London is a labyrinth of parks and avenues, winding streets and narrow alleys that lead you from one beautiful neighborhood to another. A quick trip over Thanksgiving impressed me anew with the loveliness of London.
St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster was the perfect place to stay. It’s a beautiful Victorian building close to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace and just a block away from the Tube. They were just beginning to decorate for Christmas while we were there.
It had been many years since I last visited London, and for the most part, it was like seeing it through fresh eyes. The skyline had changed greatly — the London Eye alone transformed the feel of the skyline, as did the Shard.
While we were visiting the Tower of London,
I was struck by the architectural layering of history: a row of Tudor-styled buildings stood behind the thousand-year-old crumbling walls of the fortress, and behind them both rose the Shard. All over London, the historical and the modern are intertwined.
For the most part, my husband and I played tourists, going from one historical site to another: The Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Trafalgar Square, the Westminster area (we were disappointed to find Big Ben covered in scaffolding). But Buckingham Palace was beautiful, especially at the end of day when the lights came on.
This was the first time I visited Notting Hill, and I was immediately taken with its charm. I would love to see it in the spring when the wisteria is in bloom.
Another afternoon we spent in the ever-changing Brick Lane neighborhood, full of wonderful Bangladeshi restaurants.
Also new on this trip was a visit to the Leighton House, home of the artist Frederic, Lord Leighton. I fell in love with the exotic tiles and lamps, and the colors he surrounded himself with — rich peacock blue, muted gold, and dark woodwork.
I’m glad we visited London in the late fall. Dusk came early, and by 4:30 the corner pubs and restaurants dotted the evening with golden light and a feeling of coziness and cheer spilled outside onto the sidewalks.
Buildings that were beautiful by day took on a deeper beauty by night.
The shopping areas of Oxford and Bond Streets, and Picadilly Circus glittered with tiny lights and holiday decorations, and were bustling with red double-decker buses and crowds of happy shoppers. A stroll through Selfridges offered a glimpse of the glamour depicted in the Masterpiece period drama Mr. Selfridge.
Stores like Harrods and Selfridges brought to mind the wonderful scene from Howard’s End where Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel do their Christmas shopping.
Scenes from movies and books are everywhere. We took a train to the Baker Street Station and above ground saw the Sherlock Holmes Museum (with a long line outside).
At King’s Cross station there is Platform 9 and 3/4 from Harry Potter (with an even longer line of children waiting to get their photo taken). Though my list of things to see included the Charles Dickens Museum, the Samuel Johnson House, a stroll through Bloomsbury, and several other sites and parks, five days didn’t allow it.
So I’m already working on another list for my next visit.