growing hedges all are clipped, pruned and reveal the actual design, bold and stark.  The garden design, brilliantly created by Patrice Taravella, is magnificent.  Rooms upon rooms of interest, crops, seasonal fare in a way to inspire any gardener.  You may have a small patch, but you take home so many ideas of how to make it both functional and beautiful.  Some of the trees were still dormant whilst others popped with early blossoms, a wedding white confetti dream.

Making my way from Insect Hotel to the Python walk, one is always close to a helpful member of staff working close by.  I have been on the garden tour, and recommend it highly, but of course, remember little of the genus names – I do remember the wonderful cutting from the original Kent apple tree; of Newton fame that rests quietly in a spot in the garden.  The fountain commissioned by Lady Barnard for the Cape Town Castle, an exhibition of rocks with delightful names to make you smile as I meander towards the cafe at the back of the property.   The setting reminds me of french courtyards and Petersham Nursery in Richmond – a time to rest and feast before exploring the Wellness garden. How many times have I slipped the menu into my bag, tried everything on offer and always regret the custom for I want to stay, rooted at my table for hours into the late afternoon.  People are waiting their turn and reluctantly I leave a favoured spot in the world.

The perfect ending is yet in sight.  Passing the fishes floating in a water tank, above the pond, I see children splashing about.  They splash and play with pebbles and sticks and drop leaves into streams (like pooh sticks?).  To the shop and deli I go, stocking up with sweet delights before making my way to the wine tasting shed, a little rosé perhaps, and then to the scents and perfection of soaps, linen water, creams and lavender.

How many times I have visited, I do not know.  How many times I have felt the majesty of the surrounding mountains, early morning and pink late afternoon, I cannot count.  How much I have learnt, stories I have heard and ultimately for me, felt part of the beautiful garden, not enough.

 

A late winter walk though Tulbagh.

The kiss of the winter sun is joyful.

There have been days of rain, and more rain -when I sit indoors with blankets wrapped around my legs and a prized water bottle tucked beneath, savouring winter soup and wondering how the months slipped away. But the South African winter also offers honey coloured days, warm and thick, gentle and gooey days when being outside, exploring, is a terribly good idea.

The Western Cape, where I find myself, is blessed with winter rainfall, and when the sun does come out, it is to reveal the lushest, verdant space topped by endless blue sky.  The cattle are washed, dirt roads pooled and challenging, and landscape at this time of the year, sings. As I get older, my love for nature grows more profound, or does it circle? Tadpole hunting as a child, now tadpole watching again.

 

Visiting Tulbagh begins with a beautiful drive through wine and wheat country.  This is Paarl and Wellington country, rising and falling between misty valleys, slipping down a gorge and up the other side;  tripping names that clicks on the tongue.  Afrikaans footprints.  Colonial drama. Obiqua history. And Tulbagh.

Tulbagh is known primarily for two reasons.  The first is the charming amble along the oldest part of town, Kerk Street, a visual feast of early Victorian, Edwardian and Dutch cottages … and the earthquake.

Love looking at old photos, don’t you?  Generations of people we tend to forget lived a really long time ago, with hardship, pioneering and discovery.  Without grand hospitals, schools – at times trekking, farming, feeding and raising families. Never to return to the country of their birth.

The tourism museum, which doubles as the Earthquake museum (you heard correctly), pays homage to the early settlers.  I wonder why they always have to look so glum? Even the children here are so serious. Glum must have been fashionable for formal portraits but rather sad, this strict sense of morality and duty. Life was basic, but I am hoping full of romance and laughter too.  Names like Retief, de Vos, de Bruyn, Marais – dutch settlers mainly who were given land to farm in 1699.

Tulbagh was discovered by Mr. Pieter Potter, surveyor for Jan van Riebeeck in 1658, and is the forth oldest town in South Africa.  Can you guess the other three?  Named after a former Dutch govenor, Ryk Tulbagh, the town prospered and officially called so in 1804.

