Sorry monster post here.. You may want to check out now..I’ve been away so I owe you guys and am trying to make up for it with my next few blogs. Hope you’ve all had a good summer!
Earlier this month Max and I spent a week in my favorite place on the planet, London. Our kids were busy with camps and other things so we took the opportunity to make a quick trip without them. Though I love traveling with my guys, it was freeing to go not worrying about what everybody’s needs were for sleep, eating and preferences each day of vacation. I had forgotten how it is to do just what we wanted and I have to say it was really nice for a change.
Arriving in Heathrow after what seemed a pretty easy overnight 9+ hour flight on British Airways from San Jose to London. Love the umbrellas!
We woke when we wanted, wandered the city all day. We ate lunch when we wanted. We had late dinners and early cocktails. We sauntered through the National Portrait Gallery, poked around at the V&A and immersed ourselves at The Imperial War Museum, had scones and tea every afternoon, perused Portobello Road antique shops, and browsed for English treats at Fortnum & Mason and Liberty- all things that I love and would not have been as appreciated by our sons.
I thought I’d share the highlights and photos as it’s just the loveliest city to me architecturally and aesthetically. London loves flowers and they are everywhere for those who appreciate that sort of thing like myself. They also always have some wonderful exhibition going on. This time it was the Dior show at the V&A.
We stayed at The Ham Yard Hotel a beautiful and unique spot right in the center of Soho. It is a Firmdale Hotel and I’ve been lucky to stay their Covent Garden Hotel also a few years ago.
Kit Kemp, owner and designer has fashioned all her properties in a distinctly English way with a beautiful mix of prints, antiques and modern art along with the most luxurious appointments in each room. She creates eclectic and inviting gathering spaces in her hotels along with wonderful bars and restaurants. London has five of their hotels, and New York is lucky to have two.
I have her books and I love how she decorates. More of her books here.
The Ham Yard was nestled right into the action in Soho, at the end of a charming lane and just steps from a historic pub, Regent street and the Theatre District. It’s a gathering spot for the whole area as people come to the Ham Yard’s charming front patio in the evenings for drinks and conversation.
The area surrounding it is called Ham Yard Village and there is also a Japanese restaurant, a tea shop, a hair salon and some beautiful clothing stores.
On top of The Ham Yard is the rooftop garden which runs the expanse of the building and also holds an apiary. It’s also used for private parties and you can order food and drinks up there too if you wish.
One thing I love about the Firmdale Hotels is personal attention and kindness from everyone.
How fun is this? An Honesty bar tucked off one of the two libraries.. You can make yourself a nice G&T after a long day out or try one of their house made cocktails in a bottle- or just grab a coke and chips. You just write it down on the list and go. In the basement there is a bowling alley and they also have a spa, a fitness center and a theatre that has fun film events.
A few pics of our room which had a very large balcony with a quintessential London view.
How cute is this headboard? I want one! Kit mixes fabrics and prints like no one else.
Every night you get a glass bottle of water and they give you a relaxing pillow spray to keep from Kit Kemp’s bath collection.
The Orangery at The Ham Yard where you can have high tea or just a cocktail.. We did the High Tea.
The breakfast buffet with the most delicious yogurt, granolas, and fruits.
Breakfast! I was in love with the china which was specially designed by Kit for her hotels. This pattern is Wedgwood’s Sailor’s Farewell which is so darling. I also love her Mythical Creatures China that The Covent Garden Hotel uses. Both patterns can be found here on Wedgwood, which incidentally ships free to the U.S.! I would love to have a set of one of these someday. Also how cool are those English toast holders?? More about those in Part 2!
So many pretty spaces in this hotel.
Drinks by the fire on a rainy evening.
When we could drag ourselves away from the hotel we did a few cool things. One was seeing The Dior show at the V&A.. I will do a separate post about it.
Another morning we dashed through a little rain to The National Portrait Gallery, something I always have wanted to do, but the boys did not.
Too many stunning and historic paintings to see. We had time for only a few floors. It’s also a lovely place to have lunch as they have a great space with one of the best views in London looking right at Big Ben and the Thames.
You can see Big Ben is still under construction. It’s costing 61 million pounds and supposed to be done in 2021!
I especially loved the portraits of Elizabeth the First – or do I say Elizabeth I?
Then there were some beautiful old portraits of families from the 1500s that I was especially taken with.
