Rom and I had two full days in London this month, plus parts of our arrival and departure days. We decided we would each plan a full day of activities, and the other would agree and go along with whatever was planned. However, I cheated a bit.
I commandeered our arrival evening, buying advance tickets to the new Adrian Mole musical (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾). It is playing at an “off-West End” theatre that only seats 150. The building has a restaurant and we had a very good meal there. I had been lacking in vegetables while travelling so I had a “power bowl” type salad. The pre-theatre set menu and the à la carte menu cost about the same (i.e. very reasonable) but had different food choices. And lovely desserts! I have every confidence the play will go further. It was a knock-out! I am biased since I loved the first two Adrian Mole books, but it was so funny, full of life, and true to its time (1981). It ranks among the best musicals I’ve ever seen, including Billy Elliot. Maybe the only caveat is that younger viewers wouldn’t get the “historical” references from 35+ years ago, but the same is true for Billy Elliot, set in 1984.
On our way to the play, we walked around the base of The Shard, London’s tallest building, at the London Bridge station. It was dazzling!
My day (August 18) started with a tube ride to Monument station. Rom waited below while I challenged myself to trot up the 311 winding steps of the “Monument to the Great Fire of London.” I timed it so we were there at opening. There were no tour buses or line-ups. I did the climb, but I was more out of breath than I thought I’d be, since I often do 500-1000 steps on the Climb Master at the gym. No comparison to the real deal! I got my first views of the surrounding skyscrapers from the viewing cage at the top of the monument.
A couple of days before, we visited Lewes Castle in Sussex. Some child visitors counted the steps to the top and informed us there were over 200, so that was my warm-up climb!
After the Monument, we walked around the bases of the nearby famous skyscrapers: the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe), the Cheesegrater (122 Leadenhall Street) and the Lloyd’s Building (1 Lime Street). They all have plazas and cafés at the ground level but no public access. I was amazed by them. Beautiful!
As you know from a previous post, we enjoyed a special meal at the top of the Walkie Talkie Building mid-day.
From there we hoofed it to Tottenham Court Road to join a London Rock Walk. This is one of several tour companies that does rock music-themed tours of Central London. For two hours, we followed our well-informed tour guide as he stopped in front of various buildings and told us who worked, rehearsed, played or lived there. He told quite a bit about managers, agents, music publishing houses, venue owners and other music business folks, which I really enjoyed. Most of the sites related to the early days of rock n’ roll in the 50s and up to the late 60s. Classic rock artists like Rod Stewart, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were cited the most. There are other tours that cover different eras. Of course, this was the only two hours it rained in our entire ten-day trip, but it had to catch up with us sooner or later!
Following that, we just browsed around, and had a late dinner at one of our favourite chain restaurants, Le Pain Quotidien. It is a healthy eating place, rather overpriced for a franchise, but the food is always fresh and yummy. To counter the healthiness, we stopped at one of our other favourite chains, La Patisserie Valerie, on the way back to the hotel! We had a nice stroll down the very long Edgeware Road, which is known for its “Middle Eastern” and North African culture. It is a thriving community and has a great neighbourhood feel. Families and friends of all ages were out having meals together and smoking shisha at some of the sidewalk cafés.
Rom’s day (August 19) revolved around a self-guided walking tour of Kensington Gardens and Regent’s Park. Starting at Kensington Gardens, we spent some time walking around the formal Italian Gardens and finding the Peter Pan statue, before going through the flower gardens. We viewed the massive Prince Albert Memorial which is an exercise in opulence. My favourite part was the Serpentine Galleries, which had a free exhibit of Grayson Perry’s mixed-media work. His stuff is humourous and contains a lot of social commentary. I loved it. We continued to the Diana Memorial. I had somehow thought it was “just” a fountain, when it is actually a sculptural water park in which kids can splash and play. It is a large granite oval reminiscent of stream bed, with water constantly sloshing and tumbling around curves and down little stone courseways. It is quite impressive, and interactive.
Next, we cut through Hyde Park to get to Mayfair, a district we’d never explored. Rom had wanted to see the Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution, which was, unfortunately, closed for a private function. The area around New Bond Street had high-end shopping, especially for jewellery. I stuck to window shopping until I saw a Vivienne Westwood shop, and had a look: I thought her jewellery really “popped” when seen in person, compared to on the website! We also took a peek at the site of Jimi Hendrix’s former flat, but didn’t pay admission to explore in detail. Surprisingly, Handel (of Water Music fame) lived in the same building in the 1700s. It is now, enterprisingly, the Handel and Hendrix House 🙂
The next attraction was the Wallace Collection, a huge trove of classical oil paintings (mostly portraits) and decorative wares in a palatial home. I normally don’t care for aged oil paintings but by the end of the tour, they had grown on me a bit. I found myself drawn to the writing desks, ink wells and clocks. Apparently I’m not the only one – the gift shop had a book on the timepieces of the Wallace Collection. The house itself was sumptuous, too.
Nearby, we visited Daunt Books, an historic and charming book shop with a loft full of travel books, and ended Rom’s part of the day with a turn through Regent’s Park.
I say Rom’s part because I hijacked it from there. I had bought tickets to a record store show in the evening, so we had to travel out to Rough Trade East at Brick Lane. We had zero time to explore the markets at Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields, so don’t even ask! However, we had a nice browse through Brick Lane Market and the Old Truman Brewery where Rough Trade is located. There were lots of cool vintage shops, street art for sale, street food and food trucks. It also has a VERY lively bar and nightlife scene. Our gig was a way-early one at 6:30 p.m.! We went to see The Duke Spirit, a London band I’ve been following since 2008 when their wonderful album Neptune came out. They were excellent. A DJ set followed by another, more famous, artist but we didn’t stay for it!
I was happy with the variety of stuff we saw and did in our 2.5 days. Can’t wait ‘til next time!
If you know London, recommendations are always very welcome! Do you like planning your vacation days, going along with someone else’s plan, or winging it?