The Earthquake and heritage museums are beside the Tourist information centre and a good starting point.  The staff are most helpful and a ‘pensioner’s’ ticket for R20 will give you access to the church and four museums along Kerk Street.  A poignant visit to the past, unexpected, loss of lives and property, one cannot help but feel for the townsfolk, the farming communities and all those affected by the quake.  This happened on the 29th September 1969, at precisely 10.09 pm –  you will see a clock, time suspended when the earthquake struck.

At the one end of Kerk street is the church and even before entering, I spy the ever important pineapple.  My fascination for pineapples in London and England is well know to many, but to see one here, in the middle of the Western Cape, in Tulbagh, had me at … colonisation.  In the 17th Century, it was the pineapple and tulip that signified wealth in Europe.  Built by the OVC, the Dutch East India company in 1795, the interiors are filled with heritage pieces, an original Bible and here for me, the reality of slavery most felt.  A separate gallery for slaves above the front door, the slave bell at the entrance and a receipt – the buying of a young girl for a few, meagre pounds.

This is why history is so important to preserve – we must never be allowed to forget, the good, and the bad and learn from it.

Camellias bloomed, blossoms pink as we wandered from number to number of house, down the entire street, some converted to art galleries, cafés and restaurants – some preserved in a delighted competition of the gables.  One begins to notice how they change in building style, the further we walked, the more elaborate the gables became.  Times were prospering then, the influence of simple Dutch, to Victorian, and later Edwardian architectural styles, carefully restored after the earthquake to their original form. The Dutch gabled house, so tied to the history of this land, is one of the iconic features in the houses down the road.

 

The walk should be a slow one, each numbered house has a sign with all the information about it, lovely to read before entering and guides to answer your questions. Appreciate the craftsmanship in wood and iron.  My family used to have a farm in the Free State, dating back to the 18th century with window sills exactly like these I found – the walls were so thick that each window offered a little bench to sit and watch the world go by.

Highly recommended and thank you to all who shared their pride in living there with us. To end the day, a glorious meal outside, under the trees, cows close, snow on the mountains and blossoms my kind of happy pink, for spring is on the way.

Discover South Africa, the mystery and magic will hold you close.

 

 

Chelsea Flower Show dates for 2021

SEPTEMBER 21 – 26TH 2021

The Chelsea Flower show may have been postponed in May this year, just like everything else, but the good, no, great news is that it has been re-scheduled for September this year. That is optimism personified, and by the looks of things, tickets are selling very fast.

Events are beginning to pick up again.  England is opening up, perhaps to locals at present, but it sends a clear message that travel and tourism, events and festivals, are back in the dairy.

Prior to The Chelsea Flower show, will be the Hampton Court Flower Show.

There are times, I must confess, the Hampton Court Flower Show, or Garden Festival, is a personal, better choice.  The venue is fabulous, at the famous Palace, built for Cardinal Wolsey  in the Sixteenth century, taken by Henry VIII when the former fell out of favour.  King Henry VIII brought all of his six wives to Hampton Court.  

The grounds are worth seeing, and site specific too many film locations, the latest being Bridgerton.

So your planned visit will be made even more special.  Visit the show, walk along the large pathways between unusual and legendary Yew trees, the sunken garden, all along the beautiful Thames.  Getting there by car, or train is a easily done, or better still, stay in one of the lovely hotels close by.

Back to The Chelsea Flower Show.  It promises to be so much more interesting this year.  Few people understand how much preparation goes into the show, the meticulous planning by growers and landscapers to produce the ultimate flowers, just at the right time – and now, the date has been moved on, so what should we expect in the late summer season?  Garden lovers will not be disappointed.  For those truly immersed in all things gardening, your favourite garden designers will back.

PS. The pictures of the proteas you see, were actually taken at Chelsea a while ago.

If you are planning to visit the show, why not stay in London for a few days?  There are many gardens and parks that will be at their best in September.  Make it a Garden lover’s delight, immersing yourself in everything garden beautiful that London has to offer.

Hopefully, even some International Travel will be open to those who yearn to visit London.  We continue to stay safe, take precautions, but equally, continue to dream of destinations and holidays.

Knowing that The Chelsea Flower Show, is happening this year, hold thumbs, is a great way to get in touch, and plan a brilliant trip.