And the 1600s.. Can you even believe they have survived this long and still look this good? This portrait is the Family Vyner in 1673 and he was a wealthy Lord Mayor of London at one time and lent the government money, but died penniless when he was not repaid.
The stories accompanying the portraits were almost as interesting as the paintings themselves. You can learn so much with just a stroll through here.
This family was very musical and commissioned a portrait of themselves. Much more to love here and modern paintings as well as terrific photography.
I also loved the portraits of The Queen.
After the portrait gallery, Max had booked us high tea at a London hot spot called Sketch. His work colleague sweetly recommended it and I had seen it before as it’s VERY instagrammed. When you arrive you can understand why. Don’t you love the dusty pink booths? It’s like traveling back the London of the 1930s.
It is run by a French restauranteur and encompasses four different dining rooms in a beautiful historic building.
I felt so elegant sipping champagne from a coupe while a three piece string ensemble played in the background.
This pink room is the Gallery and where you have your high tea.
The bathroom is a must see with space like pods up a circular staircase. More people Instagramming than using the facilities! A cool sunken bar is hidden between the stairs- should you wish to hang and have a drink in the bathroom!!
The pod toilets!
So not let all this pretty dissuade you from the food and service..It was superb! The food was as yummy as it was gorgeous. They have 2 Michelin stars so the service was very orchestrated, even the pouring of the tea.
We thought it was all the best tea and food of trip. We paid a bit more to have champagne tea and Max got a cocktail called a Basilco. Their cocktails are superb, so amazing and specially crafted.
They said dress ‘Art Smart, with a sense of style and character.’ I love that. I decided on a pink floral number so I matched. You can find more photos of the other gorgeous rooms and menus on their Facebook page.
On our another day we made it to the The Imperial War Museum, which has been on our list. This was a bit farther on the tube, but worth doing. The WWI floor is the best interpretive experience I’ve ever been through. If you have done the Churchill War Rooms, you’ll like this as it’s similar, but on a larger scale. Housed in the original Bethlehem Hospital (nickname Bedlam), it was begun in 1917 before the war was even over and has survived and recently been through a wonderful restoration. Much more about the IWM here. A must do if you are in London.
So much to write about it, but these photos say a lot. There is a vast collection here that brings the war experience to you on every level and viewpoint.
I could personally relate to the parts showing how much women contributed to the war efforts and also how they were affected.
These two things- the dogs given up for WWI, and the masks below were sad, but drove home how much the war affects every member of a family.
War time scarves to boost the war effort and bands worn by women during WWII.
The WWII posters made into postcards. So creative and eye catching and effective.
Before you leave you can see a section of The Berlin Wall.
Right across the street from the museum I passed by this door. Only in England! I’d like to enroll.
Another night Max booked us a gin tasting at The City of London Gin Distillery which is right by St Pauls Cathedral. I wasn’t so sure how much I would enjoy it, but it was one of the most fun things we did.
The City of London is the area that encompasses the financial district and includes St Paul’s Cathedral which the distillery’s bottles were modeled on. The distillery has been in operation since 2012 and won all kinds of awards and gold medals. They make a variety of gins and we tasted 4 while we were there and learned about the making of gin, and its history in London.
When you get to their cool bar for the tour, which is like a speakeasy, they start you with a gin and tonic with a big slice of grapefruit.
Of the gins we tasted I liked the Christopher Wren, which is named after St Paul’s famous architect. It’s creamy and tastes unlike any gin I’ve tried before. They also had a Rhubarb and Rose gin, which was very good and popular in summer. The Sloe Gin, which some drink straight, was delicious with tonic… Something else I never had.
It’s a cool cozy place and it got quite busy later. The stills in which they make the gin are called Clarissa and Jennifer after the Two Fat Ladies cooking show. Anyone else ever watch that? I loved it.
We had the luck to meet the nicest couple, Kate and Tim from Richmond who bought us a drink afterwards in the cute bar. It was altogether the most enjoyable evening and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in more London history and to experience a real G&T London style!
Kate took our photo and sent it later. I wish I had taken one of them. You never know who you will meet doing these little tours! They had kids similar ages, and we had much in common.
Tim’s great photo of the beautiful bar here they sent me. Thank you Tim! He’s a photographer in his spare time which you can probably tell.
Stay tuned in for Part 2 – What I wore, shopping on Portobello Road, a day at Kew Gardens, The Dior Exhibit and Liberty, my favorite shop on the planet…and other bits I couldn’t squeeze into here!
Photos property of NorthernCalStyle unless noted.