August 18: Church hopping and a bit of shopping
As is not unusual, my original plan for today altered after I set off across Kensington Gardens. When I reached the center of the park, instead of going on east toward Westminster Cathedral, I left the park so I could check out a Russian Orthodox Church the map showed not far south of Kensington Road. The road I found it on must have been pretty high dollar--I saw three Bentleys parked within the space of a block. But another vehicle, parked on the street, was cooler than the Bentleys--some kind of large-tired off-road vehicle I'd never seen before: sort of like a designer Jeep maybe. The church was tucked into a nook next to a park and I posted a picture of it on Facebook. Then I wound around a few more streets to a German Evangelical Church, and a few blocks to the Brompton Oratory. The Brompton is a big big church on Brompton Road, right near Victoria and Albert Museum. It's a Catholic Church, also known as the Oratory of St Philip Neri, but officially the Church of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary (unless I got too many names scrambled). I posted photos of this (as well as the façade of the German Evangelical) on Facebook. It has a large dome, especially impressive from outside and visible from blocks away. Lots of shops along Brompton, and I passed up the chance to have an eclair at the Patisserie Valerie and settled for morning tea and croissant at Costa.
After finishing up on Brompton, I had to do some weaving amongst the perpetually angling (usually in the wrong direction) streets and re-walked along some of the streets of Belgravia which I had visited for the first time just a few days ago.
The Westminster Cathedral is a Catholic Church, one of the two most important in England. It's a relatively young church, having been substantially completed by 1903 when the archbishop who died that year was entombed there, above ground in the medieval manner, under a stone effigy of himself. The outside, as you can see from the photos on Facebook, employs a pale white or cream stone for window frames and accents while the main body of the church is a dark red (I think). The church is Gothic in overall design and that, combined with the stone, gives it a much older feel than it is. Many of the neighborhood buildings employ the same sort of striped architecture, so the church and the neighborhood match, more or less. I took the lift (elevator) up the tower, which rears up to the left of the entrance, and was able to look out from the four sides to the city all around. Panels point out the notable structures in each direction, so that's cool. I was particularly interested in seeing what remains of the Battersea power station, which was used by Pink Floyd in 1977 as the setting for the album art to their record Animals, along with a flying pig which on one occasion broke free and floated off. You can also see part of Westminster Abbey in one direction. The young woman who escorted me up told me the tower was 210 feet high.
Leaving the cathedral, I did a bit of browsing in House of Fraser on Victoria Road, thinking I might ding a gift or two there, but didn't. Then I headed north toward and through St James's Park. I've walked alongside this park many times, angling toward Westminster Abbey from Hyde Park, but I'm pretty sure I've never crossed it from south to north (or north to south!) and maybe not even west to east! There's a small lake in the middle with a bridge across. Looking west from the bridge you get a great view of Buckingham Palace and looking east, among the trees, what looks almost like a fairy tale Germanic cluster of buildings, which must be some of the government buildings north of the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
Making it back up toward the Piccadilly area I bought some ham, chips and Coke for an outdoor lunch and thought the churchyard at St James Church would be a good place to eat it. I lucked into a street market/fair day and part of the church square was full of small merchants selling from tented stalls. I had my lunch first, being "entertained" by a family with three small children, one of which, on her constant running the circle of part of the yard, stomped on my foot on one round. Fortunately she didn't weigh very much.
After eating, I went into the fair and almost immediately found a simple silver ring which will, I hope, be the sort of thing I've been looking for as a gift. Not a simple unadorned band, but a very simple "bamboo"-joint band which I'm hoping my sister will like! The dealer and I talked a bit about society and economy in general, but then had to stop so he could do more business! I browsed a bit more but didn't really need to buy anything else so I didn't stay long.
The remainder of my afternoon was mostly walking and book looking. I visited one of the used bookstores on Charing Cross Road which I've gone into many times. They had a few interesting poetry titles, but nothing I felt I must have, so I passed on. Then I spent more time at Foyle's, feeling that I still hadn't really done it justice. This time I bought two items, both from the library essays section: a slim paperback by Roberto Calasso about being a publisher and a tiny stapled pamphlet called The Unknown Unknown (title inspired by Donald Rumsfeld, whose ruminations also figure in the text), about the joy of finding books you never knew existed (and therefore couldn't have wanted) when you browse bookstores. The author Mark Forsyth has a few full-length books about the English language which sound worth looking into when I get back home.
I had afternoon tea at Starbucks. For the record, most of my tea drinking on this trip has been done at Marks & Spencer cafes or Pret-a-Manger. Starbucks and Costa have gotten many fewer visits, though they rank above the London Zoo for frequency. Supper at M&S, of course, the jacket potato and apple supplemented by a chocolate chip cookie this time. I read the newspaper a bit while eating and then did a bit more browsing. I think I probably have in mind the final item for my sister, but held off buying, just in case I stumble into something more nearly perfect.
Here's something you probably wish I wouldn't tell you: I've lost weight this year so, from the collarbone down, I look like Iggy Pop with body hair.
Mostly cloudy/hazy today, but after three mostly sunny days I felt all right. If it rains tomorrow, I may sink though.