Sunday 5 May 2013

A Northerner in London Town – Chelsea & South Kensington

Our final day in London and we decided to go ‘up west’ to Chelsea and South Kensington.  We were definitely going up in the world from Soho, but would I like it?

As I’d done in my Achilles tendon we had to face the tube.  We hopped on at Euston and took the Northern line to Leicester Square and took the Piccadilly line to South Kensington.  Obviously the tube is the work of the devil, but needs must when the Achilles tendon is busted.
Our destination was the Victoria and Albert Museum.  At South Kensington tube station there is a tunnel which leads you directly to the doors of the museum.  This is great as you avoid killing yourself on the busy roads above.

I dragged poor Neil through the exhibitions and hoards of school kids looking bored doing assignments.  He only got interested when we found some of the 70s and 80s exhibits with bits of gadgetry.  It’s a nice museum, which is all very lovely and civil with their helpful staff.  We even caught sight of the artist GraysonPerry striding though the museum, probably off to have a high powered meeting or peruse the collections not on display.  I have to report he was in normal dress rather than in full transvestite gear. 

Sadly we were a couple of days too early for the David Bowie exhibition.  There had been so much fuss in the press about it that we wished we could have seen it, although we later found out the exhibition was practically sold out.  So instead we went to see the next best thing and hit the gift shop.  Thankfully it was full of Bowie merchandise.  I bought an orange Bowie tote bag and Neil shelled out on limited edition 7 inch singles.  The ladies at the counter were cooing over Neil’s vinyl purchases.  I have to say they did look pretty good. 
London is a small world and we bumped into a journalist Neil knew in the V&A gift shop.  The lucky cow had got to see the Bowie exhibition at a press viewing the night before.  She was well impressed with the exhibition and came back to stock up on Bowie merchandise. 
Before we left the museum we were hanging around the entrance to the Bowie exhibition.  There were some private viewings going on for what appeared to be Russian Billionaires.   Thankfully I managed to catch a glimpse of one of Bowie’s outfits as the door opened.  I have to say what I saw looked amazing.
Opposite the V&A was the Natural History Museum.  I’m always cautious with Natural History places as I have a bit of a phobia of taxidermy.  However we managed to find the Space and Minerals annex and popped in.  The great thing about museums in the United Kingdom is that the vast majority of them have free entrance and both the V&A and the Natural History Museum are free.
The Natural History Museum annex we went in was good.  It was all very informative, but I have to admit it wasn’t as good as the New York Natural History Museum space exhibit we saw last year.  We didn’t go into the rest of the museum – partly due to laziness, partly due to taxidermy and partly due to wanting to go to Chelsea.
We hopped on the tube to Sloane Square and found the Kings Road.  Our first port of call was the Saatchi Gallery.  I had been here previously and was really impressed by the place.  I used to religiously make a trip to the Tate Modern every time I came to London.  However I ended up getting very bored with the place as it was like a module in 20th century modern art.  When I went to the Saatchi gallery for the first time I was very impressed with the vibrancy of their contemporary art exhibitions so I was keen to revisit the place.  This time there was contemporary Russian exhibition.  Whilst my first experience of the gallery had been joy, this time I found it was rather depressing, if not stomach churning at times with the naked drunk people pictures.  It was so depressing even one of the exhibits committed suicide.  I should have realised from my A’Level History the Russians are not known for being a happy-go-lucky nation.
Anyway to cheer ourselves up we took a trip to the local Patisserie Valerie.  Sadly it was a little lacklustre as Neil’s chocolate profiterole cake tasted defrosted, whilst I’d had better carrot cakes in my time.  It’s a shame as we’ve had much better tasting cakes from the Manchester branches.
The other reasons for going to Chelsea were the lure of the shops on the Kings Road and more specifically charity shops.
Along the Kings Road there were plenty of independent boutiques and artisan bakeries mixed in with high end high street chains.  I was pretty impressed to find a branch of Anthropologies as I didn’t think they operated outside of the States.  I’m praying one day Sephora will set up a branch in London.  When that happens I will be breaking the bank at their nail bar buying up their entire ‘Sephora by Opi’ range.
Chelsea is very lovely, but very different from Hampstead.  Whilst Hampstead is a little understated well-to-do, Chelsea is multicultural bling-tastic mega rich. 
The Chelsea charity shops were super posh.  A notable mention goes to the Red Cross on a side street where they had a half price sale, but you still need a credit card to afford the items.  We ping-ponged across the Kings Road visiting all the charity shops: I picked up a nice purple, unused hand bag, however Neil was struggling to find decent vinyl records.
We finally got to the World’s End council estate and the Kings Road comes down to earth with a bump.  So we decided to wander down the side streets. The side streets had these amazing white terraced mansions: all uniform, white, with black wrought iron railings and gates.  Oddly enough down one of these side streets I found what appeared to be a park, but was in fact a private garden that took up a huge chunk of land.  I found this disappointing.  I know this is a mega rich neighbourhood, but with so little green space in this part of town, it seems so greedy for one family to have sole access to such a large green space.
We got to the Fulham Road in South Kensington and wandered back towards London town.  The charity shops along here veer from uber posh designer pad to old ladies compulsive hoarder house.  We spotted a brash foreign gentleman having an animated conversation with some people in a local street front café.  There were foreign nannies pushing prams, as well as unfeasibly waif-like women floating down the street in oversized sunglasses clutching the latest designer handbag. 
Another detour down a side street and a wander past some glorious houses and we hit Old Brompton Road.  It was so lovely to wander past Christie's which is so understated, but opulent.  I so wanted to go in and have a peak at the antiques.  However I don’t think scruffy white Nike trainers would cut it in here.
On a side street we found a cluster of charity shops.  Whilst walking down the street I saw a familiar looking old lady in a fur coat.  I was puzzled, who was she?  It took a pint and a tube journey to jog my memory.  It was MISS MARPLE!  Julia MacKenzie.
We dropped in for a pint at the Zetland Arms where an over eager bar man was chatting up a Russian princess.  It was a busy pub doing fancy pub lunches, although I have to say there was a completely random range of people in this pub – it was very multicultural with the rich and local lushes rubbing shoulders.

South Kensington and Chelsea are definitely some of the wealthiest parts of London.  London is a very multicultural city and South Kensington and Chelsea are no different.  The multiculturalism here is pristine and sanitised with a massive scoop of bling.  On reflection, however nice this part is I still love Soho more – warts and all.

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