Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day 15 - Kew Gardens and the Ledbury

Yesterday was a bit trying all in all. We’re both keen to go out to Kew Gardens and this we proceed to do albeit with another late departure at 10:40am.  At Kings Cross St Pancras the train to Hammersmith is absolutely packed so we give it a miss. In 3 minutes time the next one pulls in. It’s empty. :o) Along the way we cross the Thames. The tide is out exposing wide muddy banks with a few bumps and trails left by feeding moluscs. It looks barely navigable.
We’re old hands at the trains now and make our connections easily alighting at Kew without incident. I don’t know why I expected that Kew would be more rural than it is. Funny how you somehow form an expectation of things you know nothing about.  There is good signage provided to help you find your way to the garden.  The route is along an upmarket street full of well kept houses with small front gardens.
We pay our entry and decide that first of all we’ll take a round trip on the Kew explorer.  Another false impression I have had about Kew Gardens is dispelled as we find that mostly the property is fairly wild with a large fairly natural looking arboretum and just a few areas where more intensive garden beds have been established.  It is a place where people can come from the city and run wild.  I was expecting something more formal.  
The gardens were established from two Royal properties and later donated to the nation by Queen Victoria.  There is a conservation area set aside by Victoria and she requested that this area not be developed in future.   The explorer passes through an area planted with eucalypts.  Mmmm. I breathe deep.  Love that smell.  The moist English air and the cool weather is perfect for the scent hanging in the air.
The 110,000 daffodils along the broadwalk are well and truly finished now.  Not to worry. We’ve seen daffodils galore already on this trip.
As we proceeded around the gardens we note the various features and start to make a rough plan about how will approach our visit. It’s nearly lunchtime…. Yes.. that’s right. . first order of business is eating.  It normally is with us, but we know from experience it’s hard to maintain the pace we have been setting without regular meals.  We rather like the look of the seasonal restaurant close to the temperate greenhouses at explorer stop 3.
When we arrive back at the starting place for the explorer there is a10 minute or so wait for the next road-train. The formal garden beds in front of the palm house are looking very pretty.  In front of the glass house are a row of heraldic animals made for the coronation of the present Queen.  I head over to the large pond where some interesting birds are to be seen.  What might these be.  I pull out my trusty pocket guide obtained at Blickling Hall 2nd hand bookshop.  Tufted ducks. Cool!  And what’s that other one over there… hmm… seems most like the garganey…. Extra cool!  Hubby is anxious about the nearing departure of the bus. We really don’t want to miss that. I drag myself away and we listen to the similar commentary from the new driver.  He inserts his own personality on it though and a few little anecdotes of his own along the way.
Back at the restaurant, we find a bistro arrangement, as usual, but looks pretty good.  Hubby goes for a slow cooked pork chop with a side of roast pumpkin and onion. He forgot to get the dressing for it but it didn’t matter.  I opted to try a plate from the salad bar. Then we can share.  Their desserts look good. Ah. They have bakewell tart. I grab one of those for us to share. Hubby is dreaming of a visit to bakewell to try the famous bakewell puddings there. Meanwhile we’ll have to settle for the bakewell tart.
Our meal is satisfying and tasty. Now: time to get out and into the gardens.  We head back to the temperate glass houses.  Surely the glass houses area must do at Kew.  We step inside.  Wow!  It’s seriously enormous.  Such a feeling of space and light.  We draw a line at climbing up to the upper walkway and confine ourselves to exploring the ground level.  The greenhouses must be very well controlled.  They have a number of Australian plants here that are known to be reasonably particular in their needs re humidity and soil drainage.
 It’s a while to the next explorer bus so we’ve decided to head over towards the Japanese gardens and the pagoda and pick the explorer up there.  We walk past an avenue of cherry trees all dainty pink confections.
On to the Japanese garden where we are delighted to find a replica gateway that was donated and installed here after an exhibition. Cool! We sit for a while to take in the scene and some kids demonstrate the “go wild” aspect I referred to earlier.  To their credit they are avoiding stepping on the ornamental stones that have been so carefully raked. However in the end I decide I can’t bear to watch them climbing all through the formal Japanese gardens and we head off towards the explorer stop and the pagoda.
Hubby nudges me.  Look a squirrel.  Yes! I do so love squirrels. We’ve seen a few, including one in the garden at the front of the IWM which I think I forgot to menion.  They are very shy though. Much more shy here than the squirrels in Chicago which will let you approach reasonably close without running away.  This squirrel is a bit cooperative and at least waits until I’ve got a photo before he runs up the trunk and vanishes.  
Again we have a little more time to wait for the explorer so we head over for a closer look at the pagoda. It is in need of some maintenance and is quite shabby up close. It was once hung with decorative flying dragons at the points of each level, but those were sold off to pay gambling debts by one of the Georges.
Hubby has a burning desire to visit Kew Palace while we are here seeing as it’s one of the Historic Royal Palaces on our membership.  We show our membership pass and head inside and make our way to a room with a video presentation.  Some people are leaving and they and the door staff are making so much racket we can’t hear a thing. We give it up as a dead loss.  Kew Palace was the home of the King George who had the illness that made him seem mad.  For a palace it’s small and homey.  Each room has a book that lists all the furniture and why they’ve put it there.  There are also audio recordings playing of conversations imagined to have happened or reconstructed from the historic record  to give an effect of being a fly on the wall in the period of the King’s illness.  One of my favourite parts of the palace are the original bedrooms of two of the King’s daughters. These are still in an unrestored condition with the unlying structures exposed. 
From the windows of the palace there are lovely views of the palace gardens.

