Popping into London for a couple of days, we began our stay in South Kensington. We grabbed a travel card at the train station and that allowed us to use all the trains, buses and tubes we needed. We got into Paddington Station and then took the circle line tube down to Gloucester Station in South Kensington which was going to be our base for a few days.
Exploring South Kensington or Museum Row
“There is no other city in the world where you will find such first class museums all within walking distance of each other. “The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 created the foundations for these grand institutions dedicated to the arts and sciences. It was this investment in the area that set in motion a building spurt with large terraced houses which gives the district its current appearance as a high-class residential area; streets like the Boltons are among west London’s smartest addresses. Catering for this type of resident are the designer shops around Brompton Cross. There’s also a distinct European flavour to modern day South Ken with a French emphasis making it all the more chic.” quoted from London Town.
We had a plan for ensuring that we got the most out of the area and so we headed towards the V & A Museum a place we had wanted to see for years. There were several exhibitions running including:
Discover the evolution of underwear design from the 18th-century to the present day.
This major exhibition will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960’s, expressed through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century alongside fashion, film, design and political activism. The exhibition considers how the finished and unfinished revolutions of the time changed the way we live today and think about the future.
Now the V & A is free but the special exhibitions do have a cost associated with them from around £8-20. We stood outside the Museum just marveling at the size of the building and the fact that we were finally here. Throngs of kids with teachers were going up the steps their bright glow vests in yellow giving the teachers a way to keep an eye on them. Screaming and laughing the crowds of kids were from around 5 years old right up to teenagers carrying portfolios.
We wandered up the stairs and entered the Museum – it was just incredible, vaulted high ceilings with a gorgeous Chihuly chandelier, marble everywhere just mind-boggling. We decided to forgo the special exhibits as they unfortunately just were not in our budget and began with the fashion exhibit rooms. From Chanel to Alexander McQueen and everything that came before and after these exhibits are absolutely a must see for the fashionphile. Room 40 contains the Fashion exhibits and they run chronologically around the room starting at 1750. From bustles to punk, the exhibit was outstanding and it was such a joy to stare at pannier dresses from the 1700’s and wonder how they maneuvered doorways to Malcolm McLaren’s punk look from the 70’s.
You can wander the museum for hours and take in exhibits from Islamic Middle East, sculpture from 1300 to 1600. In the centre of the Museum buildings is a Garden with a cafe, where you can sit and admire the architecture and enjoy a good cup of coffee before you head back into the galleries. We pretty much just stumbled around in complete awe admiring jewelry from every century to Tapestries, Theatrical exhibits, paintings and artwork from every era. It definitely takes more than a day to see everything you should.
From the V & A, where we spent the better part of the day, we wandered up to check out Harrods. Now this is a free experience but if you wanted, you spend tens of thousands of pounds buying that fancy watch or designer gear this is the place to do so. The store is incredibly lavish with some of the most beautiful tile work and ceilings I have ever seen. One area is totally Egyptian in feel with an amazing elevator there is even a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed (Harrods owners’ son).
The place I most wanted to see was the Food Halls, which are on the main floor. I think I wandered around there in shock with my mouth hanging open. From the most exquisite pastries and macaroons to caviar and shellfish, this food hall is just beyond belief. Straw-hatted staff with striped aprons caters to your every food fantasy. You can purchase eight kinds of Scotch Eggs, which sent me over the edge. Every type of cuisine is available, Gluten free, halal, kosher, Indian, Middle Eastern, American and everything in between.
The Meat Hall has pigeon, woodcock, pheasant, duck, grouse and all the fowl you have seen on those lovely British films. You can buy curries, falafel, caviar, prime US Beef and cakes that look like they have been decorated by magical pastry chefs. We decided to have a little snack at the Galvin Demoiselle managed by two of Britain’s finest chefs, Chris and Jeff Galvin who have a number of Michelin-starred restaurants to their name. “From traditional salad Niçoise to rock oysters, slow cooked Cornish lamb and tantalizing tarte tatin, Galvin Demoiselle’s gourmet cuisine, high-quality ingredients and luxurious simplicity make for a truly fine dining experience”.
We tasted two Petits Plats a Hot Croquettes of Comte Cheese with pickled walnut dressing and crudités with caramelized onion hummus, one cappuccino and a Watermelon breeze made from fresh watermelon and cranberries and we were presented with a bill of $28.00. However, since we did not have breakfast or lunch it was well worth it to sit perched above the shop floor in a beautiful tiny bistro.
These are some must do’s if you get a chance to visit the area.
During the day, the Dana Centre is a cafe/bar hidden behind the main routes to South Kensington’s museums. In the evening, it turns into an adults-only venue for discussion about science, technology and culture. Most events involve eminent researchers interacting with the audience in unusual and inventive ways.
On the tube the day before we went to South Kensington, we saw around 50 young kids with their teachers. One of the mum’s told us they were on their way to the Museum to visit with a real astronaut. We noticed loads of groups of school kids at all the Museums and we were really impressed with the kids, the teachers and the experience the kids had in those museums. It’s often assumed that the Science Museum is just for kids. It’s certainly very family-oriented, but there are many galleries aimed at a more adult audience. The Making the Modern World gallery contains a staggering collection of artifacts, including the Apollo 10 capsule. On the last Wednesday of every month, there is an adults-only late opening with music, talks, wine … and no children.
This is the Museum kids love the most, famous for its dinosaur displays (plaster casts of the originals); the NHM holds much wider treasures, including a full-scale model of a blue whale. The building itself is a masterpiece with intricate animal carvings peering out from every corner. If the lineups are long, try the side entrance on Exhibition Road much smaller lines if any.
Charles Saatchi, one of the world’s foremost art collectors, opened his own gallery in 1985. It specializes in cutting-edge contemporary art that most of us just don’t get. Even if the art is not for you, the gorgeous, sparse interiors are worth a look. Although entrance is free, you might want to buy a guide, as the labels on the work really don’t tell you very much
Classical music, rock, pop and jazz, sporting events, galas, banquets and balls and the world-famous Proms series all take place within the Royal Albert Hall’s iconic oval walls. The brainchild of Prince Albert, inspired by the success of the Great Exhibition, the hall first opened in 1871, ten years after the Prince’s death. Heavily influenced by ancient amphitheatres and the theme of the ‘Empire and the arts, the oval structure’s terracotta walls are decorated on the outside with a frieze dedicated to “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”. Gas lighting, poor acoustics and old pipe organs have been replaced over the years and the awe-inspiring venue now exists as a testimony to both the architectural and aesthetic achievements of the past – it now features the largest pipe organ in the British Isles.
More posts on traveling in the UK can be found here
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