London City

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Days 5 to 8  – A Little Bit of Art & Food and a Lot of Spontaneity

May 12 to 15 – Euben arrived in London late Monday night from Paris.  We were booked at The Langham Hotel, conveniently located near Oxford and Regent streets which are quite known areas for shopping among tourists.  The hotel was grand, but I found it a bit old and somewhat scary.  I really shouldn’t have read the ghost stories about it.  Anyway, the bed was comfy and the room smelt nice so I still managed to get good sleep every night.

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Pic courtesy of http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/london/

During the next few days, while Euben was working, I went around London City. There was a day that Kim, my favourite niece, accompanied me to do my errands, a.k.a. shopping.  We went to Harrods and to lots of other shops along Oxford Street.   We also had a good Italian lunch at Caffe Concerto in Knightsbridge.  I enjoyed going around with Kim. I must say it was good to connect with young people these days, they have so much wisdom and ideas just like my 18-yr old niece.

On most mornings, I had early breakfast with Euben before I wander around, sometimes aimlessly.  Aimlessly felt good and relaxing and liberating.

I didn’t have an itinerary so I just trusted my feet and the Tube (London’s underground train) to take me somewhere nice.  They first took me to Trafalgar Square– to The National Gallery.  Oh that became my favourite place during this trip.  I went there twice!  I love looking at paintings.  I remember I was very excited as I waited for the gallery doors to open because I knew I was just a few steps away to seeing the Sunflowers of van Gogh.

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Took this shot of Trafalgar Square while waiting for the gallery to open.

I like knowing what I’m looking at and so I always borrow audio guides in the museums or galleries that I visit.  On my first day at the National Gallery, I did the Essential Audio Tour which showed me just about 80 paintings, the highlights in the entire collection.    I knew there were more and so I went back for them the next day.

Here are some of the paintings of the famous Vincent van Gogh.  I felt really happy to see his Sunflowers painting.  I mean, I only see this in books and TV and my kids’ art before.

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Sunflowers, 1888

 I also like this next painting a lot that I stared at it for minutes.   This field was in St Remy in France, close to the mental asylum where Van Gogh stayed between 1889 and 1890.  It was at the asylum that he painted some of his most beautiful works.  Van Gogh died in 1890.

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A Wheat Field, with Cypresses, 1889
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Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890
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Two Crabs, 1889

Yups those crabs were also his.  You’ll know they’re his just by looking at those thick brush strokes.

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Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888

 That was his pipe on the chair.  Van Gogh smoked and drank coffee all the time.  He couldn’t afford those but he was lucky to have a brother who’d send him money for those things and for his art materials.  During his lifetime, he only managed to sell one painting, The Red Vineyard, which is currently in a museum in Russia. Like many other painters, his works became more valuable after his death.

The next paintings were some of the works of Claude Monet.

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The Water Lily Pond, 1899
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The Japanese Bridge, abt 1919-24
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Flood Waters, 1896
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Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875
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The Petit Bras of the Seine and Argenteuil,1872
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Bathers at la Grenouillere, 1869

I can’t remember if I saw other works of Rembrandt in the gallery, but this was the only one I got a picture of.

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Self Portrait of Rembrandt, age 34, 1640

 Now this is Samson and Delilah by Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. I was captivated by this one. The flowing red dress of Delilah looked so elegant and soft. And Samson’s strong muscled body seemed powerless over Delilah’s charms.

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Samson and Delilah, abt 1609-1610

 There were a few Michaelangelo paintings in the gallery and this was one of them.

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Manchester Madonna, 1497, by Michaelangelo

This large drawing is by Leonardo da Vinci.  It’s in a special corner with dimmed lights.

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The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John de Baptist, abt 1499-1500

 This next painting was the one that made me go back to The National Gallery the following day. I couldn’t find it the day before and so I knew I really had to go back. This painting by French painter Paul Delarocheis called The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Jane Grey was Queen of England for 9 days in 1553. She was convicted of treason and was sent to Tower of London where she was beheaded in 1554. Ouch. She was only 17 then.

