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Report 1316: European Travel Back When - 1964

By Marian from New Jersey, Summer 1995

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Page 2 of 20: The Village Girl Settles Into London

I arrive at Heathrow from Brussels late morning and manage to find the bus and tube (remember, I know all about subways), struggling to my hotel with my luggage. The Ruskin House, at 54 Hunter Street, London WC 1, is so called because John Ruskin was born there. It’s a bit dreary, but it will do fine. I am to spend six nights here.

Yes, I am on my own, but I do have a connection in the city. Stephen, first cousin of my college friend and NYC “flatmate” Linda, is a young London jewelry designer. I telephone him once I’ve settled in, and we arrange for him to pick me up late afternoon. When I mention how lovely the weather is (it is!), he says “Well, now you’ve seen our fine English summer.”

I am so, so tired that I fall asleep and don’t even hear the people calling me and knocking at my door. But I rouse myself and we have a lovely time driving around. Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s, and Buckingham Palace: imagine seeing all of these for the first time. I can’t believe I am really here. Then a lovely informal dinner, a drive back through Soho. I look for “mods and rockers” but I don’t see any. Tomorrow will be another day.

June 1 dawns, and Stephen was right: The fine English summer has passed and it is pouring. After my full English breakfast, I take off for the museums: National Portrait Gallery (very boring for this American) and the National Gallery, which I enjoy. I pick up tickets for “Oh What a Lovely War”, which Stephen has recommended; we have made plans to go tomorrow evening.

This evening, we visit the Royal Festival Hall (which is like Philharmonic [now Avery Fisher] Hall at Lincoln Center). Next a real English dockside pub, made of ships’ timbers. Another visit to Soho, and finally I see some “Mods.”

Now it’s Tuesday, June 2, and I set out for St Paul’s. (I have prepared for this and all other visits to sites of architectural note by reading the “Penguin Guide to London” and the “Observer’s Book of Architecture”.) St Paul’s is very impressive, and of course I climb to the top of the dome, and to the Whispering Gallery. I find the Tower of London less impressive, possibly because I’ve seen it in a better “light” the night before. After reading all that Shakespeare, and about Richard III and his nephews, and the various Royal prisoners, it’s a bit of a letdown.

But the show “Oh What a Lovely War” is wonderful, and of course rather upsetting, being a satire on World War I. (Victor Spinetti is one of the players; he later was in one of my favorite movies, “Help”, where he plays the Beatles’ manager.) The players sing cheery World War I era songs, such as “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, while the backdrop is scenes of the horrors of battle.

So much more sightseeing to do. As it is Wednesday, and Stephen can take some time off, he is my guide. Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, then along Milbank to the Tate. I enjoy the architecture and the art, and am so lucky to have a knowledgeable guide who is also such good company. We go to Harrods, where they are selling some of Stephen’s silver jewelry. I ask the salesgirl about it, and she tells me it is Danish! Oh well, he will have to speak to them I guess.

I have dinner with Stephen and his parents, Linda’s aunt and uncle. They live in a beautiful flat with a lovely view. And we dine in a chic restaurant.

Early to bed, as tomorrow I am planning a day-trip from London to Cambridge, to try and look up a college friend. I have no idea where she lives, but her husband is a post-doc in the Molecular Biology Lab recently made famous by the discoveries of Watson and Crick. I hope I succeed in tracking her down!

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