And who knows, perhaps next year, we can help you plan the ultimate trip around some spectacular English Gardens, including The Chelsea Flower Show.  One of our favourite itineraries.

#thechelseaflowershow #travel #london #travelplanner #englishgardens #thesilvertravelcompany

Trusting to Travel again? How anxious are you about committing?

Brugges in Autumn

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

The truth is, we have all become a tad more boring over the past year.  Lack of stimulation in lockdown, and I say this tentatively, has increased skills of baking and the like, but what do we really talk about now since the world went into freeze the tape mode?  I for one, almost fear the C word conversation now, it’s negative and boring and look forward to being able to JUST GET OUT and experience things.

Like a walk through a gallery, or sitting at a sidewalk café, being able to talk about a route taken, a plan make, a holiday laid forth, which is why I write.  We are being allowed glimpses of foreign holidays in the near future, but are we really?  Will we make plans and then be disappointed?  What do you think?

Camps Bay, South Africa.

Next month was supposed to see me sitting at Lake Como.  Not going to happen.  So today I thought, ok, we’ll move it to Autumn, still a beautiful time to visit the Lakes.  Or Brugges, or Paris or …

And I begin.  Flights.  Have vouchers and look at dates.  I begin to lose my nerve.  What if this is going to end up being cancelled, all over again?  After the previous, plentiful cancellations, I find myself fearful of dashed hopes. Interestingly enough, looking at dates for Varenna, the hotels are surprisingly full, which indicates that others like me are hoping things will resume some sort of normality again.  Maybe I should just get those dates in, imagine waiting for the green light and I am stumped for accommodation? She ponders.

Then I begin to wonder about the thought of having to wear masks in public, in restaurants, on public transport.  Will that still be required – how is it going to feel when one goes exploring for hours on end, only to have to breathe through cloth for most of it?  Will it be the same, will I be tentative of every entrance, a crowd of people, buying a ticket?  How anxious am I really?  Do you feel the same?  Have we become so fearful of the unknown virus that it will keep us from living full and curious lives, indefinitely?

Left bank. Paris.

The braver amongst us will be on the next flight. Cheap as chips, anything to mix and mingle and party into the night.  I remember that energy, I wish I still had that bravado. Families will staycation, but when you are a single, solo traveller like me, later in life, it is the cities and culture you crave, more than a suntan, in my case anyway.

It is the storytelling in travel that takes hold.  Witnessing cultures, art and drama.  Tasting new flavours and hearing new languages.  Stories all. The days are different when we are not at home.

As much as I yearn, and itch to travel soon, I myself am still in quarantine – facing hotel quarantine and a million COVID tests.  South Africa will be a long time in receiving the vaccine and so the months are spent patiently waiting, yet burning to immerse myself in airports, cobbled streets, beaches and castles again. How will things look though, and how will they be?  Another day passes and I withhold for final bookings, payments are withheld, like the dreams of being able to collect more stories in my life to share.

Yet, we can follow the rules, be careful and courteous and still push ourselves, or trust ourselves to take the chance.  We need to support tourism, we need to widen our horizons once again, and we need to travel.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. – Saint Augustine

Afraid I am not much company at the moment.  My stories may be getting a little tired.

For me, it is not the fear of the unknown so much as the fear of moving forward from the known.

And I cannot make Banana bread and tell one more person about it.

How do you feel about travelling again?

Images: Travel pockets

Hotel Quarantine? The personal Dickension version, perhaps.

A plague was bad enough. Is bad enough … the dame seems to want to hang around for some time still.  I have been a good girl I have, doing the quarantining when I should have, two weeks in isolation and staring at the ceiling, but then there was the odd spot of walking, and taking in a much needed gulp of fresh air.

Now, dear Lord, the Hotel quarantine has raised it’s ugly head.  For the opportunity to return to London after my stint in the South, I will face a ten day sentence, at my expense.  To recap, just to really ponder it deeply, I shall voluntarily submit to being locked up in a hotel room, at the airport, in mid-winter, at my own expense for the price of a castle, for ten days.  In this time, escorted to jail, I will have the dubious experience of three delicious meals a day, and that is it. Travel supreme.

