Saturday, May 10, 2014

Debs's London To-Do List

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm off to London next Thursday for a three and a half week stay, and I've been so busy the last few weeks (month...) that I've hardly had time to think about what I'm going to do once I get there (other than work...) So I thought I would ramp up my pre-trip anticipation by making a little things-to-look-forward-to list.

And then I realized that not only do most of my much anticipated to-dos include food or drink, or food AND drink, they are also probably a bit weird and very eccentrically personal.

But here goes:

1) I arrive early on Friday morning. For years I flew into Gatwick, so the very first thing on my list was to hit the airport bookshops. If you've never flown into London Gatwick, it's a sort of cross between an airport and a shopping mall, so once you've cleared customs and immigration, you could spend the day shopping before you ever left the airport. I could never wait to see what was on the bookstore shelves that I hadn't seen in the US.  Now, alas, I fly into Heathrow Terminal 3, which is not nearly as much fun. I have to content myself with arriving at Paddington Station via the Heathrow Express, and there I make my first pilgrimage, a visit to the Paddington Bear stall. Now I know I'm really in London.

2) Then, a taxi to my rented flat, one of two this trip. The first flat is in South Kensington, so fingers crossed for a pretty day, and a drive through Hyde Park. Bliss. Arrive at flat (a new one for me), unpack, find the nearest supermarket, buy essentials, which always include a box of Twining's Lady Gray Tea (the English version tastes different than the one you get in the US, I don't know why) and a copy of the Radio Times. The Radio Times is an iconic British thing for me. It's a bit like the American TV Guide, but GOOD. Great photos, fun articles, and of course, the week's TV and radio schedule. I know we get British TV is the US, but we don't get the funky things, the real-life cop shows, the documentaries and gardening specials and game shows, all irresistible stuff. I am so nerdy that I highlight things I want to watch. Then a nap, and dinner somewhere comforting and familiar.

3) Saturday morning, the London MUST DO--Portobello Market. (Again, fingers crossed for a pretty day, although I have done Portobello in sleet and snow.) I am a browser, not a shopper. I make my way down the hill, checking out my favorite antique stalls and shops, stopping for coffee and a croissant at Mr. Christian's deli in Elgin Crescent, admiring the fruit and veg and flower stalls, the giant simmering vats of paella, taking in the aroma of crepes and sizzling sausages, listening to the music from the buskers and the CD stalls. Then, the lunch destination, a tiny place at the very bottom of the market, Falafel King. (The photo above is me at Falafel King a couple of years ago, on a gorgeous sunny day.)
It is, I have no doubt, the best falafel in London. You can't sit inside, but there are a few tables outside where you can enjoy your falafel and fresh lemonade and watch the swirl of the crowds. I can spend the rest of the afternoon working my way back up the hill, and on a very good day my favorite buskers will be playing outside the Duke of Wellington pub, and I can listen while sipping a well-earned G&T.

And from there, oh, London is my oyster. 

I want to watch the scullers from Putney Bridge, and have Sunday lunch at The Jolly Gardeners pub in Putney. 

Covent Garden is a must, with a visit to the London Transport Museum, and tea and a scone at the Covent Garden Kitchen.

Wednesday Evensong at St. Martin in the Fields.

A look in the National Portrait Gallery.

A glass of champagne at Searcy's in St. Pancras Station, just for the atmosphere. As you sip, you can
watch the Eurostar trains depart for Paris or Brussels, and imagine adventures.

A proper afternoon tea at Sketch, just off Regent Street. Very quirky, fun, and delicious.

Lately I've been following a mobile tea van on Facebook. It's called Good and Proper Tea, and it moves around London. I'm determined to track it down.

A visit to Darwin's house in Bloomsbury.

And Daunt's Bookshop in Holland Park.

And Selfridge's, just for fun.

There will be dinners with friends, and hopefully a jazz club or two, maybe even the 12 Bar in Denmark Street.

There will be research, too, although all of the above count as research as well!

