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Archive for October 28th, 2019

One of my favourite little indulgences when I travel to England is to read the “pink sheets”, aka, the venerable Financial Times. During our last weekend in London, I read a opinion piece which resonated with me.  The author was bemoaning the “last days of the middle-class world citizen”:   people like me and my husband and most of those we call family and friends would fall into that category.  Think about how many of your social circle have just returned from a summer sojourn in Italy, or your children grown friend’s were married in Iceland, or you went back to Scotland this fall for an “ancestry tour”. 

The article’s  author was writing about one of the implications of the positive changes for the planet (in terms of the pricing in of the actual costs of air travel) which will, frankly,  be net negative for us.  As he pointed out, a no-lose change is rare.   In my darker moments, I envision a future when long distance air travel has the moral equivalency and as such, potential for public shaming, as the wearing of real fur in downtown Toronto.  You may still value that coat in January in Canada, but you certainly don’t brag about it on Facebook! Cheap air fare (due to airline consolidation), package holidays (aka Thomas Cook) short term rentals (Air B&B and VRBO) are all being squeezed out of existence for different reasons, market driven or not, but it all comes down to the same result. The “democratization of travel” is done.   Enjoy it while you can.*
Edinburgh was our next stop on our journey:  it is considered by many global travelers to be one of the prettiest small cities on the planet.  The combination of stately 18th century architecture and the youthful energy of college students is very appealing.  Not to mention that some history’s most influential and enterprising people, from the fields of architecture (Robert Adam) exploration (Dr. David Livingston I presume? ), medicine  (Sir Alexander Fleming), philosophy (David Hume),  and economics (Adam Smith) are sons of Scotland.  Must be something in the haggis.
We had a specific mission in Edinburgh, beyond a family dinner, and that was to take photos of a probable Oakville connection with one of Edinburgh’s old aristocratic families.  Ben’s good sailing buddy, Dave Dick, had traced his family tree back to the Dicks of Edinburgh and he asked us to do him the favor of visiting the ancestral pile, Prestonfield House, and take photos of potential family portraits on the wall.  At first, I was a little reluctant to get off our agenda of museums & the Castle tour (I do have a bit of a control issue) but when I saw the House, I was absolutely gobsmacked.  Prestonfield House is now an opulent, antique filled hotel which feels like the home of a very wealthy aristocratic uncle who has invited you down to the country for a weekend of shooting, sherry by the fire  and big British breakfasts.  Very posh indeed.
Ben’s says that once you have seen the Edinburgh Castle you don’t need to see another.  Spoken like a man with a bias, but truly, it is impressive.  As are the views  over the Firth of Forth, where Ben was born.

We travelled by first class train to London, and for once, it was as promised.  We had gotten accustomed to being disappointed in train travel.  No hot food, sorry kitchen was broken for one, in another, there were only  5 cars instead of 7, “so get your butt in a seat before they are all gone” was the advice of the only uniformed rail employee that I could find.  The rest hid until the train had left the station.  There were 2 young women who, like us, thought that they had reserved seating in a first class coach.  Instead, they ended up sitting on their luggage in the doorways of the train.

What can you say about London, except that it never disappoints.  We had rented a VRBO condo on the south east side of the Thames, near landmarks like the Shard and the Tate Modern.

 

London has plenty of huge, crowded mega museums, and we have visited many. This time, I wanted to focus on the smaller, more esoteric and therefore relatively unknown ones, like The Wallace Collection.  Housed in a huge 18th century townhome, it is the culmination of centuries of collecting by a family of refined tastes and seemingly unlimited resources.  Our visit coincided with a special retrospective  of the shoes of Manolo Blahnik.  In the show notes, he is said to have drawn inspiration for his beautiful and luxurious footwear from the 800 year old collection of treasures at the Wallace.  Indeed.  Frankly, I would have found the Collection wondrous without all of the shoes under glass, but that explains their presence in the photos.  It is one of the few places in the world  where you can get so close to an Old Master that you might mistakenly touch your nose to the painting’s surface, before you realize that there was no alarm or guard to stop you.  (OK, that was me, pulling away just in time! )

 

I have lots of photos of memorable meals but there are 2 highlights at 2 extremes, both perfectly executed and appropriate for their locations.  The first was the remarkably delicious lunch of bangers & mash with green peas which Ben enjoyed at the Earl of Lonsdale after our Saturday morning Portobello Market stroll.   (I lived on Lonsdale Road in Toronto for 15 years, so that is why I picked that tavern. A  “tasty” coincidence!)   For dessert,  there was an incredibly delicious sticky toffee pudding:   I now understand the British obsession with the “pud”.  I could give up chocolate for those flavours.  Perhaps. For a week.  Maybe.

The other outstanding meal that we had was a 5 course tasting and shared plates meal at the counter overlooking the kitchen in the tiny Evelyn’s Table.  We were so close to the action at the grill, that I could have reached over and grabbed the ties of the Chef’s apron!  Only 11 seats, this place is in Covent Garden London, and is named for Faye Dunaway’s character in the classic movie “Chinatown”:  like the character, the restaurant has a ballsy, bold and unexpected approach to food.  So delicious and entertaining too.

* As a followup to my little rant about the imminent demise of leisure travel for the rest of us, I also read an interview with a CEO of a major tech company, based in Silicon Valley, but with offices around the world.  He had just landed from a global office tour because he felt it was still important to “press the flesh” and make eye contact with employees and important clients.  However, he admitted that in the face of growing “eco-pressure”, he was exploring a promising new technology from Apple which may be able to create “a sense of real person to person engagement through the screen.”  Oh dear,  can “smellovision”  be far behind?

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