The vision: travel for twelve hours, subjected to a Covid test with nostrils flaring and gagging on a stick. Mask wearing for close to twenty-four hours. Reception, dark. Interrogation, for sure. Marched to a room, door locked and sealed and … the tragedy begins.

I shall call it debtor’s prison, for surely the cost of the tests, flight and storage of moi, will bankrupt me.

‘It was an airless room, still dank and smelling of the previous occupant.  The stale stench of hibernation pervades. My only companion, my suitcase, must find residence in the small space, enough to see for comfort, not to become the object of ‘Wilson’ to which I may cling as my sanity escapes through the keyhole.

The utmost of fears, realised, is that the window is one that will not open.  It is a non-opening window. Air is expensive. Being an airport hotel, the view, through the unwashed window shall resemble a veil of British waste, streaks of grey to peer between to view, gray. Anxiety reigns.  It is only the first five minutes, so I shall steel myself to the outcome and look for the many bottles of wine I packed in the second suitcase for the very purpose.

As I look around, the bed offers no comfort but a a future womb of troubleness.  There is a desk, a television, a chair and in the beside drawer, a bible.  The latter will come in handy when I say my last confession. The bathroom, no window, will be my second home, complete with small cake of soap and a shower cap which I must resist to put over my head to end it all.

I will exercise – despite the carpet looking like a map of the world with stains resembling cities and the others, we shall call them something else. Perhaps I shall exercise on my bed. Or in the bath. Or, on top of the basin. In a cupboard, if there is one.

Day two will find me at fifty hours of sleeping. Netflix has invaded my veins. Facebook, my best friend and books, well, I forgot to bring any. Good for me though, brownie badge for getting changed into clothes. Make-up done.

Day four and I have forgotten whether I did get dressed, or perhaps just pretended to. The thirty showers a day has become moot. I am trying to remember what day it actually is, so brushing my teeth could have happened yesterday.

Day six and I am Fagan, gnarly and suspicious of sound. Paranoia descends and I am convinced the world has ended and I am the last person alive, only no-one will find me and I shall be locked in forever.  I have made friends with the marks on the walls, given them names and speak to them regularly. The sheets have become monsters and I am singing Christmas songs with stale toast to celebrate.

Tried pleading for a walk, a talk, a trip to the lobby to get tampons and a gun, but they said no. You are too old for tampons and we don’t supply guns. My knives are plastic now. They took the bathrobe belt away.

Day three.  I’m good. At least I think it is day three, or was that last year? I have fallen in love with Piers Morgan, and he speaks to me, I know it is just to me, sending little signals through the television. I have started climbing the headboard, just like I did when I climbed Mount Everest, or was it the Parliament buildings, or the gallows at Tyburn – I forget. The hag in the mirror is cackling at me, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.  But I am not afraid, I am Amazon. What was Amazon? Bits of food confetti my bed. Someone screamed close by, dying in the Great Fire. But I am good.

Day whatever. Fear of water and Golm under my bed. I can play the castanets now, and dribble for long periods of time. The gas lamps are lit, the candles burn and my music makes me long for Barry Manilow. Invented fifty ways of lying on my bed. Was my first glass of wine at six am or six fifteen, I forget but it does not matter … have forgotten a few things of late. Like my name, for instance.  So I will be known as Lucretia.

Call me Lucretia.’

When the hotel staff came for testing, I was naked, begging for more.

When the hotel staff came to let me out, I was sleeping in my suitcase.

Singing softly about coffee houses, gin and toffs who collect dog shit for the tanneries.

So, with this wonderful possibility of a) going stark raving mad, or

b) going stark raving mad.

I may just wait until the hotel/prison/bedlam/gulag/dying in a suitcase/begging for swabs up my nose situation is lifted, I may just sit tight and dream of England, from afar. Oh, England, I long to see you, but your demands are too high for a mere waif like me who needs air to breath, a walk in your wonderful parks, and a coffee that doesn’t taste like the Thames, circa 1600.

Just saying …

Image: Eurocheapo

 

London – a walk beyond King’s Cross.

It is a long way away from the normal, energetic and bustling city I am used to right now.  Nevertheless, there is a beauty in the Sleeping Beauty city of wonder.  Whilst all are in lockdown and keeping close to home, I find myself, for work, and might I add, mental well being, still venturing into the quiet city, still within the boundaries, still to find the majesty and grandeur beneath the veil of silence.

The city is sleeping.  A pocketful of people are out in the financial and tourist areas, and where I would once be striding and headlong walking and giving tours, I now have time to linger, look up, get closer and take in new (and there are always new) sights and signs, adding to the massive photograph selection, notes and reminders, to review, research and formulate different tours.

Today I found myself at King’s Cross and St. Pancras.  These are two of my favourite places, mainly because they are the hubs from which I alight and make my way to the Eurostar. She still travels to Paris, albeit with a select list of passengers and nothing else open, not even a quick coffee to collect for the journey.  I am not one of those fortunate to travel to France at the moment, so must wistfully look at the beauty from afar and wait to return to the queue boarding, in the future.

St. Pancras is an architectural marvel, linked to the grand and stunning St. Pancras Hotel. Now closed, hopefully not for long.

Over the past few years, much has happened to the sort of run down area, behind King’s Cross. Old Coal Yards and Gas Buildings have been transformed into glistening apartments, the University of Arts London, restaurants, piazzas, office buildings and open living spaces.

 

From the rubble to magnificent urbanisation.  Love the way structures of the past, once perhaps unsightly, have been transformed.  In the winter sunshine, the harnessing of urban architecture and green spaces marry history and a vivid past. Granary Square is inviting, complete with urban pieces, water features and an inviting view of the canal. A close walk to Coal Drops Yard, again forged anew from working rail yards and derelict ruins.  Keeping parts of the old structure, two skyward roofs seem to rise from concrete and melt into each other, like the tail of a whale rising up from the sea.

Though quiet today, the hustle of upmarket shops align side by side for business. Glass and brick art. And the building continues. An urban oasis. Loo break provided, and we know in the time of lockdown, loo hunting is part of the game. As a tour guide, this is an essential part of the business, but in lockdown, and doing my research, it is even more vital when a coffee, or two, cannot go amiss, particularly when the weather is bristling and cold.

St Pancras Basin.  How far can one walk along the water’s edge? What is so lovely, as in all of London, is the respect for the past, for architecture which may have been functional, or decorative, restored. Incorporated into the new London, the ever changing London.  We learn so much from every part of her.  King’s Cross remembers the many who laboured and built a great railway, bricked the walls and buildings with pride.  Who brought the coal, the cheese, the people to this mecca.

It is a beautiful walk, not well known to tourists, but important to discover as this is as important and beautiful as the many known tourist sights.

The sun was out, the gloves were on, the eyes pleasured by it all. Now to get down to the notes, the history and how this development will add to the glory of the city and her people.

 

Walking London. Grand Union Canal, Paddington and early Christmas lights.

I really, really, really don’t want much for Christmas … really.  Right now, I just want the whole wide world to return to normal.  That’s not asking much is it?  Just put it under my Christmas tree, in a beautifully wrapped parcel – here delightful, here is the world returned and all is good with the universe.

This lockdown has been brutal. Twelve months ago, the city was vibrant, alive with festive merry spreading.  Lights were inspiring and the best excuse to go into the city, have dinner, or to a show.  A glass of wine at the Stafford after a brilliant tour, so different to now.  So now we are trying to capture Christmas a whole month early, and who can blame us?  Houses are being draped in lights, trees are up and it is only November. Along with the November moustaches and early pretend it’s Christmas, all looks altered again.

To still the anxiety which creeps regardless, and kill the boredom of not having to go to my favourite place for an early morning coffee, I walk. If anything, to hear the sound of buses going, to seek life, to find nature. The tube seems like the last ride to a scary place, all masked and suspicious.  Some are mask defiant and we scowl at them.  I try and sip my second choice coffee furtively and not draw attention – sneak under mask and repeat. Said before, outings now are governed by the acute need to know where to pee – route according to toilet facilities, ah, it has come to this and I guess I am an expert now on where to go when you have to go, when in London.

