The Notebook (Mine) - Part Four

by Rachel Ashwell

I had never planned for my summer travels to extend from June into September. The Covent Garden Hotel in London became my base while I travelled in and out of the city to the countryside and Europe. It was where I left my big blue bag and every now again, traded clothes into my smaller more mobile Shabby Chic weekend bag for my multiple journeys. Doing laundry was a challenge, sometimes in the sink of the hotel or sometimes I would take with me to the countryside and impose on my hosts. 

My son Jake and my step kids live in London, so I still have family roots along with many memories.  So, in some regards It feels like home.  There is a sense of tradition and culture that stays constant in London. Even though I have lived a very different lifestyle in Los Angeles for many decades, I easily slip back into my British heritage when I am there.  Somehow, I am more patient, tolerant and humble.

I mainly walk across London by foot, but also hold my Oyster Card close to jump on and off buses. The red double decker bus isn’t nearly as charming as they once were, with wooden floors and hand rails, chenille covered seats, charming bells and a real-life conductor who would collect the fare. Today they are rather ugly rattlely things, where people talk too loudly on their cell phones, and crowds of unruly school kids transcend. But still from time to time I engaged in fleeting but meaningful conversations with fellow passengers. Which is refreshing from the conversations with myself driving alone in my car in Los Angeles.

I’m not a big Uber user although, they are very popular in London, cheaper and sometimes more convenient than my beloved Black Cabs.  Black Cab drivers have to go through years of expensive training called “The Knowledge” (learning all the meandering streets of London) before they get their license, GPS systems have overridden the need for “The Knowledge.”  But still when I arrive in London, if I have too much baggage to navigate the trains from Gatwick or Heathrow, I always treat myself to a welcoming Black Cab.

My first stop, when time permits, is Kensington Palace.  Members of the royal family still live there including, Kate, William, Harry and Meghan.  So much history.  I love roaming around the floor that Queen Victoria and Albert lived.  And of course, the memories of Princess Dianna remain so fresh, as though she were still there. The Sunken Garden was a favorite of hers where she often spoke with the gardeners about their seasonal choice of flowers. So, to this day often the design of the garden is taken from her inspirations of fashion or palette preferences.

There are a few department stores that have stood the test of time in the challenging retail world.  My favorites are still so beautifully curated, where walking up the elegant stairwells leads from one inspiring and captivating floor to the next and customer service remains from days gone by, where all are addressed as Madam and Sir.

My go-to’s:

  • Selfridges(Oxford St.)
  • Liberty’s (Regents St.)
  • Fortnum and Mason (also a must for tea time) (Piccadilly)
  • Santa Maria Novella (not a department store, but my all-time favorite Perfume Pharmacy, founded in Florence in 1221) (Piccadilly)

While there are many countryside antique fairs on throughout the year, there are 3 vintage markets that I frequent in the London area.  Not necessarily for bargains, although sometimes I luck out.  I love the conversations that take place between the vendors, I love the unique to “England” treasures, lots of art, sketches.  And I love when it’s a little dizzily and cold so to be warmed by hot chocolate and toasties.

1. Kempton Park.  All kinds of treasures from UK and Europe. Comfy velvet vintage chairs and furniture. Also, wonderful for lighting and floral textiles.

2. Portobello Road. A little spendy, and so crowded at weekends, but I have bought some lovely art pieces, china and silver

3. Covent Garden Antique Fair. Surprisingly even though in central London, I have found some lovely things here. Mainly smalls but so worth the rummage.

Spitalfields, Alfies, and Camden Passageare all also worth a look for vintage lovers.

Additionally, there are many street performers of such high standards in Covent Garden. Many times, I would stop to listen to opera singers that matched any talent at the Covent Garden Royal Opera House. Simply dressed with no bells and whistles, just beautiful heartfelt voices. Covent Garden as well as Marylebone High street are my two most favorite shopping streets for more main stream shops.

As with any country, there is so much history and culture to absorb. Even though I am from England there is so much I haven’t seen. Beatirx Potters, Hill Top Housein the Lake district and Downton Abbeyare on my list for next time. Charles Dickens and John Keats homes in London are frequent stops for me, just to reconnect with a slower and mindful life. The art of the handwritten word, the words written and the penmanship always inspires me deeply.

This summer was unseasonably warm all the months of my travels with very little rain. Which for me was disappointing as I so yearn for weather. But it was nice to see local British people enjoy the long summer days after the dark winter months.  I had never seen so many shop fronts decorated with everlasting flowers. Beautiful arches and hanging baskets with an abundance of blooms. Everyday I’d come across a new masterpiece on my walkabouts.  

On really hot days when I just wanted to cruise around, I would pop over to Regents Canal in Little Venice and travel the waterways of London, it’s another way to capture the private gardens of London’s canal life.

A few times I did rent a car when I was heading out to the countryside. Mainly it seems car rentals in the UK are not automatic but stick shift.  And I found myself thinking, as I was shifting gears, that my travels had a similar feeling for me.  I wasn’t on automatic. I was in control of slowing down, taking my time to think if I wanted to go faster, or maybe cruise for a while. I realized as I took control of the shift in my own life, that I landed where I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted.  I was happy and conscious of how I got there. A profound lesson for me.

0 comments


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

© 2017 Rachel Ashwell