But by now my feet are tired, and evenings in with a book and something good on the telly sound just as appealing.

So REDS and readers, if you have been to London, what tops your fantasy to-do list?

And if you haven't, where would YOU start?


  1. Well, I've never been to London, and I really haven't a clue as to what I might actually do if I was to go there . . . but now that I've read your "to-do" list, I feel a bit like I've had the grand tour . . . hope you have a wonderful trip!

  2. I love Oxford. Was there a few times but never made it back over to London. I got so busy studying and researching. I never could let go of all the opportunities and places to explore there.Foolish I suppose. As close as I got was Heathrow. Huge regrets. All the more reason to go back.

    But there was so much. Living in the Old Library at Christ Church . Mind altering to know that it has been set up in the former refectory of St Frideswide's, the Augustinian priory taken over by Cardinal Wolsey. His red Cardinals hat is still there.

    Then have "drinkies" in his buttery. Someone bangs gavel on a table. Louder than you have ever heard. Just outside the buttery calling everyone to dinner in the Great Hall. Trying to eat while a handsome, tall, severe Henry VIII looks down at you from his giant portrait. That stairway. The one in Harry Potter. Negotiate that back to study or do a pub crawl. I don't remember what they called that there... such a great place.

    Have a wonderful, great, fabulous, mystical, and creative time in London! xoxoxoxoxo

    Hugs from Kendall.

  3. The last time I was in London, in 2002, I got a last-minute standing room only ticket to the Shakespeare Theater. The round one open to the sky. I stood in the afternoon light with my chin nearly on the stage watching Twelfth Night. Total bliss to be immersed in that.

    Clearly I need to go back, though, with Debs' itinerary in hand! When you were listing some of those places, Debs, I felt like I was back in your books, which is always such a treat. When do we get the next one?

  4. I love London -- have been a few time, first in 1966! That trip the highlights were seeing the Elgin Marbles and lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
    A favorite is the Imperial War Museum -- they have wonderful exhibits (permanents include a "Blitz experience" and WWI trenches).
    A full English breakfast!
    I would love to go and stay a whole week.
    Keep us informed, Deb.

  5. oh, Debs, this all sounds too lovely for words. Have fun!

    (loving you in your red sunglasses)

  6. Dear Debs, can you put me in your suitcase, pretty please?

    I like to meet friends at Dukes Hotel for a martini (Ian Fleming's favorite bar in London).

    Bon voyage!

  7. Susan, I'm adding Duke's Hotel to my list! And of course you can fit in my suitcase!

    Denise Ann, I've never been to the Imperial War Museum. Every trip, I think I'll get there, and I run out of time. Maybe this year...

    And Edith, although I've toured the Globe Theatre, I haven't actually been to a play there. Another must. Although I have been to the English National Opera, and the National Theatre, and many of the famous West End theatres.

    So many thing I could have added... including standing on the Westminster Bridge at Sunset and looking up the Thames. Fabulous.

    Fabulous city, whether you are walking (as I usually am) or curled up in a cafe with a book or a computer.) I can't wait.

  8. You should definitely take a trip out to Chiswick to visit me. It's a short trip on the District Line or the 94 bus. I'd love to show you around. There are some wonderful pubs nearby on the Thames. Spending an evening on the deck at The Dove is not to be missed!

  9. I'm also going there next weekend, Debs and look forward to dinner with you somewhere fun.
    When the weather is fine London is heaven in summer. So I like buying picnic supplies and eating in Hyde Park.
    Royal Academy summer exhibition (I have a friend who is a member)
    Last minute tickets to theaters.
    And of course my old comfort foods--bangers and mash, fish and chips, meat pies, cream teas... I'm hastily losing weight, knowing I'll put it back on again.

  10. Hi Deborah,

    Too bad you aren't flying on British Airways into Heathrow. They use Terminal 5 which is absolutely amazing for shopping and was recently voted the #1 airport terminal in the world. The others at Heathrow are nothing like the newer Terminal 5.

