Yesterday’s outing could be subtitled Adventures of a Wandering Jew, since I kicked off the day with a guided walk through Old Jewish London. The guide, Rachel Kolsky, is the co-author of a guidebook entitled (surprise!) Jewish London, and she really knows her history, so the tour was a delight.
I discovered that Jews came to England at the invitation of William the Conqueror in 1066, but anti-Semitism waxed and waned during the ensuing centuries. In 1290, Edward I expelled them from England, but not before executing 300 of them at the Tower of London.
History doesn’t have much good to say about Oliver Cromwell, but one positive action he took was to invite Jews to return in 1656. (Thanks, Ollie!) In the next decade, a few congregations sprang up in the East End of London, including Ben Nevis – founded by the Spanish and Portuguese community – and Sandy’s, founded by Dutch Jews. The Ben Nevis congregation built a synagogue in 1701, and it’s still standing today. Most of the interior is original, save for the flooring which was replaced due to dry rot. Its interior has English oak benches reminiscent of a Quaker meeting house, since the architect was a Quaker, and seven brass chandeliers that burn candles. (Electricity was added later.) It was lovely to see.
After the tour, I enjoyed lunch at one of the Ottolenghi restaurants, named after the world-renowned Israeli chef, Yotim Ottolenghi, who popularized modern Middle Eastern cuisine. A perfect way to cap off a tour of Jewish sites in the East End and a foodie’s delight. White chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce for dessert was the highlight of the meal for me – so much for Middle Eastern flair.
Next, a visit to Spitalfields Market, which has been gentrified with upscale shops and eateries, but is filled with clothing and accessories stalls on weekends. I gave in to a bit of temptation, then moved on to Brick Lane, home to the immigrant community from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. If only I hadn’t eaten earlier! The smells and sights were so tempting, and one of the food halls served up take-out meals that had the curbs nearby lined with happy eaters.
I caught the #344 bus at Liverpool Street for a final ride on this route that meanders along the South Bank of the river. So sad to think of lasts, not firsts.
Today, my final full day in London (boo hoo!), I took another walking tour, this one focusing on upper-class Mayfair, where terrace homes (townhomes) cost 10 or 20 million — pounds, that is. Berkeley Square, Grosvenor Square; all the most fashionable addresses in the 1700s and 1800s are still extraordinarily upscale today. These were the city homes where the lords and ladies came for the few months of the Season before returning to their country estates.
Afterward, I lunched at the Wallace Collection, home to the paintings and objets d’art collected by the fourth Marquess of Bedford and bequeathed to his illegitimate son upon his death.
He couldn’t pass along the title, of course, but the lavish holdings must have made Mr. Wallace smile: paintings by Rembrandt, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Franz Hals; collections of gilded miniatures and elegant snuffboxes; and furnishings of the finest materials. Wallace’s wife gave the home and the contents to the nation upon his death, and it’s a treat.
Then, it was off to do a last bit of shopping and head home to my flat to pack and clean. It’s hard to believe that when I lock the door tomorrow, I’ll be doing so for the final time. It has been a wonderful summer adventure, and I hope you enjoyed sharing it with me!