by Nicole Willson
So my mother and I made a trip to England back in 1989, and I loved it. I’ve been wanting to get back ever since.
This year, for our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Bill and I finally made it to London (it was actually Bill’s first time there if you don’t count a mad dash through Heathrow to make a connecting flight for our honeymoon in Ireland back in 1999).
Something to note about the trip: Yes, we went to a lot of touristy spots. We were tourists. That’s what tourists do. I’ve been known to go to touristy spots in DC just because I like them, so there.
I wanted to make sure we stayed in a neighborhood that didn’t shut down at 5:00 every night, and the travel books we read made the Soho neighborhood sound like the best bet. We stayed at the Nadler Hotel. I suspected I was going to like this place when I saw this lady hanging over the entrance.
At night, her wings lit up in green.
I knew I was definitely going to like the Nadler when the movie playing on the large screen hanging by the lobby doors as we checked in was “Peeping Tom.” That’s a wonderfully weird, dark choice for a place that had no shortage of children staying there.
This was our room. I loved the filmstrip headboard on the bed. The only thing I didn’t much like about our room in the Nadler was the strangely designed shower/tub with walls that were so high that I had to employ gymnastic skills I don’t really have to get myself in and out of the thing every morning. But everything else about the Nadler was delightful.
The blanket on the bed was not real fur, thank goodness.
We didn’t do much sightseeing the first day because we were staggering around in a sleep-deprived and jet-lagged stupor. We did walk around Soho a good bit, and I came to the conclusion that at least during the daytime, Soho reminded me a lot of what Dupont Circle and Georgetown were like before all the fun independent bookstores, music stores, shops, and restaurants started getting priced out and losing their leases.
An especially creepy shop window display. That horrible thing in the chair actually rocked.
Our first real touristy sightseeing kicked off with a visit to the Tower of London on Friday. I remembered liking the Tower very much on my last trip, and that was reinforced this time. There’s truly nothing like the Tower anywhere in the US.
I had no idea about the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition before we got there, and I was struck by the sight of all of the poppies being placed in the moat when we walked into the Tower. From a distance, it really did look as if blood was pouring out of the Tower window and flooding the moat.
Me being me, I was especially drawn to the Tower ravens. But “bird biscuits soaked in blood”? Ew.
Luckily, the ravens are enormous showoffs and had no qualms about getting really, really close to tourists.
I thought this raven looked as if it were actually bowing to us, but I’m sure it was probably just doing whatever ravens do to say “Piss off.”
“Hello, there! Got any blood-soaked bird biscuits? I’m feeling a bit peckish. Peckish? Get it? Ha ha ha!”
This was Henry VIII’s steampunk dragon. He called it “Draggy.” He used Draggy to fend off intruders, pretenders to the throne, and wives who wouldn’t produce sons or go away quietly when he got tired of them. Draggy got a lot of use.
Because we visited at an off time, the line to get in to see the Crown Jewels wasn’t very large and moved quickly. I was amused by the number of times I heard someone mutter the name “Moriarty” as we got into the actual exhibit, and was somewhat disappointed that we weren’t greeted by the sight of a cheeky, criminally insane Irishman wearing all the jewels.
Honey, you should see him in a crown …
After we left the Tower itself, Bill somehow persuaded me to go to the top of Tower Bridge. This view of the city seemed really impressive until we rode the London Eye. More on that later.
During his Internet searches prior to the trip, Bill had found a listing for Gordon’s Wine Bar, a wine bar (duh) that’s actually built partly in a very dark, candlelit cellar and was situated only a few Tube stops away from the Tower. There’s also outdoor seating, but zzz. How boring, when there’s that neat dark cavernous space right there. It wasn’t at all difficult to persuade me to stop there, and it ended up being the only establishment we made special trips to visit twice.
Like the Tower, there’s nothing we’ve been to in America that was anything like this place. Unlike almost everywhere in Soho we walked by on Thursday and Friday nights, we managed to snag one of the last indoor tables in Gordon’s that Friday afternoon. It was a nice place to unwind after a busy afternoon. They had good wine and terrific port, and I couldn’t resist snacking on some of their bread and cheese. I’d forgotten how much I love Cotswold cheese.
Bill sits in Gordon’s and wonders what kind of blood the bird biscuits were soaked in.
A word about that Soho nightlife scene: Whoa. I’d been envisioning something like Wilson Blvd. in Arlington on a Friday night — busy, but you can still walk down the sidewalks reasonably unimpeded. What we got on both Thursday and Friday nights was like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Patrons were spilling out of the pubs and onto the streets before 5 pm, drinking and smoking (you’re allowed to take beers outside if they’re in plastic glasses, and you will not get beaten to death with rocks for lighting up a cigarette in public). By 7 pm on Friday night, we could barely make it down Carlyle Street to get back to the Nadler. Just about every pub we passed — and make no mistake, Soho has a lot of pubs — was overflowing people onto the sidewalks and streets outside.
I’ve never seen anything like this in the DC area, probably in no small part because the residents in most of the busiest neighborhoods would be very unlikely to put up with all the noise, crowding, and smoke for very long before someone’s councilmembers would be called in to start passing laws. Bill and I ended up having beers wherever we settled in for dinner on Thursday and Friday.
Oddly enough, on Saturday night the pub scene diminished considerably and we were able to grab pints in a couple of places we’d passed up due to the crowding on Thursday and Friday. And on Sunday we were able to settle in at a table at the pub closest to the Nadler.
So that’s probably enough babble for one entry. More later.