London: History, Walking, Eating, and Shopping
Charge up the FitBit
Generally an advocate of the hop-on hop-off bus, this concept just doesn’t work here. London is ranked the 7th worst city in the world for traffic jams. What might be a 15 minute walk could easily take 45 minutes on wheels. Good news — London is also flat and simple to navigate.
Secrets of the Abbey
Since William the Conquerer in 1066, every British monarch has been crowned at Westminster Abbey. There have been 16 royal weddings here, including William and Kate’s in 2011. This is also the burial site of over 3,300 notable individuals. They include 17 monarchs, Prime Ministers, military leaders, and scientists. Henry III-IIV, Edward V and VI, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles II, and so on. It’s dramatic.
The Poets’ Corner is a burial and commemorative site of those who made contributions to British culture: Actors, composers, and predominately writers. Chaucer was the first to be interred here. Others include Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Laurence Olivier, and the Brontë sisters. Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde, respectively, were added much later than their deaths as they were considered to have lead scandalous lives. What’s cool too is that they’re still adding to it. A stone dedicated to C.S. Lewis was placed as recently as 2013.
An added bonus is Jeremy Irons’ vocal stylings adding a little pizazz to the audioguide.
A few things “Scar” forgot to tell us
Photography is forbidden and, shockingly, I didn’t see even one single person breaking this rule. Except me. I’m not proud of this. I was just so delighted by the story of Ben Jonson, I felt it needed photographic evidence. You see, Ben Jonson was an influential playwright and poet, revered for his sense of humor. He earned a successful, yet controversial career and after a series of setbacks (by the time of his death in 1637), he didn’t have the funds for the full trimmings of a proper burial. He requested “18 inches square” and is the only person buried standing up to accommodate such a small space. Ben is not in Poet’s Corner and his name isn’t even spelled right. Ask one of the lovely gentlemen in the red robes and they will kindly show you where he resides.
Get your history on
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries opened last year in honor of the 60th anniversary The Queen’s reign. The medieval triforium, 108 steps above the Abbey, was constructed around 1250 during King Henry III’s reign. The views looking down over the gothic structure are stunning. Uneven flooring and low ceilings are original. Danny managed to hit his head on a beam, which is no small task for someone who’s 5’6.” This was formerly a hiding place for church officials. (It was also used for storage, but that’s just not sexy.)
There are over 300 items on display here. Creepy, lifelike funeral effigies, cardinal robes, and numerous memorials that were long removed from public view. It’s a King Henry V groupies’ dream come true. His battle gear: a simple sword, rusty helmet, and aged saddle are unceremoniously presented in the Jubilee Galleries.
You can also see the Coronation Chair, or King Edward’s Chair. There’s a secret compartment underneath, which once held the Stone of Destiny, which has absolutely nothing to do with Tenacious D. It’s an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy that was ultimately returned to Scotland. The wooden chair is still a centerpiece for all coronations. Up close, it’s covered in graffiti and carvings by Westminster school boys.
Entry to Westminster Abbey is £21. It’s only £5 more to visit the Jubilee Galleries and most people don’t do it, which is a mistake.
I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
From the Tower of London, it’s a 15 minute walk across the iconic Tower Bridge to the Borough Market. It’s been here for about 1,000 years, bearing witness to medieval times, the Black Death, the Renaissance… Even the present structure, built in the 1850s, is old by American standards. It’s a bustling market with a mix of indoor and outdoor space. The best way to attack is to show up hungry and graze your way through the stalls. We snacked on pastries, cherries, and German sausage. I will forever credit this market for my love of scallops.
I know that England often has a bad reputation when it comes to food. Overcooked veggies, lack of seasoning, or crappy meat pies might come to mind. If you have a bad meal here, it’s your own fault. I’ve found that if you pop into pretty much any pub, you’ll find something good to eat. I’m not a fan of mushy peas, but the fish and chips — it just tastes better here. An English breakfast is also a must. Beans on toast?? I don’t know why it works, but it does. The fact that England’s national dish is chicken tikka masala speaks to the diversity of British cuisine.
It’s likely you’ve seen the ‘90s rom-com Notting Hill. Don’t let this take away from Notting Hill’s street cred. Or that fact that you’ll encounter as many American accents as you would back in the states. The Portobello Road Market was a real highlight for me. Think antiques, boho jewels, vintage accessories, and bargaining. Danny rolled his eyes so hard when I insisted on backtracking to find the original Diana & Charles commemorative wedding mugs I’d spotted earlier in the day. Just £6 each! Pair these babies up with some tea from Harrods and this is pretty much the best souvenir ever.
A trip to London is never complete without a visit to Harrods. This world famous department store is a staggering 1.1 million square feet and possesses its own zip code. No need to dress to the nines when shopping here, but use some basic common sense or you might be denied entry, which actually happened to Kylie Minogue. IMO, two departments are particularly exciting. First, the toys! This department occupies the entire fourth floor. I felt like Tom Hanks in BIG. It’s a wonderland of giant stuffed animals, candy, costumes, and cute little British things like mini double-decker buses and Paddington bears. Time just disappears when you’re here. The other unmissable department is the food. The luxury food halls have items like dumplings, cakes, sushi rolls, shepherd’s pie, caviar, fine wines and champagne, and foie gras. Great picnic items for nearby Hyde Park.
Camden Market is super touristy and always crowded. It’s also like Hot Topic on steroids. Maybe it’s a little tacky and feels super teenager-y, but where else are you going to stock up on essentials for your next rave? The people-watching is world class and if you can tolerate a mild amount of claustrophobia, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Daily Average FitBit Steps: 20k
Not kidding, we soaked our feet each night in the bathtub, we walked so much.
Until next time, when I delve into London’s rich history of rock ’n roll.