A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY 2 – PART 3

After our visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Diane and I once more decided to wander aimlessly through our favourite City. We soon came across Godwin’s Court, above, located off of St. Martin’s Lane. Built around 1630, it was originally called Fisher’s Alley and lately, it stood in as Knockturn Alley in the Harry Potter films. Coincidentally, Cecil Court, where Diane and I visited Mark Sullivan Antiques earlier in the day, stood in for Daigon Alley in the films, as well. 
But Godwin’s Court is not a film set, it exists as you see it above day in and day out, which is what I love about London. There are pockets of centuries old history to be found almost around every corner, if one knows where to look. See the sign below.
Above is Seven Dials, once one of the worst areas of London and a true rookery and one that Dickens was familiar with. Seven streets intersect here, warehouses abounded and many of the taverns had interconnecting basements through which thieves and ne’er do wells could escape the clutches of the law, such as it was in the 18th and early 19th centuries. 
Above and below, further peeks into the City’s 18th century past. 
After a while, we found ourselves in Charing Cross Road and in the same block as the few remaining antiquarian and second hand bookshops that survive here. When writing blog posts, I often forget that  people I do not know, people who are younger than myself and people who haven’t been to London may be reading my posts. I assume that others know as much about the things I write about as I do, and so I often forget to include bits of history or back stories to the places I feature. I do not want to do that here. This I must tell you – if you haven’t read a book called 84 Charing Cross Road, you must rectify that immediately. Set just after WWII, the book covers the relationship in letters between a bookseller in London and a customer in New York who places requests for books via mail. There is also a movie of the same title starring Anthony Hopkins and Ann Bancroft which you are perfectly free to watch, but I urge you to read the book first and see the film afterwards, rather than watching it  instead of reading the book. 
After a good browse, during which I found but a single title and that for my mate Ian Fletcher, rather than for myself, we continued our stroll. 
The entrance to The Ivy restaurant above and the stage door of the St. Martins Theatre, below. 
Neither of us having seen The Mousetrap before, Diane and I decided to take in a performance and it was a hoot – a murder mystery set in an isolated English country house sometime in the 1940’s, Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap is the longest running play in history. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel for dinner and indulged in ribeye steaks, chips and pinot noir. 
The perfect end to a truly perfect day. 
Day Three Coming Soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY 2 – PART 2

After watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Diane and I 
skirted St. James’s Park and noted all the glorious gardens in full bloom, above and below. 
Crossing the Mall, we then walked up the path that runs along Green Park up to Piccadilly, but instead we turned in at Milkmaid’s Passage as short cut through to St. James’s Street. 
I wanted to introduce Diane to Boulestin, a favourite restaurant of Victoria’s and 
mine in St. James’s Street. In fact, I like it so well that I’ve included it on the itineraries for several upcoming tours as a dinner venue. 
The restuarant is a revival of Marcel Boulestin’s pre-war venue in Covent Garden and has achieved the perfect blend of modern chic, French flair and historic touches. Click here to read about the original restaurant, the most expensive in London, and about chef Marcel Boulestin. 
In the photo above, you can see the outdoor seating area which is in Pickering Place, which is also adjacent to Berry Brothers and which was also the site of the last public duel in England. 
Diane and I each had a bowl of homemade soup and shared a cheese plate afterwards. Delicious!
Afterwards, we detoured through Jermyn Street in order to pay a visit to an old and dear friend. 
Then it was on to meet another old friend, antique dealer Mark Sullivan, 
whose shop is in Cecil Court. 
After pouring Diane and I a glass of wine each, it was at least a half hour of catch up before we got to the business at hand – Artie-facts, the true reason for our visit. As usual, Mark had found me another Wellington for my collection, and what a corker!
As you can see, he’s right at home now and fits beautifully into the collection. 
We decided to end the afternoon seeing even more of our pals, so Diane and I headed over to the Regency section at the National Portrait Gallery.
Part Three Coming Soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: DAY TWO – PART ONE

Diane Gaston and I began our first full day in London with a gentle stroll through the area around our hotel. Walking London, with no destination in mind, is a favourite pastime of mine, as one never knows just what one might see. 
Can you hear me now?
Interesting rear elevations and roofs of buildings, above. 
Would love to see what’s in that domed turret room, wouldn’t you?
Yes, of course I thought of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Westminster Abbey
This Ben needs no introduction.
Too bad it was so early in the day and this pub was still closed. 
Will have to return and have a poke about. 
“Look, Diane, Cockpit Steps. Let’s take them and see where they lead.”
They led us to Birdcage Walk!
We backed up a few steps so that I could take a look at Queen Anne’s Gate. In his diaries, James Lees-Milne relates that he and a friend were walking here just after a bomb had been dropped on the nearby Guard’s Chapel during WWII. Miraculously, all the houses in the Gate survived unscathed except for most windows. What’s the significance of Number 36? Until 2004, it was the headquarters for the National Trust but has been bought and renovated more recently. Read about it here
Back in Birdcage Walk, we saw the Chapel James Lees-Milne had written about, which took a direct hit from that bomb that shattered windows in Queen Anne’s Gate. The bomb hit on a Sunday. During church services. 141 people, including the Chaplain, were killed. Heartbreaking. 
Before long, we’d arrived at the Palace, our home away from home, where there was a large crowd gathered. Something must be going on, thought I. I wonder what it is?
“Excuse me, officer, but can you tell me what’s going on?”
Honest to God, the cop looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Changing of the Guard, madam.”
More of Day Two coming soon!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND – DAY 1

