We emerged from the parks at the best possible spot for proceeding in the direction of Notting Hill, where we were to meet Ben for dinner at The Oak Pub, on Westbourne Park Road.
Ol’ P , map in hand and innate directionality afire, had the directions entirely under control until we hit one teensy snag.
Snag, is it? No, no snag. There are no snags in exploring. There are merely opportunities for plan affirmation and reevaluation. But there are no snags in exploration.
We could have opted for the most direct route to the Oak, but that would have been too easy. Besides, we would have arrived much too early, and we would have lost the opportunity to see some interesting neighborhoods in London. Accordingly, I doubled our distance, though I may have neglected to tell Elizabeth R about that facet of our agenda.
An understandable omission. I sees the cream colored cap and I follows, no questions asked –
We set off walking up the Queensway, passing an ice skating palace, as well as various shops and restaurants, until we reached Moscow Road, where we turned left. Perhaps it was the name of this road, or the fact that the character of the neighborhood suddenly fit the name, that raised a hint of concern on the part of Elizabeth R. I did notice that we seemed to be in Russia rather than London…..Fear not – I know where I’m heading (though possibly not where I’m going) because I have a map.
At a certain point on Moscow Road, we theoretically had to make a choice.One of the reasons that our route was longer than need be was because I wanted to include Portobello Road in our journey. Home of the Portobello Road Markets,
Portobello Road Market. Fortunately, it was not this mobbed when we were there. This time.
Portobello Road runs on a north-south axis through most of Notting Hill. The markets are world famous, but that was not my reason for wanting to go this way. Five years before, Elizabeth R and I had stumbled into the Portobello Road mayhem that one might expect on a late Saturday morning in mid-July. That was part of an ill-conceived attempt to trailblaze our way from Paddington Station to Ben’s then apartment, a plan for which I assume no responsibility.
I guess we know whose ill-conceived attempt that was, don’t we?
During our current journey, I wanted to establish that we could walk to, and through, Portobello Road by design, and not by accident. And that led to my brief moment of hesitation. From the point where we paused, we could turn onto Heresford Road, then head left on Westbourne Grove until we reached Portobello Road. This was the simpler, though longer route. The alternative was slightly more complicated. We could stay on Moscow Road until we reached Pembridge Square Garden, cross the same where, at the far side of the Garden, we would find the intersection of Pembridge Villas and Pembridge Road; at this point we could either go northwest on Pembridge Crescent, then southwest on Chepstow Villas, or we could turn south on Pembridge Road and reach Portobello Road via that direction. Simple, right? Well, at least I thought so.
Like so many streets in London, “Westbourne” has many incarnations – Road, Way, Acres, Place, etc. Awash in Westbournes and Pembridges, we paused at a street corner for a map fix when a young man asked if he could help. He did help Ol’ P ascertain which way to go to get to the correct Westbourne, while I, always attuned to accents, asked him where he was from. An American expat, who had been living in London for a decade. Ol’ P was sorely tempted to go in the direction opposite to his suggestion, but yielded to the young expat’s expertise, and we soon found ourselves on one of the many Westbournes.
You guessed it. That young whippersnapper didn’t think I could handle the intricacies of my preferred route, so he suggested the simpler option. But he was diplomatic in the way he put it, and Elizabeth R seemed to be reassured by his suggestion, so I swallowed my pride and headed up Heresford. Upon reaching Westbourne Grove, the question simply became which side of the street best suited our purposes.
As we (ok, as Ol’ P ..) reconnoitered on Westbourne Grove an astounding thing happened. A young woman, an English woman, came up to Ol’ P and asked him if he knew where such and such a tube stop was. He did, and proceeded to tell her. I was surprised, especially since the expat had so easily pegged us as lost tourists, and confess that I spent the duration of their brief conversation looking around, expecting a boyfriend accomplice to appear out of nowhere and nick Ol’ P’s wallet. But she simply smiled a thank you and went on down the road. Dash you, bad paranoid American thoughts!
We finally found Portobello Road right where it should be. Being late on a weekday in September, the markets were mostly closed or closing, but it was still possible to appreciate the flavor of the area. We took some time to stroll up and down the road, at one point passing a side street of pastel tinted houses that might have been the English version of Homer Simpson’s Springfield.
During our walk, we passed the Electric Diner and Electric Cinema complex, home of one of the oldest cinemas in Great Britain.
A short distance from there, we had a choice to make. If we turned left onto Blenheim Crescent, we would pass The Travel Bookshop, made famous by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the movie, “Notting Hill.” We also would be headed in the wrong direction.
I would scarcely have noticed. Still, I had seen “Notting Hill” and love Hugh Grant, so…
Instead, we waited until reaching Westbourne Park Road before turning right off Portobello. Besides, I really didn’t need any travel books – I had a map! From which I knew that our destination for dinner was less than a half mile down the road. [Brief digression: the map I had was great – a fold out modern map of a section of London that resembled a child’s pop-up book.
This is an 1841 map that not only shows Portobello Farms, but also shows Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We could have taken a more direct route in those days.]
After a great dinner and a few beers and hard ciders, Ben hailed a cab for us to return to Paddington. Not the slightest argument from either of us – it was late, dark, raining, and most of all, we were pooped. We had, after all, walked about 500 miles.
Actually, only about 6 or 7, possibly 8, not counting Windsor walking.
The cab dropped us outside of Paddington, and soon after we entered the station, I was astonished when Ol’ P turned and walked in the wrong direction!
My map doesn’t cover the inside of train stations.
“No, no, Ol’P,” I cried, “The trains are THAT way.” And he listened, and they were. This has to have been a first.
My navigational skills only work outdoors. Could be why I hate shopping malls.
We staggered on to a very full train and found two seats at opposite sides of a three seat facing three seat combo. Our half hour trip to Slough, where we change for Windsor, was quite entertaining this time. Next to me on one side was a late middle aged lady, a bit frowsy and quite sensibly dressed. Next to her in the aisle seat was an elderly gentleman. A white fringe of hair ringed his bald pate, and he sported an impressive white mustache. He wore a blazer with some heraldic emblem on the pocket, and his bow tied and waistcoated substantial belly hung over a pair of matching Sansabelt slacks. He spoke – loudly – in phrases that were caricatures of British aristo-speak of 50 year old movies. “”Eh, whot?”, “Oh, I say….” “When we arrive we’ll just pop off to…..” and so on. He evidently had a bit of a cold, and was courteous enough to stand and walk two seats down to the end of the coach each time (and there were many) he had to blow his nose. There have been bugle calls to action in those 50 year old movies that were less strident. We could see passengers unaware of what was going on startle and look around nervously. All this was entertaining enough from my side of the seat, but Ol’ P was sitting directly across from the old gentleman.
Folks, I thought that I was in an episode of “Benny Hill Caught On Candid Camera.” This guy was doing a great impression of a prototypical mid-level, love-starved bureaucrat closing in on his first score in scores of years, such as you might find on an irreverent British sit-com. He was absolutely pawing his lady friend, who, behind an artificial facade of public propriety, was lapping it all up. I had no idea of the station where they would disembark, but I had a pretty good idea of the destination they hoped to reach. As Churchill would no doubt have advised them, “ just KBO.”
Safely back at the Windsor Station, we had only to walk the half mile or so back to the B&B and our cozy room. But it was dark, and by now, pouring rain.
“Not to worry,” said I confidently, “we’ll take the shortcut.”
I had stayed in Windsor for 6 straight years, and had taken this back way to the B&B countless times. Ol’ P, his resistance worn down by fatigue and his tiny misstep at Paddington, followed me. However, it was very dark, and very rainy, and soon it became evident that we were, not to put too fine a point on it….lost.
I pretended, of course, and since Windsor is quite a small town, we eventually regained familiar ground and found the B&B. Ol’ P was not fooled, however, and it is to his very great credit that he said not one harsh word the entire time (so glad I didn’t marry a mind reader), even though his jaunty cream colored cap was by now a sodden mess. (If we ever get out of this mess I’m going to look into buying a waxed cap! If !!!) Although I did discern some peculiar sounds emanating from an area roughly a foot above my head and a little bit behind, I chose to ignore them in the interest of continued marital harmony.