In another forgetful moment I neglected to mention in my last post that I really enjoyed eating at Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden [11 Upper St. Martin's Lane, WC]. I am a big fan of Jamie's Italy cookbook, and this restaurant was big fun and lively, and I could have eaten bowls and bowls of the parmesan-rosemary crisps.
Without doubt, the first thing you have to do when you know you're going to London is check out London Walks, the original (from the 1960s) London walking tour company. As you'll discover when you take a look at the website, London Walks is "in a class by itself" and is "the premier walking tour company in the entire world." If I'd had my way, I would have gone on a London Walks tour every day; but as it was, I had to also satisfy the London desires of my husband and daughter, so I had to settle for just one: 'Old Westminster, 1,000 Years of History.' "Miss it and you've missed London" is how this tour is described, and I would quite agree. The guide was superb, and one of my favorite parts of it was when we saw two original signs for bomb shelter locations, painted on the side of buildings throughout the city during World War II (pictured above).
It is, of course, the guides that make London Walks. They are all ridiculously qualified, interesting, and enthusiastic. And they've won mountains of awards, including an MBE by Her Majesty for services to the tourism industry and a coveted Guide of the Year honor. Two actor-guides have performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the BBC, and the National Theater. And one was on a list of fifteen of 'The World's Greatest Guides' list in Travel + Leisure. She was the only one of the fifteen who was from England.
There are lots of themed walks from which to choose, and really, the hardest thing is to make a decision -- just a few others are 'The Secrets of Westminster Abbey,' 'Westminster at War,' 'Hidden London,' 'The Queen's Jubliee Walk,' 'Jack the Ripper Haunts,' 'The Beatles In My Life Walk,' ' Ghosts, Gaslight and Guinness,' and the list goes on, with truly something for everyone. All the tours are a very reasonable 9 pounds per person (7 for seniors and students), they take about two hours, and the starting point is always near a Tube stop. Also, you don't need to reserve in advance, and of course if you are part of a group you can arrange for a private tour. And, there are London Walks tours to Oxford and the Costwolds, Stonehenge, Bath, and beyond.
You may remember that I recommended the London Walks book a few posts back -- it's also excellent, and is almost as good as going on an actual walk (by the way, one of the best things about the book is that David Tucker and the guides who wrote it recommend specific places in London to read each chapter -- brilliant!). What really grabbed me when I read the book was in Tucker's Introduction -- he wrote that one night he was watching a lamplighter (London actually still has some lamplighters) and he wondered how many other people even knew there were still lamplighters around, and he also wondered how many other facts about London people didn't know and how great it would be if they did. He writes, "London Walks guides are, after a fashion, latter-day gas-lamp lighters. Picture it: the lamplighter's figure moving along a London street in the gloaming and one by one the street lamps coming out like stars. And you think there's no romance in London? So that's what we do - light things up for people. Both out on the streets of London when we're guiding, and here, in these pages." And this beautiful image below is now on the London Walks website (I don't know the title of the work or who the artist is, so I apologize for not giving credit where credit is due but I'm going to try and investigate and report back) and when I saw it it rather warmed my heart. I think it perfectly encapsulates the inspiration behind this wonderful and worthwhile company.