Even What’s Old is New in London

London never ceases to surprise. There is always something new to explore. At the top of my list during my last visit was the much touted Tate Modern on the banks of the Thames neighboring another relative newcomer, The Old Globe. Perhaps taking its lead from the extremely successful conversion of Paris’s d’ Orsay museum from an old railway station, the Brits converted a fine old Bankside power station into a museum of modern art. The well planned space of the Tate’s collection covers the art of the last one hundred years through four classic themes: the nude, landscape, still life and history paintings. During my visit, a special Andy Warhol exhibit was being featured. My taste leans to the impressionists and some of the moderns, but when I came across a room with 10-12 mylar pillows being tossed about by some young visitors, part of the Warhol exhibit, I felt it was time to leave.

Crossing in front of the Millenium Bridge, the first new bridge to be built in London since 1894, I ambled next door to the Old Globe. I had had a brief tour of it before completion and was delighted with the results. The theater itself is a faithful recreation of the original, designed in 1599, with the exception of hidden sprinklers. ( It was fire that caused the demise of the original Globe with its thatched roof. ) In the exhibition hall, an engaging introduction to the theatre of Shakespeare’s time offered the story through text, film, music, multi-media and costumed mannequins. I especially enjoyed perusing the exhibit on Shakespeare’s contribution to the language and an explanation of the architecture and skills used to build the open air playhouse.

On the opposite side of the Thames, recently opened to the public, the newly restored 18th century Somerset House in the Covent Garden district, previously served as the depository for the entire nation’s records of birth, marriages and deaths. Fronting the complex, an impressive courtyard with fountains and in the back, a lovely river view terrace. During my visit I viewed two special exhibits, The Gilbert Collection of gold and silver snuffboxes and a superb display of micromosaics and the Hermitage Rooms, a rather small and unpretentious collection from the museum in St. Petersburg which included several French drawings and paintings.

A much more satisfying experience awaited me at the National Gallery, which I had not visited previously. I wandered from one wing exhibiting the paints of Vuillard, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Pizarro, Renoir, Seurat and on and on into another area featuring the works of Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Michaelangelo and Holbein hung on silk brocaded walls of green and crimson. On special display were seven rooms of the glorious paintings of the mysterious and versatile Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp which included those of his early career, Italinate paintings, portraiture, panoramas, patrons, drawings and late paintings.
I enjoyed a stop at the Victoria and Albert Museum to view their special exhibition, “Men in Skirts” and the fabulous new British Galleries, a 15 room comprehensive display relating the story of British art and design from the reign of Henry VIII to Queen Victoria including Great Bed of Ware, which attracted a lot of attention from visitors, and five exquisite period rooms.

What is also new, as a perk for visitors and residents alike, almost all museums have scrapped the entrance fees except for special exhibits.
A non-museum visit took me to Waterstones at Picadilly, Europe’s largest bookstore, featuring more than 265,000 titles. I hiked up and down its seven flights of stairs, stopping to browse on each floor where books were conveniently divided into various subject matter. On the top and bottom floors, the very user friendly former department store venue offered comfortable places to stop and revive with a meal or a cup of tea.

My visits are always are jam packed and my only respite is offered at my hotel. On this visit, rather than choosing one of the grand luxury hotels which I generally stay at, I opted for a small luxury hotel on the very posh Jermyn Street, known for its beautiful men’s shops. Upon checking in at the multi award winning 22 Jermyn Street, the name and address of this intimate 13 suite, five studio hotel, I was immediately brought a proper tea service before luxuriating in the over sized granite bath. I perused the carefully prepared sheets of printed information which hotelier extraordinaire Henry Tonga always provides guests on restaurants, shopping, special exhibits and events, and theatre which he personally comments on, one of the many special services at 22 Jermyn. Conveniently situated in St. James’s Place just off Picadilly circus, I entertained friends in my smartly decorated sitting room combining contemporary furniture with handsome antiques before heading to dinner and the theatre.

A one block walk took us to Green’s restaurant, owned by that Parker Bowles chap, as typical an English restaurant as one could find. Then walking back across Picadilly Circus, we entered the Gielgud Theatre for the opening of Humble Boy, promising to be another very long running British hit, and starring one of Great Britain’s national treasures, Felicity Kendal. We topped off a beautiful evening and a wonderful visit to London with a nightcap at the Ritz Hotel’s opulent new Rivoli Bar.

So much more to see in this wonderful city, but there is always next time.

22 Jermyn Street
St. James’s
London SW1Y 6HL
20 7734 2353

British Tourist Authority
551 Fifth Avenue, Suite 701
New York, NY 10176-0799
British Airways