Everyone knows London rocks but in the most perfect of summer weather in July, it was going off like a frog in a sock. I have rarely experienced such joie de vivre and atmospheric buzz in a city. It was contagious.
The city was spectacularly described in the sunlight – bright and blue by day, soft and golden in the long, light evenings. And it was heaving with people. And squirrels.
Packed full of tourists (of course) but the bright young London things were out in droves too. It was a people-watcher’s dream.
I was last in London some 25 years ago. I was all of 11 and I flew over on my own (WHAT were my parents thinking?) to spend a month staying with my beloved cousin, aunt and uncle over Christmas.
It was a complete revelation for me, a bush-raised child, and I fell utterly and irrevocably in love. So much so that when I returned I couldn’t even read the glossy brochures I had brought back as souvenirs; it was too painful to be so very far away. This was back in the olden days when long-distance phone calls cost a bomb and snail mail was the only other alternative.
The first thing I noticed about London, even at that tender age, was the way in which each and every atom of it seemed to exude its history. It felt so wonderfully old. London’s history sang me a siren song and I absorbed it, if not the details then the atmosphere it created, into my pores. I used to bore my cousin silly crapping on about how beautiful a small stone shop on the high street was. Or a street lamp (which was no doubt reproduction but that didn’t detract from its magic on a misty night). I couldn’t get enough.
My aunt and uncle introduced me to Indian food, Tetley’s tea, washing your hair in the bath, Selfridges, The Body Shop and Aled Jones singing “Walking on the Air” on Christmas Eve as we peered out the tiny casement window from my cousin’s bedroom watching fat, sparkling snowflakes slowly blanket the backyard. We had prayed fervently for snow and when it arrived, I had my first travelling “moment”.
My aunt and uncle owned a fine china shop literally just around the corner from Covent Garden. My cousin and I would spend countless hours walking around the cobbled streets and covered markets, sniffing Body Shop products ( it had just opened), looking with longing in shop windows at cute fimo bear brooches (it was the 80s and we were young) and trying to scrounge enough pence together for a bag o’ crisps (we were pre-teens and we were ravenous).
Then, exhausted and freezing, we would go back to the shop and curl up in its toasty-warm bowels below the showroom floor and snooze on vast squeaky clouds of packing peanuts.
All of these memories came flooding back as I walked around London. I even managed to find my way from Covent Garden market to where my aunt and uncle’s shop was. It’s now a bodybuilding supplement shop. Not quite as atmospheric.
The heat wave made everyone crazy – in a good way. It was such a pleasure to see people dipping their feet in fountains and spilling out of quaint pubs, chatting to friends and enjoying a drink in the golden twilight at 10pm.
There were so many highlights on this trip. It was all one big highlight really. The Tower of London blew my mind (especially in light of watching The Tudors and reading Wolf Hall). Traitors’ Gate with the murky Thames seeping in underneath and the fierce – looking portcullis ready to slam shut behind as a prisoner was rowed inside was particular moving.
This is Boudica. We are obsessed with her at our house. She wouldn’t have stood for any of Henry’s shite.
There are no words for just how incredible the British Museum is. As a language-lover, the Rosetta Stone just blew me completely away. Not least because I hadn’t known it was even there and so just wandered up to it and read the plaque. When I realised what I was looking at, I nearly fell over with excitement. Nerd.
This is the bust of a statue of Ramses II that, among others, inspired Shelley’s “Ozymandias“. Yaaaah, no biggie.
These Roman helmets – one from a soldier and one a venatores (net-wielding gladiator) were particularly awesome. Even in Rome it’s rare to see such well-preserved specimens.
Another highlight for me was the National Gallery. It was just a 5 minute stroll from our fabulously situated hotel (the Sofitel St James). Whenever I had an hour or two to kill I would spend time just drifting from one spectacular work of art to another. Such a treat. I visited 5 times in 6 days. And I may or may not have shed a little tear over the sheer beauty of a painting and my good fortune to be viewing it in one of the National Gallery’s light-filled rooms. I spent a lot of time in front of this: the Hay Wain by Constable.
We ate elderflower jelly on a deck chair in St James Park, and browsed through the beautiful farmers’ market just off Marylebone High Street. We spent lots of time in the oldest bookshop in London where I bought Sophia an Enid Blyton book (she is obsessed with Ms Blyton at the mo) Paddington Bear for Olive Enid Blyton used to read excerpts from her books to children at the store so that all felt very fitting. We also loved this beautiful bookshop in Marylebone.
It was in Marylebone I spied this beautiful private garden. I wanted to jump the fence and roll on the grass. I restrained myself. Much to my handsome husband’s relief.
I loved the soft, green grass of England so much I took photos of patches of grass. Just an ordinary patch of grass. About 3 times. You know, I do nothing to dispel my husband’s fears that I am insane in the membrane. In the best possible way.
The food scene in London is phenomenal at the moment. Utterly amazing. Highlights of our dinners out were here, here and here. For quick lunches on the go during the day, I became obsessed with Itsu. Healthy, utterly delicious food. I so deeply wish we had a chain like this in Melbourne.
I had some boxes I wanted to tick this trip, among which: climb a country stile, have kippers and a hot, strong cup of tea for breakfast, stroll through extra green and pleasant bits of the land, eat great Indian food, eat great British food, have a Pimms in the English summer sun. I ticked all those boxes and more. It really was an extraordinary trip.
Can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get this posted that I am about to embark on my next trip…