Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Les Vacances: Part II


After three days outdoors in the country, I was looking forward to some city living. As our little Renault hurtled towards London Paul and I both experienced that frisson that only the prospect of a thriving metropolis can provide. Having avoided the great Glastonbury traffic jam that Paul had predicted we would encounter at Stonehenge, we found ourselves approaching the western edge of London in no time. Paul's beloved Twickenham was our first sign, then the Thames came into view, went out again, came in again and before I knew it we were in Chelsea, Pimlico and then Westminster.

With great relief I stopped the car a block from Paul's apartment. I must mention as an aside that we used the most ingenious method to pay for the parking. A posted sign declared that parking was for residents only (he has not technically been one for seven years) but that non-residents could call a number and pay if need be. Fifteen seconds later two pounds had been deducted from Paul's account via debit card and he had an email receipt in hand. Genius.

Shortly thereafter we gathered our tattered and muddy belongings and made our way to his building.

I had momentarily forgotten that his apartment was on the fourth floor and that his oh so historic building operated sans elevator.

But I eventually made it up and felt quite virtuous for undertaking such a strenuous exercise routine.

We were both more than ready to dispense with the car, as well as it had served us. I because I had become a bit weary of Paul's panicked cries of "Left! Left! LEFT!" and he was no doubt weary of uttering the word. Note to future backseat drivers of Americans in England: it is helpful to describe what you mean by "left". Turn left? Look left? Stay left? There are many options so specificity is essential.

After a quick stop at the local laundrette to drop off our foulest items, we made our way over to Mayfair to return the car. Along the way we passed Buckingham Palace (is it just me or does it look like a giant house rather than a palace?) and I also had the thrill of driving through what I was told is the busiest intersection in the country. All I can recall is that it was a massive roundabout that surrounded a massive arch. It may also have been adjacent to a massive park. Miraculously, we survived and the car was returned safely, scratch free.

Paul headed off to catch up on some work and I headed off for a wander around Liberty & Co., which is one of the more compelling department stores I've ever been in, and is completely unlike anything I've ever encountered anywhere in the United States.

You must agree that it would be difficult to resist the likes of this facade, no? Especially as there are large quantities of some of my favorite flowers at the front door (pale green and rust colored hydrangeas? Oh be still my heart).

Once inside it is as if you have stepped back in time into an era of elegance, luxury and grace. Salespeople are instantly helpful, the merchandise is beautifully displayed and the wares are of high quality. I was particularly taken with the fact that they have an entire room devoted to scarves. And with the fact that the fragrance department carries both my beloved Serge Lutens and my relatively new obsession Byredo.

Lisa over at A Bloomsbury Life does the store considerably more justice with her description than I ever could, so I direct you there for a moment to enjoy the picture she paints.

In the meantime, I immediately went to the top floor to ogle cheerfully upholstered furniture, Florentine notebooks, pendant lamps and the fabrics, oh the fabrics!

All of unerringly high quality and with fascinating, gasp inducing patterns. I vow here and now to return to this place once I have a home that I plan to stay in for some time. I will cover every surface I own with Liberty yardage, I don't care if it costs eighty pounds per meter.

As much as I was enjoying the Liberty oasis in the hell that is Oxford Street, after a day of driving I could only wander around for so long. So I was soon off to meet Paul at Soho House, the London version of which I adore.

Rather than the party vibe of the New York location, London has the feeling of a subdued members club that a stylish older set might frequent. Sitting on a stuffed chair in front of an open window with my beloved, the patter of witty background conversation, a pot of tea and some of the cutest crudites I've ever seen, I could not have been happier.

Feeling refreshed, we set out to meet my brilliant and gorgeous sister who happened to be in England for her thesis defense. What timing!

Fresh from a music festival in Berlin (she and her Scot camped), she was full of stories and laughter. Dinner, attended by various friends, was a joyful and delicious occasion. We got a bit of inside gossip about Michael Jackson from one of Paul's friends, a bit of California nostalgia from one of Robin's friends, and I met my first Swede. Lovely guy!

Sadly, she was off to California the following day, so reluctantly we said our goodbyes and Paul and I hopped on the tube to go back to a much needed bed.

