At last I’m back!
Long time readers would know that I’ve always wanted to go to England. I’ve always loved the history of the place and read everything I could about it. I planned my trip to the UK and Europe when I was 15, but due to being all-too-practical in my younger years … “!’ll finish my teaching degree and THEN I’ll go!” … and then life, babies and single parenthood… I eventually ended up going when I was 51. Talk about delayed gratification!
I had the trip of a lifetime. 9 weeks travelling around the UK and Europe, seeing all the main things I always wanted to see and denying myself NOTHING. I’ve never tatted up the cost of that trip. But however much it cost, it was worth every penny.
I never dreamed that it’d be 8 long years until I set foot here again, but I’m back:. It’s going to be a different sort of trip this time. Last time I was a very unseasoned traveller and my dear friend Scott planned every day for me. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but he was gradually educating me in how to travel; beginning by mansplaining everything ( thank god!) and sticking by my side, then gradually stepping back and letting me learn to navigate by myself around Pais for a day, then sending me off to Bath for 3 days on my own.
This time, after going to North Korea with friends and then Antarctica on my own, (where I met fantastic new friends), I planned the itinerary myself, with days by myself, a tour around Ireland for two weeks, all interspersed with catching up with people I’ve met on my travels. It’s going to be so much fun!
I jumped off the plane bright and early and 6 AM and after buying a sim at the airport, I took the tube to Kings Cross station. Honestly, this whole place is a big Monopoly game. My plan was to stow my carry-on suitcase for the day so that I could visit some museums, then pick it up and take a train to my hotel.
The man at the baggage check was very helpful. “Your day is going to be challenging,” he said. “Many tube lines are closed.”
He got out his phone and I told him whereI wanted to go. Fortunate Frogdancer picked places that were accessible by the Piccadilly line , which was open. Sadly, my hotel was not. I left that problem for Future Frogdancer to work out and I went on my way.
First stop was The Wallace Collection. Scott and I visited it back in 2015, when I was enraptured by seeing The Laughing Cavalier. I have a postcard of him on my fridge to this day.
Look at the lace on his cuffs! You’d swear it was a photo.
And look at his collar. Incredible. Legend has it that this is an engagement painting.
Another reason why I wanted to come back here was that they were hosting an exhibition of dogs. Naturally, this is right up my alley.
Here is my Thrill of the Day. ‘The Cavalier’s Pets’ by Landseer. I have had a print of this hanging in my house since before I was married. The boys have never known life without it being there. And now, casually hanging in a gallery- here it is.
I was so excited! It was huge! I stood there and beamed at it like I was meeting an old friend. It was a wonderful surprise.
Da Vinci, anyone? As in Leonardo. Are you kidding me?
I was excited to see this one because the tricolour Cavalier on the left is Dash- Queen Victoria’s beloved pet when she was young. After her coronation, she went home, took off all her regalia and gave Dash his bath.
Here’s a sketch she drew of her Daschund , Waldmann. She clearly had good taste in her dog breeds.
Read the panel next to the portrait. It’s an interesting story.
I took a photo of this pup, not from any artistic merit but because I was going to the Sir John Shane’s museum next, and here is a picture of the dog that he loved.
Then I wandered through the rest of the collection.
It’s amazing how really old and famous artists pop up as if out of nowhere. How about a Rembrandt?
A bust of Napoleon.
A young Josephine.
I wandered around for nearly 2 hours, then boldly headed off towards my next museum – The Sir John Soanes museum.
Where I found the same dog. But the dog isn’t the point of this museum.
I didn’t know anything much about Sir John Soanes, except that he was an architect and an avid collector of things. But everyone I spoke to said that it was a must see.
This house was incredible. It was designed purely to display his collection in the best light. And when I say light, I mean that he had hundreds of mirrors put in to bounce the light from the extra windows he’d built. I was there on a very bright day, but I could imagine that even on a dark, winery day, this house would be well lit.
At the end of his life he arranged with politician friends to have a law made to protect his collection by donating it to the nation. The reason he did this was a bit sad. He’d lost his wife and elder son, and his younger son was a spendthrift and wastrel who hated his father and his collection. Rather than have his son break apart the collection and sell it all off, this was his solution.
Lucky for us!
Apollo. Plus hundreds of other antiquities. Some real, some plaster casts. But they were everywhere. I was glad I had put my carryon in a locker and my handbag in the cloakroom. Imagine if you knocked one over!
He also bought a 3,000 year old sarcophagus.
As you do. The bottom part of the house is like a crypt, with everything being about death. The light from the roof is designed to highlight it.
It has hieroglyphics outside…
… and in. The guy who discovered it in Egypt brought it back to England and tried to sell it to the British museum for £3000. This was too much for the museum, particularly after they’d just bought the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, and so he didn’t have a buyer. After he died, his widow dropped the price to £2000 and Sir John Soanes swooped. He knew it was there, he designed the space for it and he was waiting for the price to drop.
The whole place looks like this. No wonder he was devastated when his wife died. No other woman would have put up with this.
Imagine the dusting!
The Wallace Collection has a rule that nothing in the house can ever be removed. Sir John Sloane went one further and decreed that nothing in his collection could ever be MOVED. So we are seeing everything exactly as he wanted it to be seen.
Anyway, go and see it. It’s got far more than I’ve shown you.
Once finished here, I decided to take a walk to the Foundling hospital. This is a sad place. The guy who started it was a sea captain who arrived back in London one day and was horrified to see all of the abandoned babies left in the streets. This was in 1722, which wasn’t exactly known for its effective birth control and social safety net.
it took him SEVENTEEN YEARS before the king and other influential figures gave him the funding. You see, he wasn’t a gentleman…
There were so many women who couldn’t support their children that they had to run a ballot system to select which babies they’d take, and which wouldn’t be. It was said that there was just as much crying from those that were rejected as from those that were accepted.
The mothers used to give tokens with their babies, so that if ever they were in a position to reclaim their child, they’d have a way to show that they were getting the right child.
Here are a few of the tokens up close:
Being a single mother myself, I can clearly imagine the distress and heartache these women would have felt, but at least this way they had hope that their child would have a better life. These tokens were so sad…
Here’s the room where all of the baby ballots happened. If theses walls could talk…
And a cruel reminder of how unequal society was, this (frankly, overdecorated) room was where the wealthy would come to shmooze and feel good about themselves and their financial donations.
if you’re a fan of Handel- come and see this place. He was a huge supporter of this place and the top floor has one of the best museums about him. Sadly, lost on me…
Then I was walking towards the last place on my list – The Charles Dickens museum.
This was a house that he and his family only lived in for a few years, and I noticed that a lot of the furniture and Knick-knacks were brought from the last house he lived in, but that’s ok I guess. At least they were all genuine Dickens memorabilia.
Here’s his desk. Just like when Deana and I saw Jane Austen’s writing table back in 2015, I had to touch it.
I even had the same ring on my finger!
I love how they’ve recycled this keystone into a decoration of the garden in the cafe. My feet were tired and I wanted to try a scone, jam and cream with REAL clotted cream. It’s been 8 long years…
It was ok… but they were a bit light on with the cream. It was just like normal whipped cream. This wasn’t the thing I’ve remembered fondly from 8 years ago! I walked back to Kings Cross station to pick up my case, feeling vaguely cheated.
Until I saw a pink McLaren. That made me laugh!