Recently, I found myself visiting my 101-year-old uncle who lives in a beautiful part of London near Regent’s Park. He has lived in a very groovy, government assisted place for many years. The last time that I was there, I got to follow him on his daily routine. Every day he takes his scooter and goes shopping down by Camden Town. Camden Town is in north London and is not far from the fabulous Camden Market and Camden Locks and close to the London Zoo.
We ended up in a local shoe shop by Camden Town called the British Boot Company. It was then that my uncle revealed that above this fairly unique shoe shop is where he, my dad, their siblings, and their parents, were born and grew up. This shoe shop is even well-known for being one of the first shops to ever sell Doc Martens. Today they focus on selling English-made quality footwear. In the same shop, the band Madness became regular customers and even performed their iconic song ‘Our House’. In addition, the store was featured in several of their music videos!
We went inside the store where I chatted with one of the shop employees. I told him that my dad was a cobbler at that store (when it was known as Holts) before the second World War and he showed me the original cobblers bench. He lamented the good old days when people wanted the proper Doc Martens and not the cheaper ones made now. I bought myself a pair of very English George Cox loafers, not cheap, but felt that I grabbed a piece of my history. They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned and every time I put them on, I think of my dad.
Let me just say that I love London in the winter time. It is dark for most of the day and it rains on and off every single day. If you are traveling during the winter (or even summer), make sure that you arm yourself with a decent mini-umbrella that you can tuck in your bag. Essential. The weather changes all of the time. I guarantee you will always need to reach for that umbrella.
London is unlike most cities in the world during the holiday period. It just simply goes for it. Lights are everywhere and not just in the shops…they are on miles of streets that populate the center of the city. It’s not even that the Christmas tree is the main focus, although traditionally there has always been a beautiful tree in Trafalgar Square opposite the National Gallery. It’s really the lights on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly, and Covent Garden that takes your breath away. There are thousands and thousands of people rushing around from shop to shop and pub to pub, hopping on double deckers, jumping into cabs, and pouring into the Tube. It’s cozy and it feels so intimate.
The neighborhoods all have their own decorations and their own ambiance. In the West End, the bustle of the restaurants, theater, music, ballet, and museums, seem to move into high gear over this period. My favorite neighborhood is always Soho. It even has my favorite hotel, the Dean Street Townhouse, and my favorite restaurant, the Dean Street Brasserie. I like to keep things geographically simple!
“Maybe its because I’m a Londoner, that I love London town!”
Arriving off a transatlantic flight, then grabbing two hours of sleep at the hotel before racing across a very overheated Tube to get to Victoria Station was not my usual arrival pattern. London was hot – Morocco hot – and nothing was really equipped to deal with this heat. Add a slightly deranged jet lagged traveler on a mission to visit a place he had never been to, and you sort of get the picture. In addition, it was the day of the England vs. Sweden quarter final World Cup game. I could not discuss with anyone that my first intention of being in England was a Debussy opera set amidst the rolling downs of Sussex.
There is a train that connects London all the way to Lewes Station in East Sussex. From there, they provide the opera aficionados a series of buses that transport us along a short 15-minute beautiful drive to the glorious country estate of Glyndebourne. The train is packed with everyone dressed to the nines. Fortnum and Mason picnic baskets and champagne coolers are the norm here, so I am beginning to feel a little out of place. I had a Pret A Manger sandwich and no formal white shirt or bow tie! Oh well.
Upon arrival in Glyndebourne, I was met with some good news. Firstly, formal dress was optional. Second, the England game would be televised in the very posh bar. Thank goodness the Opera was due to start at 5:00 pm and the England game due to finish around 4:45 pm. I was hoping for no extra time, or worse, penalties!
Glyndebourne is an amazing place. Tickets are pricey, but the auditorium is spectacular and even air conditioned. There are great bars, beautiful gardens, and a lovely lake set amidst the Sussex Downs there. The Debussy opera was truly wonderful. During intermission, we grabbed a glass of wine, strolled the lawns and gardens, and I got to eat my Pret A Manger sandwich! England won that game by the way. Glyndebourne. Done it!
London’s Soho House recently opened its new house on Dean Street and, even though it has an early closing limitation because of the neighbors – yes people actually do live in Soho – it’s a little bit of a jewel in the ever-so-crowded craziness of a Soho evening. It has a small rooftop bar, along with its Greek Street counterpart and the notoriously fun Shoreditch house. It seems like Soho House is heading for rooftop views all over London. Despite the weather it’s kind of cool to look above the chimney tops of London and get a Mary Poppins view of both Old London and the scintillating New London popping up towards the East. Soho House is a private members’ only club and a genuine respite from the madding crowds in post-theater West End. If you happen to know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who can take you in there, it’s a great place to hang out. If you don’t know anyone, oh well…
Looking for a special roof outside of London? Other memorable rooftop bars I’ve visited: