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London Diary

After several near-misses, it was such a joy to finally be back in London. I have long been chewing the ear off friends and family, describing my yearning to visit again, a whistle-stop tour taking in all my favourite galleries, museums and restaurants. Well, my patience and effort paid off - as ever, London did not disappoint!

Manchester has some amazing attractions – notably The Manchester Art Gallery, The Lowry, The Whitworth – but London’s galleries have a breadth and depth that set my pulse racing like nowhere else.

During the course of my short visit, I saw some of the most breathtaking and beautiful art ever produced, from Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait to Jean-Honore Fragonard’s The Swing.

My trip started with breakfast at my favourite Chelsea establishment, Partridges of Chelsea, located just by The Saatchi Gallery, off the King’s Road, and happily proximitous to my capital digs. I highly recommend a visit to this most charming, family-run deli, which specialises in gorgeous, fresh, decadent food and drink.

Upon leaving Partridges, I took a stroll through the heart of Chelsea, passing some of the grandest homes and apartments that the Royal Borough has to offer. The Victoria & Albert Museum was the first stop on my tour, a short 10-minute walk away. I began with the dazzling and glittering Faberge Exhibition, before progressing through some of my favourite rooms and exhibits.

Six hours in the V&A left me more than a little hungry, so dinner was gratefully taken at one of my favourite London eateries, Daylesford Organic, and consisted of a hearty chicken broth with greens, fresh organic crusty bread and some carrot and walnut cake.

The evening was cool but fresh so I took the opportunity to stroll down to the Chelsea Embankment, to see the Albert Bridge sparkling in the night sky. After a quick night-cap, I retired to bed.

The next day necessitated an early rise, with breakfast reservations at Colbert, the iconic Sloane Square staple, at 8am. Colbert is the most delightful French bistro, inspired by the endearing boulevards of Paris. A chilly and misty morning, it was lovely to observe the locals flocking in following their morning stroll, dressed in their luxurious woollen coats and cashmere scarves, feasting on freshly baked viennoiserie, le plaits and oeufs.

I was exceedingly excited for the day ahead because it offered the promise of my first visit to The Wallace Collection, as recommended by so many of my lovely followers. And what a magnificent collection! Each room is plushly decorated with silk wall coverings and wallpaper, Riesener and Weissweiler furniture and Sevres porcelain; several huge rooms are dedicated to medieval weapory and armoury. The museum holds a world class collection of art by the likes of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Valazques, Frans Hals, Canaletto, Rembrandt and van Dyck. I was particularly overwhelmed by the extensive collection of Francois Boucher, Boucher being one of my favourite rococo artists. Not an enormous museum, the collection is nevertheless both vast and resplendent.

Next on my list was a visit to the jewel in the crown - that is, The National Gallery. I was determined to visit every single room, a feat I triumphantly completed 5 hours later! This truly is one of my happy places, and I am constantly awed by the range of the collection.

I ended my day with a reservation for dinner at the ever so chic French restaurant, La Poule au Pot, located in the heart of Belgravia, and comfortingly close to some of my favourite interior design stores, including Colefax & Fowler, Robert Kime and Rose Uniacke.

My final day in London began with breakfast at (again) my beloved Partridges, on what was a bright and crisp winter morning. From Partridges, I headed straight to The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. The Courtauld also happens to be a college specialising in the history and conservation of art, yet the gallery houses a world class collection of French and Post-Impressionist art - notably including work by Botticelli, Van Gogh, Seurat, Manet and Lucas Cranach.

Gradually making my way up the winding staircase, I was welcomed into some of the grandest rooms imaginable, the work of the architect Sir William Chambers, a founder member of the Royal Academy (the Academy famously being a resident of Somerset House).

It was amazing to see this masterpiece so well preserved, and thoughtfully augmented, with each room featuring miniscule details differentiating it from the rest. For me, the highlight of the collection was Edouard Manet’s A Bar At The Folies-Bergere. To see this up close in person was an incredible treat.

Of course, what trip to a gallery is complete without a visit to the gift shop? I always love to purchase a tote bag from each and every museum or gallery that I visit, a reminder of the occasion, a memory of time well spent. This time I also purchased a book about the collection at The Courtauld and some postcards of my favourite paintings in the collection.

After my tour, I strolled along The Strand to Hatchards, my favourite bookseller in all the land. I always find a visit to Hatchards a little exasperating because I find myself wanting to buy almost every book that my eye happens to glance upon!

After Hatchards, next door for refreshments at Fortnum & Mason - some delicious soup, a sandwich and of course a cup of their famous hot tea and some cakes. I couldn’t help but bring back some goodies from Fortnum, they are always such a treat to have at home and a little reminder of London. Along New Bond Street and Marylbone happens to be another of my favourite bookshops, Daunt Books, where I took the opportunity to buy a travel guide for my upcoming Spring trip to Florence.

Alas my trip came to an end. It was bittersweet to be leaving London. I always tend to enjoy my trips to London in short bursts. This visit was wonderful and action packed. I cannot wait to travel back again soon.

- Ahmer x

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