YESTERDAY I LET MYSELF BE LED THROUGH the multifarious heart of London by two lifelong Londoners. First by bus, where I appreciated the classic proportions of St. Paul’s Cathedral, above, from the top deck of the swaying red leviathan on wheels. There’s no bad angle on St. Paul’s.
We were headed for Two Temple Place, a heavily paneled Neo-Gothic palazzo where there’s a show ongoing through April called Sussex Modernism. On display are 1930s works by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Henry Moore and others, who wrought surprisingly subversive art, anti-war and gender-fluid, in the quaint villages of southern England.
Later, as we walked along Fleet Street, a main thoroughfare since Roman times, I was fascinated by the few surviving medieval houses, below, that pre-date London’s Great Fire of 1666 — heavily restored, of course, but still functioning. They’re a curious counterpoint to the stately Victorian headquarters of some of England’s earliest banks and the limestone Art Deco blocks in which news organizations were housed when Fleet Street was the epicenter of the newspaper trade.
We had tea in one of several cafés in Somerset House, below, a massive 18th century palace now used as a cultural complex. It’s now the home of the Courtauld Gallery, known for its impressive collection of Impressionism, among other art institutions, and definitely bears further exploration.
Then we trekked across Waterloo Bridge toward the Royal National Theatre, below, its 1960s Brutalist concrete architecture jollied up with colored lights, and bought tickets for a future production of an apparently uproarious modern Twelfth Night.
The view from the bridge toward the London Eye ferris wheel and the Houses of Parliament caused us all to start softly singing the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.”
I set off solo as darkness fell, enjoying the gaudily lit theatres on Aldwych, the bowler-hatted doorman at the Waldorf Hotel, and what is reputedly London’s oldest shop, all in the same area.
Then I hoofed on through London’s nighttime streets to The Viaduct, below, described as “the last surviving Victorian gin palace in London,” all etched glass and mirrors and Art Nouveau maidens, with chandeliers hanging from a red-painted tin ceiling. That’s where I had — no surprise — the best gin and tonic ever, made with Sicilian lemon tonic water, dried raspberries and rosewater. An ideal refresher after a 14,000 step day.