It all started here for many of us: our language, our literature, and our democratic government. For much of the 60’s, even their music and fashion crossed over to the United States and other countries. Yes, even my favorite spy came out of England.
However, a unique ambiance comes from something that many Americans adore, but didn’t choose for their own country: royalty! Even today, it fascinates us, with its history displayed on television on shows like The Crown. Buckingham Palace has a central location in London, so no matter where you stay you can admire those gold-gilded gates, as well as the brightly plumed guards. I found its location on a walk among beautiful parks, such as Hyde Park, and walkways with memorials scattered throughout.
Aside from walking, the favorite tourist mode of transport is easily those famous red double-decker buses. It’s an efficient and fun way to see sights like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament, and more. You can even hop on and off with tour passes that include that feature. Although there is so much to see, London is such a relaxed place to visit. Could it be its the pubs?
We took in a fish and chips lunch in one of the incredible number of pubs in the city. While young working types congregated inside and out with their pints of beer, we were served very large portions of tasty whitefish while enjoying their banter. We found our pub in our hotel’s neighborhood – the consulate area. St. Ermin’s is a classical spot, even known for its bar that held embassy workers, or were they actually spies? Yes, even Ian Fleming was said to stop by.
I loved hearing those British accents everywhere, but it was a Scottish accent that drew me to The British Film Museum. Here is the world’s largest collection of James Bond automobiles, along with clips from the films. I swore I heard the 007 wax figure say “Bond, James Bond” in front of the Aston Martin DB5. While I satiated my fandom, my wife set out to shopping on Oxford Street at Selfridge’s department store. This street is so full of shopping that my cab driver told me they close the intersections during the Christmas holidays to accommodate shoppers from throughout Europe. It’s not Carnaby Street, but it will definitely fulfill anyone’s fashion sense.
The other way to see the city is on the Thames. This waterway cuts through the city and under its landmark bridges, like London Bridge and the Millennium Bridge. You’ll glimpse architectural delights with nicknames like the gherkin and the shard. The museums also are visible (almost all London museums are free). Other sights like the Tower of London with the Crown Jewels on display demand a more leisurely visit. I dare say that if you are even an ordinary history fan, this is the best city to enjoy those intellectual delights.
The most modern sight in London is The Eye. This ferris-type wheel rises spectacularly on the edge of The Thames. Many other cities now have this type of structure, but few have such a view, with many recognizable sights. It was recommended to me as a great starting point to give you a bearing on what’s where in this city. Be sure to get advance tickets as it’s very popular.
Finally, for an American, this feels like a walk back to our ancestry. Sure, my heritage is Italian, but our engagement with the British covers so many years, from King George through the World Wars and even today. Visiting London is really like seeing an old friend – a feeling of comfort and common knowledge. It’s a “Jolly Holiday”, as one very fine nanny said.