Thursday, January 10, 2019

London: My Biggest Travel Tip of All -- And Finding My Roots

My rule number one for traveling anywhere is to make a detailed itinerary of what you might like to do every day, checking hours if it's an attraction that might be closed, weather if possible, and location so you can best group your perfect day with the least amount of travel time. And of course, you take it with you as your guide, sharing it with those at home so they know just what you are up to that day (like they care).

My second rule is to blow that baby to smithereens.  And that's exactly what we did on our second day on our own in London! (You'll see weather forecasts in red on the itinerary -- these were from before we left for the month-ahead predictions, U.S. Farenheit scale. It was only partially accurate!)

I had it planned. We were going to go to Harrods, then hit the Victoria and Albert Museum and check out what might be playing in the West End and line up some theatre tickets. All good!

But then we ended up swapping out Monday's day (more or less) for that Friday and moving those other things along -- and once we did that, all bets were off. Things were added, things were crossed off. Some things were done twice. And it was just fine! (Or, as Seth Kugel writes in the New York Times, "The itinerary is just the rough draft for your journey.)

One of Rick's "musts" was to visit the Guitar Studio on Duke Street, just off Oxford. It was on our list for a different day but why not? So off we went.

He was in hog heaven trying out guitars! And he sounded pretty good.

Well, for as long as I listened. But as we were walking up to the shop, I noticed we were a block from Selfridges. Yeah. I was out of there soon and into this store I'd long wondered about and remembered from the popular "Mr. Selfridge" series on PBS.

It has a long history and if one looks hard, they can see things more or less as they were back "in the day," like the beautiful facade.

But for the most part, it was modernized, as one would expect. But there were still plenty of original touches.

I especially loved the clocks...

...and art nouveau style in the exterior.

We would return to shop later! (And Marks and Spencer, too. Although I did do a quick run through and especially enjoyed their holiday shop, along with others we saw on our trip. You can check that post out here if you missed it.)

While Rick was playing guitar, he learned that there were recitals taking place from a music conservatory in St. James Church, Piccadilly. Well, that was on our Monday list, too for a very different reason. So off we went.

For me, St. James was one reason I wanted to come to England. My great grandmother had been christened there and her parents married in this Christopher Wren church. I longed to see it.

Back in the 1600s when St. James was built, Piccadilly was (as it remains) one of London's fashionable spots with a great deal of history attached to it, and quite near St. James Palace. In fact, in 1772, one traveler complained that to get a seat for a church service cost as much as a theatre ticket! I suspect it was the parish church for my family's district, for I'm thinking my bootmaker second great-grandfather was probably not buying a seat for the key services! In fact, during the 1800s, they built seats specifically for the poor.

St. James isn't one of Wren's more imposing facades -- in fact, that was a criticism of its architecture at the time. It was no St. Paul's in terms of impact. But it is a gem -- and a well-restored one. It was badly damaged in World War II.

Thoughts of both World Wars I and II are present everywhere one visits in England. Many churches either have war memorial plaques or indications of restoration. I applaud those who in less than a century could repair what was done centuries before.

At St. James, four thousand books of gold leaf were used to gild the ceiling in its restoration.

The baptismal font is original and by Grinling Gibbons, depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is located in the back of the church and while I'm not sure if that's its original location within the church, I like to imagine Stephen and Elizabeth Grainger baptizing their twin children there on a cold December day.

The beautiful altar work in wood is also by Gibbons, the master carver of the period.

He also did the limewood carving around the altar.

Light and airy, the church has some beautiful architectural details and a handsome altar.

It also has some interesting plaques and the one below particularly caught my eye. While visiting Kensington Palace, we learned that Victoria came to the throne because the rightful heir, Princess Charlotte (daughter of George, the Prince Regent and his wife Caroline) and her offspring, died after childbirth. Princess Charlotte had been attended by Sir Richard Croft. She was put on a poor diet and bled liberally to encounter "morbid excess of animal spirits." Charlotte's child was stillborn and soon after, she, too, died. With a ruined reputation, Croft (who had treated a woman with similar symptoms after Charlotte's death who also died) shot himself. Many years after Croft's death, after the manner of suicide was somewhat forgotten (bodies of suicide were not allowed burial on holy ground) a memorial was placed, recognizing him.

While Rick was enjoying the concert, I checked out the church, then the rather delightful market outside.

And, with my guidebook and maps, settled down to enjoy a snack in the lovely attached Southwood Garden.

It featured a rather lovely sculptural display and the whole area was a delightful haven.

There would be more music to come in our trip. Much more.

But this day -- this unexpected, out-of-itinerary day -- ended with knowing we'd done just the right thing!

And that's the best! (Next time we'll check out some of the historic area around St. James and some of the fun shopping!)

