A long short day in London

We arrived at Heathrow a few minutes after 11; on the way to Immigration, I checked the tourist literature rack and grabbed two brochures. One gave this week’s theatre lineup; the other was from London Walks. I had taken a couple of tours from their sister operation, Paris Walks, and had been pleased, so I handed the brochure to Jeff and let him look for interesting walks.

He found plenty — more than we could do if we were spending this entire vacation in London. So we negotiated and decided to try the Old Westminster walk, which left at 2:45pm. But first, we had to get to our hotel and have lunch. And before that, we had to clear Immigration and Customs.

There was no Fast Pass line for Immigration, so we had to wait with the common people rest of the non-UK/non-EU passengers. It seemed to take forever, but I guess it wasn’t really all that long, because we were in a taxi by noon (our luggage was waiting for us as soon as we got to the belt, and UK Customs was, as usual, a non-stop affair), and at our hotel by 12:45.

The driveway was blocked off, but the bellman came out to the street and took our luggage for us. The revolving door was also closed, and everyone was being wanded with metal detectors before being allowed into the hotel. Our rooms wouldn’t be ready until check-in time at 2pm, so we left our luggage and headed off to explore.

We found a small Italian place, Mosco’s, just off Oxford Street and had a spot of lunch (I wouldn’t go back, but we could easily have done worse), then took the Tube to Westminster to meet the tour.

Graham was our guide — we met him (and the other dozen or so walkers) across the street from Big Ben (technically speaking, Big Ben is the bell in the clock tower, which is St. Stephen’s Tower). He led us through the Tube station to the embankment (and the 50p loos!) to introduce the area, finishing just as Big Ben struck 3. Then we went across to the grounds of St. Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey, over to Victoria Tower Gardens, and then into some quieter, less-visited areas including Smith Square (home of St. John’s Concert Hall) and the grounds of Westminster School. The tour ended just outside Westminster Abbey (which was closed to tourists for the day). The tour kept us moving nicely, which was just what the doctor ordered — and it was entertaining and educational, too. Recommended.

After the tour ended, we walked up Whitehall towards Charing Cross (Diane and I had stayed in the Charing Cross station hotel on our first trip to London in 1980, and that’s still the area I feel I know the best). We spent a few minutes in Trafalgar Square, and then walked along the Strand into Theatreland.

We had two goals: visit the tkts booth to see what was playing in general, and find out what the Reduced Shakespeare Company was offering in particular. I knew that the booth was in Leicester Square, but I wasn’t sure which theatre the RSC used.

I probably should have checked the map instead of blithely leading the way — we eventually did find the booth, but it was a long schlep via Bow Street and Covent Garden. The direct route would have taken us five minutes. Oh, well, we needed to keep moving anyway.

The tkts booth was closed, but there was an information window still open, where the attendant looked up the Reduced Shakespeare Company and told us to go to the Criterion Theatre, very near Picadilly Circus. We found the theatre with no problem, but discovered that there was some children’s musical booked there; I guess the RSC is on tour.

From Picadilly, we hopped on the Tube and went back to the hotel and finally got into our rooms. They’d given us connecting rooms, as we’d requested, but one room was a handicapped room, and the en-suite was odd, so we got them to move us. That all took quite a while, and we were quite ready for dinner.

We wanted Indian food for dinner (a not unusual situation for us on a Sunday evening); the concierge recommended Bombay Palace, a few minutes’ walk away. As we were walking to the restaurant, I suddenly recognized the neighborhood — I’d had dinner at the Duke of Holborn pub two years ago. But we continued on to the Bombay Palace, which was quite tasty, though significantly more expensive than our usual place at home.

And that was enough for our first day in London. Good night!