A weekend in London is good for your heart and soul, and stomach. There is so much you have not seen before and so many past experiences to pick up on.
This article is one of three from a visit to London in 2012. The story is a transcript from my diary.
Anyway, that’s what we did. “London Calling” exclaimed The Clash in 1979, three years after my first visit to the world metropolis. For us Norwegians, London always holds a special place in our minds, as well as being an easy destination to explore.
We had this time an oval weekend and wanted to have a second (or third) look at some of the familiar sights and also to find new ones.
We had booked a room at the Hoxton Hotel in the neighbourhood of the same name right north from the City. A colleague had recommended the hotel and area as somewhat special: design, trendy, art boutiques, independent fashion and so on. Well, times have changed and we found the hotel and the streets around more of a gathering for up-and-coming nouveau riches than designer wannabees.
Chelsea Flower Show
Switching our moods from creative modernism to creative traditionalism we started the day at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The annual venue set in the extensive grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea is a massive show-off of that big English pastime – gardening.
Judging from what I’ve seen throughout the country on previous visits, I kind of feel surprised by that. The English seem to congregate in towns and cities, in council built terraced houses with little or no garden to excel in. Nevertheless, it seemed as though the entire country had gathered here. It was a beautiful and warm day, the last of the week-long show.
We were all astonished by the (latest trend) of back to basics country cottages. They were eminently designed with running water and perennial plants. The visitors were picnicking in the shade and gliding in and between the various exhibitors. It was absolutely fascinating.
Upon entering the great pavilion I felt relieved I wasn’t allergic to flowers. For such abundance in numbers, sorts, colours, smells and decorations are hard to beat.
It was almost equally fascinating to be standing next to the ladies with their wide hats eating the one dish the English really can be proud of – fish & chips.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a large garden show. It is held each May in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London. This year tens of thousands of visitors were able to enjoy the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) show in beautiful weather.
We left the grounds after several hours and went for a walk. As the district we walked through was Belgravia, “noted for its immensely expensive residential properties, it is one of the wealthiest districts in the world” (Wikipedia), I might just call it “we went for a stroll” instead. Anyway we ended up at Buckingham Palace.
This weekend at the Palace was anything but usual. It is of course always fascinating to return to this most famous palace in the world, but they were now busy setting up huge podiums right outside the fences, and the flags were flying all the way down the Mall. The preparations for the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne were coming to an end.
We slid past the workers and entered my favourite park, St. James’s Park. It is a beautiful park, and the view from the bridge across the lake back towards Buckingham Palace is wonderful. I’m sure I have been to other parks over the years which equal St. James’s in objective terms, but for some reason I have fallen in love with it.
This time, and for my first time we went straight through the park and entered the Churchill (Cabinet) War Rooms immediately behind it. In a not very secure bunker underneath Whitehall the British central authorities held their stand during the WW2 blitz.
I have always been fascinated by how this old, cigar-smoking fat man was able to work practically around the clock. I was not less fascinated by seeing the conditions he and his staff were working under. The actual war rooms appeared as they were left when the war ended, and another part involves a kind of walk through the life of Winston Churchill.
We continued our walk through Whitehall, were disappointed by not being able to enter Downing Street, and made a temporary stop at the Westminster complex of Westminster Palace, Saint Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey. My account from this combined World Heritage Site is seen in the video below.
The reason we stopped here, apart from once again being able to admire these magnificent buildings, was because we wanted to attend Evensong at Westminster Abbey.
The evening prayer, known as Evensong is a liturgy in the late afternoon or evening. Most of the service is sung. In London one is able to attend these Evensongs in Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s after the normal visiting hours. Regrettably, but understandably no recordings or photography can be made during the service.
On this exceptionally lovely day in London, the Evensong in Westminster Abbey was a wonderful experience. Sitting there, close to the steps to the High Altar, listening to the boys and men’s choir set us firmly in the right mood for relaxation and contemplation.
Afterwards we walked along the Victoria Embankment, alongside Whitehall and watched the London Eye slowly making its circle on the other side of the River Thames. We sat down on a moored boat for a drink in the setting sun.
We felt invigorated after a short nap and shower and went out into the Hoxton night. It turned out to be a bit too difficult to find a decent place for a meal but we ended up at the fascinating kitsch Les Trois Garcons a few blocks from our hotel. My review is here.