I Love London

This item appears on page 48 of the February 2011 issue.

We are pleased to present, below (in random order), the winning entries to the latest essay contest announced by ITN Publisher Armond Noble in his October ’10 “Departure Lounge” column. The topic was “I Love London” and the challenge was to communicate that in up to 300 words.

Each winning entrant will receive a 50-dollar gift certificate for Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943).

The next essay contest for subscribers begins now. The topic is “I Prefer Paris.” Write on that in no more than 300 words. The deadline is March 31, 2011. Include the address at which you receive ITN. As usual, prizes will be awarded.

In 1978, a friend and I traveled around Europe for four months, finishing with a week in London — not nearly enough time.

I remember the sense of history around every corner. . . . The Tower of London, where Anne Boleyn was held until, alas, beheaded. The colorful Beefeater guards. Pieces of the ancient Roman wall — just there, on the street! The British Museum, parading all the history, including the Rosetta Stone, “borrowed” from Egypt and allowing the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Elgin Marbles, “borrowed” from Greece.

London was easy to navigate. Each district (financial, Soho, etc.) had its own character and an Underground subway making it easy to get there. Red double-decker buses. Red phone booths. Pubs, such as the Fox and Hounds, with their colorful signs. Abbey Road.

I loved the charm and the politeness of the British people. They wait patiently in lines. They speak English (which is helpful) in a delightful accent. See democracy in action at the Speakers’ Corner. The bobbies, unarmed, happily give you directions. I admire Queen Elizabeth, the most polite Londoner of all.

In the evening, I loved the plays, which were available for $2 by calling that afternoon. “Les Miserables.” “Cats.”

After spending $10 a day for both food and lodging during our European travels, London was a budget shock. Our first hotel cost $60, but we found university dorms for $10, including breakfast — though daily eggs, fried tomatoes and bangers got a little old. We lived on fish-and-chips — hot, wrapped in newspaper, with malt vinegar.

London has more history and culture per square inch than any other major city I can think of. Okay, maybe Rome and Athens are close, but why quibble? And that’s why I love London. Not to mention the fish-and-chips. And the Queen.

— Laurie Freidman, Davis, CA

There’s no place like London, or so I believe after visiting over 40 times. I visited London first at age 16, returning at least once a year since then.

Initially, I was drawn to London by the attractions, the big ones like the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection. We don’t have museums like these in St. Louis! There are also many smaller museums and galleries to explore. Some of my favorites are Guildhall, with the ruins of a Roman Amphitheater; the house of Sir John Soane, with its Hogarth cartoons and paintings, and Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum. The list could go on for pages. I’ve visited every significant site in and around London and learned something new at each one.

I love exploring a big city on foot, and London is quite walkable. When you get tired, hop on the Tube and traverse the city on this highly navigable underground system. I am directionally challenged aboveground but have no problem interpreting the Tube map. While on the Tube, you can people-watch to your heart’s content; London is a fabulous city for that.

British people have a reputation for being calm and subdued, but I find the people very friendly and helpful. I’ll never forget the time a businessman stopped in the pouring rain to help us read a map, then slipped on the wet pavement and fell down in the street.

I am not a big shopper, but I love tourist shopping, and London has some great tourist shops and street vendors. I especially enjoy strolling along Bond Street on my way to the Wallace Collection, viewing the shop windows and the street vendors’ wares.

In short, I love London!

— Diane Harrison, Creve Coeur, MO

What is not to love about London? When I was a hitchhiking student in 1956, London was a great favorite due to easy communication, friendly people and fascinating tradition and civilization. Throughout the many visits since, it continues to fascinate.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, some area beckons us back. A couple of years ago we stayed across the Thames on the Old Vic side near the Imperial War Museum and had a whole different feel of London. Our last visit was to the docks area and to see a whole transformation of an area to housing and shops. We also crossed the new Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, which has a most incredible view from the upstairs café.

Of course, a new spectacle is the London Eye, and we found ourselves sitting on a bench with nursing-home patients being mesmerized by the slowly turning Ferris wheel-like attraction.

Our favorite restaurant, Maggie Jones’s, continues to stay in business on a side street in Kensington. The sawdust on the floor and the menagerie of cats have been replaced by a more hygienic feel.

On another visit we met English friends, who took us to Lower Basildon on the Thames to hunt for ancestors and, guess what? We found the church and the tombstones of ancestors who, in the 1800s, went on to Bermuda for a couple of generations before coming to the United States!

So, yes, my husband and I, now in our 70s, still jump at the chance to pass through London so we can stay a few days and check on our old and new haunts!

— Phyllis Mueller, San Jose, CA

My husband, Keith, loves London because the mother tongue is used in so many charming ways there.

When you’re riding the Underground and you see that wonderful sign at the edge of the train platform reminding you to “Mind the gap,” it just makes riding the subway seem so much more civilized.

The weather isn’t horrendous, it’s “a bit of a foul day,” and one doesn’t yield, one “gives way.”

I love London because of the history.

When you walk along the Thames in central London, you sense all of the monumental events that took place there. From Big Ben to St. Paul’s to the Tower to the new Globe Theater, it is just an incredible place for those of us who love history.

— Nanci Alexander, Lexington, KY

“The play’s the thing.” I love London first and foremost because of its theater opportunities. I don’t mind if relatives look at me with thinly disguised pity when I announce with pride that it is possible to see three shows in one day if you schedule carefully.

Until I saw Hermione Gingold in “A Little Night Music” on my first trip to London in 1974, I had no idea what a thrill it is to see famous performers on stage in their signature roles. Jimmy Stewart in “Harvey,” Yul Brynner in “The King and I” and Jessica Lange in “Streetcar Named Desire”: each one was a Yes! experience. One hallway in our house is adorned with programs from plays my husband and I saw in London from 1974 to 2010.

Are there other reasons to love London? Yes, indeed! It’s okay to be a tourist and enjoy roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Samuel Johnson’s favorite pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, every year or two. And no matter how often I see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower Bridge, they never lose their awesome charm.

What’s not to like about the most easily navigable big-city transportation system in the world? By way of Tube or bus, a trip to Kew Gardens, Greenwich or Hampton Court presents no problems even to those who are no longer young and agile.

Finally, there is our customary shopping day on Oxford Street. The two of us go our separate ways to buy clothing. When I carry a purse purchased at Selfridges, I have a subtle reminder of the joys of a shopping excursion. And if a friend happens to compliment me on it, I confess to the pleasure of saying, “Oh, thank you, I bought it in London!”

— Audrey Henry, Newberry, SC