London in the sun

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In the capital

I caught the train to London after work on Friday, armed with the Dinner of Champions (cheese and onion sandwich and a gin in a tin). Mark had been staying in the capital for a conference at Birkbeck during the week and we decided to extend his stay by a couple of days so I could come down and join him.

The beautiful weather of the last few days was even more unexpected given that it is a bank holiday weekend, and therefore prone to weather fails. It was such a mild, still evening when I arrived at St Pancras at 9pm that I decided to walk over to Fitzrovia, where Mark was having dinner. The streets were full of people enjoying the warm weather and the crowds were spilling out of pubs and bars onto the streets, there was a real holiday atmosphere as I got towards Goodge Street.

Having tracked down Mark, along with several other philosophers, we made our way to Shochu Lounge for some fine Japanese whiskies before heading back to our hotel for a good night’s slumber.

Saturday morning saw us having to move hotel as Mark’s expenses would not extend to Saturday night. This involved a bit of battling with the tube as works on the Circle and District line rendered our trip to Aldgate East somewhat problematic. We eventually made it through, after an impromptu trip to King’s Cross where we made the best of it by deciding to get brunch at Caravan. We sat outside in the sun on Granary Square and it was wonderful.

After finding the new hotel and checking in, we headed up to the National Gallery, where we had tickets for the Monet and Architecture exhibition. Monet is one of my favourite artists, and I have such an incredibly emotional reaction to his works. Something about the skies… The exhibition focused on his use of buildings and structures in his paintings, from bridges and churches through to the Houses of Parliament: not entirely what we would normally associate with Monet, who is perhaps best known for painting natural scenes. It really was superb. There are almost 80 paintings, grouped roughly by geographical location, and in several cases there are series of paintings of the same scene, painted in different light or from different angles, seen together for the first time. The most striking part for me was three large canvases showing exactly the same view of the Houses of Parliament, hung on the opposite wall to several views of the Cathedral at Rouen. Each painting showed its subject in a completely different light: the London series showing sunset, fog and storm clouds, and when placed together appearing almost as a series of dreamlike visions. Beautiful.

From the exhibition we wandered out towards St James’ Park, where we enjoyed the last couple of hours of sun before it sunk below the trees, before heading back up to Barrafina for a reliably fantastic dinner as usual. It was super busy in Charing Cross and I didn’t really fancy facing crowds for a drink, so we took a long slow walk back along the river then through the deserted city and out the other side to the edge of Whitechapel and our hotel.

This morning, feeling refreshed, we checked out of the hotel early and caught a bus to Old Street to get a leisurely Sunday brunch at Lantana. I’d not been before, although Mark had, and it is a joyful place with a creative menu and excellent coffee. I enjoyed courgette bread topped with halloumi and a poached egg and we even got a lamington for pudding: like all good cafes, the Australian influence is strong. We spent the rest of the day ambling in the hot sun and checking out the markets at Spitalfields and Brick Lane, fuelled by freshly squeezed orange juice, the occasional coffee and a delightful tofu steamed bun, before getting the train home to Nottingham in time for dinner.

Having spent a large amount of time in London over recent years, both for work and fun, sometimes I find the city wears me out a little. I’m not a country person, but I’m not maybe a full-on big city person either. I’m a suburban person! But this trip has left me feeling so energised and inspired. I’ll try and get back for another visit soon.

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Trafalgar Square in glorious sunshine on Saturday, around 5pm.

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London architecture.

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St Pancras station. The beginning and the end.

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