Monday, 13 April 2015

A tourist's eye view of London

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Last week, we were tourists in our own city.

Our German friends from Long Island days came to stay, and as, they had barely visited London before, I decided to take them on a really Grand Tour. They'd sent me a list of things they wanted to see which included: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, Big Ben, Hamleys, the London Eye, Carnaby Street and (bizarrely I thought) Queen's Park.

Well, we managed to see all of these in three busy days (except Queen's Park, which it turns out my friend had read about on a blog. We decided our local Crystal Palace Park was just as good if not better). Amazingly, the best weather of the year descended as if from nowhere and we had three days of brilliant, warm sunshine that made it feel like summer.

On the first day, we started at Buckingham Palace. I'd never seen the Changing of the Guard, and to be honest, the huge numbers of tourists with selfie sticks made this rather difficult to see, but see it we did and even the children, who had been grumbling at the wait for the action to begin, were enthralled with the parade. The best bit? The band played the Star Wars theme. Perfect for three small boys.

Walking down to Westminster
After this we picnicked on hot dogs in St James's Park (luckily for us we had three little New Yorkers in tow) and wandered down to Westminster Abbey, where we walked round the cloisters for free (go in the back way and you can do this) and peered through an archway at the school where The Doctor was educated.

Then, we caught a Thames Clipper from Embankment Pier to Tower Bridge - again, something I've never done, and well worth the albeit short trip. You do get a different perspective on London from the river. At the Tower, we wandered around the outside, avoiding the queues for the Crown Jewels but taking in the forbidding stone walls and the Traitor's Gate while imagining the memories that grim building must hold.

Sunset at the Oxo Tower Brasserie
Day 2 started with a trip to see the stone dinosaurs in our beloved local park, then a bus ride all the way into the West End - more familiar territory for me. We got off in Regent Street and did a quick tour of Hamley's, the boys all acquiring new Hexbugs which kept them happy for hours afterwards. Then it was on to Carnaby Street for a coffee, before a stroll through Soho and Chinatown to Covent Garden where we watched a street performer sitting on the sun-warmed cobblestones of the piazza. From there we walked to the Oxo Tower Brasserie where we'd booked a table for dinner. It being so warm, we were seated outside on the balcony and caught the most incredible London sunset.

View from the Emirates cable car
Day 3 started with rain but then cleared up and was fine once again for our ride on the Emirates Airline cable car, from Royal Victoria Docks to Greenwich Peninsula. This again was a first for me and is really worthwhile, affording great views over London and the river. From there it was on to Greenwich Park and the National Maritime Museum. The boys played in the kids' section while we learned about Nelson and Trafalgar, then it was up the hill to the Royal Observatory, for more fabulous views from a different angle, and a peek at the Greenwich Meridian line.

All in all I think our friends loved London; what I noticed was they constantly remarked on how green it is, how full of parks and trees, and on the contrast between the old and new -- for example the Tower of London juxtaposed to the Shard and the other modern skyscrapers of the City. Interestingly, they also felt that in comparison to New York, which can feel a little crumbling at times, our infrastructure and skyline seemed a lot more modern and up to date. Sometimes you have to step outside your own shoes to make such observations.

Seeing it through their eyes brought home to me that we do truly live in one of the world's great cities. Other places may sound exotic, but to a foreigner, London is an incredible place, rich in history, beauty, culture, colour and interest. Now, if only we could order that sunshine for 52 weeks a year.....


Iota said...

I want to bring my family to come and visit you! I'd give you the opportunity to see more of your own city in a way that you say you find rewarding, and it sounds like you do a fantastic job as a tour guide. Book us in!

Melissa said...

Sounds fab. You should set up your own personal tour guide company

Mwa said...

We are always passing through London to somewhere else... We should stop and visit more.

Muddling Along said...

I love London and it's history (I like to walk so I get to see different bits) - the cable car over the Thames is lovely - we've done that and then river boat back to Blackfriars as a round trip

MsCaroline said...

We've been in England since January and still haven't been to London (except for a trip to Heathrow to collect the dog, which doesn't count.) #1 is flying in in May and we'll be spending a few days letting him enjoy the city before dragging him off to Somerset. I've been debating what to include on our itinerary, and the cable car sounds like it will fit the bill. None of us are very keen on crowds with selfie sticks (4 years living in Asia has turned us off to that, believe me) but I've always wanted to see the Tower of London - not for the jewels, but for the more grisly aspects of its history. Your itinerary sounds like a great balance of seeing the sights as well as some lovely relaxing. If only we are lucky enough to get some fine weather.... Thanks for the wonderful suggestions!

DD's Diary said...

I love doing tourist things in London. I have a secret yearning to go on one of those open top tour buses .... and the amphibious thing across the Thames ... and up to the top of the Shard .... there's a million things I haven't done. After reading this I'm going to try and knock some off my list :)