I learned three “B’s” on a recent trip to London:
- Be safe.
- Bring your own book.
- Don’t bother with ticketed museum exhibitions at peak times.
The first “B.” At different ages, we view the concept of safety differently. One night when I was a young woman, I went out and screamed at the noisy junkies in the alley behind our house. May I just say, Thank God they ignored me! I didn’t understand the situation. Still, you can find yourself in that situation again.
The hotel in London was seedy. (The pictures lied.) I arrived at midnight, too tired to find another hotel, and checked in with great trepidation. I looked incredulous when the desk clerk told me I had to go outside to another building. He escorted me, but was obviously terrified of the people on the street: a sensible reaction. I wanted to say, “Don’t show fear!” And I was sorry that he had to trek back by himself.
How unsafe was it? I thought, well, it’s only for a few nights. But the next night someone climbed the stairs at midnight and pounded on the door. I sat very still and hoped he’d go away. Eventually, he did.
The next day I schlepped my suitcase on the tube and went to a relatively “luxurious” hotel where I had stayed before. I enjoyed the rest of my trip.
The Second “B.” Bring your own book, or e-reader. When the weather is slushy and you tire of looking at portraits of the Tudors, go to the British Library and look at the manuscript of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. I was thrilled. Then sit down (if you can find a chair) and read it on your e-reader. (N.B. The terrace in front of the British Library was cordoned off like a crime scene because of the snow. Being an American, I thought this was funny.)
Though I brought my own books, I also went to bookstores My two favorites are the flagship Waterstones in Picadilly; and next door is Hatchards, founded in 1797.
I finished five books in London, a record for me. (The weather was bad, so I had lots of reading time!) I read Rumer Godden’s Kingfishers Catch Fire (her best book), Virginia Woolf’s A Common Reader, Virginia Woolf’s The London Scene, Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room Is on the Landing, and Annette Williams Jaffee’s Adult Education.
The Third “B.” London has the best art museums. But you know what? I often enjoy the free exhibits more than the ticketed ones. That’s because the paid exhibitions are crowded. On a quiet weekday I enjoyed Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits at the “Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but the Royal Academy of Arts was so crowded on a weekend that I couldn’t get close enough to see the paintings in the “Charles I: King and Collector” exhibition.
What I learned? Pick your times. Meanwhile, see many of the greatest paintings in the world for free.
Kat, I agree with all three tips! We hope to go to London next year and found two hotels that we’d consider staying at. We stayed at one of them before and a friend recommends the second one. I have a hard time reading on vacation! Too busy during the day and too tired at night! I lOVE Hatchards too! And, I look forward to the Persephone Bookstore too.
Did you indulge in a high tea?
London is such a great city–so much to do! I found Hatchards by chance, and it seemed to have as many books as Foyles and Waterstones, which is just not possible since it is much smaller! It was always tea or coffee time for me, but I didn’t have high tea. Love the Persephone bookstore. And the Dickens Museum is just a few block away.
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You’re spot on about the exhibitions – the ticketed ones can get so busy! When I went to the Tate Modern recently for the Russian one, I deliberately booked for the first, early slot so I could get in and have a proper look round. It meant getting a train to London at silly o’clock but it worked, as the show was beautifully quiet and I could take my time. As I was leaving, things were starting to get very crammed! 🙂
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Very smart to go early! I was’t thinking about the crowds and just wandered in and bought a ticket at the Royal Acad, which seemed leisurely and quiet until pow! I entered the gallery. I’ll take your early tip next time I’m there.
It was an experience with Russians at the Royal Academy which convinced me to always go for early… 🙂
That place! 🙂
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Great tips, very glad you changed hotel that first one sounds grim.
A nice trip after that!
Not a “b” word: fourth piece of advice, don’t stay too long, even in London where there is so much to do – if you consider all the museums, gardens and parks, places of interest in the city, plays, concerts, operas, movies, libraries. My older daughter and I were just saying that today after 5 days in Milan. Basta.
Yes, unfortunately the snow shut down the UK, so I didn’t make it out of London.