Travel Tips:

  • Window shopping is a ball. I loved seeing things I wouldn't buy in a zillion years because it told me what the neighborhood was like (or catered to). And you can usually find something low priced somewhere if you need a souvenir.
  • Holiday Cards -- St. James had quite a selection of holiday cards for sale (I'm probably talking over 100 different designs) at very reasonable prices, all of which had profits going to any one of a variety of charities. I was delighted with some I chose and for 4 pounds, it was a fun souvenir. We were there in October, but you can often find holiday cards any time of year in a major tourist destination.
  • Free Recitals -- I'll say this again -- check out churches for free, inexpensively priced or "offering based" classical recitals. We saw several and all were excellent (and a good break for the feet!)
  • Eating on the Cheap -- That little street market at St. James offered some delicious food. You don't have to break the budget for a snack. A spot like this -- or the chain Pret a Manger -- offers reasonably priced food.


William Kendall said...

St. James is a particular beauty!

Pamela said...

Hurray for an interesting day! Charming reminders of the past.

Nancy's Notes said...

What wonderful photographs of your day! What a trip! We were in London a few years back for two weeks, it was truly glorious! Enjoy every moment!


David M. Gascoigne, said...

I think that having an itinerary, and an overall plan, is pretty important, with some flexibility worked in to take account of unforeseen changes. My plan of course would be different from yours, because I would be focused on finding certain birds and that requires knowing the habitat, researching abundance charts before leaving home, and so on. But the discipline is essentially the same, Jeanie, with different goals in mind. I can tell you that the overriding impression one gets from reading about your recent adventures in France and England is the sheer delight you derived from the trip. We can all share in that pleasure through your eyes, and some may only be able to travel vicariously - and you are doing a great job of enabling them to do just that. Bravo! Félicitations! Bully for you! Jolly good!

Fair Meadow Place said...

This is so very interesting, Jeanie. I enjoy these posts on England. My roots are there too.

Ricki Treleaven said...

I enjoyed seeing your pretty pictures of St. James. I love history, and the church is beautiful!

DUTA said...

Looking for family roots is one of the most exciting activities during a trip. Of course, one has to have a precise plan and come with well done homework. You seem to have known exactly what and where to look for.

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

It sounds like a wonderful day!

Linda d said...

I enjoyed this day vicariously through you and look forward to filling in my future travel partner on how much I know about st James.

CHERI said...

Jeanie, first of all thanks so much for dropping by my blog. Mine is rather boring compared to yours:) What a wonderful trip! I have wanted to travel for awhile now but my husband not so much. He especially doesn't want to travel abroad...he's afraid we'll get blown up:) I'm still hoping though that one day we will at least travel more around the U.S. Neither of us know a thing about travel really though, so maybe reading your blog will help us! Your photos are wonderful and you are certainly knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing and I do hope you'll come visit me again sometimes.

My name is Erika. said...

I agree. You need to know what there is to do so you don't miss something that's on top of your list but yet it stinks to be so stuck with an itinerary. I love your spontaneity. And those art deco pieces at Selfridges. I haven't been there either. That's what is so cool about London-there is so much there to seee and do. Happy almost weekend. hugs-Erika

Karen said...

Putting family history into the itinerary makes it all the more special! I have a cousin spending some time in Edinburgh Scotland while his wife does some university studies. He is wandering through churches and back alley's, visiting and photographing our ancestors haunts.
We used to have Marks and Spencers in Ontario when my daughters were young. I loved buying their clothing there. Sadly they couldn't compete with the WalMart and KMart blitz.

Valerie-Jael said...

Selfridges is indeed a wonderful place, and I enjoyed watching the series about Mr Selfridge, too. I know that Church in Piccadilly, it's lovely, a friend of mine got married there many years ago. But there was no market there then. Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos, hugs, Valerie

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, Jeanie! :-)
At first I thought, wow, I can never be that organized!
Kinda a relief your day was a tad more spontanous, too!

That facade is beautiful, thanks for sharing!
The reflection came out great, too.

You had to pay to sit in church? Bummer.
But it looks amazing indeed. Inside out!

Great you had a fun day, out-of-itinerary!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Selfridges was incredible. I've never seen the PBS show, though. Odd, since I practically live at that channel and support it.

What an amazing church in Picadilly. Incredible how beautifully it was restored.

Since I often travel alone, I usually stick to my itinerary. But I can be quite flexible and can always find something of interest, as did you ad Rick that day. Lovely photos, too.

Tracy said...

Part of the fun is doing all the BIG planning, isn't it?! Mapping it out, printing it out... And then the fun of scrabbling everything around when you get there... haha! ;) I think we've been to that Guitar Studio... We went somewhere else too, had a lot of keyboards--also up TJ's street. Selfridge's is soooo beautiful--such Art Deco wonder! St. James Church is so charming and pretty! (Just love all the churched tucked in and around London!) It's amazing all the freebies in London--especially music related! And we loved nothing better than a sandwich lunch in a park in London... Take me there now! ;) LOVE these posts, Jeanie!! ((HUGS))

Liz@ HomeandGardeningWithLiz said...

