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where reality is inferior to fiction

July 30, 2010

so…  bright and not early the next morning (OK, so the good traveler had breakfasted at the hotel and gone sightseeing before I was ready to go–  what!!??  he likes it that way) we set out for the tube station and a ride to hampstead.  the town was busier than i had suspected, especially the ambulance crews.  sirens blared constantly, leading me to believe that perhaps life in hampstead was not good for one’s health.  we located keats’ house only to find that the information we had was outdated and that the house would not be open until afternoon, so we walked the short distance to the heath.  it was a lovely sunny day, albeit a bit chilly, and we stopped at the first small lake when we sighted a family of swans.  mom and dad were regal looking birds who kept a very close watch:

and their tiny band of “ugly ducklings” were as mischievous as any young creatures are wont to be.  a loose dog kept the parents herding their brood away from water’s edge while hissing a warning that fido should come no closer.

we wandered about hampstead heath for the better part of an hour and then returned to keats’ house.  the surrounding houses are engulfed in greenery and blossoms, affording some privacy in an area frequented by tourists.  the keats house/museum, however, sat rather starkly in the middle of a lawn, and the entrance was in back of the house.  it was not welcoming, although the lady at the reception desk was quite pleasant.  this house is also a self-guided experience, and as we began going through the rooms i felt an increasing discomfort with the cold and impersonal nature of the house.  ok, so here’s the problem…  i saw bright star, jane campion’s mesmerizing film on the life of keats and his love, fanny brawne.  the visuals in that film were incredible, creating a cozy, homey atmosphere that this house simply didn’t have.  i always feel like such a sucker when real life doesn’t measure up to its fictional portrayal, but wasn’t it keats himself who said that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”?  yikes.   i was missing the joy along with the beauty.  it was impossible to imagine keats or miss brawne ever inhabiting these rooms.  i dare say that they themselves would not recognize them were they suddenly to come through the front door.  therefore, no photos of this place, save one gratuitous shot of a border garden:

following our visit we strolled through residential streets enjoying gardens and architecture.  some of the tiled entryways were particularly beautiful, and here and there flowering bushes climbed past the doorways to upstairs windows.  as we approached the main thoroughfare there was a steady parade of classic red double-decker buses, and the familiar red telephone booths stood in pairs around town.

we chose a sidewalk café on a corner to enjoy our midday meal, which was quite spectacular.  i enjoyed one of their “platters” with assorted seafood and a wonderful crusty bread, while b. had a goat cheese entrée.  we sipped our wine while being serenaded by ambulance sirens.

we did a little window shopping before taking the tube back to bloomsbury and our hotel.  after freshening up a bit we traipsed back to the theater district to enjoy a rousing  presentation of the hit musical oliver.  the children in the cast were amazing, and the character of fagin brilliantly cast.  it was fabulous.  walking back we passed a gorgeous restaurant that was just as pretty at night as it was when we saw it last year in daylight, then stopped in at the marleborough arms to test my theory on british gin and tonics, and discovered that i was, in fact, correct.  smile.

friday morning we decided to just wander and see what we could see.  we stopped in at my favorite art supply store first:

then toured the inns of court, walked along the thames, stopped briefly at the courtould gallery,  crossed covent garden and the market area, and then took the tube over to chelsea.

the weather took a turn for the worse so we ducked into the trafalgar pub to grab a bite to eat.  unfortunately when we finished the rain was still coming down, so we hurried to the tube station and hopped on the train.  then…  DRAMA!!!!  two stops short of our destination the train suddenly stopped.  this isn’t altogether unusual, except that after a moment they GO again.  not this time.  after a while a voice came over the loudspeaker stating that we were to proceed to the front of the train and get off.  what we couldn’t see from the back of the train in the tunnel was that the first car had reached the platform, so it was no problem to exit the train once we reached the front car.  as we stepped off the train the station was overrun by police saying to quickly leave the station and that the station was closed.  police cars were lined up along the street outside.  since it was still raining we stepped into the national portrait gallery for a spell.  we then decided that we’d best get started on what could be a longish walk back to the hotel, only to find that the streets had cleared, the station was open, and we could proceed according to plan.  hmmm.

it wasn’t until later that i reflected back on the absolute calm inside the train as we all filed forward and exited the station.  no hysteria, no running, no bedlam.  you’ve gotta love those brits.

*  next up:  we travel south to sussex to visit my favorite bloomsbury haunts and i admit to being an incurable bloomsbury fan.

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