There is nothing better than London in the sun. Suddenly, everything becomes rather European. Restaurants spill out onto the pavements. Markets and stalls pop up out of nowhere. The streets are thronged with people leisurely strolling along, with no one in a hurry to get anywhere in particular. The Thames sparkles and shimmers and the time-mellowed bricks of the old buildings are softly radiant in the sunshine. To be free to walk and explore at a leisurely pace, without being cowed underneath an umbrella or muffled in a coat, is a rare joy indeed in these parts. As soon as the sun comes out, therefore, I channel Virginia Woolf and become a street walker, eschewing public transport and finding my way on foot. There is no better way to explore a city; you can trace the edges of neighbourhoods, see the subtle architectural distinctions between this street and that, and find no end of previously undiscovered nooks and crannies to delight.
On Saturday, I met friends for brunch in the beautifully decorated Balthazar, which has just popped up in Covent Garden and is almost an exact replica of its namesake in New York. We had a lovely time chatting inside the French bistro-themed interior while the sun streamed in through the windows. I enjoyed a lovely hazlenut waffle (though it was served with fake maple syrup – big no-no!) and I felt like I had been transported back to the Big Apple. I’m looking forward to trying it for a proper meal; it would be the perfect spot for a pre-theatre dinner. On exiting the restaurant, we briefly popped into Balthazar’s bakery and coffee shop next door; I was sorely tempted by the delicious looking pastries on display, and I’d recommend it for people wanting to grab breakfast on the go while shopping or sight seeing. We then enjoyed wandering round the cobbled market, watching a few of the performers, before we parted ways, with two of us remaining to enjoy the London sun.
I decided I fancied a trip to the Tate, and I wanted to walk along the river. So, my friend and I set off, strolling along Southbank and across Westminster Bridge, drinking in the beautiful view of a sun dappled Houses of Parliament. I rarely walk into Westminster these days, so I loved being so close to Parliament, Big Ben and the Abbey, looking closely at the decorative details on the buildings and peering down the alleys and side streets that are filled with history and impressive architecture. As we walked along Millbank, the buildings become more Art Deco, and the river is lined with shady trees and gardens with spots to sit and enjoy the view. It was quiet and peaceful; a real contrast to the throngs of people along the Southbank, and if I didn’t have an exhibition to see, I could have sat and whiled away my afternoon watching the boats bob past on the river.
The Tate is my favourite London gallery; there is always an exhibition I actually want to see, and the permanent collection is varied and interesting. Since they reorganised everything by year of painting, I have found it an even more enriching place to visit, as I feel that each time I go, I become more appreciative of and knowledgeable about the development of art over time through being able to compare and contrast groups of paintings. I also love being able to make connections between periods and see clearly how history repeats itself as the fashions of earlier times reappear a few hundred years later. In a normal gallery, with paintings separated by country of origin or by painter, these links are much harder to make, and the Tate is definitely on to something by rehanging its collection in this way. Their new exhibition of British Folk Art was the main draw for me this time, though; I was a keen visitor of the American Museum of Folk Art when I lived in New York, but I know very little about folk art in Britain and I was eager to learn more. The exhibition, while fairly compact in terms of the number of objects, is absolutely fantastic and displays a huge breadth of exhibits, from shop signs to enormous ship figureheads, to paintings and patchwork quilts. I was enthralled by all of them, and was particularly pleased to see many a Kentish artist featured, including someone who painted a lovely picture of Groombridge Place, which, as some readers will know, was the inspiration for Vita Sackville-West’s beautiful novella The Heir. I came away with both a good basic knowledge of folk art in Britain and a keen desire to discover more, which is exactly what an exhibition should deliver, in my opinion. I highly recommend it, and it was the perfect stopping point for my sunny London walk.