Travel vignette from Norman J. Olson

From London to Real Winter

by:  Norman J. Olson

 

on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, Mary and I had a busy morning running errands…  not too long after noon, we caught a bus on the cold and icy corner of McKnight Road and Stillwater Road in St. Paul, a five minute walk from our house…  it takes about an  hour for this bus to get across St. Paul via West Seventh Street and Randolph Avenue…  we crossed the Mississippi on the Ford Parkway bridge and caught a light rail train at the 46th St. Station for the ten minute ride to MSP airport…  at about 5 pm, we got on a beautiful 767 for the overnight flight to London Heathrow…

 

we got to London early in the morning, and made our way to the tube station to buy new Oyster cards…  these are fare cards for the London underground and make getting around central London simple, cheap and easy…  Oyster cards in hand, we got the Piccadilly Line to Earls Court where I had booked a nice cheap hotel…  central London is very expensive but as you get further out, the hotels get much cheaper…  closer in than Earls Court, the prices go up…  further out, the prices are the same but the subway ride is longer…  so for a visitor to London, Earls Court is ideal…  and it is on the Piccadilly line which makes it easy to get to from Heathrow and as a busy line, trains are seldom more than a minute or two away…  the District line also stops at Earls Court, which makes it a straight shot to Victoria to catch a train or a coach…  anyway, the little hotel we use is modest and serves a free full English breakfast (beans, eggs, white toast, coffee, bacon and bangers) which is a great way to start off a winter day of exploring in London…

 

Art from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, woman in a green gown out in a garden

we find the best way to readjust jet lag is to just get on with our day, so after a few hours of rest and freshening at the hotel, we got the tube to Leicester Square…  we like to visit London in January because, while it is often cold and rainy, it is much nicer than weather in Minnesota in January and we find the crowds much less…  in summer in central London, it is sometimes so crowded that you can barely walk and the museums etc. just get sort of overwhelmed…  plus, in January, it is easy for us to get flights…  our pattern on these trips is to spend the days in art museums and the evenings going to plays…  so, at Leicester Square, we found discount tickets for the plays that Mary wanted to see starting that night with Mama Mia…  this is not my kind of music, but live theater is always fun and I enjoyed watching the beautiful young singers and dancers and Mary loved the play…

 

after the play, we were ready for a crash, so headed back to the hotel, just a few minutes away by tube…  the subway, of course, was standing room only with  the after theater crowd…  the next day after our fabulous breakfast, we took the tube with a change at Green Park to Pimlico…  where it is a short walk to the Tate Britain…  I had noticed that the Tate Britain was having a huge show of the work of Victorian Pre Raphaelite Edward Burn-Jones and was very excited to see the show…  it cost about $20 each to get in but the show was amazing…  Edward Burn-Jones was a second generation Pre Raphaelite whose paintings of fairytales, Arthurian legends and mythological subjects earned him a significant fortune in the late 1800s and became virtually worthless as the 20th Century wore on…  those who know me know that I have been a serious student of Pre Raphaelite art for many years and have traveled a good deal to see actual works, especially those of Dante Gabriel Rossetti… I am not sure why I enjoy this art so much, but I love to look at the Pre Raphaelite paintings and drawings and to read about the artists’ personal lives…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laus Veneris, by Edward Burne-Jones

so, to see an exhibition of the magnitude and quality of the one at the Tate Britain was really a treat…   Burn-Jones (I read that he hyphenated his name because he wanted to stand out from the long list of Brits named Jones) is to my 21st century eye, a deeply flawed artist…  I would say some of his work is embarrassingly bad, some of his attitudes worthy of an eye roll from the enlightened pedestal of our own modern philosophical biases…  on the other hand, some of the images, like the fairytale paintings from Buscot Manor, brought down to London to be the centerpiece of this show, are just gorgeously, almost desperately beautiful…  the mechanics/techniques that he used are fascinating to me as a maker of somewhat representational oil paintings and I am just delighted with his ability to draw…  so, while I find some of his works, many of his attitudes  and some of his paradigms unpalatable I am still fascinated by looking at the paintings…  many of these paintings indeed are more interesting to me as autobiographical documents than as embodiments or illustrations of the mythological story told on the card next to the painting…  although, I cannot lionize him or his work as the Victorians did, I still enjoy looking at it and reading about his life and trying to see which faces in the paintings are his wife or his girlfriend…  he was btw, Rudyard Kipling’s uncle…

