I know, I know, for a series of posts titled “Orient Express” there’s a surprising lack of talk concerning trains. Is it at all surprising, from what you’ve read so far on the Ramble, that we used it as an excuse to make a whole expedition? In true Ramble-y fashion, we are taking in some of our personal highlights while we’ve got the chance. One of favorite places in London is actually a place we’ve failed to see on a couple of previous excursions, but we weren’t going to miss the National Gallery this time. We were going to see an exhibition on one of America’s first preeminent black artists. Only no we weren’t. Hang on.
We were again using our “one attraction per day” method to hopefully give us enough time to really take the place in, so we had breakfast in our hotel; it’s basically the RyanAir of hotel breakfasts. Which is to say – if it was any worse it would be unacceptable, but for the price (free) it does the job well enough. (While wry and perhaps even chuckle worthy, that is not a joke. That’s our take on RyanAir.) Sated if not satisfied, we hit the Tube and exited at Embankment station.
Old story, and I apologize if we’ve told you this before, but: every time we come out of Embankment station, which is actually fairly common because it’s 2 minutes from Trafalgar Square, which means it’s 2 minutes from a handful of 1st rate cultural attractions, we get a huge bump of nostalgia. On our first trip to London which was our first trip out of the country, back in 2007, we got a bee in our bonnet to see Ian McKellen performing in King Lear. Long story short, the woman we bought tickets from met us just outside of Embankment station. So we get a little tickled whenever we pass by it.
As I said, it’s super close to Trafalgar Square, so we had a teensy walk to the National Gallery. In fact, we made such good time that it wasn’t open yet. We fiddled with the internet and found a place to mail post cards we’d accumulated, then went back to catch the opening of the Gallery. We had first AM tickets for the Winslow Homer: Force of Nature exhibition and we were excited. And this is where John tells on himself a little. For no good reason, I had decided long ago that Winslow Homer was black. This is neither good nor bad, of course, but it meant I dog eared him in my mind as an early black American painter. (Look, it’s the name I guess, plus his early subject matter. My bad.) Regardless of race, of course, he was a phenomenal artist.
His early work is largely focused on black life in the post-Civil War South. In my mild defense, this is why I thought he was black – he shows real sensitivity and empathy with his subjects, and frankly I didn’t expect a white man in the 1800s to pull that off. Sue me. After time, he transitioned more into depicting life in coastal towns in the North. Many of these paintings look at rescue efforts and the men and women who executed them. Basically, he’s really really really really good.
Post exhibition, the plan was to eat lunch at the Ivy Market Grill just a couple minutes walk from the Gallery. The only reason to bring this up is that it turns out the Ivy Market is a chain. That we ate at before. Accidentally. (We referred to it at the time as “The Cheesecake Factory only with good tea.”) I never would have said that I “have a type” when it comes to restaurants, but the fact that I zeroed in on this place, again, in a city with a not-insubstantial number of restaurants in it is kinda funny.
The kink in our “one attraction a day” hit around now, because I (John) was sleepy. Didn’t even realize that I hadn’t been sleeping well, but I just flat out hit the wall. So instead of going back into the National Gallery we went back to our hotel and I had a nap.
We finished off the evening at a good seafood restaurant, and then packed it in early. We had one last day of London jiggery pokery to enjoy.