I think it’s good to have a plan but obviously you have to be flexible. Looks like you had a great day and how gratififying it must have been to visit the church where your great-grandmother had been christened at and your great-grandparents were married at. I hope you found some treasures to purchase at Selfridge! My husband was in England a couple of times a long time ago but he always refers to the Picadilly Circus as a fond memory (as well as Trafalgar Square).

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Victoria Zigler said...

Sounds like a wonderful day, even if it wasn't exactly what you planned to do that day.

carol@The Red Painted Cottage said...

Mr. Cottage would love the guitar store and I would love exploring more about his family’s history. Supposedly, it’s been traced back to the 1500-1600 era, but I think we need more details and places. Time to get ahold of his cousin for more info.

shoreacres said...

On my second trip to London, I designed for myself a tour of Wren's parish churches, and St. James is one I visited. I enjoyed seeing it here. I'm trying to remember which I thought the most beautiful -- I'll have to look them up and refresh my memory.

Joanne Huffman said...

You are a much more organized traveler than I am.

Thelma said...

I'm really enjoying your blog on London. I visited in Sept. 2018, with my daughter, in search of my roots also. My daughter planned all the trip with an itinerary also. We were only 7 days there, so much to see. I'm hoping to get my blog done soon, before I forget all the details.

Linda @ A La Carte said...

I did lots of planning on my big trip to Paris but it was always fluid! What fun you had on this trip. Great photos and I'm really enjoying it all.

BeachGypsy said...

I am LOVING THE ornate work outside Selfridges....that is so beautiful!! And I love that garden! I've not been commenting much, but I AM SURELY following along and enjoying all these posts, love that you take the time to tell us so much history and I love the beautiful pictures as well. You give a great "tour" for us!! I appreciate all the hard work you put into this---it shows! Love coming on and finding something new and interesting all the time. Happy weekend!

roughterrain crane said...

I love to visit old places of a long history, too.

Jenny Woolf said...

Yes, itineraries are wonderful but changing them can also be wonderful! Rick looks so happy with those guitars. I love your tips! Did I mention to you that we have just got a Pret a Manger opened at the top of the road? About a week ago. When you were here you might remember 3 small shops in a line, all of them empty. Well, that's it, knocked into one, tidied up, painted, with some of the architectural details restored, and it's now a Pret. I loved your information about the church. Although I've visited quite often, you have found out more than I knew. What a blessing that the Grinling Gibbons work was not destroyed in the war, my guess is that they might have put it into storage somewhere safe and out of the way of bombs.

Carola Bartz said...

I was never able to keep an itinerary during my travels, so I don't have one anymore. I have a rough draft for what I really want to to see and then everything plays out by itself. You mentioned recital concerts. Britain is full of them and I have enjoyed many of them. They are definitely a great way to have a delightful rest during the day. What a pity to skip them because of a strict itinerary. The discovery of so many things (that are not in the guides) for me is one of the gems of traveling. It seems you like it very much, too.
I have loved Selfridges since the 80's when I stepped into it for the first time. I wasn't a particular fan of "Mr Selfridge" to be honest. Still love the store though for mere eye candy but wouldn't shop there.

Arti said...

Wonderful details! As I look forward to the future, not just blogging, I can see your book on travel published. :)

BB said...

I love to have a plan, a list, but I think it's a good character trait if your spirit is free enough to "blow that baby to smithereens." LOL

I love that white and green vine/ground cover in the first pick. said...

It's nice that you had an itinerary but even better to shuffle things around when you get there! I would love to see Selfridge's I loved that series!

Eilis@MyHeartLivesHere said...

I got such a kick out of your photos of Selfridges. My family lived near London for three years while I was in high school. My friends and I would often ride the train in to shop and eat on a Saturday. I have been back to England since, but not to that area. Sweet memories. Looks like you had a great trip.

A Joyful Chaos said...

So much history! Love how you can almost feel it when you visit places like this.


Lynne said...

Reading, viewing, seeing . . .
Made me want to pack up, take off, go see!
You write the bests posts . . .
Rick in guitar land must have put him over the moon.
Baptismal font . . . wan’t that a jewel to see.
The magic of travel, changing itinary, flexing, street action, weather changes, all. . .
This was a treat Jeanie!

Mary K. said...

Jeanie I really love looking at old churches. The older the better, England is full of old and historical buildings you must really be enjoying yourself there.

Pam Richardson said...

St. James is so beautiful! How wonderful you can trace your ancestry back to this church. When traveling in Europe, I love to visit churches and cathedrals, the architecture is always splendid! This was another great post, Jeanie!

Jennifer Richardson said...

What a beautiful and intimate connection you have
to a historical place, Jeannie; love the story
of your great grandmother. Such amazing places - if those
walls could speak.
Thanks for sharing the loveliness,

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

How cool to see a church with so much historical relevance for your family! I did not realize your ancestors came from England. I can see why you have a special tie to this country.

I love taking in concerts while traveling. I have gone to 2 concerts at Sainte Chapelle. It's extra special to take in beautiful music in a beautiful location!

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