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Over the Sea to Scotland – Part 4 (Homeward via London)

London, Again

To wrap things up, and because there are a couple more photos I really like, here’s a little post about our last two nights and one full day in London before heading home. We stayed in a different neighborhood this time, right across from the Victoria and Albert Museum with its magnificent cafe rooms (alas, not visited this time) and splendid gift shop. This might be the best museum gift shop in London, if anyone cares about that sort of thing. Our hotel steered us to Pierino. We found Orsini on our own. Both were reasonable, friendly, neighborhood-style Italian restaurants and very enjoyable.

We were more than ready to slow down, walk along Green Park and Piccadilly, meet a friend for lunch and poke around Waterstones. There’s a pretty cafe/restaurant/bar there, as well, with a terrific rooftops-over-London view.

I do love this photo of Fortnum’s window. Well, I love the window and that eau de nil signature color.

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Now, can anyone guess where this was taken? (You don’t see that in an elevator every day.)

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That’s the end of this adventure! Read the previous entries, if you like: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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Over the Sea to Scotland – Part 3

The Best of Scotland – A Braw Tour

It’s been more than three weeks since I posted Part 2 of this little “Scotland Plus” travelogue and more than a month since returning home. Life intervened, but I’ve been wanting to complete the set, so here we are.  If you’d like to read the other entries, click for Part 1 and Part 2.

The tour provided a rich itinerary, lovely scenery, accommodations ranging from comfy to pretty darned luxurious, exposure to local culture (including whisky and music), and a chance to sample delicious Scottish fare. Here are some of the highlights. I’m letting some of the photos I like best guide the content here. They’re all from an iPhone 8 Plus, by the way.

The tour (Rick Steves’ Best of Scotland, highly recommended) began with an evening walk around Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town (“new” meaning 18th Century in this context) and a pub dinner. The next morning, we tackled Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the city and looks impossible to reach (but isn’t).

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Edinburgh Castle

Tours of  Edinburgh these days include quite a few references to Harry Potter: After all, this is where Harry first came to life in J.K. Rowling’s imagination. Grassmarket  may have inspired Diagon Alley, character names came from headstones in Greyfriars Kirkyard and so forth. (The other popular culture reference one hears frequently is to the TV and book series Outlander, which has clearly been a boost to Scottish tourism.)

On then, to Culross and St. Andrews, the fascinating Crannog Centre on Loch Tay,

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Loch Tay

the welcoming Dewar’s distillery at Aberfeldy, a working sheep farm,

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Culloden battlefield, Urquhart Castle, the prehistoric burial site at Clava Cairns, Brodie Castle with its gazillion daffodils and rooms full of living history; through Glencoe

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Glencoe

to Oban and eventually the Isle of Iona via CalMac ferry and the Isle of Mull;

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finally, along Loch Lomond, on to Stirling Castle and a beautiful farewell dinner overlooking the Edinburgh skyline.

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All of it to be cherished, none of it to be missed. So many thanks to our wonderful guide Anne and all our tour companions. Sláinte!

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Down memory lane into the Inns of Court

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Staple Inn Yard

Once upon a time, when I was a law student, I spent a few weeks on a study abroad course in London’s Inns of Court. A lot of American lawyers have a crush on the British legal system and wouldn’t mind if we got to wear wigs and gowns in court. This secret desire all started — or at least took on a life of it’s own — with Rumpole of the Bailey, in case you didn’t know. In Horace Rumpole, barrister and author John Mortimer created one of the indelible characters of the Twentieth Century. Mortimer’s stories are wonderful and the great Leo McKern will always embody Rumpole for me. He lives on, though, in radio plays recorded with Maurice Denham, later with Timothy West (and his wife Prunella Scales as Hilda Rumpole — She Who Must Be Obeyed), and most recently Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Rumpole. The stories, the radio plays, and the TV series are all quite entertaining and you should track them down if you can.

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Hare Court, Inner Temple

Getting back to the heady days of my own “mini-pupillage,”  I went to receptions and dinners in venerable old buildings, spent time in a barristers’ chambers in Gray’s Inn, observed a murder trial at the Old Bailey from the courtroom floor level instead of the gallery, and rubbed elbows with policemen, lawyers, defendants, and court personnel. I felt awfully lucky to have the experience but except for poking my nose whenever I can into Temple Church, which is one of my very favorite places in London, I haven’t really been back.

