Part 6 of my vacation trip diary. If you're joining the trip in progress, the prior entries are:
Day 1: Standing Stones | Day 2: Cotswold Way | Day 3: Don't You Know There's a War On? | Day 4: The Black Country | Day 5: Ironbridge to Shrewsbury
Tuesday morning, we were packing up and heading back to London. We delayed to take a photo of the Birmingham library, which we felt represented an archetype of Brutalist architecture.
Birmingham in general is a mix of old and new, lovely and awful buildings side by side without any particular order or plan. They've done some nice things with pedestrian areas of the downtown, but they don't seem to have anything iconic about the city. A pity, as it seemed in many ways to have a lively and active street scene. Sometimes too active...we were there during the World Cup, and the lead in to England’s last game involved more police than I’ve ever seen on the streets of a British city.
We walked to the station and took the train for London. The contrast with Birmingham was immediately obvious. If Birmingham was lively, then London was frenetic. Many more people, all bustling. The contrast to our last trip--at the height of the recession and before the real start of the tourist season--was quite striking.
We checked into the London Regency Hotel in Kensington, which I mention mainly because we liked it very much, more so than any of the other places we have stayed at. This is partially because they upgraded us to a suite- a pleasant sitting room and a short stair up to a bedroom with skylights tucked under the eaves. Not only was it pleasant, very quiet, in a neighborhood full of restaurants (just down the street from Baden-Powell House, a Boy Scout Hostel and conference center) and very comfortable. Given that the English had kindly scheduled a heat wave so we'd have good weather, we also appreciated the excellent air conditioning.
From there we walked out to take the tour of Kensington Palace.
The Palace is still being renovated for public viewing but at the moment they're running an 'Enchanted Palace' exhibition. The exhibition consisted of a bunch of modernistic art installations representing the seven princesses who had lived there. Now, we’re pretty reactionary about art—which is to say we’re all about realism and tend to regard most modern art as the quote goes, as a “product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered”. So, the art per se didn’t do much for us. But it was interesting and quite unusual to have an exhibition centered around women, and the various princesses who had lived at Kensington were a varied group. For each woman there was a piece of poetry, which tried to capture their emotions and inner feelings about the place, which was another unusual touch. On the whole we found it more interesting than we at first expected. Though I don’t see it as replacing the more traditional Informative Plaque any time soon.
From there we repaired to Wagamama (an Asian chain which has jumped the pond to the American market in recent years) for lunch- it’s practically tradition by now, since we first discovered them on our second trip to England, and have returned there many times since.
We strolled across Hyde Park, enjoying the continuing sunshine, trees and gardens, and then went to the Museum of London. We’d been there on our first trip in 2001, but they have since opened a couple of new galleries that we wanted to see. The new galleries included several bent on presenting a more multiculturalview of the city, and a more candid and critical overview of Britain’s imperial history. And they also added an amusing audiovisual representation of Regency era Covent Garden, beloved to many a reader of Regency romances.
At this point we realized that we were about to be late. It being a Tuesday, we had planned to go to the Cecil Sharpe House in Camden, where the English Folk Dance and Song Society was having their weekly folk music sing. We hustled to a Tube station, acquired sandwiches at high speed and JT led us from memory back to the music venue, where we thoroughly enjoyed the singing. (My knitting got quite a lot of comment as well, and thanks to all the lively music I knit almost half a sock there!)
Slideshow of more Birmingham and London photos: (You can click on the show to see it with larger photos.)