Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hail Britannia, Part Two

Tube stop: Liverpool Street

Destination: The Geffrye Museum, a converted 18th century almshouse devoted entirely to English domestic interiors. Living rooms, to be exact. It's widely hailed as one of London's most loved museums, and I couldn't wait to visit it.

If you're wondering how I was going to get The Little Prince to accompany me there whine-free, the answer is that I had done a little groundwork back in Los Angeles. A visit to The Geffrye Museum website revealed a wonderful interactive quiz which leads a child through a Victorian house in search of a lost dog. Complete it and you can print out your very own award.
Once Luca had his official certificate in his hot little hands, it was all he could do to count the days until we went there. That, and ask me incessantly about chamber pots.

We walked through a series of living rooms laid out in chronological order, each dedicated to a specific period in interior design. 

The 1880's room (below) is a beautiful example of the Arts and Crafts movement. Followers of this movement rejected the "soulless" mass production of the Victorian era in favor of a return to simplicity, good craftsmanship and appreciation for decorative arts. 

The William Morris wallpaper was to die for.

The room below showcases a glamorous apartment in 1930's London.
I can just envision the imaginary couple who own it.  This is their town flat; they have a massive estate in Kent that they motor to on weekends. Tonight, they're hosting a small cocktail party to celebrate the husband's newest play in the West End called "She Suffers Fools Gladly." At this moment, they're in the kitchen mixing up a trendy new cocktail called "Angel's Wing", an exotic menage of creme de cacao, prunelle brandy and double cream.

This next room represents the 1950's, of course. 
I love how this room so gracefully expresses the democratic ideals of midcentury modernism: simple organic shapes with a strong nod to the Scandinavian ideal of functional beauty.

Apologies for the glare spots on the painting below, but I couldn't not photograph it.  I find it so wonderfully emblematic of the glamour of 1920's London, peopled with the young and decadent "Bright Young Things" that Evelyn Waugh wrote about in his novel, Vile Bodies.

After leaving the Geffrye, we walked down Commercial Street and passed this lovely church, of which I have been unable as yet to discover the name.  
(Note: Claire from the UK has informed me that it's Christ Church Spitalfield's, which I discovered was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1714.  Thank you, Claire!)

Next Tube stop: Tower Hill

Destination:  Tower of London. I have been there many times before, but it was Luca's inaugural visit and I was excited to take him there.
I had prepped him on some features of Tudor times that I thought might interest him and my strategy paid off -- he was eager to visit the palace where so many people were reluctantly parted from their heads. 

Once inside the main gate, we passed by this lovely Tudor-era building that still houses the ceremonial guardians of the Tower, the Yeoman Warders (also known as "Beefeaters").  I love the turqoise doors. 

My next manoeuvre was to immediately whisk Luca to the gift shop.  He picked out some gruesome souvenirs and I told him if he was well-behaved during his time here, as soon as we exited the museum, they would officially be his.
Ravens were everywhere.  Legend has it that if they ever leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. Today, the government takes no chances and clips their wings to prevent them flying off...just in case.

The torturous rack in The White Tower proved an endless source of fascination to my son... did the executioner's axe and chopping block.

He was also quite pleased to discover that he was officially taller than a dwarf. 

Next Tube stop: Piccadilly Circus

Destination: Waterstone's. Housed in the former Simpson's department store, a 1930's Art Deco landmark, it now boasts 5 enormous floors of books, books, books.
As it was dinner time, we took the lift to their chic restaurant on the top floor, but unfortunately The Little Prince's palate doesn't run to coriander hummus, chorizo kebabs or smoked haddock. So we walked around the corner to Benihana's...
...where he was served served plain chicken and rice in a manner very well-suited to a seven year old.

Afterwards, we returned to Waterstone's and spent a good hour and a half there, emerging victorious as night fell.

My purchases ran from "Voices from Dickens' London" to "The Garden Wit and Wisdom of Beverley Nichols." Luca's ran to "Beast Quest" and "Scream Street: Fangs of the Vampire." (As long as he's reading, I withhold all comments on his literary choices. For now.)

