Contrary to the typical dreary weather, I arrived in London on a beautiful sunny day. As I rode in my taxi to The W in Leicester Square, the driver explained to me that typically there aren’t so many British flags everywhere, however I had arrived on the weekend of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee; a festival celebrating her sixtieth year as Queen.
I was instantly charmed by the adorable accents and overall chipper mood of everyone in the hotel, and set off to find the closest tour bus to go see all of the trademark sites. Outside of the hotel I noticed a large gathering in a courtyard, and later, after talking to an executive producer friend from Hollywood who was also in town, I found out it was for the London movie premier of Prometheus, whose after party would later be in the hotel lobby.
I immediately booked one of the bus tours, and took my usual preferential seat at the top of the bus in order to get the best views of the city. Even though I always bash the traffic-inducing tour buses in Hollywood, I find them quite informational and efficient in other countries. The hop on hop off tour explains important and historical sites and information in an engaging live, British-accent tour.
Our first stop wasn't far from the hotel, Trafalgar Square, which had a beautiful courtyard in front of the National Portrait Museum, and the famous statue of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson who led the fleets victory over Napoleon. The plaza also is home to four massive bronze lion statues, sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer, who supposedly used his dog as a model for the bodies.
Next we saw the Queen's entrance into Buckingham Palace, which only she is allowed to enter and which is at the opposite side of the main entrance. We drove along the outskirts of the palace where we caught glimpses of her garden and tennis courts, and oh what I would give to have seen Prince Harry in a match.
Next we drove through Westminster where we saw the beautiful architecture of Westminster Abby, where coronations take place. Across the street was the immaculate and intricate architecture of Parliament, and the famous, boldly standing Big Ben, which is actually only the name of the clock face and not the entire tower.
As we passed over the River Thames on the Westminster Bridge, and looked back at the breathtaking panoramic view of Westminster, Parliament and Big Ben and then ahead of us at the massive, popular new attraction, The London Eye. EDF Energy constructed the London Eye as a temporary exhibit, but it's popularity earned its keep along the riverside. Similar to an over-sized Ferris wheel, each one of its capsules holds up to twenty people and is constantly, slowly rotating. It would take a full half an hour to make one revolution, so I skipped that one too.
Up the river we crossed over the Millennium Bridge into London Town. (I should note that all of London is not in fact all considered “London” and that it is separated into several smaller cities that used to be separated and distinguished by walls and statues, now only the statues remain.)
London Town is home to many historical buildings and is the epicenter for young business professionals that are constantly bustling about. This was also where the fabled Sweeny Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and his lover, ran their bloody barbershop, and (human) meat pie bakery below.
Going back over the river on the London Bridge, whose mundane appearance is often confused for the ornately constructed Tower Bridge, we entered another young area of town where a friend suggested the Borough Market to explore. It was full of foreign food carts erupting with steamy aromas of meats and vegetables, waxy cheese wheels and sugary sweets to be bought by the pound, and various spices in every color and texture you could imagine.
Several little bars and restaurants with open fronts lined the adjacent street and were jam packed with young professionals on their lunch breaks. It was very interesting to experience a "local" scene as opposed to a typical tourist spot. And there was something about the sweet and sassy British banter that made me inclined to join in.
Crossing back over the River Thames on the magnificently constructed, gold embellished Tower Bridge, we got off at our last spot, The Tower of London, which, as anyone could see, is a grandiose, fairytale-like stone castle. It was getting late, and the low, grey tumbling clouds began to create an eerie backdrop for the already ghostly looking castle.
I got off for the tour, which was a self-guided audio tour that allowed me to fully experience the castle’s past at my own pace. I learned about the history of the castle and all of the Kings and Queens who added to its construction, who died there, and the stealthy scandals that make its history so enthralling. A popular attraction is the Tower Green Scaffold Site where you may recognize names like Anne Boleyn, and 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey, who got beheaded there.
Another tearful and fearful tale is about the “Bloody Tower” where two young sons who were next in line for the throne when their father fell ill, were murdered. The Kings brother and the boys’ uncle, Richard III is the typical culprit in the young boys murders, a fate that ensured they would never be wearing a crown.
One of the tower’s most guarded sections, the Waterloo Barracks, is home to the famous Crown Jewels, which are tantalizing enough to make your mouth water, and your inner prince or princess come out in full force. On display are jewelry pieces, crowns, sabers, and banquet serving items, all adorned in the finest jewels, and used by some of the most famous royal members in London’s history. Several empty glass display cases noted if an item was in use, and since it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, there were quite a few empty cases.
In the courtyard there were grim and threatening-looking Ravens, which are said to have been requested by Charles II be the keepers and protectors of the castle. According to legend, if there aren't Ravens there at all times, the Tower will fall. However now a day there is a more logical way to keep typically dangerous and ferocious aviary inside a roofless confinement; clip their wings and train them to be friendly.
Finally it was time for my beloved high tea at the famous Dorchester Hotel, known for Elizabeth Taylor's frequent visits...and honeymoons there. My first choice was the prestigious Ritz Carlton, but as I unfortunately found out, reservations are required days in advance. I chose the high tea course that came with a fleet of champagne in addition to several tea choices. Quaint and adorable finger sandwiches, fresh scones, and desserts were also served, and alongside the fancy and classy ambience, made me crave high tea every day.
After I had a decently solid understanding of the different areas of town, the famous tourist attractions, and the local hidden gems, I dedicated the next day to experiencing what it might be like to actually live there. I started with a prim and proper English tea breakfast with fresh scones and cream (butter), then set off to book tickets for a show in the West End Theater District near Westminster. The theater district is home to many historical, and beautifully designed theaters, amongst which are a few supposedly haunted ones.
While waiting for dinner and the show, I decided to get on the tour bus again, which took me back around to all of the areas I had seen the day before. I hoped off at stops that seemed like they were the least touristy and began exploring. I found Sherlock Holmes’ bar, which also offered a mannequin reenactment scene of one of his most famous mystery cases.
The weather reverted back to its typical London dreary so I avoided the prospect of catching pneumonia and headed back for some wine and cheese at the hotel. The service at The W was phenomenal, from the bellboys that meet, greet, and flatter you with their adorable smiles and accents, to the chipper and speedy cocktail waitresses in the lobby lounge. Just sitting there as I caught up on some writing gave me a magnificent modern yet classic feeling.
Strutting out past the charming bellboys and carefully out onto the slick cobblestone in my stilettos, I hailed a cab with ease to the theater for the 8:00pm showing of Wicked. The theater was quaint and welcoming, and there was a surprisingly large amount of teenage and young adults there. The performance was captivating and made me feel like I was back in the States at a Broadway performance.
Even though I was jet-lagged and exhausted, on my way home I couldn’t help but meander into the open front of a bar across from the hotel that was bursting with hip music, loud laughter, and exciting chatter. I talked to two young men who explained to me that while not too many people live in the actual city, many of them would stay in the area after work to meet friends for drinks and dinner.
Finally when I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer, I forced myself back to my ultra modern hotel room, complete with a cube shaped tub, glass enclosed shower, and marshmallow-fluff bed. It’s never fun to pack to leave a place you’ve just fallen in love with, but luckily my plane ticket for Dublin the next day helped to motivate me.
Published on Dec 12, 2012