London, Day One – National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Fortnum & Mason

Monday, May 13

We ate breakfast at our apartment and then set out to see London. The first thing we passed was a shop called The Hat Gallery right down the road with this sign in the window.

1 Stetson

It was funny to go all the way across the Atlantic only to see such an American brand. I guess they’ve gotten over the whole “you’re tyrants and we’re leaving” thing.

We wandered around for a while and found Big Ben and Parliament.

Westminster Abbey is nearby and I’d hoped to take a tour. While researching his family’s genealogy, Jim found out he is distantly related to Geoffrey Chaucer who is buried in the Abbey. We wanted to visit granddad’s grave but even at a relatively early hour, there was a huge line outside and we decided to skip it this trip.

We walked on towards our main stop for the day, the National Gallery. On the way we spotted one of the famous red telephone booths.

3 Red Telephone Booth

The driver who took us to our apartment said you could always tell when you were in a tourist area when there were red telephone booths. We figured we were in the right area for the museum.

4 National Gallery

London’s National Gallery

Since most museums in London are free with a donation box at the entrance, we didn’t feel pressured to spend hours in each one to get our money’s worth. I like that they can depend on the honor system and it seemed most people tossed at least a few pounds in and we did the same.

The National Gallery owns five paintings by Gerard ter Borch. I got to see “A Woman Playing a Theorbo to Two Men” and “An Officer Dictating a Letter“.

The museum’s plaque for the second painting said the ace of hearts on the floor suggests that the officer is dictating a love letter rather than military correspondence. That made me wonder about the ace of spades on the floor in the first painting. As far as I could find out, the ace of spades can symbolize death and rebirth or a new beginning. Some of that comes from more recent history and doesn’t really fit into a painting about music so perhaps it meant something different in ter Borch’s time.

Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait was one I remembered from my art history class so many years ago. What a treat to see it in person!

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche was a beautiful but very sad painting. She became queen at the age of sixteen but was executed after only nine days on the throne.

We also got to see Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors which is known for the distorted skull painted in the foreground. It can only be viewed undistorted from the far right side of the frame, a technique called anamorphosis.

The museum is home to several Van Goghs including Sunflowers, Farms Near Auvers, and A Wheat Field with Cypresses. These paintings date from before and after his time in the asylum. The differences in energies and styles was evident.

The Impressionism collection also included another of Monet’s Water Lily series – interesting to see in such a different setting from the Orangerie. We spent a little time with Manet, Cézanne, Renoir and others.

After a break for lunch at the museum café, we headed out and happened across one of the marching bands of the Household Division practicing outside the Wellington Barracks. You can see a video here. Their sergeant, Garrison Sergeant Major William Mott, a 34-year veteran, has quite a set of lungs. I can’t even imagine the pressure to perform perfectly. There’s another video posted by someone else with more information on their songs here.

Since the Household Division is tasked with guarding the Queen and the palace, the barracks are right next to Buckingham Palace.

The building itself is sort of plain but surrounded by a tall fence and gilded gates.

Buckingham Palace

On the gates is the coat of arms of the United Kingdom.

Buckingham Palace

We didn’t take the time to see the changing of the guard but they were at their posts out front.

Buckingham Palace

Beyond the gates are manicured lawns with beautiful flowers blooming. According to the Royals Parks, the gardens were filled with 50,000 yellow wallflowers and red tulips.Gardens And Gates Around Buckingham PalaceIn front of the palace is the The Queen Victoria Memorial.

The Queen Victoria Memorial

After Buckingham Palace, we found our way to Fortnum & Mason, the British department store than has stood on the same spot for 300 years.

Fortnum & Mason

The upper floors are gentleman’s gifts and accessories, fashions for women and children, and a tea room. The lower floors are china and kitchen equipment, cheese and meats, a bakery and patisserie and a large tea section with samples in glass teapots.

Fortnum & Mason

The bottom floor has a wide selection of fancy foods like these edible rose petals.

Fortnum & Mason

On the way home, we stopped in Lulu Guinness to buy an umbrella. It was made in England in partnership with the 60-year-old British manufacturer Fulton. It is red with a black and white striped layer underneath. The two layers make it especially sturdy – perfect for our nine-month-long Pacific Northwest winters. I’m very pleased to say that it was featured in Glamour Magazine in September – the closest I’ve ever been to a Glamour “Do”.

Before heading home for the day, we also spent some time at the Waterstone’s  book store near our apartment. I bought a couple of books by my favorite British author, Terry Pratchett. We also picked up a road atlas and map of the Cotswolds, a rural area to the east where we’d be spending a few days after we left London.


3 thoughts on “London, Day One – National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Fortnum & Mason

  1. Eleanor Pruden

    Beautiful pictures and interesting write-up. I love your hat and your neat packing of your suitcase!!! No need for an iron and I think I even see some jeans. Do the tourists dress casually there?

    Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2013 01:11:41 +0000 To:

    1. Kate Post author

      I think tourists tend to dress up to a degree since Paris has a reputation for being less casual. We saw jeans but not the jeans/t-shirts/sneakers combination like in the US. People seemed to dress more in “outfits” and looked a little more polished. Accessories appeared important in finishing an ensemble.

      Oh, and my suitcase wasn’t quite that full but almost! I never have been good at packing light but I want to make it a priority next time. Less to lug around and more room to bring treats back!


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