For many years, I thought, somewhat romantically, about jetting off to London for a long weekend, timed with American Thanksgiving. The time had finally come last year. Remember last year? 2019? Remember when people could travel freely without the fear that being entombed in a flying cylinder of recirculated air with 300 strangers could result in a slow, asphyxiating
Ah, but those were the days before a mismanaged national response to a pandemic that left many too trusting that a pandemic virus was a hoax. Sadly, many paid the price for their trust in the way the US government had downplayed the threat of the coronavirus. But I digress.
Yes, in those quaint days before 2020 people could actually safely travel internationally. And I am thankful that I took full advantage of the safe travel pre-Covid and enjoyed much of 2019 in foreign lands. So I spent Thanksgiving, 2019, in London.
With a travel companion we flew to London for a weekend of dining in some fine London restaurants, seeing West End shows, visiting museums and a castle that I had long wanted to experience, but had never made time to visit on previous trips to London.
I was no stranger to London, but it had been more than a decade since my last visit. Further, this would be my first totally capricious visit just for the purpose of dining, plays and frivolity.
Arriving in London the day before American Thanksgiving, we went to our luxurious West End hotel. The London West End is London’s Theater District, with many, many theaters, small and large, located there. As is so common in London, the area is also recognized by its major Underground stop, Covent Garden. We stayed in the classic Strand Palace Hotel, a luxurious, classic hotel in the heart of the West End.
We immediately went for a stroll through the heart of London. We headed for Piccadilly Circus which, since my last visit, had an adjacent shopping area that had been converted to a pedestrian walkway. Though clearly a tourist-y area, it was a lovely re-introduction to London. The vibe and feel of the city was electric and the people fun to observe.
In the afternoon we took a double-decker bus tour of London hosted by a London bakery, serving high tea with all the trimmings as we drove around London, seeing sights and enjoying the scrumptious treats. It was a trip I booked through AirBnB Experiences and proved to be wonderful.
We had no dinner plans and so selected from among the many local offerings and were not disappointed. After a lovely dinner we repaired to a London cocktail bar which had a classic, old-world feel with a lovely selection of novel cocktails.
The next day was an ordinary day in London, though there were some bars and restaurants offering American Thanksgiving turkey dinners. We opted instead to set out on a sightseeing tour.
One of the museums that had been re commended to me by several people, and which I never visited, was the Churchill War Rooms, the site of the World War II military headquarters. The bunker-style facility, under government buildings in the center of London, remain much as they were when the war
ended. Mannequins dressed in WWII uniforms fill desk chairs and other spaces used by military analysts.
Adjacent to the War Rooms is a museum focused on the life of Winston Churchill. For those unfamiliar with his interesting life, the museum provides a thorough account, with priceless photographs, recordings, and memorabilia.
Later that evening we went to see the musical “Matilda,” a wonderful old-school musical that was a great reminder of the wonderful theater scene of London.
It had been decades since I had last been to the National Gallery in London. As my tastes in art had matured since my last visit, I wanted to see some of their pieces in French impressionism, post-impressionism and the Spanish Masters of El Greco, Goya and Velazquez.
The collection was far more impressive than I had recalled, especially in the areas of impressionism and post-impressionism, while the Spanish Masters collection was adequate. The collections proved to be beautiful and striking.
Notably, as a matter of law in the United Kingdom, admission to art museums is free.
Over the weekend we ventured outside the city to Hampton Court Palace, once the home of King Henry VIII, and, more than 100 years later, the home of King William and Queen Mary. We had to travel by train from the City for about a half hour, and then walked 500 yards from the train station across the
River Thames. There we found an impressive compound built over several centuries and dynasties, starting with the medieval structure built by Henry VIII. Filled with lure about his mania, his prolific eating, his multiple wives (and their grisly deaths) and customs of the day, it was a fascinating step back
An adjacent area of the palace was built later for the rooms of William and Mary. A decidedly more live-able space, it was fascinating to see the distinctions in architecture, art, and lifestyle in the slightly more then 100 years separating the two epochs.
No trip to London would be complete without a visit to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Parliament and Big Ben, and Westminster Cathedral. The tour of the latter, available by self-guided audio tour, was far better than I could have imagined. It traced not merely the history of the cathedral, but as the
cathedral serves as a giant catacomb for so many distinguished people of English history, the tour offered glimpses into the lives of those entombed there. The fascinating stories of their lives and the political and social circumstances of their times led me to want to learn more English history.
I am so glad that I was able to visit London before 2020—the year that changed international travel. I look forward to another visit.