The following day I awoke relatively early...it was my day to indulge, as Paul had very thoughtfully bought me a London spa day for my birthday the month before. The perfect antidote to Glastonbury's muck.

On my way to the tube with a spring in my step, I was asked for directions. I love when that happens in foreign countries! Luckily I was able to oblige, as the inquirer was looking for the Tate Britain which conveniently happens to be behind Paul's apartment.

Soon enough I was in Covent Garden standing outside The Sanctuary.

Doesn't it just look relaxing? I spent the day bathing, steaming, lolling, and getting scrubbed, buffed and polished to within an inch of my life. Heaven, absolute heaven. I made the rounds of all of their swimming pools (I made particularly good use of the swing above one of them) and hot tubs, and spent more time that was probably advisable going in and out of the hammam. God I love steam.

But by mid-afternoon I figured it was probably time to get out of the terry cloth robe so I made my way all the way around the corner to Neal's Yard Dairy, the temple of British cheese. Say what you will about British food (although I actually think much of it is quite good), the Brits know their cheese.

The cheesemongers gave me endless samples as I attempted to make my choice, and didn't seem the least perturbed that I bought tiny slices and only spent two pounds. Lovely people! I took my loot

to Neal's Yard to enjoy.

A falsely bohemian yet wonderfully cheerful, pleasant spot.

I found, shockingly enough, that I could only eat so much cheese for so long, so presently I packed up my little treasures and continued on to Piccadilly in search of jams and jellies. I came across a gem of an antiques market where I picked up a print depicting two birds' eggs, supposedly 150 years old.

Who knows if that's the case, but at eight pounds I hardly care! I won't detail the jams and jellies expedition...let's just say I went a bit hog wild and forgot about the unfavorable exchange rate.

Back at the apartment, I met up with Paul after his day of meetings and we set off for the O2 arena.

Past the Houses of Parliament

to the ferry landing

we were soon on our way to see the lovely boys of The Kings of Leon.

The crowd was loving them

and I was loving the venue.

Why, oh why is New York stuck with such an inferior arena?!!!

The night nearly ended with us lost down a dark alley, but luckily we ultimately ended with dark and stormies and pizza at the very difficult to locate Shoreditch House. It was to be my last night in London, a fact which I bemoaned. However my next destination was one to look forward to...


Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

I haven't been to England in a long time, Laura, and you're totally making me crave it. I had some interesting adventures driving on the left too, in a "backwards" car with a stickshift, no less. Many times when I meant to signal a turn, I'd turn on the windshield wipers instead.

Laura [What I Like] said...

Terry - I would have been toast had the car been backwards as well as the driving rules! I have the greatest of respect for your driving skills having heard that...

The Townhouselady said...

Woah, wow, WOW!

Now that is a vacation or should I say Holiday?

Anyhoo...I must say my mind went a bit gooey after your describing the spa day. A swing above a pool? I'm dying! Seriously, I live for spas.

Every part of the trip sounded amazing but yeah, the spa blew my mind.


Oh I am jealous, jealous, jealous! I love London and you did just about all of my favorite things - including Liberty! :) Thanks for taking us along!

Lady P said...

Oh my - I have owned small bit of Liberty fabric, was always somehow fully that it was wondrous stuff - but that store - I am fully besotted with! envy over here- me wants to come along for the "leas vacances: part whatever!"

wild thyme flowers for modern romantics said...

Hi Laura,
Isn't London wonderful? I was very lucky to have lived there for five years (in fact that's where I discovered my love of flowers and indeed worked for the very flower shop you saw and photographed at Liberty -- Wild at Heart). A friend of mine was just there recently and actually emailed me from Liberty to tell me how she had been there for two hours and had completely fallen in love and asked me "why did you ever leave"? Well that's another story, but I loved revisiting London through your eyes. Thank you.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This is killing me!
Oh, to be in the glove department at Liberty this afternoon! How I do adore that store.

A World in a PAN said...

Except for the Kings ... we've been to pretty much teh same places. (and I love Stilton!)

Angie Muresan said...

Love hearing of your vacation to London. Cities are my favorite vacation destinations as I tend to get bored sitting too long on a beach. I am sorry to say I have missed Liberty on my last trips.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin