London Day 1 — A Walk Down Memory Lane

Our days in London weren’t typical tourist days. Since I lived there and Jim had been a few times we eliminated the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, etc., etc., etc. and concentrated on walking activities in London’s wonderful and unique neighborhoods. It worked well for us, and my only regret was we wanted to make it to Choral Evensong at either St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey and it just didn’t work with our schedule.

Wednesday morning we woke up to bright sunshine, showered (yay!) and encountered the first of a couple electrical problems. The first was that neither of my dual-voltage hair appliances would work. Not a crisis, but certainly not what I wanted to deal with at the start of a trip! I ended up using the hotel’s blow dryer and buying a small flat iron that is now in the travel supplies. The other, more puzzling problem was Jim’s phone had lost all its charge overnight and wouldn’t charge at all. We tried several chargers and outlets and even had the front desk receptionist try, but didn’t have any luck.

We had a great breakfast of bacon sandwiches, tucked the worthless Apple object in Jim’s backpack, put find an Apple store on our list of things to do and headed out to my old neighborhood of Moor Park.

I find traveling by Tube in London much like riding a bike…once you know how to do it you don’t forget. Even though it’s been 42 years since I moved back to the States, getting around London on the Tube is still easy to me. l think I made Jim a bit nervous at first, because I was full speed ahead in the stations while Jim wanted to stop and check signs carefully. We finally struck a balance, but I’m not sure Jim was ever completely comfortable with my speed changing lines/trains. Admittedly, even the experienced can make mistakes as you’ll see tomorrow, but that’s a story for another day!

I had never shown Jim my old house or where I went to school, and it seemed like a great thing to do on our first day in town. Our ride out to Moor Park was uneventful and seemed a lot faster than it used to be.

I had seen our old house five years ago and it hadn’t changed since then, but it isn’t even recognizable as the house we lived in for four years. It’s been added onto and spiffed up and is really a pretty house now.

Moor Park itself really hasn’t changed a lot, except many of the houses have been redone and expanded. The house across the street from ours is on the market for £3.5 million, and many were far more expensive. Looking at realtor pictures of the interior, it seems like that one hasn’t been recently updated which is why it’s so “cheap” compared to the neighbors. Since it backs to the golf course and is huge, I’m sure someone is going to snatch it up for a project in no time!

Have an extra £3.5 million plus renovation money laying around?

After Moor Park we headed to my old school in St. John’s Wood, but there really wasn’t much to see.

ASL has become a fortress (understandably), and as there was extensive summer construction we really couldn’t even get close. One entrance was completely fenced off, and another entrance was for contractors only, protected by a security guard. It looked like summer camp had been moved to some of the new facilities closer to Grove End Road. We walked around St. John’s Wood for a while and decided to move on.

Moving on meant we were back on the Tube to head to our first tour, a “Liquid History” Pub tour. This might be a good time to mention something I had completely forgotten…how hot and STINKY the Tube can be in warm weather. We had what Jim and I thought was perfect weather in London…50s in the morning and upper 70s during the day. To Londoners that is “sweltering” but the only place it was noticeable to me was in the Tube. If you go during a heat wave, just be prepared for the not so sweet summer smells!😂

Our tour was terrific and I highly recommend the company (Liquid History Tours). We had a fantastic guide, Dave, who took us to five pubs with a lot of story telling and history between pubs.

We met near St. Paul’s, and after a large dose of history and background we were off to the pubs!

Bubble gum medallion — people’s old gum has been turned into works of art!

Our first stop was at the Cockpit, an Irish pub where cockfighting was once the main attraction.

After that we went to the Blackfriar, which was our favorite of the 5 pubs we visited. The building was constructed in 1875 on the site of a Dominican Friary. The odd shape of the building is due to the fact that all the old structures that once stood next to it have been torn down, so the narrow alleys that once surrounded the pub and provided access are now broad expanses. The interior and exterior of the building are ornate with exquisite detail that was added during a remodel in 1905.

From The Blackfriar, we walked up St. Bride’s passage to Fleet Street. It is there, off a narrow passage, that you can find St. Bride’s Church. There has been a church on the site since the seventh century. The current church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The beautiful and distinctive steeple was added in the early 1700s. Local history states that the steeple of the church was the inspiration for traditional wedding cake design, but there’s no documented evidence of that. Me, I like a good romantic tale, so I choose to believe it!

St. Bride’s Church with the distinctive steeple.

In a narrow alley just off Fleet Street is Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which lays claim to being one of the oldest pubs in London. There has been a pub in this location since 1538, and the current structure was built immediately following the Great Fire. Maybe not the oldest, but plenty old!

A proven claim is that Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was a favorite for some famous authors, among them Charles Dickens, Tennyson, Mark Twain, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The pub is a sprawling maze of dark rooms and corridors, and even has charred beams that were salvaged from the fire. You can sense the age and picture the literary figures enjoying their time there.

Our fourth stop was the Old Bank of England, a short walk down Fleet Street from the Cheshire Cheese. On the way we passed Samuel Johnson’s house, and made a stop to see the alley where the fictional Sweeney Todd plied his “trade.”

Samuel Johnson’s House — See the bricked up window on the top floor? Back in the day, dwellings were taxed based on the number of windows. They haven’t been replaced today because since many of the old buildings are “Listed” the exterior can’t be altered. You can see bricked up windows like this all over London!

The setting for Sweeney Todd.

The Old Bank of England got its name because the building served as the Bank of England from 1888 to 1975. There still many signs of the building’s former life. It is a very pretty building, and we lingered there so people could watch the end of a World Cup match!

We had our longest walk of the day getting to our 5th and last stop. We passed a ton of interesting things and heard a lot of London’s history. We saw the Royal Courts of Justice, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and a public toilet. Let me explain…

Along the way we passed an old Victorian public toilet which must stay intact because it’s a Listed structure (think Register of Historic Places in the US). Dave asked us the question which would be better — to be piss poor or not have a pot to piss in. Apparently not having a pot to piss in would have been worse than being piss poor, because you would not have been able to collect your urine to sell to the tanneries as those with a pot could. Makes you think differently about leather, doesn’t it?!?!?

Victorian Toilet Building similar to the one we saw.

Some of Dave’s other tidbits – The term “big wig” actually comes from the big horsehair wigs still worn by lawyers and judges during criminal cases. You too could own one of these, if you’re willing to fork out the £2,500+ price tag! I read that a full set of judge’s regalia can cost well in excess of £10,000! Now, that’s an expensive work uniform!

Another story we heard (we actually heard it twice in three days) was about the origin of the term hangover. Back in earlier times, public executions were a spectacle. One such public execution site was Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It is bucolic and innocuous looking today, but in the 15th and 16th centuries it was used for large public executions. People treated a beheading or hanging like a holiday, and picnicked along with drinking copious amounts of alcohol while they cheered on the executioner. Inevitably they felt awful the day after a hanging, thus the term hangover.

We reached our final stop of the day, Ship Tavern. By this time the pubs were filling with people leaving work. Since we had dinner reservations we made our stay a brief one and said our good-byes.

After our tour we went to our dinner reservation at San Carlo Chiccetti in Covent Garden. What a great find! Our meal and wine were excellent, and we finished up with what was probably one of the best Tiramisus we’ve ever had!

Walking around Covent Garden after dinner, we paid £1 each at a place called “2 the Loo” to go to the bathroom (prices have gone up since Victorian times!😂), made note of an Apple store that had just closed, and decided to call it a night.

To the Loo

2 the Loo is actually a Dutch chain of public restrooms. There’s even a website! I never would have thought of restrooms as a financial opportunity, but they certainly fill a need in London!

We had a wonderful day and saw a lot, but jet lag was catching up with us and we knew the next couple days would be jam-packed. We got back to the hotel fairly quickly, and I think we were asleep before it was completely dark!

Next up is a food tour of the east end of London, a place I had never been despite living in London for four years!

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