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The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833

 I also paid a visit to the National Portrait Gallery which was just at the back of The National Gallery.  The gallery displays thousands of portraits of famous English men and women from the 16th century to present day.

 I wanted to have a picture taken with the recent portrait of Duchess Catherine (Kate Middleton) but couldn’t. It was the very first portrait you’ll see at the gallery but also the only one where photography was not allowed. And so I settled for this one instead.13

 And these…14

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 But my favourite was this…17

I went back to Bankside in Southwark across the Millennium Bridge one day.  It’s not difficult to get around London as long as you’re comfortable taking the Tube.  I was, so I found commuting in London convenient!

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Selfie time

 At Bankside, I wanted to check out Shakespeare’s Globe, but there was no performance that day and so I just browsed through their nice collection of Shakespeare’s works. I bought a couple of simplified version of his plays, I thought my kids would like to read them.  I then went to Tate Modern, which was just beside Shakespeare’s Globe. Tate Modern houses hundreds of modern art.18

I tried my best to appreciate modern art. I spent a few hours walking around the rooms hoping I’ll find exhibits that will stir some emotions other than that of boredom. Instead, I found a sofa, so comfortable I fell asleep there for half an hour. Anyway here are some of the art pieces I took pictures of.19

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21There was a dance art exhibit that time, so I watched the performances instead. I felt bad that I slept in the gallery and not tried harder to see what other people see in those pieces of art. Maybe it’s not modern art, maybe it’s just jetlag that made me fall asleep on the sofa.23

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This guy was super good.  Ballet-jazz and classical music, nice!

 Outside Tate Modern, along the River Thames was another story. It was alive with many street artists. There was music, magic and more dancing. I spent an hour watching them while enjoying my hot takeaway latte.28

 In the evenings, Euben and I would get-together after his meetings to watch musicals and try out different restaurants.

One night, along Mayfair, while I was waiting for Euben to arrive for our dinner, I thought I saw David Beckhamdrove by.  He was driving what looked like a beige convertible Bentley.  Anyway, as we entered the building, Euben and I were greeted by two bodybuilder-looking men by the door and a few more at the reception area.   Our dinner was okay – good food, good service and casual ambience, but I was expecting more though, like seeing Hugh Grant or Lewis Hamilton, or at least Simon Cowell dining beside my table hahaha, we were in Mayfair after all.

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Scallops at Nobu

 But my dinner date that night was handsome enough and funny and although tired from his meetings, was still smiling all night, so it turned out a very lovely evening.01On another night, Euben and I decided to abandon the French restaurant we booked and instead walked around Soho with no particular restaurant in mind. When it comes to food, whenever our kids are not with us, Euben and I like to be surprised by what’s out there.  Our spontaneity that evening worked and we loved our restaurant. It’s called Shampers Wine Bar and Restaurant. They served mostly British food and their squid in chili-ginger sauce was simply unforgettable.

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Picture courtesy of http://www.shampers.net/

 On the day that we were rushing to watch the musical Les Miserables, we instantly decided on Jamie’s Italian. We are familiar with their food from their branch in Singapore and we wanted to try it in London.  It was funny, Euben and I ordered the same dishes we’d usually eat at their restaurant in Singapore to check if they taste the same.

 Speaking of musicals, Euben and I watched Les Miserablesat the Queen’s Theatre. The first time we watched it was also in London in 2003 at the Palace Theatre.  This musical never grows old and remains one of our favourites.  It was an impromptu decision actually, it was Friday, we were in London, and Les Mis was running at West End.  That’s one of the nice things about in living in London I think, you get to watch world-class musicals whenever you like.  32We also saw Miss Saigon, despite my protest, but only because I already saw it twice before.  It was still entertaining and I still loved the songs and the dances.  We both enjoyed the show especially the performance of Filipino actor, Jon Jon Briones, who played the engineer.

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During the weekend Euben and I visited Bath, Tower of London and Nottinghill. That’s in my next post!

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