 

The walk today had me at a few ago. Regent’s park.  It is Sunday, a sunny day, and the entire world is here.  Finding a bench to sit becomes a silent war, as is the pushing and queueing for a takeaway, as if we use ration stamps. The roses are confused – budding and blooming as leaves fall. I feel their fuzziness. The sense of unnaturalness permeates, but we are blessed for sun and budding roses.

Walking along Regent’s Canal is a always a thrill for me, but it is packed with others thinking the same.  We pass, we shimmy alongside, we dodge the puddles and hope not to end in the drink. Armies of the anxious out in the few hours of light. We marvel at the duo paddling on the icy water, actually no. Fawn over the mansions with a view and a silent resolve to try the Lotto once again. The weather is indeed, great, so great I am sweating in the double layering of maybe winter.

And then the light happens.  It’s only four in the afternoon, but the light comes to the water. It is astonishing, brilliant and sharp and magnificent on swans, duck feathers, house boats, spilling down from glass buildings and into liquid. Gushingly gorgeous. We all, collectively, swoon and click. This is the reward for the cloying, claustrophobic living lockdown.

 

The light is dancing on the Paddington basin.  Houseboats are smoking and show piles of firewood on their roofs. It must be cold on the water.  The Grand Canal is a triumph of development behind Paddington station.  Now office blocks are eerily quiet and the many restaurants closed, but the odd ‘essential’ offering open to ply fish and chips, pastries and coffee. It is modern and eclectic and smatterings of old London, given credit and offered to cheer us up.  Love the statues, the messages, the poems on walls and the neon lights.

The station is deserted.

Then it is to London, my style Christmas delight.  The Angels on Regent and Jermyn Streets. Burlington arcade, quiet but glittered.

Lashings of copper, gold and green. The tree in Trafalgar Square is still missing, a gift from Norway to the English in thanks for the support during the war and always delivered, every year.  Will she appear? Still walking, still not ready to go home, I cross to Southbank. There are no stalls, no Christmas music and steaming Mulled wine.

She has survived many times, did I ever imagine myself to see her wounded so? She shoots shards of brilliance still.

 

All weather walk: Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Camden and the Canal.

Hello Sherlock, it has been a while.  I give tours about you Sherlock, and COVID has put that all to bed.  The tourists are far beyond our borders, our borders are closed.  In this time, when it is so easy to get really down and feel hopeless, I am for a walk, a long walk, that begins with you.  Baker Street is a charming Tube Stop, all old and slopey with Wooden staircases leading to different exits.  Normally its bustling with tourists, crowded with tourists for this destination serves two, unique London favourites.  Madam Tussauds, and the man himself – Sherlock Holmes.

I know him intimately and when lockdown fades, can take you to all tales and secrets, and even his ‘home’, at 221B Baker Street. You have no idea how many times I am stopped with enquiries to the home of Sherlock. Bless them.

Where most people recoil from the unpredictable, and gloomy November weather, I love the bracing sharpness that makes walking so much easier.  Clouds of electric blue, dispersed with shots of gun metal gray, and then, the shards of light from a watery sun that turns the sodden leaves to nuggets of gold – the intensity of uncharacteristic seasons all bundled up together, is exhilarating.  As is Regent’s Park, any time of the year.

Regent’s Park is one of the eight Royal Parks, named after the Prince Regent, or playboy prince, who later became King George IV.  The park is one of my favourites and summer is all for rowing boats on the lake, ice-creams and the annual Open Air Theatre.  Visit Queen Mary’s Rose Garden with over 12 000 roses bushes and be enchanted.  I love it in the summer and picnics are a special thing, but it is at any time during the year, from the Spring Bulbs to the stark landscape of fallen leaves and red berries, much enjoyed by this fellow.  As tame as the pigeons on the bridge railing, the Egyptian geese on the lakes and maybe not so tame, are the hedgehogs breeding here, and I am determined to see them.  The park offers a criss cross of walkways, Outer and Inner Circle, sports activities and of course, much walking, and especially in this weather, much needed coffee.

