Samuel Johnson said “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.” The man knew what he was talking about. I knew going into it that three days in London wouldn’t be enough time, but I underestimated how much I would love that city and how much I would miss it after I’d come home.
The flight Thursday night was delayed because of storms around New York, but we finally got underway and the pilots seemed as eager as I was to arrive. I watched Ricky Gervais’ Cemetery Junction and really enjoyed it. See it, you’ll love it. I ate a second dinner and chatted with the Londoner next to me who recommended Camden as a must-see as well as the evening view from the Westminster Bridge. Two hours of restless sleep, an attempt to read and general staring into space occupied the rest of my time. Customs didn’t take too long to get through and by the time I had my bag was circling the conveyer belt. The welcome gate at Heathrow is overwhelming with the masses of people with their faces turned toward you, watching you as you walk, eyes searching your face for that light of recognition. You feel exposed and vulnerable until – finally – you see your friend, all the way down at the end, and you both smile and then you are safe and happy and the vacation has truly started and you are in London.
AR lives about 20 miles north of London – close enough to pop into the city without too much effort, but far enough out that you can escape the noise and crowds if you feel like it. We dropped my bags off and I freshened up while AR brewed a pot of tea – my first authentic London tea. Then we headed into town, a cool light rain falling over the day. We went first to The School of Life in Russell Square, the book store affiliated with Alain de Botton. I would move to London just to be able to attend the workshops hosted here. What a treat!
After that we went to Camden and wandered round the Stables Market – a gigantic shopping center with small stalls selling every imaginable tchotchke from every possible culture. It was great fun to explore the winding alleys, and we found a crepe stand that served huge hot crepes that really hit the spot. After that we walked up Camden High Street and had a long-overdue pint at the Crescent Pub. The afternoon found us walking along Upper Street in Islington (which is the perfect London neighborhood to live in) and eventually we made our way home, settling in for a quiet night of pizza, champagne and Michael McIntyre – one of the funniest stand-up comics I’ve seen in ages.
The sun appeared briefly on Saturday morning and we took the tube to Embankment and walked across the Thames to the London Eye. The queue stretched out in mind-numbing fashion, but AR had booked premier tickets allowing us to skip to the front with a feeling of superiority. The only other time I’ve seen a city from above was in Paris at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was exhilarating to see the city stretching out unending in all directions, and we had fun matching the physical buildings to our 360 degree map. After the 30 minute ride we walked up the Thames and crossed the Westminster Bridge, walking up to the House of Parliament and Big Ben, to Westminster Abbey and then down Whitehall to 10 Downing Street.
Next on our list was the Tower of London and it was quite different from what I expected. I was looking for a high gothic tower still echoing with the screams of the poor souls that were tortured within. What we found was a small stone wall with several small stone buildings within it. We saw the Tower Bridge in the distance and headed there first before deciding that the low stone structure must be the Tower of London. Once inside our guide gave a lecture inside Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula that is still in use, and then we saw the Crown Jewels, which were everything everyone says they are. Then we walked through the White Tower and saw the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist and the numerous displays of weapons and armor. We walked up to the top and then took a winding staircase all the way down to the dungeon that now holds…the gift shop. Terrifying indeed.
AR was able to get us tickets to see a play in the West End, so we made our way to Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square and walked the crowded streets in search of a pre-show meal. We settled on Pulcinella for red wine and lasagna and it felt so nice to relax a bit before the show. The play was Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward Theatre and it was one of the highlights of the weekend. Everyone in the audience knew the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and we all sang along. The cast was incredibly talented and it was one of the best musicals I’ve seen. We left the theatre in an absolute downpour and huddled under the small umbrella we’d brought and set out in search of a post-show drink. We went through Chinatown, the storefronts on either side of the wide streets lit up, colorful lanterns hung across the streets, people soaking wet everywhere. We finally ran into All Bar One and spent some time drying out before heading home.
Sunday started late and we slowly made out way back to London. Starting at Piccadilly, we walked down Haymarket to Trafalgar Square and then along the Mall. We cut through St. James Park and walked along the water to Buckingham Palace. Impressive. We then made our way through Green Park to Old Bond Street. We walked the length to New Bond Street then Oxford Street, passing the Ritz Hotel, the Savoy Hotel and countless high end shops. We passed Grosvenor Square and then ate a late lunch at Selfridges. More walking along Regent Street back to Piccadilly Square to the Trocadero for bowling and air hockey. Despite my best efforts, AR slaughtered me at both games, but I’m in training and determined to win the rematch.
The late afternoon and early evening was spent walking to and around Covent Garden which I fell in love with. I bought some tea in one of the little shops and then we made our way down to the Thames and walked down toward the London Eye. At this point, after three days of very little sleep and miles of walking in high heeled boots, my body protested and I took a time out. We sat on a bench alongside the Thames and watched the sun set on London. Finally it was back to Covent Garden for a lovely meal at Chez Gerard before heading home.
I will never forget my weekend in London and the memories made. It is a lovely country, and I’ve left a part of my heart there. I’d go back tomorrow if I could.