“Come along, dears. Hold tight, please,” called the attendant as we grabbed the worn metal pole to hoist ourselves aboard one of London’s famous double-decker buses.
We rumbled past the baroque, neo-classical and Victorian buildings of the central city as the attendant, an Indian man, greeted passengers, collected tickets and waved farewell to those who departed, ever mindful of his passengers’ safety while in his brief care. When someone shuffled to the exit before the bus stopped, he called out, “Wait until we get to the bus stop, dear. Life is short. We don’t want to make it any shorter.”
I was aboard this man’s bus only a day before the July 7 bombings and found his words prophetic. The following day, four bombs exploded during the peak early-morning commute: three in London’s subway and one on a new double-decker bus. Transportation in all of central London came to complete standstill, phone lines were down, Internet service was minimal and many stores closed for the day.
The tragedy, however, made very clear the outlook that pervades here: be careful, hold tight and stoically keep moving even in the face of sometimes terrible circumstances. Displaced commuters, forced to traverse the city on foot when the buses and the underground were shut down, made no complaints. They simply walked. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth adhered to her scheduled unveiling of a monument dedicated to the women of World War II. Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted the G8 summit continue its first meeting at Scotland’s Gleneagles resort, unwilling to allow terrorists to interfere with the planned meeting to address poverty in Africa and global warming. Britain’s stock market, the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE), plummeted 207.5 points the day of the bombings, but was up again by the day’s end. The result was a minor, 20-point drop.
Optimism pervades as reports indicate the British economy will likely continue to grow now that London has been chosen to host the 2012 Olympic Games, the financial implications of which are significant. An Olympic lottery will be instituted to help raise at least $2.7 billion for the event. There will be major construction and renovation in East London — currently one of the city’s poorest areas — including the 500-acre Olympic Park in Stratford, created to house nine venues including Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Center and the Olympic Village. Plans have also been confirmed for the creation of a $35 million bullet train — the Olympic Javelin — linking central London with Olympic Park.
London is a city of history, but it changes with the times. And through each change — the result of tragedy or victory — Londoners will, as the gentlemanly Indian attendant instructed, hold on tight.
HYATT REGENCY LONDON – THE CHURCHILL
The Churchill houses 445 rooms, 44 of which compose the Regency Club, located on the top two floors of the hotel. The Regency Club suites offer upgraded amenities and services, such as a personal concierge, express check-in and checkout, early-arrival shower facility, private boardroom, fax machine, high-speed Internet access and complimentary continental breakfast. The Churchill is located in the heart of the West End, a few minutes’ walk from Oxford and Marylebone High streets, home of London’s finest shopping, and Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, two of London’s most popular theater districts. $$$$
HYATT REGENCY LONDON – THE CHURCHILL
30 Portman Square
tel 44 20 7486 5800, fax 44 20 7486 1255
As upscale as any Hilton, the Trafalgar (a Hilton International hotel) has an added touch of panache. Every one of the hotel’s 129 rooms is painted in light and dark chocolate tones and has a DVD player and a stereo; the bathrooms are stocked with aromatherapy toiletries; the fitness center’s many machines are equipped with televisions and e mail access. The hotel’s international staff is as invested in providing a relaxed experience as the guests are in having one. Also, the Roof Terrace, on the hotel’s top floor, boasts one of the most spectacular views in all of London. $$$$
2 Spring Gardens, Trafalgar Square
tel 44 20 7870 2903, fax 44 20 7870 2911
COPTHORNE TARA HOTEL
The Copthorne Tara is located near Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall and the many famous museums on Cromwell Road. It is also within reach of the very upscale Notting Hill and Knightsbridge neighborhoods via the District Line Underground. The hotel has several restaurants and cafes, including CafeXpress, which offers 24-hour access to high-speed Internet and a plasma-screen television. Those who book a Connoisseur Club room will enjoy not only panoramic views of London, but exclusive access to the Copthorne Club Lounge. The hotel also offers free breakfast, free evening drinks, a business center and a secretarial service. $$
COPTHORNE TARA HOTEL
Scarsdale Place, Kensington
tel 44 20 7937 7211, fax 44 20 7937 7100
Seat yourself, serve yourself. Pay at the counter, collect your ticket and present it to the attendant, who may or may not bring you your food, depending on the crowd or his mood. It’s worth putting up with, however, because this place serves one of the tastiest plates of shwarma in all of London. Each shwarma plate includes a pile of chicken, lamb or beef cut right from the spit; a stack of pita bread; a healthy portion of garlic dipping sauce; and a hot sauce made with lime juice, chili pepper and chunks of onions and cilantro. Pair it with a glass of sweet, tart lemonade, then have the baklava for dessert. $$
112-114 Edgware Road
tel 44 20 7724 2700, fax 44 20 7723 3161
POMPIDOU COFFEE SHOP
Located on a little cobblestone avenue, this Parisian bistro is every bit French, from the servers to the patio seating. The pace is slow; you won’t get your check in a timely manner, though the wait staff is very attentive. It’s a place to relax. Try the focaccia chicken burger — grilled chicken, tomato and lettuce warmed on pressed focaccia bread — with an oil-and-vinegar salad. For dessert have the Jamaica crepe with grilled banana, whipped cream and rum-chocolate sauce. $$$
POMPIDOU COFFEE SHOP
9A Irving St.
