Each fall Doug and I leave Canada for a 2-3 week vacation; this year we returned to London for 2 weeks of visiting galleries, palaces, castles and museums.
After checking into our hotel in Kensington, we visited the home and studio, near Holland Park, of the Victorian painter Lord Frederic Leighton. We then had lunch at the Victoria and Albert Museum and saw the special fashion exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain.
The next day we planned a morning visit to the City of Westminster/Houses of Parliament.
The weather was lovely so we then had lunch on the patio at the Courtauld Gallery cafe before touring the Courtauld collection, located at the Strand entrance of Somerset House. Its focus is Impressionism; our favorites were: Two Dancers on the Stage by Degas, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere by Manet and Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Van Gogh.
Since it was close by, we also went to Sir John Soane's house and museum; Soane was one of England's greatest architects and an avid collect of artwork, statuary, Gothic casts and the exotic - a sarcophagus (1300 BC), discovered in the Valley of the Kings, is on display in the basement Crypt.
Royal Albert Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, hosts nearly 400 shows annually, including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet, opera and film screenings - the World Premiere of 007 Spectre was held at Royal Albert Hall Monday, October 26th and then released in the U.S. on Friday, November 6th.
Around the corner from Royal Albert Hall, we saw the house used in filming Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven. He also plays Ari Gold in the popular comedy series Entourage.
Kensington Palace has been home to royalty for over 300 years. We toured restored rooms used by George II and Queen Caroline as well as the state apartments of Mary II and William III and then Queen Victoria. Dresses from the wardrobes of HM the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales were an especially interesting exhibit during our tour.
We then enjoyed an elaborate afternoon tea in The Orangery dining room.
Before our noon tour of Buckingham Palace the next day, we got a glimpse of the Royal Guards perform The Changing of the Guard.
It's always great to have a break from tour schedules; we enjoyed a stop at the 58-acre St. James Park, the oldest of London's 8 Royal Parks.
The next day we crossed the Thames, for a visit to the redeveloped South Bank entertainment and commercial district.
From the South Bank, you get a fantastic view of the London skyline - with 30 St Mary Axe, better known by its nickname Gherkin, the catalyst for the growing cluster of high rises in London's historic district. The 41-story skyscraper was built in 2004. (It's slightly right of center in my photo.)
Whenever Doug and I are in London, we enjoy visiting with Craig, who we've met several times at the San Diego Comic-Con.
Before going to dinner at Quo Vadis, a popular pre-theatre restaurant in the heart of Soho, Craig wanted us to have a drink at the Star & Garter, a traditional neighborhood English pub.
(blog entries by Heidi Hutson)