We simply must have a turn in the garden before we go. It looks so nice. We’re getting a bit worried about the time. We head for the stop for the Kew Explorer and in the process have an opportunity to appreciate the views to the Palace. While we wait Hubby heads for a comfort stop and I explore a quiet little path to a pond with lots of bird calling in the vicinity.  With patience I am rewarded. Gasp. It's something interesting!  Rejoining hubby I pull out the trusty pocket guide.  oooh looks like a long tailed tit. :o)  
We need to be back in London for dinner, but before we leave I simply must put my foot in the door of the Palm House.  I do this. Literally.. well OK I did put two feet inside, but that’s about all you can say for it. See - we have the photo to prove it.
  It’s another amazing space.  That done, we make a dash for the station.  We need to go home and change.
Our trip is delayed by closure of one line due to signal failure.  Sigh. Luckily there is more than one way to skin a cat and seeing as we are staying at Kings Cross St Pancras we have a good range of options.  We take the alternate route home.  A bit delayed but not drastic. 
We make a quick change.  We’ll need to take a taxi to the Ledbury.  The only line that services the stations over that way is the one with no service.  This works out well anyway. It’s a much more relaxing way to arrive at somewhere swanky.  We thank our driver and hurry up the path, about 20 minutes late.  How are we this evening?  Oh, a bit frazzled and very embarrassed to be so late.  Smooth words follow to put us at ease.  I have to tell you I fell down on the job for the report on our Ledbury visit.  I lazily decided to just look up the website and get the details of what we had from there.  Oops.  Only a sample menu. Some similar items but not precisely the same.  Suffice to say that the food and standard were what one would expect from 2 michelin stars.  At first hubby was amazed at all the antipodean wines and beers available.  Then he remembered. Oh yeah. That’s right. This is an Australian restaurant.  There’s heaps of staff and the service is accordingly attentive.  Hubby thinks the fellow who seems to be our main man is an Australian. I’m not sure. Maybe.  He certainly serves us like an Australian waiter would serve Australians. Plenty of informal chat and he teases me about thoroughly cleaning my plate for the dessert. “Dessert not too good?” he says. haha “nah” we say. “horrible.” Haha. Then he says. “Gee you nearly took the pattern off the plate.”  This is the sort of service we really like.  I much prefer to be teased than treated with distant formality. Much much prefer it.
We ask for a cab to be called for us to go home.  They have him sitting outside whenever we are ready.  Its really quite a late night. The time flew. Great food. Great company. I could get used to this.
Back outside a swish looking people mover is awaiting us.  Interesting car. VW. Don’t get this model at home.  We’re in the back seated high.  Our driver takes us near enough to home but clearly just has no idea how to get to the Alhambra.  Our suggestions of just drop us at the station if it’s easier are declined. However in the end he gives up and we’re dropped at the far end of our street.  I’m disoriented for a minute but luckily hubby recognizes it and we’re home soon enough. Great evening. Really enjoyable.  But now, to bed.

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