A Stroll through South Kensington and Knightsbridge

July 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm 1 comment

Back home, my favourite neighbourhood to wander is Lincoln Park. I can’t afford to live there, so I have to settle for hopping on the brown line so I can walk the tree-lined streets of stately old homes. This setting is kind of what I imagined for my South Kensington and Knightsbridge walk on day 9, my second Saturday in London.

I have to admit that after two days of sub-par cupcakes, the excuse to wander South Kensington and Knightsbridge was primarily to visit the famed Hummingbird Bakery. I was told that Hummingbird was home to the most “American-style” cupcakes one could find in London, and they’re quite famous, with their own cookbooks and whatnot, so I really felt like I needed to make a pilgrimage. I wanted to avoid the Portobello Road location, because it was market day, so I was down to either Soho or South Kensington. I picked South Kensington because I also wanted to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum.

My London Walks cards outlined walks in both South Kensington and Knightsbridge, so I decided to tackle both. SK was first, so I took the Tube to SK, and then walked through a bit of the neighbourhood before ending up at Brompton Oratory.

Brompton Oratory
This photo shows the front façade, but it doesn’t do justice to how massive the building is. It extended backwards and on both sides from this main entrance. I was really struck by the size of it, especially in a location so far from the main part of London, but I was about to discover that this was really a theme for this street. The Brompton Oratory is also noteworthy because it’s a Catholic church. Not that Catholic churches are still banned as they were a few centuries ago, but there still aren’t nearly as many stately Catholic churches in England as there are Protestant ones.

Ennismore Gardens Mews
Just around the back of the Oratory is Ennismore Gardens Mews, a delightful little street with pastel houses that have little window-box gardens. I decided that I’d like to live in this pink one. (Though I changed my mind a few hours later…)

Back of Oratory
Off of Ennismore Gardens Mews was the rear entrance to the Brompton Oratory churchyard. I loved the look of this gate, and though I’m sure you can’t read it on this small photo, the inscription at the top says “O Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving.”

V&A
The Victoria & Albert Museum is just called the V&A, and it’s impressive on the exterior alone. It’s a Victorian-era museum that is kind of like the British Museum in all the random stuff that it has, but its focus is sort of on the decorative arts and design, in general.

Plaster Cast Room
During the Victorian era, the art of making casts of famous things was popular. The V&A had a ton of plaster casts of all sorts of things, mainly from other places in Europe, that were on display, so locals could view the copies without having to travel. Some of the casts are still on display in a couple of rooms on the main floor, including a cast of Trajan’s Column.

Garden Courtyard
The V&A has a lovely courtyard with a café, and it was quite crowded, since the overcast morning was warming up and tiny patches of blue sky were starting to peek through the thick white cloud cover. I would have stayed there longer, but I was starting to have a hankering for a cupcake, and my back was too sore to sit on the ground. So after a walk through a few more galleries in the V&A, I decided to move on. I probably didn’t even see a quarter of it, but it’s such a massive museum that it doesn’t seem possible to take all of it in on a single visit.

Outside the V&A, there were a lot of cafés and shops, since the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are also right there. Everywhere was crowded, so I was starting to worry that I’d have to deal with long lines at Hummingbird. I checked out a bargain bookstore on the way, but didn’t want to add any more weight to my already heavy luggage, so I kept my eyes on the cupcake prize.

Fortunately, Hummingbird is just far enough away from the museums that tourists would have to know where to find it, as opposed to just stumbling on it. There wasn’t much of a queue, and all the cupcakes looked scrumptious, but I easily chose the red velvet. All of the reviews were right: Hummingbird cupcakes taste like America. The cake was moist and dense, but it didn’t feel too heavy, and the cream cheese frosting was flavourful and perfect. No, Hummingbird isn’t as good as Molly’s in Chicago, the cupcake shop on my pedestal, but I think it’s probably as close as you can get in London. I’m really sorry that I didn’t take a photo of it to share, but I scarfed it down before I thought about capturing the moment.

Full of cupcake and quite thrilled about it, I decided to embark on the Knightsbridge walk on my cards. First stop was Harrod’s, just down the street from the museums and the oratory.

