A day in London is always exciting and I go up regularly to meet friends, to the theatre – to eat, to visit an exhibition or museum or just to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere. The aura of history is a tangible factor in this stupendous city and over the years it has just got better and better. By that, I guess I mean that it has become more accessible, more tourist friendly and attuned to the needs and wants of visitors. In turn, Londoners themselves benefit from enhanced facilities and the extra cash that is spread around.
When I first came here to live 48 years ago (it seems so long ago and yet just like yesterday,) it was a hugely different scene. Traffic clogged all the main shopping streets. I remember only one pub in the West End, situated behind Selfridges that had any tables and chairs outside. The opportunity for any day-time entertainment other than shopping and visiting historic monuments was non-existent and the general consensus was that the weather was too fickle for any European nonsense like eating and drinking out-of-doors. Apart from the Fortes in Piccadilly for a special treat, your average punter relied on local pubs, stodgy tea-rooms – often in department stores, the ubiquitous Wimpy Bars and an appalling chain of eateries called The Golden Egg. The casual, cheap eating and entertainment scene was indeed sadly lacking. It was grim for the non-shopper! I must hastily say that it was a bit different out in the country!
Now, the area is crammed with cafes and pubs, offering outside seating winter and summer. The cafes around the Carnaby Street area and Liberty’s offer a great meeting place for everyone, with some not bad food and plenty to drink. I often visit to get a decent espresso or a flat white from the NZ café there. It is called Flat White and it comes well recommended. Also try Sacred, another NZ espresso bar in several locations, including Westfield Shopping Mall.
Arguably the most changed area of London from my point of view anyway, (forgetting the Olympic development) is South of the river where a grim huddle of semi-industrial concrete and brick, winding lanes and old slums, has been turned into
a truly intriguing opportunity to wander along the bank of the Thames and to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this ‘new’ part of London.
Known simply as South Bank, here there are masses of cafes, small shops and watering-holes seeded with not-to-be missed attractions like the Tate Modern (art gallery), the Globe Theatre (an on-site re-construction of Shakespeare’s Globe) and the National Theatre.
The Acquarium and the London Eye are among other attractions that may be accessed from this area and there are skilled buskers, music and street theatre to add to a sense of bubbling excitement. Treasures like this are your reward for walking rather than taking the ‘tube’. It is fun, when the tide is out, to watch sand sculptors working their magic down on river level.
It is fascinating to visit the old Mudlark pub, situated in the shadow of the Southwark Cathedral (probably best not to sit outside in the pub garden when the cathedral clock chimes!) Here, you may be tempted by a ‘typical’ English pie or, if your tastes are less robust, you may try Le Pain Quotidien for a modern French-style salad with excellent bread and a lush pastry. So much variety!
You can easily, too, walk over the Millennium Bridge and up the tiny hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral with its famous dome, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. A memorable ending to the day is to attend the 17.00 Evensong choral service in the cathedral (where the sound of the choir will surely send prickles down your spine,) before wandering back over the bridge for a welcome drink and something to eat.
It is all there for the asking – a great day out and one that offers
different pleasures each
time it is repeated.
Do you have a favourite place in London that is no longer being used for its original purpose, but which has been converted to provide entertainment? We would all love to hear about it. We are always looking for new places to visit!