    There is a wonderful Thai restaurant near Victoria Station called The Mango Tree.

    Have a great trip! I'm really looking forward to your next book!!!

  11. Go see one of Shakespeare's plays at the Globe, which I've never visited, or at least see one somewhere. London theater is amazing. Say hello to Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

  12. I was last in London when I was 25. I bought a ticket to "Hair" from a Cockney scalper, told him that I'd spent my eating budget on it, so he took me to lunch at a nearby pub with all his cronies-- guys with watches up their calves (beneath their pants) or attached to the insides of their coats. I'll never be able to duplicate that experience.

    Or the diamond merchant I picked up in the hotel coffee shop, who took me to a private gambling club, where I promptly lost 20 pounds of his money on the roulette table (more money than what I had to spend for the rest of the week!) I'll never be able to duplicate that experience either.

    Having a turkey-sized raven come up behind you and sound a loud "Caw!" at the Tower? That I could probably do again.


  13. Deborah, that all sounds wonderful and my bags can be packed in ten minutes if I could join you!

    But you must add a visit to the National Theatre on the south bank to your "to do" list. I would strongly suggest seeing Simon Russell Beale (one of the finest stage actors working today) in KING LEAR. My second choice for you would be A TASTE OF HONEY by Shelagh Delaney. When I go to London I see at least one show per day. I don't expect you to do that, but you should really see one show.

    And if you could just bring me back one box of the "real" Lady Grey tea...

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

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  15. Great photo of you Debs !!

    I have never been to London so:

    I think definitely get a Paddington Bear, as I've always wanted one

    Gardens, one(s) I could wander an entire day in

    Portobello Market, have heard and read so much about it, would love to wander through

    A nice shady spot under a tree by the river, picnic basket, blanket and a good book for the afternoon

    A proper English Tea

    Wander through shops and department stores

    Museums, a play, or two, or three

    Wander through "Duncan and Gemma's" neighborhood ;)

    After that, I'd have to rely on you and others who have been to London as to what are the best places to see for a first time visitor

    Have a Fantastic time !!!!


  16. Buzzfeed has an article called "12 literary sites in London every booklover should see" or something like that. It includes a pub or two.:-)

  17. Oh, Debs, your London plans sound so full of fun! You have definitely given me some ideas in planning a trip to GB with a few days in London. Hoping to make this trip become a reality in the next couple of years. Nice to know that you and Rhys will be meeting up for dinner. Please take a picture of the two of you and post. And, a trip to see Karin sounds delightful, too.

    Ellen, what a wild and wonderful tale you have! That one would indeed be hard to beat. Reine, I so want to do Oxford, and it's on my list. Julie, I'll have to check out trying to plan an arrival at terminal 5, sounds like my kind of place.

    Some London highlights that are on my list so far: Victoria & Albert bookshop and reading room with wine bar (and while there might as well take in the museum, lol), St. Paul's Cathedral, Highgate Cemetery (I love cemeteries), St. Pancreas Station (on my list because of you, Debs), Agatha Christie statue on west side of London, Tower of London, and as many pubs as possible. My list has many more of the usual tourist attractions, and I am going to have to pare it down considerably, as I want to spend most of my time in Southwest England. I think London must be a trip all by itself.

    I know I am relentless, but I am still pushing for the Duncan and Gemma book tour trip of London. You know that it would be such a hit with so many fans. I'm willing to be a guinea pig and take the first tour. Such a sacrifice. Hehehe!

    Have a fantastic trip, Debs! I will picture you just as you are in the beautiful photo at Falafel King, full of sunshiny happiness.

  18. I' d Start walking the catwalk across Tower Bridge and then walk along the waterfront promenade! It's a lovely walk!!! Stop for refreshment along the way, or a tour of the Globe (before later attending a performance there) or the New Tate! My favourite walk, however, is along the canal from Camden Lock to Regent's Park. You wouldn't believe you' re in London... Very beautiful! Anyway, whatever you decide to do, ENJOY!!!