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Gardens in The Temple

Walking down from Bloomsbury, we threaded our way through Staple Inn (once an Inn of Chancery, now home to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries) and the four Inns of Court:  Grays Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, and the Middle and Inner Temples, eventually coming out on the Embankment. Since it was Saturday, pretty much everything was shut up. We eventually found our way into Middle Temple and through to the Inner Temple. Athough the church was closed, we could still hear the organ being practiced. On the positive side, the Inns were all blissfully peaceful and at this time of year the gardens were in their glory.

Read about Dickens, the Inns of Chancery, and the Inns of Court here.


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Dipping a toe into Oxford

Film Truck Under the Bridge of Sighs

Film Truck Under the Bridge of Sighs

I am quite sure that the impulse to make a day trip to Oxford came not only from an interest in history and tradition but also from any number of books, movies, and television shows, including Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, which is near and dear to my heart, and the venerable Inspector Morse TV series, but perhaps especially its follow-on series Lewis (known as Inspector Lewis here in the States). I’m so glad there is to be a ninth series  — it will be broadcast in the UK in October and I hope soon after in the US — and can’t wait to find out whether it includes any places I’ve now seen with my own eyes.

We traveled there on a breezy morning via the Oxford Tube, which is really a bus and which I can recommend if you have plenty of time and/or someone interesting with whom to pass the time of day, as I did. Our comfy bus was a double decker and we sat right in front for great views. The bus drops you in the High Street and you can easily walk to just about anything you would want to see in a day. It’s also a lot cheaper than taking the train.

In the time we had, we were able to wander through the streets, peer into colleges, take a short but excellent tour of the Bodleian Library, and have a bite to eat and a browse at Blackwell’s Bookshop. It was a short, sweet visit — enough to whet my appetite for more and I dearly hope to return sometime next year.

Oxford really does beggar my vocabulary of descriptive words, so here are a few photos. By the way, all my photos from this trip were take with an iPhone 5s. I still love an SLR camera, but you can’t beat this for traveling light, though you might need some sort of supplemental battery pack.

NB: In some cases I’ve used location data to caption these pictures and I’m not certain that all of the descriptions are accurate. Please let me know of any errors.

 


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My Bloomsbury

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Queen Square Park

Just as I returned home toward the end of July, BBC2 began broadcasting Life in Squares, about the Bloomsbury Set — Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and all that — of whom it was said they “lived in squares, painted in circles, and loved in triangles.” Very amusing, I’m sure.  That particular set is gone but Bloomsbury is still known for its garden squares, literary associations, and its cultural, educational and health-care institutions. Over the years I’ve stayed in quite a few different areas of London — Swiss Cottage, Ebury Street, Bayswater, Earls Court, Sloane Square and several hotels in Bloomsbury, to which I keep returning.  By way of contrast, last fall I stayed in a lovely hotel in Sloane Square but didn’t really enjoy the area — too upscale for me, I suppose. Bloomsbury (click for a walking tour) is comfortable, vibrant, multicultural, and wears its academic connections like a pair of old slippers. It’s slightly scruffy in places, but who cares? If I am within a stone’s throw of Russell Square and the British Museum, with the British Library not too far away, I feel perfectly at home.

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Breakfast at 49 Cafe

If you travel in from Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line, you alight at Russell Square Tube station. Follow the Way Out signs, climb a short flight of stairs with your suitcase, wait impatiently for the cattle-car style lift, pop your Oyster card on the reader, walk across Bernard Street to Marchmont Street and there you are. For starters, have you seen the movie Pride? It follows events that actually occurred during the 1984 miners strike, when a group of gay and lesbian activists provided dedicated, direct support to some Welsh miners and their families. The two groups ended up making a deep and long lasting connection that is recounted in the film with humor, sensitivity, outrage, and yes, pride.  The first time I saw it, I immediately recognized  Gay’s the Word on Marchmont Street, a Bloomsbury bookstore that was a sort of headquarters for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.  It’s still there, a little bit of modern history where you can wander in and browse, or buy a T shirt. Anyway, the film deserves to be better known and more seen and I recommend it whole-heartedly. Also on Marchmont, there is a terrific place for breakfast at No. 49, helpfully named the 49 Cafe (lovely food, lovely staff), and Judd Books, which specializes in second-hand academic books and carries much else besides. North Sea Fish Restaurant and Takeaway (deservedly highly rated for fish and chips) is around the corner on Leigh Street. And Brunswick Centre, a shopping complex adjacent to the Tube station, will have everything you could possibly need and quite a few things you don’t.

There is a nice cafe, with outdoor seating, in the north corner of Russell Square, and one of only 13 remaining cabman’s shelters is on the west corner. When the weather is mild, I love to sit on bench or at the cafe with a book or notebook, people watch, and read or write, and day dream.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of what Bloomsbury has to offer. If you have a favorite London neighborhood, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!