Playing the Tourist Close to Home – London, U.K.
By Karen Cripps
‘Why are you going to London?’ several friends asked – they are used to our more exotic travels. But if you think about it, this is a bizarre question: London is one of the most incredible cities in the world. For us it is only a two-hour train journey away, and yes in some ways that makes it less exciting than boarding a plane and heading to a far away land. But nevertheless, it seems bordering on rude to be dismissive of the culture or history or beauty of your own country, just because it is your own country.
We made our way to Knightsbridge for lunch at Heston Blumenthal’s newest venture. Dinner is in the rather luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel, with views overlooking Hyde Park: it felt like we had stepped into a fantasy bubble floating above reality; a world where the word recession does not exist. Although a set lunch menu does make it a more accessible option for us regular folk, who may not have the bank balance to match our aspiring taste buds.
I took my seat overlooking the restaurant – I love nothing more than a side order of people watching with lunch. I tried not to feel self-conscious as I admired Mulberry handbags and large diamond collections (was it obvious that my jeans were from H&M?) And I watched in fascination at the seamless operation of the restaurant, each person sticking to their very distinctive role: one to bring the bread, one to serve the wine, one to discuss the menu with you, and so on; it is the restaurant version of a Japanese production line.
Heston takes traditional dishes, dating back to the 14th century, and gives them a 21st century twist – such as, a ragoo of pigs ears or bath chaps. On the menu, there is a description of each dish, outlining its historical roots (1750 for the pigs ears), which adds a quirky element to the lunch experience. The restaurant has only been open 12 months but has already received a Michelin star; my non professional food critic eyes were happy to agree with the award.
As we left the restaurant, we took in the sumptuous decor of this expensive hotel (£12,000 for the presidential suite anyone?) I made an excuse to go to the ladies one last time, so I could pamper myself with posh hand cream.
We set off towards the Victoria and Albert Museum, arm in arm, slightly giddy from a lunchtime glass of wine. The busyness of London always intrigues me: where is everyone going in the middle of the day on a Monday? We stopped to admire the Harrods Swarovski window, with an enchanted forest of crystals, it was a fairy tale for grown-ups. And of course, the Harrods window is a sight-seeing destination in its own right.
As we stood outside the V&A, I had that gorgeous peaceful feeling you get when you know you are going to have a magical experience; an experience that transports you into another world. The Museum dates back to 1852, then in 1899 Queen Victoria commissioned a new building, which became the V&A we are familiar with today. Its founding principle was always to make art available to all, as Henry Cole, the first V&A’s director declared: the Museum should be a ‘schoolroom for everyone’.
I am not sure what impresses me most about the V&A. Is it the grandness of the building? Is it the unbelievable volume of pieces that are here? Is it watching the art students sketching away? Is it the beauty of certain exhibitions? Is it the love which goes into keeping this museum alive? Is it its founding principle of making it free so everyone can enjoy its treasures? Or maybe it is all of these, which makes the V&A so wonderful.
We carefully picked the exhibitions we most wanted to see (it is simply not possible to see everything in one go). We admired traditional paintings and sculptures; then the fashionista in me actually gasped out loud as we walked through the jewellery exhibition; we explored the House of Annie Lenox, which displayed outfits, photographs and snippets of this inspirational woman’s life; and we even went to see Adam Ant’s famous Prince Charming outfit. It was truly a pick and mix bag of art: traditional, contemporary, paintings, sculptures, music, jewellery and fashion.
And of course, people from all over the world are here – London is their faraway destination.
Yes, learning about cultures which are different to our own is one of the joys of travelling, but your own county can also be a place to learn, a place to be explored. It’s easy to not make the effort to appreciate the sights that are near to us, but the lack of an eight-hour flight does not stop somewhere from being a worthy destination. London is a feast of architecture, art, culinary delights, culture and history. And on this perfect day, we experienced all these things.
What can you explore close to home?
About the Author
Karen Cripps writes at The Reinvention Tour about reinventing herself after coming through the other side of a chronic illness. And when she is not busy turning herself into something new and sparkly, she is off having adventures with her husband.