Most of what I see in travel guides and destination magazines is not for me. I know this. While looking at the photos from The World’s Most Exclusive Spas or Ten Autumn Getaways might give me a spark to get through the next week, the only way I’ll end up at a resort is by accident. (Though my two-night stay at Daluyan in Sabang was well worth the splurge. I’m not saying I don’t like these things; I’m just being realistic.) There is a category of travel writing that captures my attention, the short stay stories. The In Three Days series, published through the New York Times, is one that always catches my eye. Chances are, if I’m somewhere fabulous, I can’t afford to be there long. (I’ve spent a single day in both Seoul and Bangkok, and while the latter left me with limitations due to civil unrest, I wish I’d had a quick go-to to, well, go to.)
This is my own version of that travel guide. London in a day. Several leisurely leave-the-flat-at-eleven days preempted this flurry of activity, spawned by the realization that we were running out of time to see the things that Ben and I both wanted to see. With maps in hand, and joined by Elen we left Shoreditch before breakfast to see how many things we could see in London.
Stop One: Kensington.
We grabbed caffè Americanos to go and headed away from the sunrise, determined to witness Time and Relative Dimension in Space, otherwise known as the TARDIS of Doctor Who fame.
We couldn’t be on the same island as the Ood and not go see it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For only £20, we were able to step inside the TARDIS (it really is bigger on the inside), go to battle with the Daleks and see costumes and characters from throughout Dr. Who history. Even Elen (who’d never seen the show) seemed to enjoy the experience. If you want exposure to true British culture, it’s best to remember a few things have happened since St. Paul’s Cathedral was built, and not just Posh Spice marrying David Beckham or Hugh Grant getting caught with a prostitute.
Stop Two: Harrods.
We cheated and cabbed it from Kensington to Brompton Road to visit Harrods department store and to see how long I could linger in housewares before Ben would get cranky. (Not long enough. Harrods could really use a beer department to distract those averse to giant displays of Le Creusets and endless walkways of chandeliers.) I’d purchased mismatched cloth napkins from their sale department a decade ago and still use them for every dinner party. After searching all five floors of the maze of a department store, I gave up on the idea of scoring a second set.
Happily, the visit wasn’t a total failure, because: Food Hall!
I would have been complete just looking at the vast selection that the Harrods Food Hall offered. Okay. That’s a lie. I wanted to taste everything. But I did not want to stand. So I went to the sit-down eatery closest to the lovely South African Droewors pictured above: the Dim Sum Bar.
The tom yum soup soothed my London-caused sore throat. (It’s an inevitable thing, the London sore throat. No worries: Boots and your nearest fancy department store dim sum counter will cure all.)
Perfectly steamed dumplings, greens and gingered pork also slid directly across the counter and into our willing bellies.
Add a pot of the beautifully flowering tea to the mix and you’ll have a £80 lunch for three. (We’re talking $127.) Not the best value, but it’s an experience, right?
Stop Three: The British Museum.
Here’s the rule about visiting museums in London: they’re going to close roughly 45 minutes after you finally get there, even if you take the time to look up the schedules in guide books. Do not believe anything you read about when the museums are open, and always have a back up plan. No amount of preplanning will allow Americans to understand the concept and schedule of bank holidays. If you’re lucky, you’ll get in in time to see a mummy or seven and use the loo.
You may even get to see a painting you once wrote a paper about in art history class, before the museum staff politely creates a wall to push you through each room until you’re oozing out of the museum like Play-doh pushed through the tiny holes of its Fun Factory. This happened at every museum we visited, yet somehow, the wall of security never seems to push out the folks in the gift shop. Funny how that happens.
Stop Four: Dinner.
This is where it gets tricky. Enticed by the sexy okonomiyaki restaurant several feet from the entrance of the aforementioned British Museum, but unable to find a seat within its reservations-only system, we trekked, by foot, to Leicester Square, to a sister restaurant with hopes of having the Japanese pancakes made at our table. (Or, more precisely, with hopes of getting a table, and then having the folks from Abeno Too work their magic.)
It’s tricky of course, because in your day in London, you might not want to have a last-minute search for cabbage pancakes take up two precious hours. But Ben loves Japanese food and I’d made him spend at least an equal amount of time in a department store. Watch the above video and decide whether the adventure is worth it.
After a starter of buta kimchi itami, and four different pancakes, we were thoroughly impressed. What did we have? Osaka, with pork, kimchi and prawns; Tokyo, with pork, squid and prawns; Shinsu, with chicken, asparagus and cheese; and Yamazato-Yaki, with organic pork, quail egg, autumn mushrooms and shichimi. Heaven.
Stop Five: The Pub.
There’s no need to travel far for the final stop of your day in London. Find a pub and find one quickly. Go for the best cask ale on tap (if you’re Ben), or head straight for the London Pride. It will taste so, so good. And you deserve it. You’ve done a very good job.
The Doctor Who Experience
Olympia Two (2nd floor)
London, W14 8UX
87–135 Brompton Road
London, SW1X 7XL
The British Museum
Great Russel Street
London, WC1B 3DG
17-18 Gt. Newport Street
London, WC2H 7JE