In the lockdown, though I still explore and gather notes, one ‘interesting’ issue to arise, is the lack of bathroom facilities available.  Coffee shops and cafés can now only serve from the doorway and toilets are out of bounds – do not even get me started on this, so irritating, but as a true guide always does, finding clean toilet facilities is an important part of the job.  This time, not so much for my clients, but for me avec the cold weather and hot coffee.  So I make notes of where I will be able to find the next toilets along the route (humbug but neccessaire.) The cafe at Regent’s Park is take away only, and no bathroom, so it was a short walk to the public loos – which have a tiny fee of 20p, payable by contactless card.

The walk was broken by a quick darting into St. John’s Lodge, in the Inner Circle.  The garden is a hidden gem, a little muddy after the rain, but that’s my November thing – striding through muddy patches, hoping not to end up on butt and loving the whole being in nature thing – it’s different in the winter and fall – down and countrified in the city stuff.

The walk, for the loving and the fit, calls you up to Primrose Hill.  The hill of Bridget Jones’ opening sequence and one of the best views over the skyline of London.  For so many people there, it is always a peaceful place.  We are back in the sunshine, and bless us, a touch of physical exercise and sunshine and the joggers strip down to crop tops and goosebumps.  But collectively we stand, resigned at our situation, and looking forth, perhaps for a promise of better, before a silent homage to your struggle brother, to your mental health sister, and peel down the hill into smaller lives.

Bit of a turn here and right there and high street Primrose Hill sparkles in the light I mentioned.  Some jewels are open, some in the box and the locals are clearly loyal to corners for conversations, their dogs either indifferent or grateful for the time to sniff.  One of my favourite restaurant lives in this street – this is a posh area, the houses around the park, up to St. John’s Wood are envious inciting, but generally only for bankers and celebrities, one or two you may spot if you loiter enough.

I am moving from one extreme to the other.  Chalk Farm wedged between Primrose verdant living and the edgy grittiness of Camden Town. This is true London style and why I could never be bored here.  Camden may have changed and become more gentrified in the last decade, she still entices the quirky, the curious and the devoted.  Small entrepreneurs who live their dream and discard the critics, supported by like and live from the punk to the pretty.  They are all at home.  Alleys of locked up loveliness, hidden from the light, but look up at the umbrellas, though a symbol of rain, also the happy dots of we can weather this;  am trying to remain super positive in the loneliness of walking through the Stables.  A few die hard food pop ups temp but the cold and the isolated makes them seem sad also.  The winter of discontent is more pronounced this year. But delight, another toilet opportunity – this is really a tragic situation, and then, of course, to stumble or rather walk into the larger than life statue of Shaka Zulu in London.  This Zulu King does not belong here, abandoned, for now, in an alley.  He looks lost.  I am also thinking, with the whole tear down the statue thing, this king sacrificed young virgins to his hearts content – is he still relevant?  What say you?

The muddy shoes make much of these pathway along the Regent’s Canal.  Puddle obstacles, saunters doing it too slowly but there is no hurry, what else are we going to do? The dampness of rain clings beneath the archways iced with graffiti, into the dark, out in the light, under the archway, another view in sight.  Brilliant homes, tragic views of the London Zoo with Hyenas caged rather than on the Savannahs of Africa – cannot abide the awfulness of it, so look to the Mallards instead.  A single barge comes put-putting down the canal, captain au fait with the instagram moment, no hurry.  Barges line with plastic chairs tied, flower boxes in needs of paint. Winter peels away more than just the prettiness of the summer, yet it is the waiting room for spring and other things can make the days alive and strong.

It is a stunning walk this one, and for most satisfying, but if you think the canal walk goes all the way to the Paddington basin, it’s going to be an abrupt surprise.  This is Edgeware area, there are council flats and bustling shops, the glamour and elegance of the canal much changed as you find your way back to something touristy and familiar. Let it not detract from the splendour, and you can always turn around and do it all again in the other direction.

The walk had plenty of coffee shop (and now she knows the toilet) stops, eateries and seateries along the way.  Great exercise, history and culture, and a little bit of everything thrown in between.

It is a tough time, a really tough time, but I can still get out and discover the very best of London, continue to learn and plan for next year when you are all going to come and visit me!