The only pre- decided activity on our latest trip to London was the musical theatre scheduled for 7.30 in the evening. We would have to work our day around it, if we wanted to stir out at all.
I decided the Charles Dickens’ museum would fill up some vacant time in the late morning. I had done my share of the city’s massive museums in the past but still retained space for something niche with a relevant personal connect. An iconic author’s home fairly close to where we stayed fitted the bill. One’s own craft as a writer has drawn lessons from his richly character driven, eventfully paced and socially ameliorative works. So we browsed around his five storeyed home, perched on his furniture, ran our fingers along the first editions, took pictures and listened to narrations of his colourful love life. Even so, the tour ended fairly fast.
We thought we might explore the retail on Kensington High street and grab a bite at Whole Foods, but halfway on the route alighted from the Uber having spotted an interesting destination. The place we were dropped off allowed us to realise we were ravenous. An organic Indo-Pak eatery made possible some spicy comfort food – aloo samosas and stuffed aubergine curry with the most amazing long grained brown rice I have so far set eyes and taste buds on.
From there to the National Portrait Gallery. It’s true I wanted to go easy on more museums, but with time to fill, we took in portraits from the Tudor and Stuart periods which had always interested me, coming face to face with Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles II and many more familiar historical figures. It was amazing to take in the breadth of history that just a single portrait could convey about a monarch’s life and times, love affairs and military involvements.
My still healing leg was fatigued so we then headed to the neighbouring St Martin’s in the Fields which I knew to be a concert venue. There was in fact an ensemble getting ready for a performance the next day and it was a treat to take a pew and hear them in rehearsal amidst a hushed and beautiful ambience. Trafalgar Square was right in front. Oddly enough, we hadn’t ever visited this famous landmark on our previous trips, but now availed the accidental chance of taking in the great monument celebrating an epochal battle.
Still some time to go. I wanted to visit a Lush store since those delectable plant based and cruelty free cosmetics are no longer available in Indian malls as they once used to be. Crossing to the neighbouring street , we wandered into a Japanese sweet shop and munched on a steamed rice ball with red bean paste. Waiting for a taxi thereafter, I had the opportunity to take in on the opposite side the beautiful monument that gives Charing Cross station its name.
The store with the name Lush that Google guided us to on Beak street related to some other service. Piccadilly theatre that we needed to reach was right there, so again we felt the yawn of time before the show began. The data cards on the phone were acting up and we needed wi-fi to orient ourselves to our chosen eating spot for the night. I spotted an Italian cafe right there, conjecturing that true to the non- dairy craze gripping London, we might just find our kind of beverage. We accessed the wi-fi amidst our respective drinks of mocha and white chocolate lattes whipped up with delightful oat mylk.
Warmed up in body and spirit, it was time to be in our seats at Piccadilly Theatre. Unlike the complex political convolutions of the musical ‘Chess’ we watched the day before at Coliseum, ‘ Strictly Ballroom’ was light hearted with a very thin story, but superb dance moves. At curtain call with its catchy recap of dance music, the audience jumped out of their seats to dance along. Though recovering from orthopedic injuries, I used my crutch as a support to execute some moves myself.
London’s oldest vegan restaurant, Mildred’s was a must do. It was a happy discovery to find it within walking distance so we stopped by for our post-theatre refreshment. It was around 10-30 and just half an hour to closing time, but the place was buzzing an vibrant. We had a Mushroom&Ale Pie and a Sri Lankan dish, washed down with interesting cocktails. The star was the rhubarb and ginger crumble which was our delicious dessert.
A while before the Uber arrived, but the Afghan driver , a great fan of Bollywood like his other countrymen we discovered in this line of service effusively greeted us with ‘ Namaste Dharmendra and Hemaji!’ Our educational inputs continued for the rest of the trip on South Asian geo- politics and personally experienced travails under the Taliban that prompted flight to the West. Members of his family still in Afghanistan are studying in locations like Bangalore and Pune, some on scholarships from the Indian government, so the regard and appreciation for the Indian nation is great.
Back at midnight in the South Kensington home that housed us for the week.For an unplanned day, it threw together literature, history, art, music, dance, food and personal interface. I have rarely known a planned day with a more diverse mix.