 

anyway, we walked from Pimlico to the Tate Britain and spent several hours looking at the Burn-Jones paintings, some of which are really wonderful…  then we walked along the Thames Embankment to the famously ornate parliament (Big Ben is hidden by scaffolding)…  there was a great police presence there and tents set up for demonstrators who were demonstrating either for or against Brexit…  I never did figure out which…

Beata Beatrix c.1864-70 Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Presented by Georgiana, Baroness Mount-Temple in memory of her husband, Francis, Baron Mount-Temple 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01279

 

we then walked on to Trafalgar Square where we whiled away a couple hours in a coffee shop upstairs in a book store, sitting by the window watching the people come and go…  that evening, the play was Motown…  a musical tribute to Barry Gordy and Motown records…  again, not my favorite music, but I enjoyed the nostalgia and always can dig live music, plus, Mary picks the shows while I pick the art galleries, so I hope I have learned a lot and opened my mind a bit by learning to dig what she likes and she loved this show… I knew nothing about Motown, but I remembered many of the songs from the pop charts when I was in high school and later…

 

William Morris’ Golden Lily

the next morning, we took the Victoria line north to the end of the line at Walthamstow…  I had heard that there was a house there that William Morris had lived in that was preserved as a memorial to him and his work…  Morris was Edward Burn-Jones’ close friend and founder of the arts and crafts movement…  he was also a second generation Pre Raphaelite and so of interest to me in that context as his wife was Dante Rossetti’s girlfriend and subject of many of his best paintings…  I find it interesting that although we think of the late 1800’s as anything but liberated, these three were able to work out a ménage a trois of sorts that worked for them for a while…  and Morris is perhaps the only one of the Pre Raphaelites who is still relevant today as his work designing wallpaper and other household items, his philosophy of craftsmanship and quality in everyday products and his talents as poet, prose writer and socialist are modern in the sense that he actually accomplished more by publication and social activism than the more precious if artistically talented Rossetti and Burn-Jones who were fundamentally apolitical…

Chrysanthemums by William Morris

 

we got off the train at Walthamstow and started trying to find the William Morris museum…  we did not have very good directions…  there was a huge street fair going on with many stands lined up in the High Street selling produce and clothing as well as all kinds of other stuff…  none of the people either the sales persons or the customers seemed to have much in the way of English and the people we asked had not heard of William Morris or his house…  after walking about a mile through the street fair, we realized that we were on High Street and should have been on Hoe Street, so we backtracked and found a cell phone salesman who gave us good directions, although, we still had to ask at one more shop before we actually found the museum…  when we got there, it turned out to be a lovely old house with a series of displays about the life of Morris…  I found the story of his life to be far more interesting than I had thought and found his hand drawn wallpaper designs to be incredibly beautiful…  the house was set at the edge of a large park and we sat and had a soda and a coffee in the little shop looking out over the lovely lawns and old trees…  Morris only lived at this house as a child, but I thought that if he could come back, he would have appreciated this serious, lovely and lovingly presented monument to his life…

 

we took the tube back to central London and found the theater just off Piccadilly Circus where the play, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time for that night was playing… this was the only non musical we saw…  Mary had read the book and this was a thoroughly interesting play with lots of avant-garde effects which portrayed events in the life of an autistic child…  I found it profound and moving… yet it had some fine humor as well…   before we went into this play, we bought tickets for a play for Saturday night, the only evening we still had open…  we used one of the half price ticket booths that you see on Leicester Square and around Piccadilly…  the tickets of course, are not usually half priced but they are discounted and it is an easy way to book decent shows in one place at reasonable prices…  there was a whole foods market there, so we bought some snacks to bring into the theater which some theaters allow but others do not, in the cheap seats…  things are a bit more fancy in the pricy seats…  lol

Hope 1886 George Frederic Watts 1817-1904 Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01640

 

the next day, we took the tube to Knightsbridge where we went into the Victoria and Albert Museum…  this museum is a vast treasure trove of art, furniture and archeological artifacts from all over the world…  I was mostly interested in the paintings and was delighted to find some small strange paintings by the great William Blake who I consider to be a minor artist, but perhaps the greatest of all English lyric poets…  and so anything his hand has touched is of interest to me…  there was also a very nice Rossetti painting of Mrs. Morris in a green dress…  a lovely weird painting but everything I love in Rossetti, so it was a joy to see…

