“London has a trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present.” — Anna Quidlen, Imagined London: the World’s Greatest Fictional City
No history lessons or iconic sights today, just lots of walking.
We rode the tube from Earl’s Court to Green Park and walked through the streets of Mayfair, a tony neighborhood of elegant London homes, many dating back to the 1700’s. Our map sent us to Grosvener Square to see the American Embassy across from the park. Oh, dear. Smack dab in all of that understated refinement of British architecture was our very own dirty concrete monstrosity with our American eagle perched on top. The ugliness of our country’s embassy made us cringe, but we swallowed our pride and managed to snap photos of FDR standing in the park away from the building, and of Reagan and Eisenhower who flank each corner.
Before long we were on Oxford Street, the Mag Mile/ State Street of London. Yes, we popped into Selfridge’s, the British cousin of our dearly departed Marshall Field’s. Maybe I’m a tad biased, but our State Street store has this one beat, with its Tiffany ceiling and classic columns. But, Selfridge’s carries Olivia Burton watches, so I got just the birthday gift I wanted.
As we had discovered on the Champs d’ Élysées, retail has become homogenized. There were a few stores whose names I didn’t recognize, but most were the same-old, same-old and several are within walking distance of our home in Naperville… The Gap, Pandora, Clark’s Shoes. We didn’t go into any.
Mike was diligent enough to include the Argyll Arms on our itinerary, knowing he’d be in need of a pub after some window-shopping, so we sat a table next to an upstairs window to gawk at the passers-by while we ate. A general observation: today’s Oxford Circus shoppers are a rather scruffy-looking lot, in spite of all the snazzy stores.
On our way to Regent Street, we found Liberty of London, a showstopper Tudor-style store that features scarves and handbags in lovely Liberty prints. Hurray! Here were things I couldn’t find in Naperville! I couldn’t justify the price of a purse, but a notebook was a perfect Liberty purchase for me.
Then, Carnaby Street! What fun for a gal who remembers when her Seventeen Magazine’s pages were filled with Twiggy in that British Mod style. This seemed so much more London-y than Oxford Street, even though no one today was wearing those bell bottoms and bulky platform shoes.
On Regent Street, I might have been able to picture the genteel ladies of the Victorian age strolling along, except that the palatial, sumptuous buildings lining the street are home to J. Crew and an Apple Store. I looked upward to keep the modern-day retail out of my line of vision so I could revel in these beauties.
After Regent Street, we landed in Picadilly Circus, bustling with tourists eating at those restaurants that we despise, the ones with picture menus posted on sidewalk easels, or buying schlocky London mugs or refrigerator magnets. In Leicester Square, we wove through packs of other looky-loos to find the official spot to buy same-day theater tickets, storing up that bit of info for another day. We found the Harold Pinter Theater, where we’re going on Monday. (More on that in a later post.)
London is so vast! We’ve barely made a dent in all there is to see and do, but eagerly anticipate its other treasures.