Last week was half term, and a much needed break before the seemingly never ending seven weeks until the summer holidays. I relaxed, I read, I played with my nephews and I also headed to London for some fun and frolics. On Thursday, my sister and I had a mammoth shopping trip to Regent’s Street, during which we indulged in a delicious afternoon tea at Liberty’s before going to see the magnificent Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre. I’ve now seen it twice and I’d still happily see it again; it’s an absolutely hilarious and finely acted play, and if you can manage to squeeze it in before the end of the run, you really should.
The following day, I met Miranda bright and early at Simpson’s in the Strand, which is a bit of a London institution. It belongs to the Savoy and is well known for its British classics, such as roast beef, but we were there for a leisurely breakfast instead. Not since having lunch at the Ritz for my 16th birthday have I been in such lavish surroundings; I felt like I was in a 1930s novel, eating in the palatial dining car of the Orient Express. The waiters and waitresses move around soundlessly on the deep plush of the carpet and the voices of other guests are muffled by the wooden panelling on the walls. The chandeliers sparkle, the napkins are real linen and the service is second to none. If you want to step back in time and experience a true taste of quintessential Britishness, Simpson’s is a must visit. After breakfast, we headed over to the Courtauld Gallery, which I haven’t visited in a good couple of years. I don’t know why; it might be small, but the selection of paintings is excellent and presented in an uncluttered and very visually pleasing way. The gallery rooms are also stunning pieces of art in themselves, and I enjoyed our visit immensely. The cafe is also excellent; unusually for many museums and galleries, the food is fresh, homemade and reasonably priced, and the seating area is pleasantly uncrowded. It’s the perfect place for a pit stop if you’re in the centre of town.
After tea and cake, for which we were joined by our lovely friend Claire, Miranda and I went to Marylebone High Street. We had a lovely time exploring the shops, and I made a rare new book purchase in Daunt’s; I couldn’t resist their new publication, Sybille Bedford’s Pleasures and Landscapes, and Orlando Figes’ Revolutionary Russia, one of Penguin’s new Pelican titles. Once we had enjoyed browsing in such elegant and highly tempting places as The Conran Shop, Sandro and Agnes B, we enjoyed a delicious cocktail in the charming rooftop bar of Orrery, where it is so quiet and peaceful that I could hardly believe I was in London at all. Quite the perfect spot. Miranda and I then parted ways; I went off to meet my intrepid university friend Emma, and we had a very tasty dinner in the BFI Cafe on Southbank while watching the buzzing early evening crowds wander up and down looking at the book stalls, heading to the theatre and just enjoying the atmosphere of London’s riverbank on a mild evening. I love nothing better than the Southbank in any season; it always feels vibrant and exciting no matter what the time of year. I would have dearly liked to go to the National Theatre and catch a play, but both Emma and I were exhausted, so once we were fed and watered we went back to hers in Bow and indulged in a hot tub session (she has one in her garden!) and a very enjoyable yet terrible Jennifer Aniston film before retiring to bed. We know how to live!
The following day, Emma and I were up bright and early to make the most of the sunshine. We set off for Hampstead, where we took a short tour of the main sights, such as Keats’ House and Flask Walk, before picking up a take away lunch from Gail’s to enjoy on the Heath. I love Hampstead Heath; once inside, it really is just like being in the countryside, and at this time of year it is absolutely bursting with colourful, fragrant flowers and birdsong. We wandered up and down the meandering paths until we found the perfect lunch spot by a small pond; it was so quiet and peaceful that London seemed miles away. After a pleasant bask in the sunshine, we managed to motivate ourselves to walk up to the top of Parliament Hill to take in the breathtaking views over the London skyline before heading back into Hampstead to visit the only London National Trust property I was yet to frequent; 2 Willow Road. Designed in the 1930s by architect Erno Goldfinger for his family, it is a striking and incredibly inventive building that really challenged my perceptions of the whole concept of modernism. I loved the clever use of space and the clean lines, and how Goldfinger had pushed the boundaries of what was fashionable during the period, producing a very modern space that is still very different from what was the predominantly white-plastered curved lines that we now mostly associate with the 1930s. I’d actually go as far to say that it is one of my favourite National Trust properties, and it has given me a great deal of inspiration. It’s definitely a must visit, and was the perfect place to end a weekend of fun in sunny London town!