“Living in London is like being on a luxury cruise liner.” —- Ma Jian
Thursday was a unseasonably warm and sunny day, so we took advantage of the “cracking” (a word the BBC meteorologist uses) weather and headed off toward Chelsea, not far from our apartment.
Away from the constant traffic and touristy stuff, we moseyed down quiet streets ogling the graceful architecture of old London. Chelsea is one of the swankiest of London’s Burroughs, so there was plenty to see.
Some streets are lined with dignified multi-story apartment buildings; others are rimmed with pristine white town homes. Pillars often edge each home’s black-and-white tiled steps leading to grand doors painted shiny black. The more haughty manses were impossible to see, hidden behind thick stone walls and iron gates. Once in a while we’d find a mews tucked behind a grand building. A mews was once a row of stables with carriage homes above, but now these long-ago “garages” are charming little homes along cobblestones alleyways.
Each street we headed down was its own perfect picture of London’s long tradition of elegance and grace. Our most eye-popping discovery was The Boltons. Like a pair of parentheses, these two small streets of magnificent single family homes circle St. Mary’s Church. Just who lives here, we wondered. Wouldn’t they love to have a couple of friendly Americans like us pop in for a look around?
I made sure to check out the blue signs, tacked to some buildings, that proclaim when a notable once lived inside. We spotted several of the who’s -that? variety along with Bram Stoker of “Dracula” fame, the author P. D. Wodehouse, and even Jane Austen.
On our map, there were lots of tiny parks we’d hoped to visit — Evelyn Gardens, Elm Park Gardens, Paulton’s Square. Yes, there are parks — private ones. Each is surrounded by an imposing wrought iron fence and has a locked gate to keep the likes of us out. Membership (no doubt pricy) to the private park association is required in order to rest on a bench or wander in to admire the flowers. Although charming, some of these little parks seemed a bit snooty. Rules are posted, and at one park, the owners’ dogs must be “approved” before they can gain access. Ovington Square keeps dogs out altogether, no matter what its credentials, along with unaccompanied children under fourteen.
Well, we could take a hint. We’d have to go elsewhere to sit on a park bench.
We hoofed it to the Sloane Square tube station and rode to the Embankment, where we found a public park to walk through. After lunch, killing time before our matinee of “The Woman in Black”, we walked some more, this time to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, another public park, strewn with Londoners lolling all over the lawn, soaking up the last day of the hot spell. It was nice place for riff-raff like us to cool our heels for a bit.