As some of you already know, I flew over to England at the beginning of May in order to firm up details for the 2017 tours to Great Britain that Number One London will soon be offering (watch this space!). Luckily, my old pal Diane Gaston (Perkins) was able to join me on my travels. I’d warned her ahead of time that I would be on a mission on the trip over; there were people I needed to meet and places I needed to be. We’d be traveling hither and yon across the country via British Rail. We’d be spending at most two nights in a city or town and then moving on. Places to go, people to see. I did warn her. She still said “yes!”
And I warned myself, as I usually do, not to plan anything for my first day in London. No plans, no commitments, just an entire, luxurious day in order to laze around and recover from east to west jetlag. I warned Diane that we weren’t going to plan anything, too. Again, she was on board with that. And then I saw online that Buckingham Palace was once again doing their unscheduled private, champagne evening tours of the Palace. Three nights only, the last night being that of the day we were to land. I called Diane and asked her whether we should forget the no plans thing and get tickets. She said “yes!”
Diane and I met at Heathrow and we drove into central London together. Below is one of the first signs we saw – fitting, no?
Before long we had reached our hotel, the St. James’s Court, below. Once we’d arrived in our room, I asked Diane if she were tired.
“Not really,” she answered. “Are you?”
“No. I’m actually okay. What do you feel like doing?”
“I don’t know. We could always just go out and walk around. Maybe go to Westminster Abbey.”
“Okay,” I agreed as I logged into my Facebook account. 
I read a post by Ian Fletcher, posted just moments before, saying that he was having lunch at The Admiralty in Trafalgar Square. 
“Ian’s in Trafalgar Square,” I told Diane. “Should I ask him to meet us? I mean, he’s only just down the street.”
“Yes!” said Diane. 
“I’ll ask him to meet us at the Palace.”
Some of you may already know that Diane and I are familiar with the Palace, having each been there several times previously and having taken lots of silly selfies there the last time we were together for the 2014 Duke of Wellington Tour. I sent Ian a reply to his Facebook post and asked him if he had time to meet us, setting in motion the following thread:
Kristine Hughes Patrone Walk down the Mall and meet us in front of Palace. Wear your spy trench coat in case we don’t recognize your dog ears.

Ian Fletcher I’ll walk that way for a few minutes. Brown leather jacket, Crockett and Jones bag but no dog ears…

Kristine Hughes Patrone K. We’re both in black. Witches of eastwick. I’m 2 streets away. Leave now?

Ian Fletcher I’m at St James’s Palace. See you by the front gate of Buckingham Palace…

Kristine Hughes Patrone Ok give us a few leaving now

Ian Fletcher No problem. I’m outside. HM has put the kettle on…

Delle Jacobs Damm I’m jealous, Kristine Hughes Patrone.

Author Delle Jacobs knows Ian because she’s been on his tours before. I actually already had plans to meet with Ian later in the week, as his company, Ian Fletcher Battlefield Tours, and Number One London will be joining forces on several of the 2017 tours. In fact, Delle is in the Peninsula with Ian as I write this, tracing Wellington’s path, from Torres Verdes to Oporto to Madrid. 
So off Diane and I trotted, quickly covering the three blocks between our hotel and the Palace, where we found Ian waiting patiently by the iconic gates. Kisses all around and then the crucial question – booze or tea? In the end, we all agreed on tea (!?) and so walked back to our hotel, where we ordered three pots full, along with scones, cream and jam. 
The next few hours passed in a flurry of conversation that covered everything from future tours to Wellington to battlefields to world travels to Jermyn Street, men’s clothing and oysters. The hours flew past until Ian realized he had to be getting home and Diane and I realized that we were due at the Palace by 6 p.m. for our tour. Check, please!
And so Diane and I flew upstairs to our room in order to freshen up before, once again, making our way to the Palace. 
Of course the tour of the Palace was fabulous, it’s always fabulous, but photos weren’t allowed. I did find a few interior shots of the Palace online, see below, but of course they don’t compare to all that Diane and I saw that night. You can find a previous post I wrote about touring the Palace here
At the end of our Palace tour, Diane and I returned to our hotel room, below,  and so ended our first day in England. Stay tuned for more posts regarding our journey through England on behalf of Number One London Tours!

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BOOKS KRISTINE SAW ALONG THE WAY

Having just returned from England on Number One London Tour business, I can tell you that great things are in store – stay tuned for complete details of the tours we’ll be offering in Spring/Summer/Fall 2017. In the meantime,  I thought I’d share with you a few of the interesting book titles I saw along the way. Click on the text links for more info on each title.