  19. For me, London is walking miles, window shopping on Jermyn Street, the Tate, ploughman's lunch at a pub and theatre, theatre, theatre.

    I've read that with so much international money flowing into London real estate, that actual full-time residents are getting rare. True or no?

  20. I doubt I'll ever get to take another trip out of the USA but I do have this fantasy of going to London and visiting libraries and bookstores! I should probably cut out your itinerary and put it in a safe place. Just in case the dream comes true, I'll have a list of things to do - besides visiting all the book places!

  21. Debs, It's probably asking too much for a report from London while you're there. But if we don't get one we might miss you too much to bear. Perhaps just a teensy one? An update on the new Crystal Palace? xoxo

  22. Forget whatever I've done in London; I want to hang out with Debs! Everything sounds like way more fun than the London Eye or the Dali Museum.

    However, taking a sightseeing cruise on the Thames with my oldest daughter and her little guy, and my mother, has to rank as one of the best-ever fun times. A morning spent at the V&A seeing their Carnaby Street fashion exhibit, followed by tea at Liberty of London's funky little in-store tearoom comes a close second.

  23. Oh... I misread your question!

    I would do a Richard III War of the Roses history road trip from the—What happened to the two young princes?—Tower of London to Market Bosworth.

  24. Sounds absolutely fab! For me a must is a visit to Porchester Baths, a council run steam room, hammam, baths north of Hyde Park. Victorian architecture, women only times, and a resting area with loungers, fluffy towels and beans on toast style tea menu: wonderful!

    Oh and Marks and Spencer's food section ...

  25. I'm a Londoner now living in Staffordshire. I visited London last month to do a guided walk around some of Sir Christopher Wren's churches. Led by an official City of London Guide it was brilliant. Definitely to be recommended.

  26. My last visit to London, a mere 9 years ago: stayed with an internet book friend (meeting her in person for the first time) and sleeping in her booklined guest room. And the London Eye and a boat ride to the Greenwich museum and Cutty Sark and the Imperial War Museum (A Children's War exhibit)and Windsor Castle (Queens Dollshouse TWICE) and bookstalls behind the Royal Festival Hall and dinner with more internet bookish friends. Whew! Big 3 days.

    St. Paul's next time.

  27. I am going on the 31st of June and staying a month. I 'll be in Notting Hill Gate and I love Portobello Market.
    I go to Westminster Abby for the morning service almost every day. It is eerie to be in there by yourself. (not many people go) I will be having lunch and concert at St Martins of the Field. You must be a Groundling at The Globe. Borough Market is awesome. The food is like art. I have a rail pass and I am going to go to the Lake District one day. A week in Edinburgh with a night on Iona. A week of classes at Cambridge University, two days i Canterbury, then back to London! Whew!

  28. I've been once, back in 2000. We managed to be there for the Lord Mayor's parade, which was so much fun. Standing in the rain yakking with everyone about everything. Also church on Remembrance Day at St Paul's. Very moving. I want to go back soon and see Portobello Market, the street with all the bookstores, and the Imperial War Museum with all the special WW1 exhibits. And high tea. Had one at Brown's Hotel and it was fabulous.

  29. Jacqueline, Thirty days hath September, April, JUNE, and November. Just sayin'-- wouldn't want you to miss your plane or have to catch it at Gate (Platform) 9 3/4.

  30. Reine, count me in on the Richard III War of the Roses history road trip. Ever since reading Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, I've had a thing for Richard III, and after reading that book I am, of course, on the side of Richard III's innocence in the death of the Princes.

  31. Kathy Reel, we could share the driving!

  32. Thank you, Ellen. Absolutely correct!

  33. Oh, I'm so nostalgic now! I was fortunate enough to spend a summer semester at Cambridge University to further my studies of British lit and history. Heaven. It was six weeks of heaven! I've never seen so many plays in so many different theaters--did I mention, heaven? I did not, however, get nearly enough time in London, and your post makes me want to start planning a trip. In fact. . .I have to go, I have some planning to do.