We are just no good at being tourists. We went to Paris three times before we actually managed to set foot in the Louvre. On our first visit we only saw three sights: Rue Cler, Rungis, and the Eiffel Tower (just from the ground). And that was during a week-long stay. Rick Steves would have hit all of the major sights in Paris and been to Versailles in three days, maybe in two. We can't compete with that.
That's why I planned to visit just three sights while in London for the weekend: the Tate Modern (just the current exhibit), the British Museum (just the Roman Britain part), and the Borough Market. We would wrap up with the Thomas Dolby show on Sunday night and dart home in time for work on Monday morning. Nothing to it. Even lame tourists like us should be able to manage that itinerary.
Things began to go off the rails as soon as we got to the hotel. In a misguided attempt to economize on the room (in one of the most expensive hotel cities in the world), I had booked us into a place in Soho based on the online price and reviews describing it as charming and quirky. It was neither. Dingy and uncomfortable, but not charming and quirky.
A feeling of gloomy frustration settled over us as the taciturn desk clerk tossed my bag into the room and made his escape. After a mostly sleepless night spent trying to find a comfortable spot on the broken down mattress, we too sought to escape this dim and seedy room.
British custom that I now understand. It checked out. It was good. Better than good, since these were apartments, attached to a hotel but located away from the rush of Piccadilly traffic on a quiet side street. Clean, incredibly spacious, and very nicely appointed: this was more like it.* The rack rate was scary, but the online price was manageable.
We decamped and moved into the new place, but by this time it was 3.00 in the afternoon of what was supposed to be our big sightseeing day (Thames walk, the Tate Modern, and a visit to the Borough Market). Oh well. It wasn't sunny, but the rain had (mostly) stopped. We could at least have a bit of a walk, couldn't we?
The concierge seemed a bit dubious about our plan to walk from Mayfair through Green and St James Parks, cross the river at Westminster and walk along the river to the Borough Market. He felt it would be a long walk, maybe forty minutes. Forty minutes? Hah! We live in Switzerland. That's nothing. Plus we already had early reservations at a market restaurant. What's a little walk if there's dinner at the end?
It turned out to be more like 90 minutes, and that only by maintaining a fairly determined, Swiss-like pace and by cutting an impatient swath through the maundering clots of tourists who seemed hell bent on having their pictures taken in front of every last monument and attraction on the route.
Along the way, we did of course see some sights. In rapid fire succession we saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Westminster Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, and the South Bank Center. We sailed past the Tate Modern and gazed across the river at St Paul's Cathedral. Onward and finally to Borough Market, where did make it to the restaurant on time.
It wasn't exactly quality tourism, but it was a great orientation to the center of London. We love the great rivers that run through Europe's cities, and a walk along the Thames was the perfect way to turn around a trip that had teetered on the brink. Along the way we began to hatch plans for our next visit. Next time we'll go to St Paul's and then walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Next time we'll spend a whole day at the British Museum. Next time we'll start at the Tower and work our way up the Thames. Next time...
Who am I kidding? We lack the raw strength of character, the grit and gumption, that it takes to be a model tourist. We'll end up taking comfort over culture, sleeping in, mixing up opening hours, and just generally messing about until it's time for a pint anyway. I don't care. Just so long as there is a next time.
Coming soon, two more on London: The Dolby Concert and Revived By British Food
*Side note on the Mayfair apartments: Each apartment is individually decorated and the decor can tend toward the bizzare. Ours seemed to be some kind of warped celebration of empire lost, done up in blacks and golds. If you go, ask not to be booked into #13 at 3 Down Street.
Story by Kathy
Photos by tylon