tel 44 20 7724 5001, fax 44 20 7724 5021
This gem in the heart of the theater district is the ideal place to dine before a show. It’s softly lit, but not dim; the drum-and-bass music is funky but soothing; the servers are attentive but unobtrusive. A white grand piano is complemented by six large globes of light hanging from above. There is also a lounge connected to the restaurant where you can wait to be seated; the wide, soft leather couches are difficult to surrender when your name is called. The deep-fried goat cheese is particularly delicious, followed by salmon on a bed of mixed greens and asparagus. For cocktails, try the Lychee Bellini — kwai feh — (lychee liqueur) topped with champagne. $$$
1 Leicester Place, Leicester Square
tel 44 20 7287 8050
Like any happening metropolis, London has much to offer its late-night wanderers: dancing at the African-music-and-art-inspired Umbaba (15-21 Ganton St., tel 44 20 7734 6696) or the glitzy Tantra (62 Kingly St., tel 44 20 7434 0888), or for a more refined taste of London’s nightlife, the Penthouse (1 Leicester Square, tel 44 0870 350 9459). There are also plenty of lounges and pubs: Windows on the World (22 Park Lane, tel 44 20 7208 4021) or the more casual Punch and Judy (40 The Market Piazza, tel 44 20 7379 0923). Or take a stroll through Leicester Square; there are a number of bars and comedy clubs sprinkled throughout, such as Zoo Bar and Club (13-17 Bear St., tel 44 20 7839 4188) and Oxygen (17-18 Irving St., Leicester Square, tel 44 20 7930 0907). But perhaps the most popular form of nighttime e ntertainment in London is the theater. Productions such as The Producers, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera are currently the most popular from which to choose. For tickets and information, visit http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk .
London’s most popular attractions — Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery and Buckingham Palace — are certainly worth a visit, but there are some others that are perhaps not given fair consideration. The Wallace Collection (Hertford House, Manchester Square, tel 44 20 7563 9500, http://www.wallacecollection.org) is a secret in the very center of the city that even many Londoners know nothing about. The restored Italian mansion, once the home of Lord Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, provides a glimpse into 18th century aristocratic life. Medieval and Renaissance armor (including some to try on), porcelains, furniture and paintings by Rembrandt, Hals, Delacroix, Titian, Rubens and Poussin have all been accumulated by one family over many years.
Another site worth noting is Marble Arch (corner of Oxford Street at Hyde Park), which has a strange and dismal history. Once planned as the gateway to Buckingham Palace, it was doomed from the beginning when the foundations proved too weak for its intended location. The friezes that were to decorate the arch were instead placed on the façade of the palace, and the statue of George IV that was to top the arch was thought better suited for Trafalgar Square. Stripped of all its glory, Marble Arch was relocated and settled as a gateway to Hyde Park, where it stands now. It was then used as a post for local police, and served its purpose well during the 1855 Hyde Park riots.
The Globe Theatre (21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, tel 44 20 7902 1400, http://www.shakespeare-globe.org), off the Thames River, is quite spectacular for those interested in a popular piece of London’s history. The theater was modeled after the one founded by Shakespeare in 1599. Located a short walk from the original Globe, it’s a faithful replica, with an open central arena that can hold 500 “groundlings,” or audience members.
INFO TO GO
Flights arrive at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and London Gatwick Airport (LGW). From Heathrow there are two Tube (Underground) stations, both off the Piccadilly line, which will take travelers to central London. One station serves Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and a free shuttle bus will take passengers from Terminal 4 to Hatton Cross Station (cost is about $2). A more convenient, much faster, but pricier (about $20) option is the Heathrow Express, with one station serving Terminals 1, 2 and 3, the other at terminal 4. From Gatwick, take the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station, then take the Tube off the Victoria line to Oxford Circus. Taxis are available at both airports; fare to central London is about $60. Avoid renting a car: it’s expensive, and when driving in zones closer to the city center, all drivers are charged a Congestion Driving Zone fee. For more information, go to the Transport for London Web site, (http://www.cclondon.com), and for hotel and other useful information, visit http://www.visitlondon.com
Since 1970, Goway Travel has been committed to providing customized travel experiences for world travelers. Few things are better evidence of this commitment than being awarded the 2019 Trazees award for Favorite Tour Operator. Goway Travel heartily thanks the readers of Trazee Travel for this honor and for their confidence in Goway’s work in creating travel memories that’ll last a lifetime.
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