(Apologising in advance for the use of British English in this post.)
On holiday at the weekend, I found myself under a light but constant sprinkle of chilly rain along rows of cosy brownstones. It was very much as expected, the first visit I had organised to London. Glad I had worn a thick jumper (sweater) under my winter coat, I looked right, left, right (repeatedly) trying to figure out which way cars and lorries would be coming from. I ducked into various places to stay dry as I acquainted myself with the city: Shops filled with elaborate rainy day activity books (England seems to have perfected this for obvious reasons!), a tiny sandwich shop called the Breadline Café (for chips [fries] and a paper-wrapped bacon sandwich on thin white bread), and the famous Tube stations.
London is a great city to visit from A to Zed: Vibrant, international, and full of culture, it reminds me of New York only with a more polite population. Except for the bloke I saw laying into his car horn for a solid minute or two because traffic happened to be moving slowly. Aside from that, the most frequently heard words are “pardon,” “sorry,” and, of course, “mind the gap.”
As we had only got a long weekend in London, it was rather a whirlwind tour of a few of its many highlights. And while I don’t think I’d be keen on moving house to England, I would definitely fancy another visit.
Having wandered the city on foot and by Tube, our first sightseeing stop was to the famous Tower of London. One of the 37 tower warders/queen’s bodyguards, known as Yeomen or Beefeaters, gave us an extensive history of the tower, home of centuries of royal intrigues as well as the Crown Jewels. Dry British humour is still not my favourite, but the tour did occasionally make us chuckle.
Saturday happened to be the infamous 5th of November, celebrated as Bonfire Night in England to commemorate the foiling of an attempted attack on Parliament involving Guy Fawkes. From the banks of the Thames River, after fish and chips with mushy peas and a round of ales at a local pub, we could see distant fireworks from various points in the city. The Tower Bridge itself was lit with beautiful colours.
The next morning, after an absurdly fatty (hardy?) English breakfast and a proper cuppa tea, we set off to 221B Baker Street, home to fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Today these apartments are a well-touristed museum, though we skipped that and just popped into the ground floor gift shop for a peek inside.
And in the afternoon, after a delicious vegetarian Indian lunch buffet from Chutneys (one of many choices near the Euston Square underground station), we had got just enough time to explore the amazing ancient Egyptian and Assyrian exhibition at the British Museum. Colossal busts of pharaohs in amazingly good condition tower over visitors, even accompanied by the famed Rosetta Stone that led to the ability to decipher ancient hieroglyphics. The incredible donations-only museum is massive, and several more days in
London could easily be dedicated to visiting here alone.
A few of the more mundane aspects that give character to London deserve mention as well:
Cabs. They’re clunky and old-fashioned in design from boot to bonnet (trunk to hood), like a scene out of a Dick Tracy movie.
Phone boxes. Today these throwbacks stand as monuments to a bygone pre-mobile era, as well as unintentional rubbish bins. Some of them are even marked as WiFi hotspots. I saw one stacked with fresh, still-wrapped sandwiches and another… well, let’s just say it had been used as a loo.
Ghosts. As briefly mentioned, England has a long and bloody history. And because of this we were able to enjoy a ghost tour through the streets of London led by a fantastic storyteller. Too much to retell all of it here, but suffice it to say it was full of suspense and stories of unhappy Brits buried with the heart of their murdered spouse, buried alive and brought back to their senses by grave robbers, and so on.
Charming train stations. Many of which we know from British literature, including Paddington Station, home to the practically dressed Paddington Bear. A teddy bear wearing the note “Please look after this bear” left at a station seems like it would be a different story today, what with the modern station messages of “See it, say it, sort it” in reference to unattended belongings.
I hope you enjoyed the Queen’s English and learnt a bit on this quick tour around London. Cheers & cheerio!