Over the past few weekends, I’ve been taking great pleasure in rediscovering London and its myriad of charms. The problem with growing up somewhere is that it becomes too familiar; everyday, humdrum. I’ve never marvelled at the sights I see tourists gaping at, cameras clicking and fingers pointing. I’m too busy trying to push through the crowds to get to where I’m going. I have my favourite museums, shops, restaurants and so on, and I rarely venture far outside of what I know; I use London as a meeting point rather than as a destination to be properly explored.
Well, all that is going to change. My eyes have been opened. I took a walk around Regent’s Park, finding beautiful gardens and vistas I had never come across before. Who knew there was a gorgeous riverside oasis? Who knew there were amazing iron flowerpots that date back to the 1700s? Who knew there were so many multicoloured tulips and lavish fountains and lovely historic buildings? I certainly didn’t. It was like stepping outside of London altogether and resurfacing in a countryside idyll filled with the scent of wildflowers and the sound of birdsong. On a sunny afternoon, its charms can’t be beat. How could I have never explored its depths before?
I then walked from Regent’s Park to Marylebone, discovering the marvellous 221b Baker Street on my way, whose shop is a veritable treasure trove of Sherlock Holmes related items you never knew you wanted. Wandering down the stately Portland Place, I spotted a blue plaque memorialising the former London home of Frances Hodgson Burnett and found out that the impressive art deco RIBA headquarters has free public exhibitions, which is something I am definitely going to take advantage of on a regular basis. I then met the lovely Miranda at this excellent pub that serves delicious wine and tapas just off of Marylebone High Street, and was reminded that there are plenty of wonderful, low-key restaurants in interesting locations that are definitely worth leaving my usual stomping ground to visit. On our walk back to the tube, Miranda showed me Marylebone High Street in the twilight; I have never been before, despite it being where my granddad and his family used to live before they were bombed out in the war. It was hard to imagine my working class urchin of a grandfather strolling down such a grand parade of shops; the beautiful Daunt Books is the crown amongst many upmarket jewels, along with some very tempting restaurants, such as Orrery, above the Conran Shop, which has a beautiful rooftop view and will definitely be frequented by Miranda and I at some point.
The following weekend, I took a dear friend who is shortly returning to her native New Zealand for a final tour around London. She wanted to see the City, so we walked from Charing Cross through Victoria Embankment Gardens – which has a ridiculous amount of very interesting statues – past Two Temple Place and up to the Twinings Tea Shop, which is just on the corner of the Strand and Fleet Street. Twinings Tea has been in the same spot forever, and it’s a tiny, narrow little galley of a building where you can not only buy tea, but also learn about the history of tea. After a browse, we walked up to St Paul’s, passing a series of beautiful and impressive historic buildings on the way. I was disappointed to find Temple Church, home of the Knights Templar, closed, but I will go back to see it again. We stopped to take in the pretty garden inside the atmospheric ruins of the bombed out Christ Church Greyfriars before popping to see the poignant plaques dedicated to those who died saving the lives of others at Postman’s Park. We then hopped on the tube to Baker Street and headed back to Marylebone High Street, as my friend wanted to visit Daunt Books, and I had never been either (I know! Can you believe it?!). I gasped out loud when we walked inside; never have I seen such a gorgeous space for selling books. The huge galleried back room with its floor to ceiling stained glass window is like a church, and a more fitting place for the worship of the written word could not possibly exist elsewhere.
We wandered, ate, then headed back to the West End to catch a musical, followed by dinner at the always atmospheric Polpo and a romantic, twilight walk from Southbank to London Bridge, marvelling at the beautiful views along the river and enjoying the buzz of the crowds taking advantage of the mild evening. As we passed the Globe and saw the hundreds of audience members enjoying their interval drinks, talking and laughing about the performance they were in the midst of watching, saw boats making their stately journeys up and down the river, and the softly glowing dome of St Paul’s in the distance, we were struck by how timeless the scene was, and how many people for centuries must have seen and experienced what we were experiencing just at that moment. There really is nothing like London. As the saying goes; tired of London, tired of life!