Kelly was lucky enough to spend two glorious weeks in London for her graduate work in the summer of 2012 and had plenty of literary adventures that only a library student could have. So when I went back to London for a second time I knew I had to make with the literary loving. Especially since my first visit there exactly ten years ago at the ripe old age of 16 I was more concerned with finding all the locations where the people I had been reading about in the historical fiction novels I was obsessing over had lived and died.
Although to be fair, this trip I did a little bit of historical death rubbernecking too. It is London after all.
In addition to taking in some more sites- having gotten all the super duper touristy stuff out of the way on the first go around- I was able to do some smaller stuff. I was also determined to fill my gut with glorious glorious Indian food and drink all the cider.
Even better, thanks to some frequent flyer miles from my mother who I was visiting, I got to fly the entire way Business Class which entailed drinking free food and alcohol in the Business Lounge and being waited on by my awesome flight attendants: Danish Jorah Mormont and the old man from Up.
So without further ado, here are the equally nerdy and literary highlights from my trip.
If ever there were to be an apocalypse, I would want to spend it at the six-floor Waterstones in Piccadilly Circus. Books, books, books as far as the eye can see and a top floor that features afternoon tea as well as a full bar. Most of my time was spent on the first floor with new releases and the second floor which includes fiction and an entire room off to the side devoted to science fiction, fantasy and horror.
I bought quite a few tomes, three because I preferred the UK covers to the US ones. Specifically, The Humans by Matt Haig, Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman and Perfume by Patrick Suskind. I also snatched up Alan Moore’s Fashion Beast based on a screenplay written by Alan Moore and the Sex Pistols’ Malcolm McLaren and a signed copy of the alternate history vampire novel Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard. Sadly, the Hunger Games special editions weren’t all that special and they remained across the pond.
The space between platforms 9 and 10 at King’s Cross Station has recently been revamped thanks to a very small shop that was built to sell Harry Potter merchandise. As a result, the trolley that normally sits partially submerged in the wall was given a face life and humorous staff are now on hand to take professional photos of you (which you are not required to buy but you know you’re going to want to) running to catch the Hogwarts Express. They have various props but seem to love putting Gryffindor scarves on people. However, if you show them you Dark Mark (or maybe just ask) you can get a Slytherin scarf or any of the other houses they have on hand.
With five different Jack the Ripper tours around Whitechapel, I knew I had to find my mom and I the best one, and judging from all the other tour groups we passed I picked right. Using a technology they hilariously refer to as Ripper-Vision, we were led through a winding hour and 45-minute tour around the area from murder site to murder site learning all manner of morbid and interesting historical tidbit along the way. The various tour guides are dressed in period garb and use their Ripper-Vision to project pictures of the various morgue photos of the victims as well as letters from the Ripper himself or probably by less than trustworthy members of the press onto various surfaces in the area.
Best Use of Old Timey Police Uniform: Guard at 221 B Baker Street (see photo above)
Just down the road from my mom and my hotel was 221 B Baker Street, the fictional home of the famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes. And these days, Benedict Cumberbatch. Right next door is a gift shop where you could purchase pipes, deerstalker caps and all manner of Holmes merchandise, none of which appeared to be snuff boxes. And if you paid and had a ticket, you could even take a tour of the home which they have turned into a museum.
Having mastered the tube stations with the help of an Underground app and a travel website, I took my mom out to find the TARDIS, which is conveniently located outside the Earl’s Court tube station. Sadly you couldn’t go inside nor was someone dressed like the Doctor around (sad panda) but it was fun for a photo opportunity. Even though it was sort of in the middle of nowhere. Doctor look-alikes, you are missing out on some serious revenue if you don’t hang around this thing waiting for tourists.
Best Scare Factor: the London Dungeon
One of the better tourist traps is the London Dungeon, which is located next to the London Eye. Unfortunately, even if you buy a ticket you can expect to wait 45-minutes to get inside. I suppose they’re still working the bugs out. But once there the actors work hard to give you a frightening tour around London’s seedier history, demonstrating medieval torture devices, teaching you about the plague, giving you a shave at Sweeney Todd’s barber shop and putting you face to face with the Ripper. Even though two portions of the experience were down while we were there (including the ride at the end which we were refunded for) it was still a lot of fun. Expect some audience participation, my mother was locked in a cage and sentenced to death for living in New Jersey. Also for claiming to be Martha Stewart. Long story.
Sadly, the showing of Macbeth that I had planned to see was sold out, but I still wanted to head over to see the Globe Theatre for myself and purchase some Shakespeare souvenirs. The shop is small but divided into sections by Shakespeare plays and has some great Hamlet and Macbeth merch. If you get there early enough you can get a guided tour of the Globe or you can pay to see the Shakespeare museum under the building. Either way, you should head outside by the Thames for a better outside photo of the reconstructed theatre.
Best Adventure to Locate Something That Doesn’t Exist: Hyde Park’s Mr. Darcy Statue
One of the things I wanted to do while in London was find the Mr. Darcy statue (read: the shirtless and wet statue of Colin Firth) which last I heard was in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I walked around the entire Serpentine, stumbling across the Peter Pan statue and Princess Diana memorial on the way but the statue was sadly gone. All evidence seems to indicate it was moved to Lyme Park where the external scenes for Pemberly were filmed. Regardless, it was a nice walk.
Best Place to Fondle Things You Can’t Afford: Selfridges
If for some reason my apocalypse can’t be spent at Waterstones, the next best place would be Selfridges. In essence, it’s a department store meets grocery store but in addition to all the things us peasants can afford, it also sells designer shoes and clothing that costs more than a normal person would ever spend on one article of clothing. So of course I went and touched everything in the Vivienne Westwood section just because I could. I also did the same with everything Alexander McQueen, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Alice + Olivia.
Just image, spending the end of the world wearing designer clothes every day and only having to travel 20-minutes or so to go through six floors of reading material. Le sigh. Best hypothetical situation ever.
I couldn’t possibly be asked to pick what the best thing I ate in London was, because it was a toss up between the delicious and traditional Sunday Roast at the Grazing Goat (a big slab of meat, potatoes, stuffing, Yorkshire Pudding and brown gravy) and Indian from Zayna. The best Indian I’ve ever had is always in London.
A shout out also goes out to the late night dining spot for delicious lamb shawarma on Edgeware Road, along with all the other shawarma shops: Beirut Express. Yum, yum.
So yes, next time- hopefully not in another ten years- I will actually be able to take in a show at the Globe Theatre, get hanged to many cheers at the London Dungeon, drink at the Ten Bells and visit Oxford to knock back a pint where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to bro around back in the day.
You’re all lucky I came back at all.