7.6 Bethesda - SolihullAll too soon - back to England and traffic and roundabouts. A quick stop at Prestbury for lunch and catch up with Sam who is, as usual, too busy too talk. But he looks good, if tired, in his chef garb!
|Sam in Prestbury|
The town centre is a 5-10 minute walk, through a quiet shopping mall punctuated with a few pubs and restaurants. Of course there's a picturesque church and cemetery. Via Tripadvisor we pick a well-reviewed Indian place for dinner (Panchuli), and we order the 3 course special, but in fact are not nearly hungry enough and we take half of it home.
8.6 Solihull - BirminghamSleep in and emerge late for breakfast! But our hostess takes pity and does a cook-up that we don't really need. We resolve to skip lunch. Train to Birmingham from the nearby (old, attractive) station, to Birmingham (Moor St - old, attractive station). No visitor info at the station so we head up New St. The visitor centre has closed and amalgamated with the new train station, so we queue there for a city map. No maps, they have run out - but here's a barely legible photocopy ... An hour into our Birmingham visit and we still can't see where to go, it's reminding me of Bucharest. Guess they don't have a lot of tourists ...
|Greco-Roman in Brum - the Town Hall|
|Kids' dress-ups in the Art Gallery|
Then to the new library, in its glitzy new building - amazing spaces and interesting architecture, we enjoy walking around, but as we don't actually have library business it feels a bit voyeuristic. Next stop, IKON, gorgeous avant-garde gallery in gothic old school building. Dan Flavin's neon works from the 60s and 70s make it look like a space-age church - stunning. But just as we are leaving with a plan to walk canals to the Jewellery Quarter, the heavens open. My umbrella is at home. We sit for longer than we should over coffee in the attached cafe, and finally make a run for it ... And forget to pay for coffee (but also realise we have been overcharged in the gift shop ... ).
Thirty minutes later, like drowned rats back at Moor St, we find the platform crowded with commuters stranded by the flash floods, which have caused cancellations. But thankfully our train arrives and we (literally) squeeze on. Dinner is last night's Indian leftovers (palak paneer and rogan josh), and I dream that it's new year's eve.
|Chris on terrace of the new Library|
|Back home, post-downpour|
9.6 Solihull - CookhamBefore leaving Solihull, a few pilgrimages: the house where we lived, the school I went to, and a great collection of op shops (charity shops here) on the high street. A few photos and op shop buys later, on our way again.
|Our old house in Solihull|
Have a drink at Bel and the Dragon (we should stay here! But it's a bit pricy), then drive to nearby village Wooburn where we stay at the Old Bell (almost as appropriate!). The 'garden view' room has no view, just a tiny frosted window, and a leafy outlook through the door when it's open. But it's right next to the beer garden, so smoke and hubbub drifts in. The room itself is spacious, comfortable, and full of olde English character (pitched ceiling with dark beams), and we make the best of it, with whisky and oatcakes, and I hang a sarong over the (usual) awful modern 'art'.
|Kenilworth Castle - with recreated Tudor Garden|
|The Old Bell - Wooburn|
10.6 - Cookham-LondonIt's an easy drive back to St John's Wood, except for a final mis-turn that takes us via a busy Lord's cricket ground (England vs Sri Lanka test). Phew! A relief to have the car returned with (touch wood) no problems. Back at the lovely Finchley Road flat, we have returned to summer. A bus ride, then walk around Hampstead Heath to Kenwood House cafe. Home for Libby to nap, and we lounge and chat up in the warm, sunny garden.
It's Bob's birthday! So early evening we walk up to Primrose Hill wit ha bottle of (proper French) champagne. There are knots of people picnicking, walking and taking in the view, which is a panorama dominated by dozens (hundreds?) of cranes. But still a gorgeous spot for wine and nibbles, followed by Lansdowne Pub for a yummy, healthy and slightly pricy dinner (roast cod on chickpeas, courgette fritters with lentils and coriander).
Walking back via Georgian terraces, it's easy to feel that London is the most civilised place on earth. (But on the tube it's a somewhat different view).
|Chris at Finchley Road|
|Chris and Bob watching footy at the Finchley Road flat|
|Bob, Libby, Chris at Hampstead Heath|
|Libby and Bel at Kenwood House cafe|
|Bel, Libby, Barbie & Bob on the way to Primrose Hill|
11.6 - 12.6 LondonA quiet day, Chris & Bob watch AFL, then a walk through cemeteries and gardens. Following prosecco in the garden, Chris and I cook dinner - my eggplant and gorgonzola tart, Chris's Thai salmon (trout) poached in coconut milk. In the morning, a final outing to the Victoria & Albert Museum - it is a treasure! Enter via an avenue of Rodin sculptures to the cafe, designed by Morris and Co. It's buzzing on this gloomy Sunday, but we have a great flat white. Wander through Medieval galleries, Renaissance sculptures, portrait miniatures, tapestries, jewellery, ironwork ... It's a maze, the whole museum a vast treasure trove. Return home via Knightsbridge on double decker bus, a great way of sight-seeing! Buy a few picnic supplies for the train, eat a Nicoise salad, then watch Mr Turner, poignant having seen his work (and Constable's, and Pre-Raphaelites) at the museum today.
|View from a double-decker|