It's always exciting to us to meet friends far away from home. When we arrived in London from Cornwall we met our friends Frank and Diana, who had traveled to Europe with Diana's daughter and son-in-law, both architects. We had a lovely two days sightseeing and talking, and enjoying a home-cooked dinner in their London rented house.
Despite the gray sky and cool breeze, Spring had definitely arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in the form of carpets of crocus and daffodils along with a few scattered snowdrops. Running and tumbling children kept a few steps ahead of mum and dad, perhaps pushing a stroller, while elderly Londoners in their Sunday best walked more sedately along the paths. Deciduous trees and shrubs were in bud, but still leafless, so it was possible to admire the skeletal shape of huge trunks and limbs, some of which have been growing since the Gardens began in the eighteenth century. And the evergreens came in all shapes, sizes and hues.
The annual Orchid Show was on, in the Princess of Wales' conservatory, and both the flowers and the statistics occasioned lots of oohs and ahhs. There are thousands of orchids - 8% of all flowers - and many species yet undiscovered. Many of the flowers reminded us of painted faces or butterflies. The profusion of blooms had attracted photographers with all manner of equipment, trying to capture the blossoms in the right light and shadow for a beautiful print. We just appreciated the lavish display in astonishment.
The following day the six of us treated ourselves to High Tea at Harrods. This amazing department store claims it can provide just about anything, and the interior design is just as interesting as the goods on display. We will mail to the first person who requests it, a folding store map showing all the special rooms on four floors plus Lower Ground floor. There are 27 places to eat, counting the counters tucked away in the corner of the food halls where one can get anything from a ham sandwich to champagne and caviar.
Despite the store's claims, we failed to find the right perfume ("an old scent - go to Paris") or an all tweed country suit (surely out of style.) It seems as if specialist stores (like the umbrella and stick store we saw the next day near Oxford Circus) still fill a need.
Harrods is lushly decorated with marble sculpture and pillars and gilded cages filled with recorded bird song. It's certainly the most opulent department store in our knowledge, and the crowds of shoppers speaking all the languages of the world testify to its appeal.
To reach the tea room, we rode the Egyptian Escalator up four floors, past gilded mannequins dressed in designer couture standing on moonlit balconies and gazing at us, the upwardly-gliding customers. Large models of Egyptian gods, and the soft light on the golden-toned walls reminded us of . . . Las Vegas. In Harrods, as well as at Kew Gardens, was a memorial (photography allowed here only) to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The adoration of Diana reminded us, in turn, of the adoration of Elvis.
Each of us selected our preferred tea or coffee, and the show began. We were greeted, napkined, and served attentively, no cup remaining empty for long. The six of us devoured two three-tiered trays, loaded with crustless dainty sandwich triangles, scones and jam, and tiny pastries. The bill, too, was exquisite, but it's an experience not to be missed.