Then it was home again, home again, jiggety-jig. I handed Luca the Underground map and informed him that from now on, he was the trip navigator. His first challenge was to get us through the labyrinth of tunnels to the correct train platform that would take us back to the hotel.
Mission accomplished.

Next stops: Russell Square/Oxford Circus.


AlwaysMe said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this invigorating romp through London. I have stored away your strategies for traveling with a 7 year old for my summer vacation. What a good idea to look at the gift shop first! I think my favorite might be the painting - it captured the glamorous mood of the time between the wars perfectly.

Looking forward to the next installment. And a warm welcome back.

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa –

Although my children were older when we traveled to France for two weeks...I can certainly relate to the "keeping them entertained" aspect. You, though, had much better prior proper planning than I did!

Thank you for another great post about an amazing journey with memories that I am sure will be indelibly marked in your minds.

historical finds

Unknown said...

I love the Geffrye Museum! And I bought the postcard of that painting because I felt the same way you did. Thank you for bringing back so many wonderful memories of London.

Unknown said...

Reading these London posts are really giving me the travel bug, specifically towards London! The Geffrye Museum was one of my favorite museums while I was there last. What a beautiful, interesting city. Thank you so much for sharing your trip!

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

what a great day for Luca!and you-all new thru the eyes of a child! g

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

The 30's room is so very Poirot.

I'm enjoying your tour so much!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

AlwaysMe: I have some more great kid ideas for museum-going coming up...!

Susan's Snippets: Yes, keeping kids entertained is a fine balance, but if they're not happy, then no one's happy...!

Ruby: I am soo jealous that you found that postcard! They didn't have it when I was there. Lucky you.

The Squirrel Girl: I love that so many people have been to the Geffrye Museum. I want to go back when the medicinal garden is in bloom -- I bet it's amazing.

Little Augury: Thank you for your lovely comment...the trip just got better and better...stay tuned!

Laura said...

That 1930s apartment reminds me of those wonderful Poirot shows they used to run on public television...I so loved all of those apartments!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

An excellent day all around. Mrs.E. and I picked up a set of complete Jeeves and Wooster stories and a Harry Potter that had just been published last trip through Waterstone's. And one day, I'll learn to ship things like that home.

The museum looks like a treat. As a big deco fan, I'd like to see the apartment. One day....

Claire said...

Hi, I lurk reading your blog (which is excellent) but can help you with your question.. I think the church is Christ Church in Spitalfields. Claire (UK)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I love that every outing is turned into a game and adventure. I'm definitely taking notes!!

Tricia said...

Loving this trip! I took my son to London at that very age and happily had him to myself while my husband was at meetings. Before we left Boston I cut out pictures of where we were going and brought them along with a glue stick and a travel diary. He night he pasted in the pictures and wrote a few sentences to share with classmates (he was missing school). I treasure that little book and its built-in compass.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Claire: Thank you for the name of the church...I knew someone out there would know the answer!

Tricia: Amazing ideas, my dear. I'll definitely have to add that one to the repertoire.

Jill said...

You child is darling! My parent's took me to Europe when I was 6 years old. Most of our relatives said that I was too young to fully enjoy it, 35 years later, that trip provides some of my fondest memories.

pve design said...

Oh you truly are a bloody good Mum, I admire you, your spirit and stamina to steer a seven year old with success. One of my favorite trips with my twins was to visit a 90 plus year old relative in Holland. Any angst that I had was merely my own doing, they had the trip of a lifetime.
That painting was on my wedding shower invite and inside was written, "I did not think that they would all attend" - one of my favorite paintings.
Have a glamourous remainder of your excursion, you and that little one. I wish I were he. I would love to be dragged along.

Simple Good Beautiful said...

I'm a new reader of your blog, and this is one example of why I keep coming back! And I love how the last shot of your son has the "Lighten Up Mr. Grumpy" poster in the background.


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