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01506

 

after a couple hours of wandering around this vast museum, we left and found a small Pret a Manger restaurant for lunch…  these places have baguette sandwiches, salads and soups that are always cheap, healthy and delicious…  a big improvement on the old days when all you could get in London was foul tasting Wimpy burgers and greasy newspaper cones of grease soaked fish and chips…  we then walked along Hyde park as dusk came into night… it was chilly, but we had our warm gear so were very comfortable and we walked all the way to Piccadilly…    that evening, we used some coupons that the movie ticket guy gave us to have a free piece of cake and a drink at a small café on Shaftsbury Avenue and then went across the street to see the play Thriller, a tribute to Michael Jackson…  again, the music was familiar to anybody who owned a radio in the 80s or 90s…  the musicians and dancers were beautiful, young and enthusiastic and the show was highly entertaining…

Mariana 1851 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07553

 

the next day, Saturday, was our last in London…  we spent the day again at the Tate Britian looking at the Pre Raphaelite art…  focusing this time on the Victorian room where wonderful pieces by GF Watts, Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt and other painters are hung…  I really do not get tired of looking at and studying these amazing paintings…  then we walked again to Westminster and had coffee and soda again at the same coffee bar in the book shop… we decided to splurge on a pre play meal, so had a wonderful Italian dinner at a small restaurant just behind the National Portrait Gallery and walked over to that evening’s play, called The Company…  which was a modern take on the musical about a single woman whose friends bugged her to get married…  it was funny and serious with some nice songs and the lead actress did a fine job of making the audience a part of the character’s life…

 

the next morning, we took the district line to Victoria Station, walked a few blocks to the Victoria Coach station and got on a coach for Amsterdam…  it was fun to see the English countryside of farms and hills and then we got to the Channel tunnel where the coach was put on this train that hauled us through the tunnel, a trip of about a half an hour…  we then spent the day driving across northern France into Belgium and arrived in Brussels in the evening…  we stopped and picked up some food and then went on to Amsterdam where we arrived at ten pm…  I had booked a hotel just off Dam Square in central Amsterdam…  I thought it was eighty euros a night but it turned out that I had read it wrong and it was eighty euros for two nights…  well, that was okay as it was very cheap, but the hotel was a bit more budget than even we usually use…  as we wound up having to climb a mountain of stairs…  fortunately, there was a younger man there who helped us up with our bags…

 

we did not do much in Amsterdam except walk around…  we went to the Cuyp Market where we basically walked around and looked at the goods offered in the many street stalls…  it was ten degrees colder in Amsterdam than London but still not bad by Minnesota standards so we were comfortable walking around…  the food in the market all looked and smelled amazing, especially the cheese shops with their many fat yellow cheeses stacked up…  but we are both on limited diets, so our only real dietary splurge was a Pannenkoeken that we ate with strawberries and whipped cream at a little restaurant we walked by that overlooked one of the canals just a few blocks from the Rijksmuseum…  as we enjoyed our Pannenkoeken which is a sort of light and delicious crepe, and sipped our drinks, we watched the sightseeing boats going by on the canal and the people walking by…

 

we then walked to a tram stop and took a tram back to Dam Square…  as it was dark by then, we walked around the red light district where it is always fun to see the groups of tourists heading for the coffee shops to smoke weed, ogling the high class prostitutes in the windows and glancing sideways at the porno shops with their racks of dildoes and leather underwear… lots of restaurants and bars and people partying…

 

the next morning, we took the train to Schiphol and caught a flight to Minneapolis…  at the airport, we met our son as arranged…  he brought us a hockey bag and a box both of which were full of Christmas presents our daughter had not been able to fit in her bags when her family went back to California after visiting us over Christmas…

 

then after checking those bags, we caught the eight pm flight to Las Vegas…  we had three free nights at a nice hotel in Vegas, so it was good to be there, in the relative warmth doing our usual…  Mary gambled and I spent the time reading and drawing…   we got to Vegas Tuesday evening and on Thursday had the pleasure of meeting with a well known art dealer who has become a friend and who I had never met…  he showed us around his galleries and we had a great time talking about art…  I do not know a lot of art people, so this conversation was very nice to me to talk about this stuff that is such a big deal in my little world…  lol with a knowledgeable and interested person…

 

we then left on Friday and drove to Riverside, California to spend the weekend with our wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful family…  it was hot in Riverside, so we got thoroughly warmed up and enjoyed playing mini golf with the grandchildren… on Monday we drove back to Vegas as we had another free night at a nice hotel…  then on Tuesday, we flew back to Minneapolis…  the temperature when we got off the bus at McKnight Road and Stillwater Road was -18 Fahrenheit (-27 Celsius)…  the north wind was so cold in our faces, we had to turn our backs to the wind three or four times just walking one block to our house…  even so, it was good to be back to our home and real winter….

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