My first day in London provided me with a genuine glimpse of the city. Guided by my roommate, I viewed Renaissance art, glanced at Buckingham Palace, and took the must-have pictures alongside London’s telephone booths. When it came to Day Two, there was still much to see. Under clear and sunny skies and armed with a much needed caffeine boost, the two of us set off for a credit card’s heaven: Harrods Department Store.
If one wants to imagine Harrods one only needs to think of New York City’s Macy’s in Herald Square. The London department store is a seven-story paradise with everything imaginable for sale. On the entrance floor, rooms of perfume, handbags, and other accessories make every shopper wish they had a platinum card in their wallet. Those looking for bargains should go elsewhere; Harrods is renown for its collection of high-end labels. It is as if everyone designer boutique on NY’s Fifth Avenue came together to be sold in one shopping center.
Of course, Harrods does not only sell clothing and accessories. Expensive furniture, a wedding boutique, and a wine cellar are just a few of the features available for shoppers looking to drain their bank accounts. My favorite section was the Food Hall located on the ground floor of the store. The hall consists of a series of rooms, each devoted to a different type of food, such as fish, cheese, meats, and produce. Anxious to enjoy an English stable, I made my way to the bakery and bought an English Sultana scone. Light and flaky with plump raisins, the scone was one of the few English foods I actually wanted to eat.
Now of course when the English eat scones they are not typically eaten unaccompanied. Whether with jam or clotted cream, scones are often enjoyed alongside a cup of tea. Francois de La Rochefoucald once said, “Throughout the whole of England the drinking of tea is general. You have it twice a day and though the expense is considerable, the humblest peasant has his tea, just like the rich man.” As Rochefoucald explains, tea is a signature part of the English identity; no matter whether rich or poor, the drink is enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, however, there is a cost involved if one wants to indulge in high tea. Although a part of me yearned for the chance to sit down in my pearls for an afternoon of cucumber finger sandwiches, petit fours, and teacups, there was no way my wallet would have allowed it. Looking at various venues, costs for teatime ranged from 30 to 90£. Ninety pounds for two-bite treats and cups of fruit essence? Perhaps in my next life…
While Harrods Food Hall hinted at an English cuisine much more exciting than I thought, a two o’clock tour of Central London kept me from trying anything on display. From the department store, Kate and I headed to the Westminster Tube stop, which was the starting point for a London Walking Tour of Harry Potter film locations. The tour guide’s enthusiasm was contagious; as she pointed out various spots in London included in the Harry Potter films, it was very difficult not to imagine her walking the halls of Hogwarts with a broomstick and witch hat. Many of the sites we visited appeared in the later films, especially Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Stops included London Bridge, Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and the inspiration for Diagon Alley (left). Sites from author J.K. Rowling’s time in London inspired many of the fictional spots in the Harry Potter series. Although London is not the central setting of the films, the city has its own personality, and thus its inclusion on the screen introduces an entirely new character.
A weekend in London would not have been complete without seeing the iconic Big Ben. Also know as St. Stephen’s Clock tower, Big Ben looms over the London skyline. The sound of its toll is easily identifiable because its tone is one-of-a-kind. Although its massive size is evident, it is difficult to discern just how great the tower is until one stands beneath it. The minute hand itself is a staggering 13 feet long! Perhaps big is not the most accurate adjective to describe London’s most famous symbol.
Considering that I walked London in the rain and saw some of its best offerings, my weekend in Britain’s capital would not have been complete had I not at least sampled a traditional British plate. While perhaps not as adventurous as the octopus in Santorini or the rabbit in Tuscany, I ordered the classic fish and chips. The description said “beer-battered,” so how could you go wrong there? I must admit that the only time I eat the dish at home is during Lenten Fridays, so my expectations were somewhat high. Alas, I was not disappointed. The fish was incredibly tender and the outside had a crispy crunch from the batter. The accompanying tartar sauce was smooth and cool, adding an additional layer of flavor to each bite. Because I gave up potatoes for Lent, I cannot testify to how the chips tasted, but Kate seemed to enjoy those that came with her dish. The price was a tad steep, 11£, but when in London, eat as the Brits do.
I spent roughly 60 hours in London, and I am happy to say that I enjoyed nearly all of it. The people were friendly, the sites were fantastic, and the weather did bring some sun. Unfortunately, I have my doubts about whether I will return in the future. Unless sterling undergoes a massive fluctuation in value, I never want to see another pound in my pocket again. Even so, the city has a lot of culture and energy to offer. The sounds of the British tongue and the toll of Big Ben are music to my ears, and just a few of the many memories of the city that will stay with forever.