Harrod's
Like the museums and the oratory, Harrod’s was also huge. It was also more crowded than I could have imagined. Going there on a) a Saturday and b) a sale day probably wasn’t the best choice, as I couldn’t enjoy the visit much at all. I’d heard great things about the Food Hall and it’s on the main floor, so I followed my nose there, but it was so packed with people that I never even saw a display case. I have no idea what is sold in the Harrod’s Food Hall, and I was trapped in there for a good ten minutes, barely moving, while strangers sweated all over me. Didn’t feel much like food after that, anyway!

I ended up at the “Egyptian Escalator,” which is a series of escalators in a room decorated with a stereotypical “Egyptian” motif. On one of the 3rd floor landings, an opera singer was belting out arias. For real. I’m not sure if she’s there all the time, or if this sale day was just a special occasion. She kept smiling at me as I floated past on the escalators, probably because I was the only person paying any attention to her. She was quite good.

I knew that Ladurée’s first London shop was in Harrod’s, so I was actually looking for it. I didn’t feel like macarons right then, but I figured I probably would within a few hours, so I thought a preemptive stop would be a grand idea. Unfortunately, I could not find Ladurée. I also could not find a map of the store. So I left. It took some effort, but I finally popped out an exit on the main floor that was a safe distance from the crushing crowd in the Food Hall.

And voilà, Ladurée was around the corner, on the back side of Harrod’s, with a separate entrance. I could have avoided the mayhem completely. But I was starting to feel guilty about skipping lunch in favour of a cupcake, so I decided that I would circle back to Ladurée later, once I was ready to get on the Tube. First, I was going to eat real food. So I went to Simply Food and got a salad, figuring that I’d find somewhere to stop and eat along the Knightsbridge walk.

Here’s the thing about Knightsbridge: it’s really lovely and kind of exclusive and there are also quite a lot of foreign embassies. They apparently don’t want Harrod’s tourists mucking up their gardens and squares, because they keep them all gated and locked. So I walked around, carrying my salad, for a good 30-45 minutes, before I finally settled for a stump of cement and ate my salad, which was starting to get warm.

And since the gardens are all locked away, so are the litter bins. Dustin and Tim had noticed early on in the trip that London doesn’t have nearly as many litter bins on the street as Chicago does. Downtown Chicago has a bin at just about every intersection, on all 4 corners. Sometimes in the middle of the blocks, too. Holding onto my salad container full of melty, leftover dressing, I walked around Knightsbridge for 20 minutes, looking for a bin. I went downstairs into the Tube station, but no bins there. I walked all around the crazy tourist area, back around Harrod’s again. No bins. No rubbish on the ground, but no bins. My salad container was a mess and I felt like I could not go into a classy place like Ladurée and buy macarons holding a salad mess. I finally decided to go into Harvey Nichols, the Harrod’s competitor on the next block, locate a public washroom, and throw away my rubbish in there. Only public restrooms in London are far less likely to have paper towels than public restrooms in the States are, so there weren’t any bins there. I felt like I could not move on with my life if I had to continue carrying the salad container, so I left it next to the teeny tiny bin in a stall. I still feel a little guilty about it, but I was desperate.

Of course, on a future trip around Knightsbridge, I hope that I will actually have money with which to shop the fancy stores. I also hope that I will have access to one of those locked gardens, because I plan to move into this row of houses:
Pretty Red Brick Houses
Once I get the cash together, it shouldn’t be a problem, since almost all of them were vacant.

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Entry filed under: England, Europe, London, Photos, United Kingdom.

Art, Culture, and Trains…oh my! An Afternoon in the Parks

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jack Hoyt  |  July 12, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Of course, I haven’t been to London, but I’ve enjoyed walking around Lincoln Park. The photos sort of remind me of the lovely brownstones with the tiny gardens there. These large homes were being being changed back from multi-family units to elaborate upper class chateaus, at the time I was there in 1976, during an urban studies semester. As a poor student, I stayed in a run-down tenement on Racine Street. I always headed for the Greek gyros shop with the vertical rotisseries which was north on Clark Street or Broadway, if I remember right. Isn’t it fun to explore. I have a photo taken by Annie Lennox of the beautiful roses in the Portobello Road market. She commented that it was worth braving the crowds to go there. The photo was just posted on my facebook page. It is a small world. Isn’t it? You always find the most beautiful quaint and interesting scenes to shoot. Sending love, Dad.

    Reply

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A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.

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